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The 403b and 457 Plan Comparison for Public School Employees

As a public school employee, pension plans are an important component of retirement planning. However, your pension alone may not provide enough retirement income to support your desired future lifestyle.

Fortunately, there are additional options available to help you achieve your retirement savings objectives. Contributing to 403b and/or 457 plan offered by your school district affords you the opportunity to supplement your defined benefit pension plan.

HOW ARE THE 403B AND 457 PLAN SIMILAR?

403b and 457b plans are both retirement plans offered to public school employees and certain 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations. Employees save for retirement by contributing to individual accounts. Employers may also contribute to employees’ accounts. Both plans have the following in common:

Tax-deferred Contributions
Both employer sponsored plans allow you make contributions on a pre-tax basis via a Salary Reduction Agreement. Contributions to qualified savings plans, are made on a pre-tax basis, reducing taxable income received by the employee, which typically equates to a keeping you in or lowering you to a lesser tax bracket. For the past 3 years, contribution limits have been the same for both plans.

Tax-deferred growth on earnings
Your taxes are paid at a future date which allows your investment to grow without current tax implications. The use of a tax-deferred investment account is most often a wise decision when you are in a higher tax bracket now compared to the income tax bracket you anticipate to be taxed at in the future when you will be taking withdrawals. This can help you to build wealth quicker because you are reinvesting all growth in your account rather than paying a chunk each year to Uncle Sam.

Portability
If you leave your job, your plan contributions and earnings can be exchanged into your new employer’s plan without tax implications if done properly.

Investment Options
Both plans allow you to select from various investment options like mutual funds and annuities.

ROTH option available
Both plans may have a ROTH option available where you pay income tax on the contributions to the plan, while distributions from the plan (if certain requirements are met) are tax-free. Choosing whether to use the ROTH option is a decision based on your age and when you need access to the funds.


DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE 403B AND 457 PLANS

While the plans have much in common, they do have a few key differences that may affect your decision to invest in one or the other. The main differences between 403(b) and 457 plans center on how and when you can access the funds.

Early/premature withdrawals

  • 403bs are subject to possible 10% penalty (link: https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/plan-participant-employee/retirement-topics-tax-on-early-distributions) (if under age 59-1/2.
  • 457b does NOT have early withdrawal penalties.

Catchup provisions*

We recommend you speak to a professional when deciphering which catchup rules may apply to you. Below is a brief summary of the differences in catch up provisions.

403(b) Catchup Provisions:

  • 50 years or older rule. If permitted by the 403(b) plan, employees who are age 50 or over at the end of the calendar year can also make catch-up contributions of $6,000 in 2015 – 2019 beyond the basic limit on elective deferrals.
  • 15-year rule. Employees with 15 years of service with their current employer and an annual average contribution of less than $5,000 per year are eligible for an additional $3,000 contribution per year up to a lifetime maximum catch-up of $15,000.
  • When both catch-up opportunities are available, the law requires deferrals exceeding the standard limit ($19,000 in 2019 and $18,500 in 2018) to be first applied to the 15-year catch-up (to the extent permitted), and then to the age 50 catch-up.

457 Catchup Provisions: The 457 plan has special catch-up contributions that may be allowed.

  • If permitted by the plan, this allows a participant for three years prior to the normal retirement age (as specified in the plan) to contribute the lesser of:
    • Twice the annual limit of $38,000 in 2019 and $37,000 in 2018, or
    • The basic annual limit plus the amount of the basic limit not used in prior years (only allowed if not using age 50 or over catch-up contributions)

Fees and Expenses

Whether you ultimately choose a 403(b) or 457(b) you will also need to make important decisions regarding the investments within those accounts. Be sure to compare the fees associated with mutual funds and annuities before jumping into either plan. Choosing a plan with even a 1% higher fee could affect your retirement savings nest egg.


WHICH PLAN SHOULD I CHOOSE?

DID YOU KNOW? If eligible, you could contribute to a pension, a 403(b) AND a 457 plan at the same time.

Contact Us to find out if you qualify for this savings strategy.

There are many factors to consider when you decide which plan to enroll into, how much to contribute, and how to invest your money. Many of these decisions will also be based on your age, your personal goals for the future, and when you will need to access the money.

Warwick Valley Financial Advisors specializes in helping teachers and school district personnel understand the issues they face. We have become seasoned industry advisors on the 403(b) and 457 plans and can help you make informed decisions early in your financial planning journey.

If you have not yet signed up for a 403(b) or 457 plan, consider doing so as soon as possible. The sooner you begin saving, the more substantial the sum of retirement funds you can potentially save, and the better your chances to be able to afford to live the retirement lifestyle you want to live.

If the idea of picking the right plan intimidates you, contact a financial advisor who specializes in working with teachers and school district personnel to help you make an informed decision.

*Catchup Provision – Source: https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/cola-increases-for-dollar-limitations-on-benefits-and-contributions

Free Guide: What Every K-12 Employee Should Know About Their 403B Plan

Retirement investing for teachers can be confusing. This guide is an excellent source of information about the various options available to you as a school district employee answering important questions.

This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal or investment advice. If you are seeking investment advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.

An Independent Review of the MetLife Preference Plus® Annuity

This is an independent review of a popular 403(b) MetLife annuity product. If you work in K-12 school and participate in a 403(b), there is a good chance you might have been sold the MetLife Preference Plus® Account Variable Deferred and Income Annuity Contracts.

If you own this MetLife annuity and want an independent, objective review—then you’re in the right place.

Legal Disclosures

Before we get into the details, here are some legal disclosures. For readers who have found my website and don’t know much about me, I am a fee-only financial advisor held to the Fiduciary Standard. I am legally obligated to make recommendations that are in the best interest of my clients. Unlike other advisors, I find that some annuities may be a part of a comprehensive financial plan when used correctly.

This is a review, not a recommendation to buy or sell a variable annuity. MetLife has not endorsed this review in any way, nor do I receive any compensation for this review. This review is meant to be an independent review at the request of a client so they can see my perspective when breaking down the positives and negatives of this annuity product. Before purchasing any investment product, be sure to do your own due diligence and consult a properly licensed professional should you have specific questions as they relate to your individual circumstances.

This information was gathered from MetLife’s prospectus dated April 30st 2018 and is not a substitution for individual tax or legal advice. I’m just reporting on the main facts; to find answers specific to your situation may require a review of the full prospectus for applicable the details.

Let’s Get Started!


TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Platform Overview
Investment Options
Fees & Expenses
Advertised Features & Benefits
Conclusion


PLATFORM OVERVIEW:


metlife-annuity-review

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife) is a provider of insurance, annuities, employee benefits and asset management. They are one of the largest institutional investors in the United States with a $270.2 billion general account portfolio.

Product NameMetLife Preference Plus® Account
Type of ProductVariable Annuity
IssuerMetropolitan Life Insurance Company
Standard & Poor’s RatingAA- (Very Strong)*
Phone Number(800) 638-7732
Websitehttps://www.MetLife.com
What Is a Variable Annuity?
A variable annuity is a contract between an individual and a life insurance company where, in exchange for the individual’s purchase payments, the insurer agrees to pay out a lump sum or a stream of retirement income at a later date. It is called “variable” because the account and the value of the income payments will vary based on the performance of the investments that you select, resulting in payments that may go up or down. Read More on SEC.gov.

The MetLife Preference Plus® Account (PPA) is a variable annuity issued by MetLife to help employees of public schools, colleges and universities, nonprofit hospitals and nonprofit organizations. This variable annuity may help participants accumulate assets for retirement as well as provide a steady stream of income throughout their retirement years.

MetLife no longer actively offers the PPA to new purchasers. However, current contract owners may still make additional purchase payments. Metlife does currently offer another 403b annuity product through Brighthouse Financial which we will review at a later date.

*Standard and Poor’s Rating Service provides ratings which measure the claims-paying ability of an insurer. These ratings are the opinions of an operating insurance company’s financial capacity to meet the obligations of its insurance policies in accordance with their terms.


INVESTMENT OPTIONS


MetLife Preference Plus® Annuity offers a wide range of investment options. Investors have access to over 50 different investment fund options (sub-accounts) including numerous equity and fixed income portfolios as well as various asset allocation and target date retirement portfolios. The underlying investment options available in a variable annuity invest in stocks, bonds, money market instruments, or some combination of the three.

MetLife has entered into sub-advisory agreements with these various investment providers:

American Funds, Brighthouse, BlackRock, Clarion, ClearBridge, Fidelity, Harris Oakmark, Loomis Sayles, MFS, Neuberger Berman, Oppenheimer, PIMCO, SSGA, T. Rowe Price, Victory Sycamore, and Western Asset Management.


FEES & EXPENSES


Keeping fees low should be a top priority when saving for your retirement. If you’re not familiar with variable annuity products and how they work, their fees can be confusing to decipher. With a variable annuity, the majority of your cost comes from two types of fees:

  1. Fees to the insurance company associated with risk protection: Income & Death Benefit
  2. Fees associated with the investment funds inside the annuity.

Below are MetLife Preference Plus® Annuity fees and how you will be paying for them.

Mortality and Expense Risk Charge: 1.25% annually
Each business day, MetLife deducts a mortality and expense risk (“M&E”) charge from your account. This charge is equal to 1.25% annually and compensates MetLife for risks assumed, benefits provided, and expenses incurred, including the payment of commissions to your sales agent. This fee comes right out of your account annually for the life of the investment, whether your investments earn money or not. It compensates the insurance company for the risk it assumes under this annuity contract, and it applies to all variable investment options. This charge is commonly found in variable annuities, but it’s not something you have to pay with all annuities. A variable annuity is the only type of annuity that charges the M&E fee.
Underlying Sub Account Operating Expenses: Range from 0.61% to 2.09%
This is another ongoing fee charged for the investments inside of the variable annuity. You may not find this fee listed by the materials presented to you by the sales. To find out about these fees, you have to dig through the prospectus. I did that for you. The internal expenses of the sub-accounts for this variable annuity contract range from 0.61% to 2.09% .
Administration Charge: $30
MetLife deducts a semiannual contract administrative charge of $15 in June and December of each Contract Year. This is a standard fee that is charged in most annuity contracts.
Fixed Interest Account fee: $20
A $20 Annual Contract Fee is imposed on money in the Fixed Interest Account. This fee may be waived under certain circumstances.
Withdrawal / Surrender Charges: Declining 7-year withdrawal charge
In addition to all the fees listed above, this variable annuity also charges a surrender fee (sometimes known as a withdrawal charge). Typically speaking, a surrender fee is only assessed when an investor makes a withdrawal prior to a specified time. MetLife charges an Early Withdrawal if you withdraw purchase payments within 7 years of when they were credited to your Deferred Annuity. The charge on purchase payments is calculated according to the following schedule. MetLife states in the prospectus: “A declining 7-year withdrawal charge applies to each contribution.” There are situations when the withdrawal charge maybe waived—details are in the prospectus.

Commissions: How is MetLife paying the agent?

The Financial representative who sells this investment product receives a sales commission. These commissions are not transparent. You will not see this compensation as a line item in any statements. The amount and timing of compensation may vary depending on the selling agreement but could be as high as 6-7% upfront to the MetLife annuity salesperson.

A broker-dealer firm or financial representative of a firm may receive different compensation for selling one product over another and/or may be inclined to favor one product provider over another product provider due to differing compensation rates.

MetLife pays agents’ commissions on every future dollar you contribute to your 403(b) MetLife Annuity. This creates ongoing compensation for your broker.


ADVERTISED FEATURES & BENEFITS


Guaranteed Death Benefit: A common feature of variable annuities is the death benefit. We highly suggest you read our in-depth Death Benefit article to determine whether this insurance benefit is worth the extra cost.

