Earlier, we described three things 401(k) plan sponsors can do to help participants avoid running out of money in retirement. Offering managed risk equity funds as investment options, and incorporating them into the asset allocation glide path for the plan’s auto-investing tools, addresses two of three fundamental risks for retirement income: market risk and inflation risk. By continuing to service retirees as ongoing participants in the plan, the plan sponsor helps retirees maintain continuity between their pre-retirement and post-retirement investment strategies with lower, institutional investment expenses. But we haven’t addressed the issue of longevity risk—how can participants know how long their retirement savings have to last?
One powerful solution is to use a deferred annuity contract, which transfers longevity risk to an insurance company by starting payouts to the policyholder at an advanced age. On July 1, 2014, final Treasury regulations were issued regarding “qualified longevity annuity contracts” (QLACs) held within qualified defined contribution plans, i.e., 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, IRAs. The regulations provide an exception to the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules of Internal Revenue Code section 401(a)(9), which require certain distributions to be made from qualified plans starting at age 70½. Without this exception, a deferred income annuity could cause the plan to violate the RMD rules, because the annuity does not begin payments until much later (usually age 80 but at least 85). The regulations state that a QLAC is not subject to RMDs until payments begin under the terms of the annuity, thus expanding retirement income options as an increasing number of Americans reach retirement age.
A QLAC can be purchased with up to 25% (maximum $125,000) of the account balance. If a participant at age 65 were to use 18% to 20% of their portfolio to purchase a QLAC that commences benefit payments at age 80, the remaining 401(k) account need only provide retirement income for 15 years, when the annuity payments would begin. Removing the uncertainty around how long the 401(k) account needs to last allows for a significant increase in retirement income. By adding a QLAC and applying the investment strategies suggested earlier in this series, we have achieved significant improvement in the sustainable withdrawal rate for the participant, while maintaining an equal probability of success!
In order to maintain simplicity and portability of the 401(k) plan, as well as to minimize fiduciary exposure for the plan sponsor, the best practice may be to encourage participants to hold the QLAC within an IRA. The participant may initiate a rollover distribution from the 401(k) to an IRA in order to pay the premium. The retiree takes installment payments from the 401(k) from age 65 to 80, then the annuity benefits provide retirement income from age 80 until death.1
This is Step 4 in helping 401(k) participants create sustainable retirement income from their 401(k) accounts (see the first three steps here). Undoubtedly, creative strategies will continue to emerge as the industry tackles this issue.
1This statement is not a recommendation to buy investment or insurance products. An individual should consult their personal adviser to determine the suitability of any investment or insurance product.