Ep 29: Understanding Annuities – Fixed Index

On This Episode

This is the final installment for our annuity mini-series. We will wrap things up by diving into fixed-index annuities. We get more into the finer details of some properties of annuities and also take a look at how these contracts are typically structured.

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PFG Private Wealth Management, LLC is an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. The topics and information discussed during this podcast are not intended to provide tax or legal advice. Investments involve risk, and unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial advisor and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed on this podcast. Past performance is not indicative of future performance. Insurance products and services are offered and sold through individually licensed and appointed insurance agents.

Here is a transcript of today’s episode:


Speaker 1: Back here for another episode of the podcast. Thanks so much for listening to Retirement Planning Redefined with John and Nick from PFG Private Wealth. They are financial advisors serving you here in the Tampa Bay area. 813 286-7776 is how you get ahold of them if you’ve got some questions or concerns about anything you hear on our show, or really any others when it comes to your retirement plans.


Speaker 1: And this week on the podcast, we’re going to continue on with our annuity session. This is part three, and we’re going to talk a little bit about indexed crediting strategies as well as indexing methods. And that sounds fancy, so we’ll let the guys break it down. But first, we’ll say what’s going on. John, how are you, my friend?


John: I’m good. I’m good. I was, this morning, just getting some quotes on artificial grass. It was-


Speaker 1: Oh, that sounds fun.


John: … very interesting to look at the different samples of them.


Speaker 1: The different samples of artificial grass. All right. Who would’ve thought, right?


John: Not me.


Speaker 1: It’s a strange thing you can do. That’s for sure. Nick, how are you doing, buddy?


Nick: Definitely not looking at artificial grass, but doing pretty well. Staying busy.


Speaker 1: Good. At the time we’re taping this podcast, your Bills won a playoff game, yeah.


Nick: Yeah. Yeah. First time in quite a while. And they continue to take years off of my life, but at least it’s a lot more enjoyable to watch now.


Speaker 1: I totally forgot to ask you, because as a Bills fan, you finally get rid of Brady in your division, but he moved to the town you’re in.


Nick: Yeah, it’s pretty interesting. I mean, I’ve been in Tampa Bay since ’03. I moved down the July after they won the Super Bowl, so they were pretty popular. And then Florida is such a different town from a sports perspective, and Tampa Bay, specifically is obviously all I have experience with. But there’s so many people from other areas that it’s just different. Whereas, the Bills, in Western New York, are kind of like a way of life. It’s been an interesting… The Bucs have a chance, we’ll see, to be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium, which would be kind of interesting. And then if it ended up being against the Bills, that would be double interesting.


Speaker 1: Yeah. Some of those ghosts could be haunting them, so they’re probably hoping to not see him once again. But, anyway.


Nick: Yes. Yes.


Speaker 1: We’ll get into financial topics and we’ll talk sports another time, but I just wanted to ask you about that. So good stuff, indeed. So guys, what am I talking about or what are we talking about here today on this annuity session? What are some of the features and some of the things we need to be thinking about?


Nick: Yeah, this will be the last in the series of the annuities that we talk about. And just like anything else, we view ourselves as informational and educational. And because annuities are such a topic that there’s so much information out there about, there’s plenty of positives and plenty of negatives, that we want to make sure that we go through these different things.


Nick: And so this session is going to be focused on what are called fixed index annuities, which can be confusing, just like anything else. There are some more moving parts, but we have found over the years that for those people that are pretty conservative and risk averse in looking for opportunities to have some sort of upside from the market, but are not comfortable having much downside, that these are something that can make sense for them. So we’re going to spend the session kind of going through and talking about them.


John: To compare these to the last session we talked about, you can expect a higher interest rate than a fixed annuity, over a long-term period. And comparing it to the variable annuity, it doesn’t have the same potential because you’re tied to a specific index and there’s some restrictions to it, which we’ll go through.


John: So this is really a good hybrid in between, if you’re looking for, like Nick mentioned, you want some principal protection. But the negative to a fixed annuity is, hey, I’m locked into this rate, I can’t really get much more. How can I get more? And then this fixed index would actually accomplish that because if the market does go up, there’s potential to actually go up with the market to a point.


John: Something to understand with these, again, important in all annuities, understand the fees that you’re in. And while typically… Again, I hate using the word, but we have to. Older contracts, we haven’t seen fees in these, but there are some newer ones where they are having some fees within the contract. And the way that they explain that is, hey, if we put this fee in here, well actually, there’s more growth potential on your crediting methods.