How this insurance benefit works: If you die, a person you select as a beneficiary (such as your spouse or child) will receive the greater of: (i) all the money in your account, or (ii) some guaranteed minimum (such as all purchase payments minus prior withdrawals).

In this case, the MetLife Preference Plus® variable annuity agrees to pay out your total contributions even if your account takes a significant market hit.

Income Benefits: MetLife Preference Plus® annuity does NOT provide an income benefit. So, in order to receive income from this account during retirement, you may have to annuitize the contract.

What is annuitization?
One of the basic insurance features that comes with a variable annuity is called annuitization. Annuitization refers to the process by which, you elect, your account value is converted into a stream of payments (this being the payout phase), for a specific period or for the rest of your life. When you annuitize a variable annuity contract, you forfeit your account value in return for these guaranteed payments. The insurance company calculates your payments using an algorithm that considers factors such as your age, your initial investment premium, and the annuity account value at the time of annuitization. Annuitization could be considered if an investor’s account value has declined substantially at a time when he or she needed income from the annuity.

Tax Deferred Growth: One of the major selling points of a variable annuity is the benefit of tax deferral. An annuity lets you save for retirement and delay paying taxes on your earnings until you make withdrawals. By deferring taxes, you can increase compounded earnings growth and potentially end up with a bigger nest egg.

Here’s what you may not realize: If you are investing in a variable annuity through a tax-advantaged retirement plan (such as a 403 (b) plan or IRA), you will get no additional tax advantage from the variable annuity. Under these circumstances, consider buying a variable annuity only if it makes sense because of the annuity’s other features, such as lifetime income payments and death benefit protection. The tax rules that apply to variable annuities can be complicated – before investing, you may want to consult a tax adviser about the tax consequences to you of investing in a variable annuity.

Dollar Cost Averaging: This is a program that allows you to invest a fixed amount of money in investment options each month, theoretically giving you a lower average cost per unit over time than a single one-time purchase. Dollar cost averaging involves continuous investment in securities. An investor should consider their ability to continue purchasing through fluctuating price levels. Such a plan does not assure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets.

Automatic Rebalancing: You may elect to have MetLife periodically reallocate the values in your contract to match the rebalancing allocation selected.

Free Withdrawal Allowance: Beginning in the second Contract Year and prior to the Maturity Date, you may exchange/transfer up to 10% of the Contract Value annually without the imposition of any applicable withdrawal charges or tax implications if moving to another 403b account.

T-Flex Guaranteed Investment Option: MetLife also offers a guaranteed interest account inside this MetLife annuity contract. T-Flex is a fixed annuity option that offers competitive interest rates. Interest rate guarantees and income options are backed by the financial strength and claims-paying ability of MetLife Insurance Company. This product or some product features may always not be available in all states. It also has withdrawal charges of 7% for five years on each purchase payment

Required Minimum Distribution Service (RMD): The minimum distribution generally required each year once an individual reaches age 70 1/2, by Federal income tax rules, can be calculated and forwarded from the annuity contract. Failure to take required minimum distributions for a year will generally result in a 50% penalty tax on the amount of the shortfall. MetLife will calculate the required minimum distribution for this MetLife annuity contract based on information provided and for this MetLife annuity contract only. If the participant opts in, MetLife will remit the required minimum distribution to the participant in installment frequencies elected by the participant. May not be available in all markets.

Roth Eligible: MetLife allows for Roth Contributions in this MetLife Annuity contract.

Loan Provision: The amount that may be borrowed, the interest rate charged, the loan repayment schedules and loan application fees are described in the loan application form and the contract Loan availability may be subject to plan provisions but normally allows you to borrow up to a maximum of 50% of your account balance or $50,000.


CONCLUSION


Variable annuities can be unnecessarily expensive and complex investment vehicles for most people. In general, variable annuities will add at least 1% in costs just for the M&E fee alone, not to mention the fees for the investment sub-accounts and/or income riders that can (and often are) added on. Over time, these additional costs can negatively impact your return potential.

My biggest concern with this MetLife annuity (and most annuities in general), is that you are paying extra for tax deferred growth when you already have that benefit in a qualified retirement account such as a 403(b).

As the Securities Exchange Commission states:

If you are investing in a variable annuity through a tax-advantaged retirement plan (such as a 403b, 401(k) plan or IRA), you will get no additional tax advantage from the variable annuity. Under these circumstances, consider buying a variable annuity only if it makes sense because of the annuity’s other features, such as lifetime income payments and death benefit protection.

In reviewing the other features that this annuity offers, you should consider that it does not offer an income benefit and offers only a standard death benefit. Also consider that an investment product with high costs must perform better than a low-cost investment product to generate the same returns. Comparable investment choices may be available that do not include the additional 1.25% in insurance benefit costs.

THINGS TO CONSIDER ABOUT THIS ANNUITY

  • No additional tax benefits when part of a 403(b): You’re buying a tax-deferred product (an annuity) inside an already tax-deferred product (403b). Since 403(b) plans are already tax-advantaged, a variable annuity will provide no additional tax advantages. It most likely will increase the expenses of the 403(b), while potentially generating higher fees and commissions for the broker or salesperson.
  • Overall fees including a Mortality and Expense Risk charge: There are additional fees associated with variable annuities that are not found in other types of annuities or mutual funds. Over time, higher fees can negatively impact your return potential. If you don’t need the benefits of an annuity at this time, then paying these extra fees for the next 10 to 20 years will hinder the growth of your retirement account. This variable annuity carries additional fees that should be considered. Whether the higher fees make sense for you will depend on your specific needs and situation.
  • Surrender Charges based on ongoing contributions: You should carefully consider whether it is in your best interest to buy an investment that charges a penalty fee to get out of it. Many annuities will impose a surrender charge if the annuity is cashed in before a specific period.
  • No Income Benefit rider available. Which means, in order to receive an income for life, annuitization of the contract may be required.
  • Agent commissions and compensation based on ongoing contributions.

HOW DO THE FEES IN THIS ANNUITY STACK UP AGAINST OTHER INVESTMENT OPTIONS?

According to one analysis from the independent investment research company Morningstar, the most popular version of the MetLife Preference Plus® annuity has total annual operating costs that can range from 1.85% to 2.63%. There may be other investment options that have lower costs. However, variable annuities offer features and benefits that may not be available with other investment options.

WHEN THIS INVESTMENT MIGHT MAKE SENSE:

Variable annuities are appropriate only in very specific circumstances. If you have already maxed out all qualified retirement account options (403b, 457b and/or IRA) and would like to put aside more money into a tax-deferred account, then a variable annuity might be an appropriate option. However, think carefully about whether this specific variable annuity with the structure of its surrender fees, agent commissions, and income rider options would best support your retirement goals. You may also want to consider the relative features, benefits, and costs against or with any other investment that you may use in connection with your retirement. Be sure to read carefully the marketing materials and prospectus, and if you don’t understand what you’re paying for, ask questions and receive a full disclosure before deciding.

CAN YOU GET OUT OF A METLIFE PREFERENCE PLUS® VARIABLE ANNUITY?

  • If you are out of the Surrender Charge period, you can transfer the balance to another 403b account.
  • If you are still in the Surrender period, contract owners can withdraw 10% of the value per year without penalty. That 10% can be transferred or rolled to another 403(b) provider or qualified retirement account if you met certain terms.

IF YOU CURRENTLY OWN THIS ANNUITY:

Over the past few years I’ve discovered that many of my 403(b) clients were paying for insurance benefits to protect their retirement savings and paying high costs for it. You should understand that the significant factor in determining your investment’s rate of return—after asset allocation—is cost. Fees eat into your bottom line, so to make the most of this investment, you will want to minimize the fees you pay.

Now may be a good time to take another look and evaluate this product considering your long-term goals. If you are interested in a more detailed analysis specific to your situation, please, contact us.


THANK YOU!

If you found the information in the MetLife Annuity Review to be beneficial to you, please feel free to forward the review and share it with anyone else that you think may also benefit from it, too.

If, however, after reading this annuity review you still have any additional questions or concerns, then please feel free to reach out to us directly via our secure online contact form here and we’ll be happy to help.

If you happened to notice anything in this review that may be outdated or in need of revision, please let us know that, too and we will make the necessary updates as soon as possible.

Are there any other annuities that you would like to have us review?

If so, let us know the name of the annuity (or annuities, if there is more than just one), and our team of experienced annuity geeks will get on it!

Thanks for reading! -Ken Ford


None of the third parties referenced in this communication are affiliated with Warwick Valley Financial Advisors, Private Advisor Group or LPL Financial.

This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal or investment advice. If you are seeking investment advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.

Variable annuities are long term, tax-deferred investment vehicles designed for retirement purposes and contain both an investment and insurance component. They have fees and charges, including mortality and expense risk charges, administrative fees, and contract fees. They are sold only by prospectus. Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the issuer. Withdrawals made prior to age 59 ½ are subject to 10% IRS penalty tax and surrender charges may apply. Gains from tax-deferred investments are taxable as ordinary income upon withdrawal. The investment returns and principal value of the available sub-account portfolios will fluctuate so that the value of an investor’s unit, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original value.

Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses of the variable annuity contract and sub-accounts carefully before investing. The prospectus and, if available, the summary prospectus contains this and other important information about the variable annuity contract and sub-accounts. You can obtain contract and sub-account prospectuses and summary prospectuses from your financial representative. Read prospectuses carefully before investing.

Free Guide: What Every K-12 Employee Should Know About Their 403B Plan

Retirement investing for teachers can be confusing. This guide is an excellent source of information about the various options available to you as a school district employee answering important questions.

An Independent Review of Confidential Planning 403(b) Retirement Plan Platform

Dear Reader,

This is a detailed review of Confidential Planning, a lesser known 403(b) retirement plan provider. If you work in a K -12 school district with a 403(b) option, especially in the Tri-State area, there is a chance you have access to Confidential Planning on your district’s 403(b) provider list. We suggest reading 403b basics and our Teachers 403b Shopping Guide if you are unfamiliar with 403bs.

About this Review

The world of investments can be intimidating, but really it’s like any other shopping experience.  You want to compare prices and features and understand exactly what you’re buying. This review will help you do that.

My goal is to make my review of this company platform as impartial and objective as possible. The review will cover the following information on Confidential Planning:

How will this product review help you?

In this review you will:

  • Learn about a lesser known provider that may be an available option at your school district.
  • Familiarize yourself with the advantages of an open architecture structured 403b plan
  • Understand how to compare this product’s fees, features, and benefits against other available 403(b) investments options to determine if it is priced competitively.

About Me

Fiduciary: A person who occupies a position of financial trust with respect to the assets of another person, for example, a financial advisor. In the financial service industry, fiduciaries are held to higher ethical standards than non-fiduciaries. Fiduciaries also have greater accountability for the advice they give investors

For readers who have found my website and don’t know much about me, I am a fee-only financial planner held to the fiduciary standard. I am legally obligated to make recommendations that are in the best interest of my clients. I’m also on a mission to inform teachers and other school district employees about the companies and products that are offered in the 403b marketplace. I am a financial advisor who does not advise or manage any client accounts at Confidential Planning.

Legal Disclosure

This is a review, not a recommendation to buy or sell a mutual fund or variable annuity. Confidential Planning has not endorsed this review in any way, nor do I receive any compensation for this review. This review is meant to be an independent review at the request of a client so they can see my perspective when breaking down the positives and negatives of this an open architecture platform company.  Before purchasing any investment product, be sure to do your own due diligence and consult a properly licensed professional should you have specific questions as they relate to your individual circumstances.

This information was gathered from Confidential Planning’s website and is not a substitution for individual tax or legal advice. I’m just reporting on the main facts; to find answers specific to your situation may require a review of the full plan for applicable details.

Let’s get started.


