Q: In the past, you’ve mentioned that variable annuities aren’t a good investment for seniors. Why, then, does an official at our bank try to convince us to put our savings into one? We are in our early 80s and have always had certificates of deposit at this bank.
A: The answer is pretty simple: profits. The bank can make a lot more money from you if it can sell you a variable annuity, compared to what it can make selling you a CD.
At your time of life, though, variable annuities don’t make much sense. It typically takes 15 to 20 years for the tax advantages of a variable annuity to offset the increased costs, and chances are pretty good you won’t live long enough to see that day. Annuities also come with surrender charges that can cause you to lose 10% or more of your cash if you need to tap your savings in the first few years; with a CD, you’ll typically lose only a few months’ interest if you need to make an emergency withdrawal.
Regulators have repeatedly warned banks and brokerages about pushing annuities on seniors. If this official persists in hounding you, you might mention that fact and suggest he call the Securities and Exchange Commission or the National Association of Securities Dealers if he needs more details about why these investments are often inappropriate for seniors.