One of the most exciting retirement income planning opportunities since the elimination of the Roth IRA conversion income threshold in 2010 has been approved, however, it isn't available yet for purchase.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the change in Roth IRA conversion eligibility rules, prior to 2010, only taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of less than $100,000 were eligible to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. With the elimination of the income threshold, Roth IRA conversions have soared in popularity since anyone may convert part, or all, of his/her traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. See Year of the Conversion to learn more.
The most recent potential retirement income planning game-changer, qualified longevity annuity contracts, or "QLAC's," have received a fair amount of press since the Treasury and IRS finalized a regulation in the beginning of July blessing their use. I have personally written two other articles about them, beginning with 6 Ways a New Tax Law Benefits a Sustainable Retirement published July 25th in the RetireMentors section of MarketWatch and my August 4th Retirement Income Visions™ blog post, You Don't Have to Wait Until 85 to Receive Your Annuity Payments.
What are QLAC's?
QLAC's came about in response to increasing life expectancies and the associated fear of outliving one's assets. With the passage of IRS' final regulation, retirement plan participants can now invest up to the lesser of $125,000 or 25% of their retirement plan balance in specially-designated deferred income annuities, or "DIA's," that provide that lifetime distributions begin at a specified date no later than age 85. Unlike single premium immediate annuities, or "SPIA's," that begin distributing their income immediately after investment, the start date for DIA income payments is deferred for at least 12 months after the date of purchase.
As discussed in my July 25th MarketWatch article, QLAC's offer a new planning opportunity to longevitize your retirement in six different ways. While longevity is the driving force for QLAC's, the income tax planning angle, which is the first possibility, has been attracting the lion's share of media attention. Specifically, QLAC's provide retirement plan participants with the ability to circumvent the required minimum distribution, or "RMD," rules for a portion of their retirement plan assets. These rules require individuals to take annual minimum distributions from their retirement plans beginning by April 1st of the year following the year that they turn 70-1/2.
Where Do I Buy a QLAC?
I've had several people ask me recently, "Where do I buy a QLAC?" Unlike the Roth IRA conversion opportunity that expanded the availability of an existing planning strategy from a limited audience to anyone who owns a traditional IRA with the elimination of the $100,000 income barrier beginning on a specified date, i.e., January 1, 2010, the implementation of IRS' QLAC regulation is much more complicated. This is resulting in an unknown introduction date for QLAC offerings.
There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is the nature of the product itself. First and foremost, although an existing product, i.e., a deferred income annuity, or "DIA," will initially be used as the funding mechanism for QLAC's, the contracts for DIA's that are currently available don't necessarily comply with all of the various provisions of IRS' new QLAC regulation. While the three mentioned are the most important, i.e., (1) Only available for use in retirement plans, (2) limitation of lesser of $125,000 or 25% of retirement plan balance, and (3) distributions must begin at a specified date no later than age 85, there are other technical requirements that must be met in order for a DIA to be marketed and sold as a QLAC.
In addition to understanding and complying with the nuances of the IRS regulation, life insurance carriers that want to offer QLAC's are scrambling to restructure existing DIA products and develop new products that will (a) match consumers' needs, (b) be competitive, and (c) meet profit objectives. This requires a host of system and other internal changes, state insurance department approvals, and coordination with distribution channels, all of which must occur before life insurance companies will receive their first premiums from sales of this product.
Another important obstacle to the introduction of QLAC's is the fact that fixed income annuities with deferred income start dates, including DIA's and fixed index annuities, or "FIA's," with income riders, are a relatively new product to which many consumers haven't been exposed. While both products are designed, and are suitable, for use in retirement income plans, most investment advisors don't currently have the specialized education, licensing, and experience to understand, let alone offer, these solutions to their clients. See What Tools Does Your Financial Advisor Have in His or Her Toolbox?
So when will you be able to purchase QLAC's? Although current speculation is that product launch may begin in the fourth quarter of this year, it's my personal opinion that widespread availability will not occur until well into 2015. This will give investment advisers and consumers, alike, additional time to get more educated about fixed income annuities, including their place in retirement income plans. Once the word spreads, I believe that the demand for fixed income annuities will increase significantly, especially if the timing is preceded by a stock market decline.