Editor’s Note: This is Part Three of a five part series on supplemental income streams in retirement

If you are in or near retirement, it can be exhausting watching the market swing back and forth while worrying if your money will last for your lifetime. What if you could help supplement your Social Security benefits and your retirement assets with income that may be protected from the forces of economic volatility?

The good news is you can. There are several ways to help generate income that may be sheltered from the ups and downs of the stock market. One way to generate that income is through an annuity.

Generally, annuities work by taking a sum of money, which is then invested and can pay the purchaser an income over a set period of time. There are a variety of different structures for how annuities can be funded or paid out based on your individual needs. For instance, you can structure an annuity to pay out over the course of just a few years or for the rest of your life.

Typically, the first step when considering an annuity is to have a conversation with a financial advisor. You should specifically discuss how you want to fund your annuity, when you’ll need to start receiving income from the annuity, and what type of annuity is best for you based on your risk tolerance. Some advantages of annuities with income for a lifetime include:

  • Flexibility to create a plan with payment and payout parameters that fit your financial needs
  • Live the life you planned for by creating sufficient income in retirement
  • Help eliminate the risk that you will outlive your assets
  • Help prevent the potential that losses in the early years, negatively affect the income you receive in the later years of retirement
  • Provisions that can help adjust payouts for inflation

Lifetime income adjusted for inflation may have you wondering why you might even bother to consider another alternative. As with anything, though, it’s important to know that annuities aren’t a fix-all financial instrument. They’re a good solution for lifetime income but may not be the best return on investment in all instances.

The flip side of that rate of return is that you may limit the amount of benefit you receive compared to a more aggressive investment vehicle depending on how your annuity is structured. For that reason, annuities are not often recommended to younger investors who may have more time to weather the ebbs and flows of the markets.

Additionally, annuities are not generally beneficial to those who may need immediate access to a larger sum of money. Annuities often carry a substantial cost if you need early access to your principal. A financial advisor can help you work through considerations such as purchases, emergencies, or family dynamics that may impact your ability to invest your retirement assets in an annuity. Total fees can often be substantial if you want your annuity to include a cost-of-living adjustment, or if you want it to transfer to a beneficiary upon your death.

Without a provision transferring an annuity to a beneficiary, the issuer is often entitled to whatever may remain of your principal investment in the event you don’t outlive the annuity payments.

Lackluster return rates, challenges to accessing your principal investment, and add-on costs are three potential downfalls of annuities. Other potential challenges include:

  • Forfeit of principal upon death;
  • Annuities are not FDIC insured, so they rely on the solvency of the issuer;
  • Earnings may be taxed; and
  • Additional fees for cost-of-living adjustments, access to principal, and death benefits.

An annuity is intended to bring you peace of mind through lifetime income and can be an effective financial instrument to help provide supplemental income for your golden years. Your advisor can help you determine if an annuity is right for your lifestyle and financial goals, or if a different investment strategy may be more effective for you.