Buy an annuity and get a tax break too

Convert some of your retirement savings into a lifetime annuity and you could snag a big tax break, if a new bill recently introduced in the House sees the light of day.

The rationale behind the Retirement Security Needs Lifetime Pay Act (H.R. 2748) is that we are going to screw up withdrawals from our retirement accounts and run out of money way too soon. Indeed, more than 40% of respondents to a MetLife survey said a 10% annual drawdown of their retirement savings seemed on target. But that aggressive pace would deplete your retirement funds in under 10 years; given longer life expectancies, it’s prudent to aim for a retirement income stream running for at least 20 years, and preferably 30. (In fact, the universally accepted initial annual withdrawal rate to ensure your money will last as long as you, is 4%.)

So that brings us to the new legislation introduced by Reps. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) and Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) that holds out a nice tax carrot to get us to convert some of our lump sums into annuities that will provide a lifetime income stream. The idea is to get us to create our own old-fashioned pension plans that deliver steady payouts. Key provisions of the bill include:

• You will be allowed to exclude 50% of annual annuity payouts from a non-qualified plan (one you invested after-tax dollars in) from taxable income. The annual maximum exclusion would be $10,000.
• You will be allowed to exclude 25% of annual annuity payouts from a qualified plan (401(k), IRA and other tax-deferred accounts) from taxable income.

The bill also creates a tax incentive to purchase
longevity insurance
, an annuity usually structured so it doesn’t start paying out until you’re in your eighties. (In return for that delay of gratification, you get higher annual payments than you would from annuities that start paying earlier.)

In 2005 Pomeroy floated a similar idea (the more catchily-named Lifetime Pension Annuity for You Act) that never made it out of committee. But that was long before retirement security was threatened by a severe bear market and the bursting of the real estate bubble. And according to
academics who studied the 2005 version
, the tax breaks would help to reduce the cost of annuities (by getting more folks to buy ‘em) and wouldn’t be a huge hit for Treasury’s coffers. Then again, back when the study was conducted we didn’t have massive deficits to pay for, so any hit to future tax revenue may be a tough sell in Congress today.

And what about you? Would a tax break entice you to consider converting some of your retirement savings into an fixed annuity?

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