Confidential Planning 403(b)(7) Plan Review

Platform Overview

Confidential Planning is a 403b retirement recordkeeping platform currently acting as a provider in school districts in the United States. Confidential Planning is headquartered in Syracuse, New York; they have a strong presence throughout the northeast. Hundreds of school districts, hospitals, universities and non-profit organizations entrust them with providing retirement planning services for their employees.

Product NameMultiChoice®
Type of product403(b)7 custodial account/Mutual Funds
Platform TypeOpen Architecture
Phone Number 800.822.9968
Websitewww.cpcfs.com
E-mailinfo@cpcfs.com

Confidential Planning, I, LLC is related to Pinnacle Investments, LLC. Pinnacle Investments, LLC is dually registered as a securities broker-dealer and investment advisor. Pinnacle Investments, LLC’s SEC File number is: 801-67860 and its CRD number is:142910

Other business activities and affiliations:
Pinnacle Holding Company, LLC is the parent company of 1) Pinnacle Investments, LLC, 2) Confidential Planning I, LLC and 3) Pinnacle Capital Management, LLC. Confidential Planning Corporation. Pinnacle Investments, LLC is affiliated with Pinnacle Advisors, LLC. Pinnacle Advisors, LLC is an SEC-registered investment advisor. The advisory services provided by Pinnacle Advisors, LLC are separate and distinct from the advisory services provided by Pinnacle Investments, LLC, or any other subsidiary of Pinnacle Holding Company, LLC.


Investment Options Overview

Open Architecture:

Open architecture is used to describe a financial institution’s ability to offer clients products and services. Open architecture ensures that a client can satisfy all their financial needs and that the investment firm can act in each client’s best interests by recommending the financial products best suited to that client, even if they are not proprietary products. Open architecture helps investment firms minimize the conflict of interest that would exist if the firm only recommended its own products.

Confidential Planning offers a multifamily fund menu of investment options inside their open architecture 403(b) platform. Investors have access to 28 mutual fund options including equity and fixed income portfolios as well as various target date retirement portfolios.

They offer access to thousands of no-load, no-transaction fee mutual funds on their 403(b) Multi-Choice program. Participants can customize the 403(b) Multi-Choice program to construct an investment portfolio based on your needs or overall financial plan. At any time, you may request to add (or delete) funds to your account based on availability at the 403(b) Multi-Choice.

Confidential Planning MultiChoice® 403(b) gives you access to some of the leading mutual fund families such as:

American, Blackrock, Fidelity, First Eagle, Janus, PIMCO,
T. Rowe Price, and Vanguard (28 Funds in total)

Fees & Expenses

Direct fees vs. Indirect fees

When working with Confidential Planning you will encounter administration fees and costs that are assessed to your account which will be direct as well as indirect. Direct fees are the contractual fees that are visible to the plan participants and generally include an annual custody fee and a participant fee charged by Confidential Planning. Indirect fees are fees charged by the mutual fund families that are netted against the value of that you have invested in each investment fund as part of the funds overall expense ratio and are not visible to you the participant.

Direct Fees:

Confidential Planning is compensated for their investment advisory services by charging fees for the percentage of assets that are under their management. These fees are paid by the participant:

Administration Custodial fee:  0.15% ($40 annually)
Confidential Planning charges a custody fee of 15 basis points (0.15%) of the account value annually for its recordkeeping services. These fees are assessed against the participant’s accounts monthly.

Annual Advisory fee: 1.0%
.25 to firm, .75 to advisor. The maximum annual asset fee charged will be 1.25% points for advisory services.

Management fees are separate and distinct from other fees that might apply, including transaction fees, underlying mutual fund fees and expenses paid to the fund by shareholders of the fund as outlined in each fund’s prospectus, and custodian fees.

Other Applicable, Transparent Plan & Participant-Level Fees:

  • $50 loan initiation
  • $75 per distribution processing
  • $10 recurring distributions
  • $25 check replacement
  • Surrender fees: None

Indirect Fees:

Underlying Portfolio Operating Expenses: 
This is another ongoing fee charged for the investments inside of the mutual funds. The internal expenses of mutual funds range from 0.13% to 1.00%

Features & Benefits of Confidential Planning 403(b)

Plan Benefits:

Fiduciary Standard:
• The duty to have a reasonable,
independent basis for the
investment advice provided;
• The duty to obtain best execution
for a client’s transactions where the
Firm is in a position to direct
brokerage transactions for the
client;
• The duty to ensure that investment
advice is suitable to meeting the
client’s individual objectives needs
and circumstances; and a duty to be
loyal to clients.
  • Traditional 403(b)
  • Loans available up to 50% of your account value with a $50,000 maximum
  • Firm & representatives are held to Fiduciary Standard

Investment Platform Benefits:

  • No proprietary funds
  • Target date retirement portfolios
  • Dollar cost averaging

Fee Benefits:

  • Transparent fee structure
  • 403(b)7 custodial account platform offers access to low-cost mutual funds

Customer Service Benefits:

A wide range of account and investment data is available on Confidential Planning.

  • Customized portfolio & rebalancing services
  • Required Minimum Distribution Services
  • Paper statements are mailed quarterly; however, statements can be accessed online.
  • Financial Planning, Debt management, Retirement income planning
  • Portfolio Analysis (Through Vanguard and Morningstar)

Fee Schedule:

When working with an advisor, you should be aware of the various ways in which the adviser can be compensated. There are a few layers of fees at this vendor that you will need to be aware of.

  1. Direct Fees: Confidential Planning’s fees a 0.15% fee on assets & $40 per year.
  2. Indirect Fees: Investment fees will be the same. An expense ratio is the cost investment mutual fund companies charge investors to manage a mutual fund. The expense ratio represents all of the management fees and operating costs of the fund.
  3. Advisor / Sales Rep Compensation: Confidential Planning 403(b) accounts can only be set up and managed by an advisor that is affiliated with Confidential Planning or one of its subsidiaries. The way these advisors are paid for their services is on a fee-basis.
    • Fee-based advisors: Confidential Planning’s advisors are fee-based financial planners are registered investment advisors with a fiduciary responsibility to act in their clients’ best interest. They do not accept any fees or compensation based on product sales. Fee-only financial advisors are paid directly by clients for their services, be it a flat fee, hourly rate or a percentage of assets under management, which adds up to 1.15% ibn total of a client’s portfolio value each year.

Advantages Of Confidential Planning 403(b)

  • Fiduciary standard and DOL Compliant: K-12 403(b) plans are Non-ERISA, meaning they do not comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. Confidential Planner’s adheres to the fiduciary standard, which means they must put the client’s best interest first.
  • Also, as fiduciaries charging investment management they are required to have annual reviews with clients at least once a year
  • Access to Vanguard’s Target Date Retirement Funds: These Target date retirement funds have a 72% lower average expense ratio then other mutual funds with similar holdings.
  • The Mutual funds on this platform are load waived. So that any share class that isn’t an institutional share will rebate the upfront commission
  • Fee Transparency: Confidential Planning has transparent fees, so you know how much it is going to cost you annually to use their platform. • Flexibility: Each client is given the opportunity to build a comprehensive financial plan and to work with a CFP if they so choose. No extra charge for planning services.
  • Access to a CFP professional: Pinnacle Investments, LLC has several advisors with a Certified financial designation that will construct a basic financial plan at no additional charge. For those that have not done any financial planning, this may justify paying higher fees, especially if you are just starting out.
  • Money Tree software is used to build financial plans. Clients have their own unique login and can adjust or review their plan at any time.

Disadvantages

  • Fee structure: They are not a low cost 403(b) provider. Their advisory platform fee adds up to 1.15% annually. But the total fees paid are closer to 1.50% and could be closer to 2% depending on which of the mutual funds that you invest in. This is comparable to other advisor directed vendors in the 403b marketplace, but the fees are much higher than some of the low-cost providers we have reviewed. (ex. Vanguard, Fidelity, Aspire )
  • There is no self-directed account option if you work with Confidential Planning. This mean you must work with an advisor that is affiliated with Confidential Planning or one of its subsidiaries.
  • Their platform only gives you access to 28 Mutual Fund options to invest in, this may or may not give you enough options to build a desired portfolio.
  • Accounts cannot be set up or managed without a representative of Confidential Planning. This means you will have to find an in-house representative that you feel comfortable building a financial relationship with.
  • You may already be working with a financial professional that you trust who helps you make investment related decisions, but you will still have to pay the advisory fees related to your CP account.
  • They do not provide a Roth 403(b) option.

Conclusions on The Confidential Planning 403(B)

Let’s recap:

Confidential Planning is a company that offers a multi-fund family 403b platform. They are one of the few companies that offers an open architecture mutual fund platform available with TPAs.

Confidential Planning may work best for those who are seeking the following:

  • The opportunity to work with an advisor that also has value added services ex. Financial Planning.
  • Wants to turn over the responsibility of managing the investments to an investment advisor.
  • Confidential Planning’s has a large presence in upstate or central region of New York. So, if you live in that area & want to meet face to face it might make sense to research them further.

Things to consider about this company’s platform:

  • Un-avoidable fees:
    • Custodial fees: 0.15% of your account value.
    • Advisor fee: The combined advisory fee is 1.0% per annum. This fee is said to be is negotiable with the advisor, but we cannot confirm or deny that.
    • Investment fund fees: These will vary depending on which funds are selected. Confidential Planning gives you access to some of the lowest cost funds available in the industry, but there are others that are on the higher side, so do your homework.
  • There are no Surrender Charges to leave Confidential Planning’s platform, but some funds may have surrender charges.
  • No death benefit fees are charged on any on the investment options on the platform.

When this investment might make sense:

If you don’t currently use Confidential Planning or another open architecture platform now may be a good time to take a look and evaluate these types of companies to see if they would be a good fit for your long-term goals.  If you are interested in a more detailed analysis specific to your situation, feel free to contact me.

THANK YOU

Thanks for reading this review. It’s always satisfying for me to provide some clarity on how they really work.

Free Guide: What Every K-12 Employee Should Know About Their 403B Plan

Retirement investing for teachers can be confusing. This guide is an excellent source of information about the various options available to you as a school district employee answering important questions.

If you have an annuity or other financial product you’d like to see an in-depth review on just let me know,  I’d be happy to take a stab at it. If you know a teacher or someone who is thinking about an annuity and might benefit from this post, feel free to forward it on to them via email.

Are you a Facebook user? One of the best ways to spread this message around is by “sharing” the post by using the Facebook icon below (it’s a blue square with a white F on it).

Thanks again for reading, and as always, if you have any questions or would like to have your retirement portfolio reviewed, don’t hesitate to reach out and schedule your no-obligation consultation.


None of the third parties referenced in this communication are affiliated with Warwick Valley Financial Advisors, Private Advisor Group or LPL Financial. 

This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal or investment advice. If you are seeking investment advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material. 

No investment strategy, including asset allocation and diversification, assures a profit or protects against loss.

Mutual fund investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal. 

The target date is the approximate date when investors plan to start withdrawing their money.  The principal value of a target fund is not guaranteed at any time, including at the target date.

omni 403b preferred provider program

Understanding the OMNI 403b P3 Plan Providers

In this post we aim to provide objective, trustworthy information about OMNI® and their 403(b) P3 Providers. As of this publish date, there are 35 providers available for school districts to add to their retirement plans.

Who is OMNI?

OMNI® is a Third-Party Administrator (TPA) of 403(b) plans. They work with school districts to help ensure compliance with IRS regulations governing the operation of 403(b) plans. OMNI® also helps your employer remit 403(b) contributions to participating service providers.

If your TPA is OMNI, then your school district may offer any of the 35 OMNI P3 Preferred Providers, each with their own account options, pricing structures, fees and investment products for you to choose from.

