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Pablum writes,

Thank you for a most informative reply! It has confused me greatly. I may return to ask you more about the TSA portion of our plan, but first I need to research the article you recommended and ask my accountant a question or two.

I have a 457B plan; and my wife has two 403B plans, one from a previous employer. We each contribute the maximum not just because of tax deferral advantages, but also because of employer cash matches.

I believe my wife can rollover each of her plans (one is at TIAA-CREF) into an IRA. My 457B stands alone and can't be combined with anything---I simply must elect a distribution method.

To be frank, I'm not fully aware of my options with regard to my 457B distributions, but I'm pretty familiar with the 403B's. If my wife wishes to take distributions from her accounts prior to 59 1/2, she must follow tax distribution rules, and take the money using a life expectancy formula (or else we get hit with the 10% tax penalty). What I'm not sure of is, if this requires her to annuitize the accounts.

If she can rollover her money into a new IRA (we already have existing IRAs we wish to keep separate), invest the money as she pleases, and take substantially equal periodic payments based on a life expectancy formula, then an annuity wouldn't be necessary. But I don't know if she can do this---hence the call to my accountant.

You can roll your 403(b) money into an IRA and then take substantially equal periodic payments (SEPP) at any time before age 59.5 and avoid the 10% penalty. (This is the same procedure that applies to 401(k) plans.) One of the three IRS approved methods for doing this is called the annuity method. This does not mean you're buying an annuity from an insurance company, it merely describes the method of calculation. There's an article on the Retire Early Home Page that explains the 3 methods and also provides online calculators for determining the exact amount of the permissible distribution, see link:

The crux of the matter for us is that this is money we'd need at age 50, so we must follow the IRS rules. This was the source of my concern when you suggested annuities were rarely the right thing to do. If we have no alternative but to annuitize, then we'll certainly take the monthly checks. If we have other options, I'd likely not annuitize, and take substantially equal periodic payments. Either way, we need a monthly check at age 50....

But to sound really stupid, I take it your point is if we rollover to an IRA, and invest the money ourselves, we keep whatever it grows to over time, and pass that on to our kids when we die (taxes notwithstanding). If we annuitize with an insurance company, they keep whatever it grows to over time, and our kids get nothing... (Of course, TIAA-CREF does offer a 20 year guaranteed payout).

Even with the 20-year guaranteed payment, the odds are still very good that buying an annuity will decrease the terminal value of the portfolio.


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