Tag Archives: David Aston

The “baffling unpopularity” of annuities

What if there was a way to convert some or all of the money you’ve saved up for retirement into cash for life – monthly payments for as long as you live?

And once you made this conversion, you’d no longer have to make any investment decisions for this money; you’d just have to trot over to the Super Mailbox each month to collect a cheque.

There is just such a product, the annuity, but for some reason, it’s not something people choose very often. Writing in MoneySense, David Aston calls annuities “the best retirement product that hardly anyone buys,” adding that they amount to a sort of do-it-yourself defined benefit (DB) plan.

“Like DB pensions, (annuities) provide guaranteed income for as long as you live. But while employer pensions are considered the gold standard of retirement income plans, few Canadians ever think about annuities,” writes Aston, calling their unpopularity “baffling.”

Aston says that for some people, such as those with wealth or who have DB pensions from work, an annuity is probably not necessary. And others don’t like the idea of “their finality – once you give your cash to the insurance company, you’re locked in for life.” There’s no more “growth potential” for this investment and you can’t tap into it for lump sum amounts, he explains.

But, says Aston, they are ideal for cash flow. Many people buy an annuity which, along with government pensions, “meets all your non-discretionary needs,” such as keeping the lights on, the furnace going, and the rent paid via the steady, predictable and guaranteed income. And if you convert part of your retirement savings to an annuity, you can “afford to take more risks with the rest of your portfolio.”

One would imagine that those who took out annuities prior to the market downturn in 2008 are happy with their choice, because while you may miss out on investment gains, you also miss out on investment losses with an annuity.

In a video posted to Save with SPP, Moshe Milevsky, Professor of Finance at York University’s Schulich School of Business, calls annuities “insurance against something that is really a blessing, longevity.” Because the annuity pays you for life, you can never run out of money, he notes.

Writing in the Globe and Mail financial columnist Rob Carrick notes that unlike withdrawing money from a RRIF or other vehicle, the withholding tax on an annuity is not automatically deducted but is taxed the same as regular income, he explains.

He reports that a good time to consider buying an annuity is when you are older. “The later you buy, the shorter the period of time the insurer selling an annuity expects to have to pay you. As a result, payments are higher than they would be if you bought at a younger age,” he explains.

The cost of an annuity depends on current interest rates, which have been quite low for a while but are rising, which is good news for annuity buyers.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) is somewhat unique in that it can convert your savings into an annuity. They offer four different kinds of guaranteed annuities, and your money continues to be invested by SPP while you sit back and wait for the monthly cheque. For full details, check out the Retirement Options chapter in the SPP Retirement Guide.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer, hopeful darts player and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Sheltie, Duncan, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22