If you see an OMNI P3 provider that is not currently available to your school district, go ahead and contact your HR department and request to add that provider. Most times it’s just a flip of a switch. Many of these providers also offer a ROTH 403b option that you can request to ‘turn on’ as well.

What is 403bCompare?

Where possible, we have linked to vendor details on 403bcompare.com. The 403bCompare web site is a database of free, objective information about 403(b) vendors and the products they offer. The site was created to help employees of California’s local school districts, community college districts or county offices of education make better-informed investment decisions.

Suprisingly, neither NY (nor Omni 403b) have a comparable, objective resource but the vendor information is still relevant and accurate for NY’s K-12 school employees.

We hope the below links will serve as a great resource when making your initial 403(b) selection or if you are trying to make a change.


PROVIDERProduct TypesROTH eligibleProvider Details
American CenturyMutual FundsROTH eligible403b provider details
American Fidelity* Mutual Funds403b provider details
Ameriprise Financial / River Source Annuities
403b provider details
Aspire Financial ServicesMutual FundsROTH eligible403b provider details
AXA Equitable 
Life Insurance Company
Annuities
ROTH eligible403b provider details
axa annuity review
Brighthouse Life Ins. / MetLife AnnuitiesROTH eligible403b provider details
metlife annuity review

Chemung Canal Trust Co.403b provider details
Confidential Financial Planning / Multichoice
Mutual Funds
403b provider details
confidential planning 403b review
Faculty Services Corp
Annuities & Mutual Funds
ROTH eligible403b provider details
Foresters Financial 
(First Investors)

Mutual Funds
ROTH eligible403b provider details
FTJ Fundchoice
Mutual Funds ROTH eligible403b provider details
Global Atlantic Financial Group
403b provider details
GLP & Associates
Mutual FundsProvider details
Great American Insurance Group
Annuities403b provider details
GWN/Employee Deposit program
Mutual Funds
ROTH eligible403b provider details
Horace Mann Life
AnnuitiesProvider details
Kades Margolis
Provider details
The Legend Group, Inc / Adserv
Annuities & Mutual Funds
ROTH eligible403b provider details
Lincoln FinancialAnnuities403b product details
Lincoln Investment Planning, Inc. Annuities & Mutual Funds ROTH eligible403b provider details
Mass MutualAnnuities & Mutual Funds 403b provider details
Mutual Inc/Plan Member Services Corporation Annuities & Mutual Funds ROTH eligible403b provider details
National Life Group (LSW)
Annuities
403b provider details
New York Life Ins. & Annuity Corp.
Annuities
403b provider details
Oldham Resource Group
Mutual Funds
ROTH eligible403b provider details
Oppenheimer Funds Distributors, Inc Mutual Funds ROTH eligible403b product details
Primerica Financial Services
Mutual Funds
ROTH eligible403b provider details
Security Benefit Annuities & Mutual Funds ROTH eligible403b provider details
Sgroi Financial403b product details
TEG Federal Credit UnionAnnuities & Mutual Funds
403b provider details
Thrivent Financial for LutheransAnnuities & Mutual Funds
403b provider details
TIAA-CREFAnnuities / Mutual Funds
403b provider details
VALICAnnuitiesROTH eligible403b provider details
Voya (formerly ING) AnnuitiesROTH eligible403b provider details
Waddell & Reed, IncMutual Funds403b provider details

How do you narrow down a list of 403(b) Providers?

Comparing providers, analyzing the pricing structures and finding hidden fees is no small task…and neither your school district, nor OMNI® can recommend any specific provider.

But is essential to make an informed decision about 403(b) providers because your selection WILL affect your retirement account in the future.

We can help.

Free Guide: What Every K-12 Employee Should Know About Their 403B Plan

Retirement investing for teachers can be confusing. This guide is an excellent source of information about the various options available to you as a school district employee answering important questions.

  • Read our recent post on How to Select a Suitable 403(b) Vendor
  • Download our user-friendly 5-step Teachers Shopping Guide that covers the basics of narrowing down your Provider options.
  • Check out our (b)informed blog dedicated entirely to K-12 teacher retirement plan topics.
  • Ask us to host an informative school seminar for your district employees.
  • Schedule a complimentary portfolio review at school friendly hours. This is where we look over your plan, discuss your needs, and identify the investments that are suitable for you.

If you’re still suffering from the paradox of too much choice, or if you have specific questions about your plan or the fees you might be paying, please get in touch.

Warwick Valley Financial Advisors aims to help teachers make the most of their money and utilize their finances to live exceptional lives. We’d love to hear from you and provide more information on how we can help with your financial planning whether it be retirement, insurance, student loans, or other important financial matters.

I am an independent advisor committed to the fiduciary standard, and I don’t earn commissions from the recommendations that I make to clients.


Investing in mutual funds and variable annuities involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal or investment advice. If you are seeking investment advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.

Warwick Valley Financial Advisors and LPL Financial are not affiliated with or endorsed by OMNI 403b.

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choose 403b

How to Select a Suitable 403b Vendor

Teachers have a lot going on. On top of their all-encompassing job, many have families, children and other personal obligations that they must juggle along with everyday activities and tasks around the home. So, when it comes to choosing a 403b vendor to work with, many teachers choose blindly, simply following the course that their colleagues or friends have taken. They trust the professional who came to their classroom, and, from a 10,000-foot glance, thought the plan summary sounded good – “There’s no time to read all the fine print.” But this can be a very costly mistake!

Not all school district employees have the same situation or needs. And more importantly, the vendor that “your friend/colleague” selected, may not have been researched. For example, did you know that some charge fees that are avoidable and could stunt the growth of your retirement nest egg?

Below are some guidelines to help you choose a 403b vendor.

Check the 403b Vendor Fees

Fees may have the biggest impact on the return of your 403(b) plan because they cut directly into your rate of return.

For a mutual fund held in a retirement plan, these fees can include:

  • Expense Ratio: It costs money to run a mutual fund, sometimes more than others. This expense, also known as a management fee or operating expense, is typically deducted from the fund’s total assets before your share price is determined.
  • Sales fees or Commissions: On certain mutual funds, you will pay an upfront fee sometimes called a “front-end load”. Depending on the amount of your investment, you could qualify for a lower upfront fee called a “breakpoint”.
  • Redemption or surrender fees: On certain mutual funds,, you pay a “back-end or deferred load”. These fees will apply if you sell the mutual fund within a certain period of time.
  • Short Term Trading fees: Mutual funds are designed to be long-term investments, so trading fees were created for some funds to discourage short-term trading.
  • 12(b)1 Service fees: Many funds have an ongoing service fee that is paid to a financial advisor or the firm he or she works for as compensation for marketing the fund. Just like the expense ratio, this service fee will be deducted out of the total fund assets before your share price is determined.

For an annuity within a 403(b) plan, fees can include the following:

  • Mortality and expense risk fees: Also known as the Death Benefit. Participants pay the mortality and expense (M&E) fee each year to an insurer to offset the risk of investment loss, plus fees involved to pay annuity provider expenses. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, that generally means an average of 1.25 percent annually, which equates to $250 a year on a $20,000 account. (Read our recent blog post for more on this).
  • Administrative fees: These can be flat fees or a percentage of an account (typically, 0.15 percent, or $30 for a $20,000 account).
  • Sales loads: These are sales commissions an investor typically pays up-front when buying an annuity. These costs cut directly into the actual amount available to invest. For example, a 7 percent fee on a $10,000 investment will cost $700, meaning you’ve effectively only invested $9,300. These are common in 403(b) plans.
  • Investment Expense Ratio: Inside a variable annuity, the underlying stock and bond investment choices, called sub-accounts, will have an investment management fee which can range from .25 – 2.00% of the value in that account per year.
  • Surrender charges: These will apply if you sell an annuity within a certain period of time, known as the surrender period, which can last up to 15 years after purchase. This charge, also called a Contingent Deferred Sales Charge (CDSC), is a percentage of the asset balance at the time a person withdraws or transfers and depends on how long the money has been in place.
  • Fees for Optional Features:  Special features offered by some variable annuities, such as a stepped-up death benefit, a guaranteed minimum income benefit, or long-term care insurance, often carry additional fees and expenses.

Ask for a Fee Disclosure

To evaluate the fees of an investment product you’re considering, ask about them.

If you’re working with a financial advisor,

  • Ask if he or she receives a commission based on the sale of the product, and if so, the amount of this commission
  • Ask if the advisor will receive any additional compensation (including any bonuses or incentive gifts) associated with selling this product
  • Ask if the advisor will receive a greater sales commission by recommending a particular product over another, and whether your needs would be equally served by the lower-priced product

Performance Information

Fees can dramatically impact an investment’s potential performance, so, when evaluating investments, it is also useful to review, compare and contrast their previous performance. However, keep in mind that past performance is not necessarily an indicator of future returns.

A good way to assess past performance is to compare a product’s performance to a comparable benchmark index. This information can be found in a fund’s investment prospectus. And can be done for you if working with a financial advisor.

For example, if you’re considering a large-cap growth fund, how does its performance compare with the S&P 500 benchmark? If the fund has come close to matching or exceeded the performance of the index, it may be worth considering. On the other hand, if the fund has significantly underperformed the index, you may wish to look elsewhere.

If you’re considering an insurance company as your 403(b) plan vendor, it is prudent to review and compare its financial strength and stability before purchasing a product from that company. Because these companies sell insurance products that obligate the insurer to pay a benefit/return at some point in the future, it is important to verify that the insurer is in good financial health so it can make good on this obligation.

The Benefits of a ‘Financial Tutor’

Choosing a suitable 403(b) vendor takes time. That’s why more and more education professionals are turning to advisors who act as  fiduciaries  for help and expertise with their financial and retirement planning. The right financial advisor can take on this task for them and aim to help ensure they’re on the right track toward reaching their retirement goals.

But beware: Just like 403b vendors, not all financial advisors are created equal. Choosing a financial professional is an important decision. It can take a little time to research a financial advisor, but time spent now can save you time and money in the long-run.

Hiring a financial advisor to help you make informed financial decisions can be extremely beneficial. But choosing a professional to work with is one of the biggest decisions you will make. This person can determine when you can retire, how you’re able to spend that retirement and what you’re able to leave behind when you’re gone, if anything.

Don’t follow the herd. Instead, start a new trend that includes research, insight and smart decisions. It may take some time, but it’s time well spent for sure!

Warwick Valley Financial Advisors works specifically with teachers and school district employees and is familiar with the needs and issues these hard-working professionals face. Contact us to find out how we can help, or schedule an appointment now to discuss your personal situation in more detail.


*Investing in mutual funds involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

Variable annuities are suitable for long-term investing, such as retirement investing. Withdrawals prior to age 59-½ may be subject to tax penalties and surrender charges may apply. Variable annuities are subject to market risk and may lose value.

Free Guide: What Every K-12 Employee Should Know About Their 403B Plan

Retirement investing for teachers can be confusing. This guide is an excellent source of information about the various options available to you as a school district employee answering important questions.

403b podcast

Podcast: Bruce McNutt and Ken Ford discuss 403b’s

403b Podcast

Ken Ford and Bruce McNutt discuss 403(b) plans. This podcast is for teachers, superintendents, and teachers union reps.

Links mentioned in podcast:
Model Disclosure Form

AXA annuity review

Sources for statistical data:

1. AON Hewitt – How 403(b) Plans are Wasting Nearly $10 Billion Annually, and What Can Be Done to Fix It.  January 2016
2. AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company is the #1 provider of retirement plans for K-12 schools, serving more than 820,000 participants in over 17,000 plans.” from AXA annuity review
3. “Your variable annuity has a mortality and expense risk charge at an annual rate of 1.25%”
4. “On average Vanguard have mutual funds with fees at .1% – .2%…”

Fixed and Variable annuities are suitable for long-term investing, such as retirement investing. Gains from tax-deferred investments are taxable as ordinary income upon withdrawal. Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the issuing company. Withdrawals made prior to age 59 ½ are subject to a 10% IRS penalty tax and surrender charges may apply. Variable annuities are subject to market risk and may lose value.

