Beware Of IRAs And Annuities

Experts share tips and warnings for investors

IRAs and annuities are growing in popularity as retirement investment options, according to recent surveys, but three financial experts warn they can have serious disadvantages.

"Last year, four out of 10 U.S. households had IRA accounts-that's up from 17 percent two decades ago," says CPA Jim Kohles, chairman of RINA accountancy corporation, (www.rina.com), citing an ICI Research survey. "But they can be bad for beneficiaries if you have a very large account."

Investment in annuities, touted as offering a potential guaranteed income stream, also continue to grow with sales up 10 percent in the second quarter of this year.

"Annuities have several dark sides, both during your lifetime and for your beneficiaries," says wealth management advisor Haitham "Hutch" Ashoo, CEO of Pillar Wealth Management, (www.pillarwm.com). "My Chris Snyder, and I wouldn't recommend investing in them."

Putting large amounts of money in either annuities or IRAs can have serious tax consequences for your heirs, say Kohles, Ashoo and attorney John Hartog of Hartog & Baer Trust and Estate Law, (www.hartogbaer.com).

"If you want to ensure your beneficiaries get what you've saved, you need to take some precautions," Hartog says.

The three offer these suggestions:

• Take stock of your assets - you could be worth more than you think: If your estate is worth more than $5.25 million (for couples, $10.5 million), your beneficiaries face a 40 percent estate tax and federal and state income taxes, says Kohles, the CPA. "It can substantially deplete the IRA," he says.

To avoid that, take stock of your assets now - you may have more than you realize when you take into account such variables as inflation and rising property values. Be aware of how close to that $5/$10 million benchmark you are now, and how close you'll be a few years from now.

"Consider and properties, vehicles, potential inheritances," Kohles says.

Also, take advantage of the lower tax rates you enjoy today, particularly if they're going to skyrocket after your death. "A lot of people want to pay zero taxes now and that's not necessarily a good idea," he says. For instance, if you're at that upper level, consider converting your traditional IRA to a ROTH IRA and paying the taxes on the money now so your beneficiaries won't have to later.

• No matter what your estate's value, avoid investing in annuities. Wealth management adviser Ashoo warns annuities, offered by companies, can cost investors an inordinate amount of money during their lifetime and afterward.

"Insurance companies try to sell customers on the potential for guaranteed income, a death benefit paid to beneficiaries, or a 'can't lose' minimum return, but none of those compensates for what you have to give up," he says.

That includes being locked in to the annuity for five to seven years with hefty penalties for pulling out early; returns that fall far short of market investments on indexed annuities; high management fees for variable annuities; declining returns on fixed-rated annuities in their latter years; and giving up your principle in return for guaranteed income.

"If you own annuities and have a substantial estate, there are smart ways to unwind them to minimize damage," Ashoo says.

• Consider spending down your tax-deferred IRA early. If you're in the group with $5 million/$10 million assets, it pays to go against everything you've been taught and spend the IRA before other assets, says attorney Hartog.

You might also postpone taking Social Security benefits until you're 70½ and withdraw from your IRA instead. "That will maximize your Social Security benefit - you'll get 8 percent more.

"

Finally, anyone who has accumulated some wealth will do best coordinating their with a team of specialists, the three say. As a CPA, Kohles is focused on minimizing taxes; wealth management adviser Ashoo's concern is the client's goals and lifestyle; and lawyer Hartog minimizes estate taxes.

"We get the best results managing tax consequences and maintaining our clients' lifestyles by working together," Hartog says.

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