John: So just understand if you’re looking at any of these, like anything, you want to look at the surrender period, you want to look at the surrender charge, you want to look at the fees. I mean, those are three important things to look at in any annuity contract, and especially with these.


Nick: So in general, the term index annuity really comes from the structure of how they credit growth inside of these contracts. One of the most popular indexes that are used in these sorts of contracts is the S&P 500. And the way that the contracts essentially work is they will offer different indexes that they will provide crediting towards, and use that index as the barometer for how it works.


Nick: So just to super simplify it, what’ll happen is they’ll say, okay, there are different rates and John’s going to different sorts of structures and John’s going to kind of get into that. But they’ll say, okay, between the time that you open this contract and a year from that period of time, we’re going to track the index. In this case, we can call it the S&P 500. We’re going to track the performance of that index over time and then we’re going to give you a percentage of the performance of that index. And that percentage can change for year to year, and they declare it on each anniversary.


Nick: And so that’s what provides you with the upside within that contract. However, and this is the reason that many people will use this sort of contract is, if the S&P 500, in this example, let’s say it drops 10 or 15% between now and 12 months from now, you’re not going to participate in that down portion, that downside, you’re just not going to get credited anything. So essentially what ends up happening is that you’re flat for the year.


Nick: So when these things talk about not having the downside or protecting your principal, that’s what they’re referring to. So if the S&P 500 is up 10%, you’ll get a percentage of that growth and John, we’ll talk a little bit about how they may credit that. However, if it’s down 10%, you’re just going to not lose any money that year. It’s going to be flat.


Nick: So that’s the general principle of how it works and which index is used, how much they credit, that’s all the due diligence that happens when people choose which contract to go with, but in a very basic sense, that’s how it works.


John: Yeah. And to really explain it, I think, let’s give an example of that. So if you’re in a participation rate, and let’s say you start with $100,000, and like Nick said, the most popular one is the S&P 500. And by participation rate, let’s say it’s 50%. So what that means is you’re going to get 50% of the S&P 500 on the upside. So if you’re in contract January 1, 2021, they’ll look at the S&P 500 on January 1, 2022. If the S&P 500 has gone up let’s say, 20%, your contract is going to credited 10%. Again, that’s 50% of the 20% gain. So if you start out with 100,000, your account is now at 110, okay?


John: A benefit to this is that actually your 110 now is your new floor. So when you get credited, that’s actually your floor moving forward. So, example, let’s say year two, you’re still in a 50% participation in the S&P, S&P goes down negative 10. You’re year two, basically what’s going to happen now is the 110 is now your floor, you stay at 110. Now you move on to year three to see what the S&P 500 does.


John: So that’s one crediting method, participation rate. They also have a cap rate. So, that’s kind of like a ceiling. So, you could have an S&P 500, again, index that you’re monitoring or are kind of shadowing. And your cap is 6%. So what that means is, you’re going to get up to 6% of the S&P 500 growth. So same example, 100,000, let’s say you have a 6% cap. The S&P goes up 20%, in this scenario, you only get 6% because that’s your ceiling, okay? So basically 6% your cap, that’s all you’re going to get that a hundred thousand now, after the one year, it’s going to be at 106, because you got 6%. Year two, again, S&P drops, you stay at your 106.


John: So, just important to understand the different crediting methods. There’s one more called a spread. This is kind of like a fee, but it’s only taken off if there’s gain. So a spread could be like 1.5%. And again, let’s use the S&P 500. If it goes up by 7%, they take 1.5% off of that gain. In the same idea. You get the credit for that year, it locks in your balance at that point in time, and that’s kind of your new floor.


John: So important just to understand you have participation rate, cap rate, and a spread. Those are the most popular, they’re not the only ones. There’s actually a lot more, but those are the three that we typically see. We don’t have enough time today to really go through each one, but those are the most common. And I’d say kind of when we’re using these strategies, those are typically the ones that we use, because they’re just simple to understand.


Nick: Yeah. And some of the other things to look out for, if let’s say you already have an existing contract and because these insurance companies, they can change those rates that John walked you through from year to year, maybe one year your cap was 6%, but they drop it to 3% on the S&P 500, it may make sense to look at another index. So most contracts have a menu of indexes that you can choose from, from year to year, and they allow you to change your choice on an annual basis.


Nick: So what we’ve seen is people may get complacent and they’ve had the same index for a couple of years and because they know that there’s not really market risk per se, they just leave it. And they haven’t realized that those rates have changed and what they’ve been in, their potential is much lower. And, usually what ends up happening is that they may lower some, but they may increase others or there may be other opportunities and other portions.