Mutual fund investing involves risks, including the loss of principal.

S&P 500 Index is an unmanaged index which cannot be invested into directly. Unmanaged index returns do not reflect fees, expenses, or sales charges. Index performance is not indicative of the performance of any investment. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal or investment advice. If you are seeking investment advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.

1-777293

An Independent Review of: The AXA EQUI-VEST® (Series 201) contract for employer-sponsored 403(b) retirement plans

Dear Reader,

This is a detailed post about a popular 403(b) annuity product, the AXA EQUI-VEST variable annuity. As a participant in a 403(b) account, you have the choice to invest in either mutual funds or annuities. If you work in K-12 school and participate or plan to participate in a 403(b), there is a good chance you may get pitched the AXA EQUI-VEST variable annuity. In 2017, the North American Securities Administrators Association listed “variable annuity sales practices” as one of its top investor threats. If you own this annuity, or you’ve been pitched this by an agent/advisor and want an independent, objective review—then you’re in the right place.

For readers who have found my website and don’t know much about me, I am a fee-only financial planner held to the Fiduciary Standard. I am legally obligated to make recommendations that are in the best interest of my clients. I’m also on a mission to inform teachers about this commonly available variable annuity.

About this Review

Today I’m going to break down an annuity that is issued by AXA Equitable Life Insurance Corporation. Unlike other fee-only planners, I find that some annuities may be a part of a comprehensive financial plan when used correctly. My goal is to make my review of annuities as impartial and objective as possible.

This independent review will cover the following information on the AXA Equi-Vest Annuity:

  • Product type
  • Investment Options
  • Contribution Limits
  • Fees
  • Benefits
  • Features
  • Advantages
  • Disadvantages
  • Conclusions/Opinion

How will this AXA annuity product review help you?

If you are like many school district employees, there is a good chance you are using a 403(b) plan as a way to supplement your pension in order to build a healthier retirement. Many of you probably signed up with a sales rep or agent that came to visit your school. Maybe they bought you lunch in the teacher’s lounge and gave a short presentation about the basics of the 403(b) plan. You listened and absorbed as much as you could, but there is a chance that some of the facts were not fully understood during the sales process.

The world of investments can be intimidating, but really it’s like any other shopping experience. You want to compare prices and features, and understand exactly what you’re buying. This review will help you do that.

In this review you will:

  • Learn facts/information you need to know about one of the most popular products being sold in school districts around the country today so that you can decide whether or not it is a good fit for you.
  • Get familiar with the various types of fees so that you’ll know exactly what you’ll be charged by the AXA Equi-Vest variable annuity.
  • Understand how to compare this product’s fees, features, and benefits against other available 403(b) investments options in order to determine whether this product is reasonably priced.
  • Gain a much clearer sense of whether this annuity fits your individual savings needs so that you can make an informed decision.

LEGAL DISCLOSURES

This is a review, not a recommendation to buy or sell a variable annuity. AXA has not endorsed this review in any way, nor do I receive any compensation for this review. This review is meant to be an independent review at the request of a client so they can see my perspective when breaking down the positives and negatives of this particular annuity model. Before purchasing any investment product, be sure to do your own due diligence and consult a properly licensed professional should you have specific questions as they relate to your individual circumstances.

This information was gathered from their prospectus dated May 1st 2018 and is not a substitution for individual tax or legal advice. I’m just reporting on the main facts; to find answers specific to your situation may require a review of the full prospectus for applicable the details.

So let’s get started.

 

AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company Variable Annuity Review

 

AXA EQUITABLE logo

AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company is the #1 provider of retirement plans for K-12 schools, serving more than 820,000 participants in over 17,000 plans.

The AXA EQUI-VEST® 201 series for 403(b) plan is a deferred annuity contract that is designed for school district employees.

Product NameAXA EQUI-VEST® 201
Type of ProductVariable Annuity
IssuerAXA Equitable Life Insurance Company
Standard & Poor's Rating A+ (Strong)*
Phone Number(800) 628-6673
Websitehttps://us.axa.com

*Standard and Poor’s Rating Service provides ratings which measure the claims-paying ability of an insurer. These ratings are the opinions of an operating insurance company’s financial capacity to meet the obligations of its insurance policies in accordance with their terms.


Product Type:  Variable Annuity

Investment Options:  AXA EQUI-VEST variable annuity offers a wide range of investment options inside this contract. It offers Structured Investment Options (SIO) that enables you to invest for growth with some downside protection for a set period of time. Personal Income Benefit investment options give you the ability to turn your retirement savings into an annual withdrawal benefit. Investors have access to over 80 variable investment options including numerous equity and fixed income portfolios as well as various asset allocation and target date portfolios.

AXA has entered into sub-advisory agreements with Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, Invesco, Ivy Funds, Lazard, MFS, Oppenheimer, PIMCO, Franklin Templeton and Van Eck. (12b1)

Summary of Fees

  • Administration charge: 2% or $30
  • Separate Account Charges: 1.20 % (Mortality & Expense charge 0.95% + other expenses 0.25%)
  • Underlying Portfolio Operating Expenses: 1.03% (average fund expense)
  • Personal Income Benefit Charge: 1%
  • Withdrawal Charges: 5%

If you’re not familiar with variable annuity products and how they work, fees can be confusing to decipher. With a variable annuity, in order to get the investment selection combined with the income options, you pay two types of fees:

  • Fees to the insurance company associated with risk protection
  • Fees associated with the investment funds inside the contract

This is something you want to look very closely at if you are still working and making contributions to your retirement plan. For someone trying to save for a retirement, fees are an important consideration.  Let’s examine each fee and how they stack up against other investment options.

Administration Charge: This fee is charged on the insurance side and it will be the lower of either 2% or $30 of your account value plus any amounts withdrawn. They won’t charge you the $30 fee if your account value is $25,000 or more. This fee is pretty standard for annuity contracts of this nature.

Separate Account Charges: This is what the AXA Variable Annuity calls the M&E or mortality and expense fee at 0.95%, and they add another 0.25% for a total fee of 1.20%. This fee comes right out of your account annually for the life of the investment, whether your investments earn money or not. It compensates the insurance company for the risk it assumes under this particular annuity contract, and it applies to all variable investment options.

This charge is common for variable annuities, but it’s not something you have to pay with all annuities. A variable annuity is the only type of annuity that charges the M&E fee. Mutual funds typically do not charge you this fee.

While 1.20% might not sound like that much, this fee can make a significant difference to the value of your portfolio when you retire. The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy has issued bulletins warning investors how much fees can impact the growth potential of a portfolio. While the difference between .25% and 1% might not sound like a lot, assuming a hypothetical investment of $100,000 earning a 4% annual return, in 20 years’ time, that difference could reduce your portfolio by nearly $30,000. That could mean the difference between retiring early or late. Once you do retire, the difference between paying 1% or 2% could mean running out of money sooner.

Underlying Portfolio Operating Expenses: This is another ongoing fee charged for the investments inside of the variable annuity.  Detailed information about these fees can be found by digging through the prospectus. I did that for you. The internal expenses of the sub-accounts for this particular variable annuity range from 0.61% to 2.09% and average around 1.03%.

Personal Income Benefit Charge: This is the charge for Income Rider, an optional fee common for deferred annuities. This fee is charged by the life insurance side to cover the cost of providing the “Personal Income Benefit.” For this benefit, you will pay 1% annually, based on the value of your Personal Income Benefit account. One percent is a pretty standard charge for income riders, but do you need it?

For the younger investor in their 40s or 50s, paying the additional 1 percent for an income guarantee now may not make sense, especially when you consider that the income rider fee is assessed for the life of the policy. I’ll be going into the details when we get to the benefits and features section.

Withdrawal Charges: In addition to all the fees listed above, the AXA Equi-Vest variable annuity also charges a surrender fee (sometimes known as a withdrawal charge). Typically speaking, a surrender fee is only assessed when an investor makes a withdrawal prior to a specified time.

Deferred annuities are long-term contracts and most annuities of this type charge surrender fees during the first 5 to 10 years of the contract. They also typically allow a 10% free withdrawal amount subject to federal income tax withdrawal restrictions.

In this case, AXA charges its contract holders a 5% penalty on any funds withdrawn that exceed the free withdrawal amount, but the duration of this fee starts over when you make a contribution. AXA states in the prospectus: “. . . the amount of the withdrawal charge deducted is equal to 5% of any contribution withdrawn attributable to contributions made within the current and five prior contract years, measured from the date of the withdrawal.”

It’s very common for people to withdraw money from their retirement plans. One in four workers currently in a qualified plan will take some form of an early withdrawal from a 401(k) or similar plan (according to the 17th annual Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS) report). One thing to be aware of with this particular annuity is that the surrender charge is based on how long your contributions have been in the contract.

For example, if you are contributing $1,500 a month to your retirement plan, and 10 years into your contract you want to make a small withdrawal to pay off your home, you would have to pay 5% to AXA on any contributions made during the five previous years. Furthermore, withdrawals may “significantly reduce” the future income payments of the Personal Income Benefit for which you’re paying that additional 1%.

There are situations when the withdrawal charge is waived—for example, if you are confined to a nursing home for more than 90 days—and they no longer apply after the completion of 12 contract years.

How do the fees in this particular annuity stack up against the fees inside other investment options? According to one analysis from the independent investment research company Morningstar, the most popular version of the AXA Equi-Vest annuity has total annual operating costs that can range from 1.81% to 2.63%. By contrast, the average investment fees for mutual funds inside a 401(k) retirement plan cost investors 0.88%, according to a 2015 BrightScope report. However, variable annuities offer features and benefits that may not be available with other investment options.  Whether the higher fees make sense for you will depend on your specific needs and situation.


BENEFITS & FEATURES AS ADVERTISED BY THE AXA EQUI-VEST ANNUITY:

Contribution Limits

  • $18,500 / year (same as with a 401(k))
  • $6,000/ year allowed for catch-up contributions if over 50

Features

  • Tax-deferred Growth
  • Guaranteed Death Benefit
  • Personal Income Benefit
  • Structured Investment Option
  • Target Date Allocation Portfolios
  • Guaranteed Investment Option
  • Dollar cost averaging
  • Required Minimum Distribution Services
  • Roth Eligible

HOW IS AXA PAYING THE AGENT?

The salespeople who come out to your workplace and present you with investment options typically earn a sales commission whenever they get someone to buy into their annuity. AXA Equitable pays contribution-based and asset-based compensation to their agents.

Brokers generally receive an up-front commission when they sell a variable annuity.

This annuity also gives the agent commissions based on your contributions.

AXA pays agents 1.5% to 2% commissions on every future dollar you contribute to your 403(b) annuity. This creates ongoing compensation for your broker.

If you’re contributing the maximum 2018 amount of $18,500 to your plan and, if over 50, also taking advantage of $6,000 catch-up contributions, then AXA could be paying as much as $490 a year to your broker.

HOW AN AGENT MIGHT TRY TO SELL YOU THIS POLICY

EQUI-VEST® is a deferred annuity contract issued by AXA Equitable. This product is marketed as a solution to help supplement your retirement income needs. Its benefits include providing for the accumulation of retirement savings via tax-deferred growth. The contract also offers death benefit protection and, as discussed earlier, it offers a Personal Income Benefit for an additional cost.

A variable annuity is a type of deferred annuity, so there are two phases to your contract: the growth phase, and the income phase.

During the growth phase, you can invest on a tax-deferred basis in one or more of AXA’s variable investment options or guaranteed interest options (GIO) or structured investment options (SIO). There is no charge to move among the investment options. The sales agent may also tell you that these investments all benefit from tax-deferred growth.

