Brokers Stay Away From New VAs Because the Money's Not There

Last Updated Jan 27, 2010 8:44 AM EST

Companies are offering new "slimmed-down" versions of variable annuities, but don't expect your broker to offer them to you. They don't make as much money with these versions.

These new products offer simple investment choices (such as low-cost index funds) and fewer investment choices inside the annuity. They also offer plain-vanilla benefits. However, Investment News noted that, "It seems that the products' lower price tags and lower commission rates -- coupled with fewer investment choices -- are the chief reasons for the lack of broker enthusiasm."

One advisor even admitted it: "We can deny it all we want, but sales are commission-driven. When you slash commissions, you feel the impact."

In my book The Only Guide to Alternative Investments You'll Ever Need, I discuss why variable annuities belong in the "bad" section. Among the problems are:

  • The conversion of low-taxed capital gains into more highly taxed ordinary income
  • The lack of liquidity, the early surrender charges and the tax penalty for withdrawal before age 59 ½
  • The loss of the potential for a step-up in basis for the estate of the investor
  • The inability to harvest losses for tax purposes
  • The inability to donate appreciated shares to charity
  • The loss of the foreign tax credit
Now, you have a new version of the product that addresses some of the problems with the vehicles. Unfortunately, some brokers are putting their best interests first and continuing to sell you the more expensive versions. This is another reason why you should always work with an advisor who will put in writing that they will always act in your best interests. It's also why you should avoid products that are meant to be sold, not bought.
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    Larry Swedroe is director of research for The BAM Alliance. He has authored or co-authored 13 books, including his most recent, Think, Act, and Invest Like Warren Buffett. His opinions and comments expressed on this site are his own and may not accurately reflect those of the firm.