Retirement annuities are often misunderstood and many people, or their parents, have had bad experiences with them in the past. This sentiment often relates to the investment performance and possibly also the charges related with these products. Some facts need to be considered before you discard this very useful investment vehicle for yourself.
When talking about financial planning and investments it is not uncommon that people say and hold opinions such as “I don’t like retirement annuities, they are terrible investments!” Usually it has to do with the performance and people can’t understand how after 10 years of contributing to a retirement annuity (RA), it is worth less than the amount they have put in.
This sentiment leads to a variety of discussion points, ranging from the fact that an RA is an investment vehicle or product wrapper, not an investment strategy or fund itself, to the fact that returns achieved are as a result of the underlying asset classes invested into, and will thus vary from one RA to the next.
What is meant by an investment vehicle or product wrapper?
Simply put often an investment vehicle, or product wrapper, has been created by legislation and usually tax legislation. Well at least that is the case for RA’s.
The government has for a long time been concerned that people do not save enough money for retirement, and ultimately people that are unable to work due to old age become a burden on the state. The state therefore has to address this and has therefore created specific tax treatments for RA’s in order to encourage people to use them to save for retirement specifically.
The idea is not to get too technical here, as the purpose of this information is not to go deeply into the tax benefits of RA’s save to say that the product wrapper known as an RA is merely one that carries these tax benefits. Briefly however, the contributions that are paid towards an RA are deductible from your gross income, the growth within the product is tax free, and on retirement there are certain tax free portions and thereafter different (more beneficial) tax rates for the lump sum benefits which do get paid out. You should get more information on this from your financial advisor.
What is meant by a fund?
If one understands that the RA is merely the product wrapper used and that this has nothing to do with the investment funds chosen for the actual money that is invested in this wrapper then we can start talking about investment performance. It should now be clear that the two are separate matters. Although it did not necessarily work this way in the past, but most modern RA’s now have a choice of funds the same, or at least very similar, to the funds used to make any other investment. One can even get an RA with a managed stock portfolio as an underlying investment.
The choice of funds is now up to you, with guidance from your financial advisor. The underlying assets of the fund must be matched to the objectives you are trying to achieve and your risk profile as an investor. As the objective of RA’s – retirement, is something that will usually only happen many years down the line you have the time available to use a lot of equity in your portfolio. Equity will give you the best returns over a longer period of time.
So by choosing the write underlying investment portfolio for your product wrapper, in this instance the RA, you would find that the investment performance of your RA should be no different had you invested in the fund directly and not used an RA, except that you have added tax benefits, which can actually boost your returns. You now have the tax benefits of the RA product wrapper and the performance of the fund you chose to invest in. Now your only hurdle is choosing the right underlying investment.