Here’s what you may not realize:

If you have a 403(b) plan, then you’re already getting tax-deferred growth.  It’s a perk that comes with the plan. Buying this variable annuity or any annuity cannot give you double tax-deferral because there’s no such thing. Furthermore, any investment that you purchase inside your 403(b) account can give you tax-deferred growth.

There is no additional tax benefit to you when you buy this annuity inside a 403(b) or retirement plan.

On AXA’s website it will tell you this:

An annuity contract that is purchased to fund an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan should be done so for the annuity’s features and benefits other than tax deferral. For such cases, tax deferral is not an additional benefit for the annuity.”

AXA also reminds you that you should buy this annuity based on its features and benefits, so let’s take a look at those.


ADDITIONAL BENEFITS AND FEATURES OF THE AXA VARIABLE ANNUITY

The Guaranteed Death Benefit Feature

Variable annuities invest directly in the market, and as such, they can lose money just like stocks and mutual funds. The death benefit is often sold as a way to guarantee that even if the market goes down and your contract loses money, a death benefit would still be paid. In this case, the AXA Equi-Vest variable annuity agrees to pay out your total contributions even if your account takes a terrible market hit.

Here are 3 things to keep in mind:

  • First, the death benefit is only paid out if you die. It does not guarantee that your account won’t lose money.
  • Second, this benefit doesn’t come free. You’re paying for it with the M&E fee we talked about earlier.
  • Third, you really have to ask yourself, what are the chances that you will die during the same year as a big market downturn?

Let’s say hypothetically you’ve contributed $100,000 over a 15-year period, and the investment performance helped it grow to $150,000 over that time period. Then the market takes a turn for the worse and drops by 30%. You basically lose all the returns you’ve gained. You see a $45,000 drop in your total account value, and your new account balance is now $105,000. You have a heart attack and go into the hospital. But you remember you have a death benefit! So, even if you die, you’ve been paying that 1.25% M&E fee all this time to guarantee that your beneficiary (in this case, your spouse,) will still get all the money you paid into this account. Then, you do the math and realize, you’ve only paid in $100,000. Even if you do die, your account didn’t drop below your total contributions, so the death benefit guarantee did not provide any guarantee in this example.

Statistically speaking, the chances of meeting with an untimely death when the market is down AND when you’ve lost a portion of your contributions may be relatively low. Yes, it could happen. But you should consider whether the cost of this feature is worth the potential benefits you could receive.

Case in point: A class action lawsuit brought against Hartford Life on behalf of about 24,000 municipal employees in San Diego County and Los Angeles CA illustrates one potential outcome: The plaintiff’s lawyers asked Hartford Life during the discovery process how much in death benefits the company had paid in the 17 years that both the San Diego and Los Angeles plans had existed. The answer: $119.[1]

Income Rider Benefits: Personal Income Benefit

The Personal Income BenefitSM is a “pension-like” plan benefit, available through the Retirement Gateway® group annuity, which the company says provides guaranteed withdrawal payments and helps employees be more confident about retirement. The Personal Income Benefit investment option is available to plan participants between the ages of 45 and 85.

Annual fee: 1% of the participant’s Personal Income Benefit account value.

Features: The amount of your income withdrawals under this feature will never decrease—unless of course you make early or excessive withdrawals as specified by the contract. 

Benefits: Once your Personal Income Benefit withdrawals start, they continue for as long as you (or you and your spouse) live, even if your Personal Income Benefit account value drops to zero

These are pretty standard features that typically come with most income riders sold on annuities, and you can get them for less cost. What’s different about this annuity is that you remain invested in the stock market even while you are taking income withdrawals, which is why you have those additional fees. Does that mean you get to earn higher returns?

The one rider I analyzed had a 1% fee and it locked in returns at the high-water mark. Some annuities that offer this fee add a guaranteed income base growth rate that typically range from 4.5-5.5% on top of the locked-in watermark. This annuity does not offer that. It locks in your account value at the high-water mark, which is a crediting method based on the highest level attained by the reference index over a given period of time. Says AXA:

The percentage varies depending on the type of contribution (e.g., payroll, rollover, or direct transfer) and the date of the contribution or transfer. The percentage can be as high as 7% and never less than 2.5%.”

For the investor who is age 65 and near the time of retirement, this might give you a layer of protection, but keep in mind that with this type of annuity, you’ll be paying over 2.5% annually just to get this benefit, and these fees negatively impact your return potential.

And speaking of return potential, selecting the income benefit rider will restrict your investment options. Once a contract owner selects a Personal Income BenefitSM, they will be limited to one of these five allocation models:

  • AXA Moderate Growth Strategy,
  • AXA Balanced Strategy,
  • AXA Conservative Growth Strategy,
  • AXA Conservative Strategy, and
  • EQ/AB Dynamic Wealth Strategies.

EQUI-VEST® Structured Investment Options, Target Date Allocation, and Guaranteed Interest Option

AXA also gives you other options if you don’t want to pay the income rider fee. In fact, that’s one thing this annuity does have—a lot of choices.

If you’re looking for protection from market risk, you may select the Structured Investment Option (SIO) available within certain EQUI-VEST variable annuities. The SIO enables you to seek growth, up to a limit, with some downside protection. But how good is the protection?

The EQUI-VEST overview states: “There is risk of substantial loss of principal because you would
agree to absorb all losses to the extent they exceed the protection provided by the SIO at maturity. If you
want a guarantee of principal, you should consider other investment options or products that provide
such guarantees
.”

Okay. So, then you might select a Target Date Allocation Portfolio. This option gives you different investment strategies designed to adjust with you as you move through the phases of your life and become more conservative. Does being more conservative inside this variable annuity mean you won’t lose money right before your retirement date?

Says AXA: “The Target Date Allocation Portfolios are not guaranteed at any time, including the target date.”

How about the Guaranteed Interest Option (GIO)? This offers a guaranteed rate of interest and a guarantee of principal. That might sound good for someone who is nearing retirement and wanting to protect their nest egg. But how much can you protect?

25%. What if you know you need more money than that? Says AXA: “No more than 25% of any contribution can be allocated to the GIO.”

Let’s recap: As a participant in a 403(b) account, you have a choice to invest in either annuities or mutual funds. As previously noted, mutual funds may be less expensive, but do not offer the same features and benefits.

However, in general, variable annuities will add at least 1% in costs just for the M&E fee alone, not to mention the fees for the variable sub-accounts and income riders that can (and often are) added on.  Over time, these additional costs can negatively impact your return potential.

POTENTIAL CONSIDERATIONS

Tax-deferred Growth: One of this annuity’s main advantages is that the investments inside this product give you tax-deferred growth. Investments growing tax-deferred can accumulate and compound untouched by federal, state, or local income taxes until you begin making withdrawals, which is usually after retirement. This is a good thing. But you’re probably already getting this benefit.

All deferred annuities provide tax-deferred growth potential, not just this one. Any investment inside a 403(b), 401(k), IRA, or tax-qualified retirement plan has the potential to grow tax-deferred, even if they aren’t inside an annuity.

A variable annuity in a 403(b) does not give you any additional tax benefits.

Overall Fees: There are additional fees associated with variable annuities that are not found in other types of annuities or mutual funds. If you don’t need the benefits of an annuity at this time, then paying for these fees for the next 10 to 20 years may not be in your best interest. Over time, higher fees can negatively impact your return potential.

 The variable annuity carries additional fees that should be considered.

You may annuitize your money

Deferred annuity contracts such as EQUI-VEST® provide for conversion to payout status at or before the contract’s “maturity date.” This is called annuitization. When your contract is annuitized, your money is converted into payouts (this being the payout phase). During this phase, you may receive periodic payments for life or for a specified period of time.

 The contract may be annuitized.


Conclusions on the AXA Equi-Vest Variable Annuity

Before buying into an annuity, it’s important to understand how it works, what benefits it may provide, the cost to you in fees, and perhaps most importantly, the role it can help play in your overall retirement plan. If the annuity doesn’t help move you toward your retirement goals, then it might not be the right choice for you.

Things to consider about this policy:

  • Overall fees including a Mortality and Expense Risk charge
  • Surrender Charges based on ongoing contributions
  • Agent commissions and compensation based on ongoing contributions
  • Income rider features that limit investment options for a lifetime fee
  • Annuitization of the contract may be required
  • Death benefits
  • No additional tax benefits when part of a 403(b)

When this investment might make sense: If you have already maxed out all your qualified retirement accounts and would like to put aside more money into a tax-deferred account, then a variable annuity might be an appropriate option. However, think carefully about whether or not this specific variable annuity with the structure of its surrender fees, agent commissions, and income rider options would best support your retirement goals. You may also want to consider the relative features, benefits, and costs against or with any other investment that you may use in connection with your retirement. Be sure to read carefully the marketing materials and prospectus, and if you don’t understand what you’re paying for, ask questions and receive a full disclosure before making a decision.

If you currently own this annuity: Now may be a good time to take another look and evaluate this product in light of your long term goals.  If you are interested in a more detailed analysis specific to your situation, feel free to contact me.

Thank you

Thanks for reading this review. It’s always satisfying for me to break down complicated financial products out there to try and provide some clarity on how they really work.

If you have an annuity or other financial product you’d like to see an in-depth review on just let me know, I’d be happy to take a stab at it. If you know a teacher or someone who is thinking about an annuity and might benefit from this post, feel free to forward it on to them via email. If you have a Facebook account, one of the best ways to spread this message around is by “sharing” the post by using the Facebook icon below (it’s a blue square with a white F on it).

Thanks again for reading, and as always, if you have any questions or would like to have your retirement portfolio reviewed, don’t hesitate to reach out and schedule your no-obligation consultation.


FREE GUIDE: WHAT EVERY K-12 EMPLOYEE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THEIR 403B PLAN

Retirement investing for teachers can be confusing. This guide is an excellent source of information about the various options available to you as a school district employee answering important questions.

Get your FREE 403b GUIDE.


[1] “Can Annuities Pass Muster?” The Free Library. 2000 A.M. Best Company, Inc. 20 Apr. 2018

None of the third parties referenced in this communication are affiliated with Warwick Valley Financial Advisors, Private Advisor Group or LPL Financial. 

Variable annuities are long term, tax-deferred investment vehicles designed for retirement purposes and contain both an investment and insurance component. They have fees and charges, including mortality and expense risk charges, administrative fees, and contract fees.   They are sold only by prospectus. Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the issuer. Withdrawals made prior to age 59 ½ are subject to 10% IRS penalty tax and surrender charges may apply. Gains from tax-deferred investments are taxable as ordinary income upon withdrawal. The investment returns and principal value of the available sub-account portfolios will fluctuate so that the value of an investor’s unit, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original value.

Asset allocation does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.

The target date is the approximate date when investors plan to start withdrawing their money.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.

Investing in mutual funds involves risk, including possible loss of principal. 

Riders are additional guarantee options that are available to an annuity or life insurance contract holder.  While some riders are part of an existing contract, many others may carry additional fees, charges and restrictions, and the policy holder should review their contract carefully before purchasing.  Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is a capitalization weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries.

The Russell 2000 Index is an unmanaged index generally representative of the 2,000 smallest companies in the Russell 3000 index, which represents approximately 10% of the total market capitalization of the Russell 3000 Index.

The MSCI EAFE Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure the equity market performance of developed markets, excluding the US & Canada.  The MSCI EAFE Index consists of the following developed country indices: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal or investment advice. If you are seeking investment advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material. 

Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC.  Investment advice offered through Private Advisor Group, a registered investment advisor.  Private Advisor Group and Warwick Valley Financial Advisors  are separate entities from LPL Financial.

Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses of the variable annuity contract and sub-accounts carefully before investing. The prospectus and, if available, the summary prospectus contains this and other important information about the variable annuity contract and sub-accounts. You can obtain contract and sub-account prospectuses and summary prospectuses from your financial representative or by clicking on the prospectus link within this article. Read prospectuses carefully before investing.

403b death benefit

Teachers: Is the Death Benefit Killing Your Retirement Plan?

How One Fee Might Be Draining Your Nest Egg

As a teacher, knowing facts is part of the job. But when it comes to 403(b) plans, many teachers and educational administrators will readily admit that they don’t have all the facts.

As a financial advisor, it’s my job to present facts to clients so they can make informed decisions. Over the past few years I’ve discovered that many of my 403(b) clients were paying for insurance benefits to protect their retirement savings and getting charged exorbitantly for it. The goal of this article is to shed some light on Variable Annuities and one fee that can take a significant chunk out of your savings.

One of the most important things to know if you participate in a 403(b) retirement account is that you have the choice to invest in either Annuities or Mutual Funds. If you aren’t sure what the difference is yet, we highly recommend you first read our Teacher’s 5-step 403b Shopping Guide.

If you have been sold a Variable Annuity, it’s imperative to find out which fees you are being charged for and if they can be avoided.

There are many additional insurance related fees associated with Variable Annuities that are not found in Mutual funds. These fees pay for insurance guarantees that are automatically included in the annuity, and the selling and administrative expenses of the contract. The one that often goes unnoticed is known as the Mortality and Expense Charge (aka the M&E fee or the Death Benefit). The death benefit is one of the highest fees incurred in association with insurance-based retirement accounts, and statistics show that almost nobody “benefits” from its presence, except for the insurance company charging you for it.

Death Benefit 101

The death benefit feature is found in variable annuity products that are sold by many insurance companies. 

The death benefit guarantees that if you die, your beneficiaries will receive the greater of two values: The current value or the total amount you contributed over the lifetime of the account.

This feature is being sold to prospective buyers as an attractive benefit. They assert that it will protect the money that you contributed to your account, should the market cause the annuity to lose money at the time of your death. This might seem like a comforting safety feature to have, but let’s weigh the costs and see if they are worth it.

Know Your Odds

So what are the statistical probabilities of this death benefit paying off?

A class action lawsuit brought against Hartford Life on behalf of about 24,000 municipal employees in San Diego County and Los Angeles CA illustrates the probabilities: The plaintiff’s lawyers asked Hartford Life during the discovery process how much in death benefits the company had paid in the 17 years that both the San Diego and Los Angeles plans had existed. Hartford claimed it had paid only a single death benefit totaling just $119 in San Diego and no death benefits in Los Angeles. ¹

HOW MUCH IS THIS COSTING YOU? 

Now that you know the odds of receiving this “benefit”, it’s time to figure out how much it is costing you. Death benefit fees on average are usually 1.25% of the total value of the account per year ². This may not seem like a lot, but as the years go by, it becomes much more significant. Imagine what you pay in this fee alone over 30 years as your investment grows. I can tell you that it will probably be much more than the amount your beneficiary could lose on your contributions, were you to die young, unexpectedly, and in a time of a market low.

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?

If you participate in a 403(b) plan, you have the choice to either invest in annuities or mutual funds. Mutual funds don’t carry the insurance based fees that annuity companies charge for.

Both Mutual Funds and Variable Annuities have investment related fees. These fees can range from high to low and you can choose to invest in lower fee investment choices in order to keep your expenses low.

You want to make sure that you are getting good value for every dollar of investment expenses you pay. This is because every dollar you save from fees & expenses (i.e. the death benefit fee) is one more dollar that has the potential to grow in your 403(b) account.

NEXT STEPS: Get the Facts on Your Current Investments…

Hopefully after reading this article you will look at your own investment product and answer these questions:
• Is my 403(b) invested in annuities or mutual funds?
• Do I currently pay a fee for the Mortality and Expense (M&E) Charge (aka death benefit)?
• How much am I paying in total fees and can some of these be avoided?
• Is my current 403(b) vendor competitive with the other options available at your school district?

If you need help finding answers to the questions, please contact us. One phone call could have big impact on how you save for your future!

¹ “Can Annuities Pass Muster?.” The Free Library. 2000 A.M. Best Company, Inc. 20 Apr. 2018
² Morningstar M&E Risk, 2018

Investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Variable annuities are suitable for long-term investing, such as retirement investing. Gains from tax-deferred investments are taxable as ordinary income upon withdrawal. Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of
the issuing company. Withdrawals made prior to age 59 are subject to a 10% IRS penalty tax and surrender charges may apply. Variable annuities are subject to market risk and may lose value.

All illustrations are hypothetical and are not representative of any specific situation. Your results will vary.

Warwick Valley Financial Advisors and LPL Financial are not affiliated with any of the other referenced entities.

This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal or investment advice. If you are seeking investment advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.

Teachers 5-Step 403b Retirement Shopping Guide

Savvy Shopping – The New Past-time for Teachers

Download and print the guide:

 403b shopping guide

When you begin working as a teaching professional, your school district will likely offer you an opportunity to save for retirement, known as a 403b Retirement Plan.

What you might not know is that you can shop around for your plan, just like any other shopping trip. Think of it this way: A little retail therapy can improve mood, boost confidence, and relieve stress, so shopping for a 403b retirement plan shouldn’t be different. You may be surprised at the release of endorphins you get when you ultimately choose a low-fee, tax deferred retirement plan! However, before you begin your shopping experience, get to know the options on the shelf; there are a lot of choices, some with missing price tags and others with confusing language and offers. It can be overwhelming, and you may opt for a word-of-mouth recommendation without knowing the facts, that ends up reducing your nest egg in the future. But by making an informed choice, you can get the satisfaction from the sale, and take control of your financial future.

So, grab your bag, and let’s explore the 403(b) marketplace. Read on for super shopper tips that could potentially set you on track for higher returns and higher security in later years. If you get overwhelmed, don’t just close your eyes and grab the same product your friend chooses. Always seek out professional guidance and do your homework in comparing the products, because here, it’s the savvy shopper that earns the deal!


Shopper Tip #1: Find your TPA

 If OMNI is your TPA, visit www.omni403b.com:
• Click on the ‘Participants’ button.
• In the bottom left corner find where it says Employer Plan Info and then select your state.
• Type in your employer name and select it.
• Click submit. BOOM! You just found your menu of participating providers!

Step #1 – Finding Your TPA ( 403b Marketplace )

Where to start? Imagine the TPA as your mall with a map of all the shops—or providers—that your district has made available to you.

A TPA (Third Party Administrator) aggregates the 403b plan provider choices for the district clients, much like a mall that has a variety of stores for you to shop in.

OMNI is one of the largest TPAs that organizes 403(b) options for teaching professionals. It provides a site in which to manage the initial designations you’ll make when you sign up for an account. New York and some other states use OMNI. As a client, you will go to the OMNI site to set up your account.


Step #2 – Compare Providers

Once you find your TPA (403b marketplace) you can look at the list of participating providers your district has made available to you.

Shopper Tip #2: Take your Time
Take your time determining which providers are insurance companies offering insurance products (called annuities), and which providers are custodial retirement accounts offering mutual funds. Note that some are hybrids.
403b providers

Which store to hit first?

Neither your school district, nor TPA, can tell you which provider to use. You must comparison shop on your own. Just as a mall contains stores, but doesn’t tell you which to go into, OMNI does the same. OMNI is a TPA that prides itself on the variety of providers it offers and can have over twenty in one district.

There are names you might recognize from ads or from friends who’ve invested, and some you don’t. These are some of the companies you may see on the list: AXA, Voya, Metlife, Vanguard, FTJ Fundchoice, Aspire Financial and Fidelity.

Do bigger brands or recognizable names mean better quality products? Not necessarily. You may be surprised to know that many of the recognizable names might be the ones with the least amount of savings.

The important thing to takeaway here is there are two main types of providers

  1. Insurance companies offering annuities.
  2. Custodial retirement accounts offering mutual funds.

Now let’s talk products!


Step #3 – Compare Products

Shopper Tip #3 – Don’t Be Pressured
Do not just choose a product because the salesman bought you lunch at the teacher’s lounge. As with any purchase, be wary of relentless sales pitches that pressure you into buying a product quickly or a deal that seems too good to be true.

403b Products

After you have perused the menu of providers, you should brush up on what kind of products they offer. Putting in the research and work now will reap better rewards in the years to come. Remember, like anything else, the product choices are NOT equal, and this is not one size fits all. If you aren’t sure, consider consulting an independent financial professional —aka “personal shopper” to help you weed through the racks.

There are two main types of 403(b) products available for you to consider.

  1. MUTUAL FUNDS (also called a 403(b)(7) custodial account): This type of product allows participants to invest their contributions in mutual funds. The account is not an annuity or a life insurance product. Returns on contributions depend on the performance of the mutual funds selected.
  2. ANNUITIES:
    An annuity is a contract between you and an insurance company in which the company promises to make periodic payments to you, starting immediately or at some future time. You buy an annuity either with a single payment or a series of payments called premiums.Annuities are often marketed as tax-deferred savings products and come with a variety of fees and expenses, such as surrender charges, mortality and expense risk charges and administrative fees. Annuities also can have high commissions, reaching seven percent or more. These are the three common annuity products:

    Variable Annuity Product
    A variable annuity is a contract with an insurance company under which you contribute into a tax–deferred account. In return, the insurer agrees to make periodic payments at retirement or some future date. You can choose to invest contributions in a range of investment options, which are typically mutual funds. The value of the account in a variable annuity will vary, depending on the performance of the investment options chosen. In this sense, it is similar to a mutual fund product except it is offered as a life insurance product and involves a contractual agreement.

    Fixed Annuity Product
    A fixed annuity is a contract with an insurance company that guarantees a minimum rate of return during the time that your account is growing. The insurance company also guarantees that the periodic payments in retirement are guaranteed for an established amount of time. Details of the minimum rate of return and payout schedule are established when the contract is signed. In some instances, the insurance company will charge additional fees for features and guarantees.

    Equity Indexed Annuity Product
    A specific type of fixed annuity contract between you and the insurance company. During the period of time where you make contributions, the insurance company credits a return that is based on changes in an equity index, such as the S&P 500 index. The insurance company sometimes also guarantees a minimum rate of return. In retirement or on a future date, the insurance company will make periodic payments to you under the terms of your contract. In some instances, insurance companies will charge additional fees for features and guarantees.

Before you commit to a product, ask yourself some of these general questions:

  • What is the difference between investing in an annuity versus a mutual fund?
  • Are you aware of all the fees or commission involved, including all costs of mutual funds or variable annuity sub accounts?
  • Do you know how you your financial advisor and the investment company you’re working with are being compensated?
  • Does your financial advisor accept fiduciary responsibility?
  • Are my investments being monitored by my financial advisor or someone else?
  • How do I know if my account is properly balanced?

Step #4 – Compare Fees

Shopper Tip #4:  Find the Price Tags

There are potentially three layers of fees and charges that participants should be aware of.
• 403(b) product fees (vendor fees)
• Investment fees
• Employer/third-party administrator fees

403b fees

You are so close — but wait, did you take a closer look at the price tag? Before you hit the register, you must determine what it will cost to invest in your future. And it’s not always easy uncover what your future costs will be, especially when fees can be hard to find.

You can’t escape investment fees. The average mutual fund fees and expense ratio is 1.02% a year, according to the Investment Company Institute. On the other hand, the annual fees on variable annuities usually start at 2% and vary up to 3%, according to FINRA. And that’s in addition to the fees that are charged by that product’s mutual funds that make up your sub-accounts.