Nick: So it’s important to look at it on an annual basis, take a look and see what changes they’ve made to the contract and if it makes any sense to make a change. And some of the options aren’t just a one-year option, they may offer a two year option. That could have much better rates and that could be an opportunity as well.


Nick: So even though it’s a vehicle, a tool that can be used, sometimes there’s complacency that kicks in because there isn’t perceived risk and just like anything else, doing your due diligence each year and adapting to what’s happening within the contract can really, really pay off for people and they can try to maximize or take advantage of the opportunities that are within the contract.


Speaker 1: It sounds like any financial product where sometimes people just want to set it and forget it. And that’s not always the best strategy having. And that’s where you can do with reviews and things of that nature, but just kind of checking on these things is certainly a good idea is what I’m hearing.


Nick: 100%. 100%. And I will say too, that in our last session on variable annuities, we talked a little bit about some of the riders that are available that can provide people with guaranteed income. And many times there are those writers available on these fixed index annuity contracts as well. So they can be a tool that provides future guaranteed income, but maybe provides options with less fees than a variable contract or higher guarantees than a variable contract, which is something that can be used from a comparison perspective.


John: Yeah. And to jump into what Nick was saying about the indexing methods changing, it’s important when you’re looking at some of these companies that you go with a quality carrier and look at their track record. Because the last thing you want to do, and we’ve seen this where, one company might be offering a very competitive cap rate, let’s say 8% or something like that. And then once you’re in the contract with them, they all of a sudden lower their cap rate to four. And it’s like, Whoa, now I’m with this company for the next seven years, because that’s my surrender period and they’ve just lowered their rates on me, you know?


John: So that’s where doing your due diligence on what company am I going with, what’s their ratings, what’s their track record? Are they a good company I want to be with for the next five, seven years? And that’s where it’s important, if you’re working with an advisor that they’re doing their due diligence, and you’re doing your own to make sure that if you’re going to be with this company that they’re going to do right by you, if you’re going to be with them for that period of time.


John: It may sound like we harp on it quite a bit, but the pitfalls are important to understand. Make sure that the company that you’re looking at is a reputable company and has strong financial ratings. Pay attention to the surrender charge period with these contracts, where people have that and tripped up is we’ve seen people locked into contracts that are 15 years long, 18 years long, which really can be pretty tricky. So making sure that you understand how that’s structured. And then, like John said, getting some historical background on how often they change their indexing rates. And if they’re really just kind of using teaser rates to get people locked in.


John: So just like anything else, it can be a piece of the pie. And oftentimes where it’s most appropriate would be for people that are pretty conservative investors looking for a little bit more potential, especially in this current environment where rates for CDs and money market accounts and that sort of thing are so low.


Speaker 1: Yeah. Again, when we talk about these things, it’s always important to remember and realize that like anything in life, you should always do your own due diligence, as well as when you’re working with an advisor, or when you’re looking for an advisor to work with. Make sure that you’re going through the proper steps, do some of the homework, and then take the time to find out is this product right for you? Don’t just jump into anything because it’s something you hear on any particular show or a talking head or whatever the case is without seeing how it might relate to your specific situation.


Speaker 1: And if you need help with that, whatever type of annuity it might be, or any other financial product, because annuities can be a bit polarizing, have those conversations reach out to John and Nick, they’re here to help in the Tampa Bay area 813 286-7776. If you’ve gotten this email through a newsletter or a blast or something like that, or whatever the case might be, and you haven’t yet subscribed to the podcast, feel free to do so, certainly would be appreciated. If you’d like to get more content as they come out, you can simply go to pfgprivate wealth.com. You can find the podcast page there, pfgprivate wealth.com.


Speaker 1: You can also find a lot of good tools, tips, and resources, and reach out to John and Nick. You can also subscribe through your favorite app or whatever that might be. Just search out retirement planning, redefined, and hit the subscribe button. A lot of times it’s a heart or a thumbs up or something like that, search the type retirement planning redefined in the search box, or just call 813 286-7776.


Speaker 1: John, Nick, thanks guys for your time in this series on annuities, a lot of good information. They do get a little complicated sometimes, so again, it’s really important for people to understand and have a good working knowledge of this, especially if they’re considering it. So I appreciate you guys sharing some of your knowledge.


John: Cool. Thanks Marc, have a good one.


Speaker 1: John, appreciate it, bud. Take care of yourself and we will talk next time here on Retirement Planning Redefined with John and Nick from PFG private wealth.