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Greetings, Jonathan, and welcome. You asked:

<<after a decade in grad school and postdocs, I finally found my way to a college that offers 403b's for post-docs... I jumped at it... before i found the foolish way...

so since starting 2 years ago, I have been putting 300/month pre-tax (with my wife, our current tax rates are 36%) into a TIAA-CREF supplemental retirement
annuity. The fees are very low (approx 0.3%), and the money is in sub accounts tied to the market index.

but it is still an annuity with its payout options.

Thus the dilemma... do I
1) stay the course,
2) stop adding additional funds, but leave what i have until i move to a position
where there is a 403b with direct mutual fund (indexed of course) options,
3) cash out, subject to withholdings and the 10% penalty...?>>

These are all decisions you and you alone must make. Personally, I hold TIAA-CREF in high regard, so if you have to have an annuity, then you couldn't have picked one much better. The organization offers a good product with reasonable returns and low management/administrative fees. Could you do better elsewhere to include using a taxable investment? Sure. But that depends on where you invest and how dedicated you are to following the same discipline as that forced by the 403b plan (i.e., payroll deductions that increase as your pay does). To see if you could do better, you must do a tax-equivalent analysis of all alternatives. Only you can run those numbers. For one way to approach that task, see Step 4 of my 13 Steps to Foolish Retirement Planning at

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