If you can’t picture that in terms of how much the fees are costing you, consider this example: Jane Smart decides to invest in a variable annuity with a 2.25% fee cost. She contributes $250 steadily for over 35 years, with an 8% average of annual return. Upon retirement, Jane has built a nest egg of $336,320. Jane is happy. But look at the numbers closer — had Jane shopped around and done her research at the time of purchase, she would have found lower cost plans that would have lower fees. If Jane had chosen a 1.40% fee plan with the same average of annual return, she would have $73,265 more in her savings. The moral of this story? Do your homework!

Get out your magnifying glass and ask to see the prospectus or contract. All mutual funds and variable annuities are required to produce a document called a prospectus, which details specific information about investment cost, objective, risk, performance, and operating rules. Fixed-annuity products do not have a prospectus. Instead, they have a contract that details operation of the annuity. If you can’t make heads or tails of it then ask an independent financial professional before you sign on the dotted line.

It is important to understand all fees associated with your plan before you begin contributing to any 403(b) investments. Additionally, some investments impose surrender charges or restrictions on withdrawals.

To learn more about fees and what they mean for you, check out these websites which compare the different plans:  http://403bwise.com/k12/content/61
https://www.403bcompare.com/Fundamentals403bAnd457b#Fees


Step #5 – Contribute Paycheck %

Shopping tip #5: Buyers Remorse?
Did you already choose a plan but now have buyer’s remorse? Don’t worry, just like shopping, there is the possibility to exchange a product. You will need to determine if there are any surrender charges or fees before doing so.

Ask a Question

Once you have done your research, selected a provider, and shopped a plan—the smart way—you can begin contributing a part of your paycheck to start your nest egg. You can access a Salary Reduction Agreement through your TPA. No amount is too small, and the fact is, you are doing something great for your future by making savings a priority.

Because the income funneled into your account is tax-deferred, the IRS does set a capped amount for 403b contributions each year. There are other options for increased savings though, based on age and employment. If you can, go ahead, and max out your savings! What you do now will have higher payoff in the future.

 

 

403b Teachers Shopping Guide

If Shopping Isn’t Your Thing, Don’t Go It Alone!

Everyone knows, shopping is much better with a friend! Going alone can be time-consuming, sometimes confusing, and what’s more, the mistakes can be costly. Working with a financial advisor (aka personal shopper) is an option to consider carefully. If you have any questions, we are here to help.

Download our printer-friendly 403b Shopping Guide >>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Investing in mutual funds involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

Annuities are long-term, tax-deferred investment vehicles designed for retirement purposes. They are not suitable for all investors. Gains from tax-deferred investments are taxable as ordinary income upon withdrawal. Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the issuing company. Withdrawals made prior to age 59 ½ are subject to a 10% IRS penalty tax and surrender charges may apply. Variable annuities are subject to market risk and may lose value. Equity Indexed Annuities permit investors to participate in only a stated percentage of an increase in an index (participation rate) and may impose a maximum annual account value percentage increase. EIAs typically do not allow for participation in dividends accumulated on the securities represented by the index.

Warwick Valley Financial Advisors and LPL Financial are not affiliated with any of the other referenced entities.

This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal or investment advice. If you are seeking investment advice.

403b pearls of wisdom for teachers

Retirement Pearls of Wisdom for Teachers

Ask Questions, Save Money When It Comes to Your 403(b)

Let’s be honest. Life is busy. Sometimes even knowing what types of retirement options are available to you—or even which ones you have–is difficult enough, without allocating the time to really understand each. Perhaps all too often, things are left to auto-pilot when it comes to paycheck designations – you opt-in because you can. But in the case of teacher’s 403(b) retirement plans, brushing up on the specifics of yours may be well worth your effort. In fact, it can potentially gain you thousands more in the long run – and really takes little more than just some smart homework. So…. let’s start with the very basics, and get you on track to maximize the money you’re striving to sock away for later, or at the very least, to become aware of the power you hold toward such noble pursuits in the future.

Retirement 101:

403(b) Vocab Terms for Teachers:

Tax-Deferred
Money that comes out of your paycheck and which is automatically invested into an account which is not reportable as income now, but will be when paid out during retirement.
Annuity
A contracted account offered by an insurance company where a lump sum of money is deposited for the purpose of being paid out at a later date, in either equal installments or in proportion to how well it accumulates with investment strategies applied over time.
Provider
Either an insurance company, an investment firm or a retirement account custodian that offers 403(b) plan options to employers. These vendors choose portfolios to invest the money in to hopefully increasing its principal value over time and setting plan rules, regulations and annual fees.
403b Plan Products
Accounts set up by Providers that are meant to take in money now from clients and pay it back out to them later in installments as a means of seeking to establish a retirement “income,” after it has been invested toward growth over time in such things as stocks and mutual funds, etc. Examples include annuities, mutual fund retirement accounts, and combination programs.

What IS a 403(b) plan?
A 403(b) is a retirement savings program much like a 401k, but has special allowances tailored specifically to the teaching profession and a few others (because they have certain exemptions as public educational institutions, not-for-profits or as certain types of churches). When you work as a teacher, it is likely your school district employer will offer you the opportunity to contribute to a 403(b), helping you save for retirement, reducing your taxable income, potentially matching your funds (if you’re lucky enough to have an employer choosing to offer this) and in many cases, allowing you to decide your amount of contribution up to a maximum set by the IRS. What makes a 403(b) special is that you do not need to pay taxes on the money contributed into the account now (it’s tax-deferred). When the money begins to produce regular pay outs in the future, assumably at the time of retirement, you will then be taxed on it as regular income–but as a retiree and typically at a lower rate.

Do I have one?
If you work as a teacher, chances are you have had the opportunity to enroll in your district’s plan, or one of the plans they offer if multiple. But just because your employer has chosen a plan for you and you’ve opted in with reductions from your paychecks, it doesn’t necessarily mean these work best for you as is. In fact, it may not, as employers choose plans for a variety of reasons supporting their best interests—and these may not necessarily mesh with yours. This doesn’t always mean you’re locked into their default settings; sometimes switching to another “provider” for your plan (plans are set up for employers by different vendors) is allowed–and can help you to pursue optimal dollars for the future, once able to properly compare alternatives and their different offerings. Similarly, sometimes you can change some of the options within your plan. You’re already doing the hard work daily. Why not reap the most reward that is in essence, your earned cash?

What are some common types of 403(b)’s?
403(b) plans can either place your pre-tax investment dollars into annuities or mutual funds so they hopefully will grow over time. Such investments are chosen and managed by the vendor which provides your employer’s plan, and which manages the portfolio therein; diversifying investments based on what they feel will serve best for their clients, ensuring, in theory, good growth over time and reasonably low risk, and the benefit of relatively safe, low-maintenance investing.

Who are some 403(b) Providers?
Simply put, providers can be institutions like insurance companies, investment firms that run mutual funds or retirement account custodians that set up diversified 403(b) plan products and offer them to employers. These providers set up rules for the plan including minimum contributions, possible commissions for their investing services, time before payout is available without penalty, annual and other fees, if there might be a Roth 403b feature (look out for our future post explaining this type of offering), etc., and they pick investment portfolios in which to hopefully grow your money while it “sits.” Examples are financially savvy companies like Fidelity, Vanguard, FTJ Fundchoice and Aspire Financial.

BUT, while 403(b) individual terms and conditions are necessary, and important components of a plan…. these are factors you should ALWAYS check into! Here’s why:

Providers are not equal.
Although your employer chooses a provider for your 403(b) as previously mentioned, ranging from insurance companies offering annuities to financial institutions managing mutual funds to combination accounts, some districts allow you to override this choice and pick your own; some do not. Finding out what your specific circumstance is can be accomplished by asking a simple question of HR, and then doing some minimal research on the benefits of each of the alternative providers and what they offer, if you’re allowed a choice. Everyone has different investment strategies and goals, so it is important to make sure you are reasonably informed about where your money is going and why. We’ve found that many teachers that come to us have typically been invested in annuities and don’t have any idea about how much has been vested in these to date, or how their money is being managed within the constructs of their plan. It is a good idea to check into how experienced the investors running your plan’s portfolio are, and what their reputation is.

“Often times, clients come to us with 403(b) accounts that are annuities. These may contain fees for features you may not even need or want – depleting your future nest egg as they add up over years. Sometimes, it takes little more than some polite inquiring to identify these and potentially do something about them.”

403b plans and specifically, annuities, often have hidden fees written in.
This is certainly not uncommon. It takes but a simple but carefully-worded letter (see our post Do You Know How Much You Are Paying in Retirement Fees?) to identify if and what extraneous fees exist in your plan, if they are warranted for your goals and circumstances or should they be unnecessary for you – and believe it or not, this is often the case! Of further note, different providers have different operating rules and investment objectives which can vary greatly among product vendors and across investments. Some accounts impose surrender charges or restrictions on early withdrawals. It can be very useful to know what yours are now, should you feel they are not in line with what your needs or desires might be in the future. Additionally, some vendors impose commission fees on investment earnings, and some do not or have lower ones. Imagine! You could spend years contributing to a plan that may not serve you in the long run, or paying portions of your earnings for things that don’t apply to you or that you really don’t need–and which you can very simply, opt out of, or not be charged for in a different plan. These things add up and detract from the money you get when you retire, compounded monthly… over years into what can be quite a large sum of money by the time you reach withdrawal age! This is why it is important you find out as much as you can about the specific 403(b) you have and make a few smart decisions now. Examples include, discerning and choosing between different types of annuities that may carry varying degrees of risk, or, changing from a plan that owns multiple mutual funds requiring additional fees – to one that avoids these in its portfolio if preferable.

“It is possible to be invested in a minimally advantageous 403(b) plan, with among potential negatives exorbitant fees, unreasonable commissions that are being charged on your gains, penalties for making changes, or even fund investments that the vendor is being paid to make over others. In fact, sometimes a Provider might push its lead product to districts over its best product because it will benefit their own bottom line.”

It’s worth the effort.
Studying up on different types of providers can be an annoyance, but is also relatively easy and can be followed up by educating yourself on what questions to ask while you compare potential plans. Look for
future posts here, like What Questions to Ask When You Compare 403b Providers and What to Do if You’re Unhappy with Your 403b Provider. Should you need help weeding through that jungle, or if you simply would rather have someone do the work for you, we are here to help and are already familiar with the different common area providers and their plans.

403(b)s can be self-directed investing.
While most people are happy to let their provider manage their money and investments once contributed to the 403(b), it is important to understand that in some cases, you can as well take a more active role in choosing exactly what mutual funds your money goes in to. If one is more comfortable with high risk, or has a good grasp of the market and investments, this might be something to consider if an available option for you. Either way, understanding that 403(b)s can be self-directed is an important fact to keep in mind over the term of your investing.

Don’t Settle for Less–Pursue That Potentially Higher Return on Investment!

Don’t let ignorance or a busy lifestyle stand in the way of protecting your future. You know what they say – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Now that you’ve read up on 403(b)’s, it’s time to take some action and do a little hand raising yourself! Once you’ve garnered some basic information about what type of account you have, and what type of fees you might be paying, you can take steps to better secure your financial situation should it be warranted. And we are here to help.

Don’t Want to Go It Alone or Need Some Help? We’re Here.

Please know that if you have any questions along your journey or if you’d like some advice or expert assistance, or even for us to do the hard work for you, we’re available to assist. Give a call to our office at (845) 981-7300 today or continue consulting our blog and future posts on this important topic, and empower yourself to take actions in your best interest toward the future you deserve. Good luck!


Investing involves risks, including the loss of principal.

Fixed and variable annuities are suitable for long-term investing, such as retirement investing. Gains from tax-deferred investments are taxable as ordinary income upon withdrawal. Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the issuing company. Withdrawals made prior to age 59 are subject to a 10% IRS penalty tax and surrender charges may apply. Variable annuities are subject to market risk and may lose value.

This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal or investment advice. If you are seeking investment advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.