An annuity can be a useful tool for long-term care planning, but annuities are also complex financial products that are hard to understand. If purchasing an annuity, you need to consider your options carefully.
An annuity is a contract with an insurance company under which the consumer pays the company a certain amount of money and the company sends the consumer a monthly check for the rest of his or her life, or for a certain term. Annuities come in many flavors. They can be deferred (begin paying out at a later date) or immediate (begin paying out right away). They can pay a fixed amount each month or pay out a variable amount based on how the money is invested. While a fixed immediate annuity can be a good Medicaid planning option for a married couple, other annuity products can be quite complex and confusing and are not right for everyone.
If you have decided an annuity is the right choice for your long-term care or retirement plan, you need to shop around to find the right product. The following are some purchasing tips:
- Check the terms. Be sure to read the annuity contract carefully. Annuities often have surrender charges that penalize you for withdrawing your money too early. You need to understand for how long you won’t be able to access your money and when payouts begin. There may also be other fees associated with the annuity as well as optional riders. Understanding the fees will allow you to shop around to find the best product.
- Choose your salesperson. Insurance companies often pay generous commissions to the brokers who sell their particular annuities, payments that many of the brokers don't disclose. They also generally don't disclose whether they are paid more or less by one insurance company than another or whether the annuity being sold is the best option for the consumer. Ask your broker questions to determine how they are paid. You may want to seek a second opinion to make sure your salesperson isn't steering you into a product that isn't right for you.
- Select a sound insurance company. Annuity payments are often supposed to last a lifetime, so you want an insurance company that will stick around. Make certain that the insurer is rated in the top two categories by one of the services that rates insurance companies, such as A.M. Best, Moody’s, Standard & Poor's, or Weiss.