Q. How about an annuity as an alternative to the other choices? An annuity means zero chance of running out of money. My wife, age 69, recently purchased an annuity that pays slightly less than 6 percent a year (no annual increases for inflation) and is guaranteed for life. If she dies early, before the entire principal is paid back, her beneficiary continues to receive the monthly payments until the principal is repaid. Other than high inflation taking a big bite out of her purchasing power, wouldn't this be a viable alternative to the problem of lifetime income? ---F.N., by email
A. Yes, life annuities are good as a piece of the retirement income puzzle--- but not the entire puzzle. Since the income is literally fixed for life, the loss of purchasing power can become painful in late retirement. Equally important, you have to live a long time before the insurance company is doing anything but returning your own money, the money you originally committed.
If the life annuity paid six percent of original value, for instance, it would take 16.67 years before the insurance company was paying anything back but original principal. The life expectancy for a 69-year-old woman is 17 years. Life expectancy means that half of a large group of women that age will die before 17 years and half will die after 17 years.
Q. We are 62 and 60. We recently attended a financial management class together. It was sponsored by a local university and taught by an independent financial advisor. We were impressed by his knowledge, candor and ability to deal with both insurance and brokerage products.
We bought a package from him for a reasonable one-time fee. It analyzed our current portfolio and tracked it out into the future of our proposed retirement several years from now. He offered suggestions that we could act on ourselves and included a year's worth of support on a quarterly basis. We are in general agreement with his recommendations.
He can also manage our portfolio for us for 1.5 percent annually. We've read your column often enough to realize this is quite a chunk of money. However, he says that by using him and going through his sponsoring firm, he would be able to invest our funds in larger funds with lower costs because they are open only to institutions rather than individuals. This should cover most of the additional cost, on an average basis.
I do admit it would be nice to have someone else manage the portfolio. We really have other things to do, and we don't enjoy money management. Would we be drinking the Kool-Aid? ---L.C., Austin, Texas
A. Many people in financial services sales align themselves with local collages and high schools to teach classes in personal finance and investments. They do this as a prospecting tool. You learn something; The sales person gets to meet a list of self-qualified potential clients.
And that’s OK. You’re all adults.
The trouble starts with some of the confident, but totally unsupported, statements they may make about expenses. Your instructors’ statements don’t stand up to close examination. You can test this for yourself by asking him to demonstrate, with a specific portfolio, how his access to “institutional” funds will help you recoup his substantial 1.5 percent annual fee. Not gonna happen.
My bet is that you’ll never see a response, if only because it would be impossible to do.
Another issue, which he may not be aware of, is the painful probabilities of active management. In his book, “How a Second Grader Beats Wall Street,” savvy adviser Allan S. Roth points out that the greater the number of actively managed funds in your portfolio, the lower the odds that you’ll beat a portfolio of low-cost index funds, particularly over the long term.
Specifically, he found that a portfolio of five managed funds might beat an index fund portfolio 32 percent of the time over a one-year period. But by the tenth year the probability was down to 11 percent. Over 25 years the odds went down to 3 percent. Not good.
So he’s proposing that you spend 1.5 percent of your portfolio, year after year, in pursuit of an event that becomes ever more unlikely.