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My sister-in-law has a little bit of money with TIAA, left in her account after many years of teaching at community colleges. She has asked my advice about it, and frankly the amount is so small as to be (practically) meaningless, but I try to be a good soldier.

In that vein, and while I am summering in Boston, I happened to walk past a storefront that said "TIAA" in Harvard Square, so I called and made an appointment to talk to a live, in-person human being. They will not talk to me about *her* account, of course, but if it was you, what would you ask them?

I understand how generic a question this is, and if specifics would help I'll provide some (generically speaking) but overall, what sorts of things would you want to know? (I know the organization is reputable, which is why so many colleges and hospitals etc. sign on, and I know their fees are low. But other than that, I know little, except that one of the "A's" stands for "annuity", which, ah, er, uh, ...

Remarks? Questions to ask? Things you'd want to know?
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The first thing I would do is to ask her for her most recent statement. That will tell you what vehicle she actually has money in. Back when I taught at SUNY Albany, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, the retirement program was TIAA, but they allowed something like 80-90% of the money to go to CREF, their stock vehicle. Now they have a ton of options. Don't know what the rules are about moving money, but if that is allowed, it would be the first thing to consider.
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I understand how generic a question this is, and if specifics would help I'll provide some (generically speaking) but overall, what sorts of things would you want to know? (I know the organization is reputable, which is why so many colleges and hospitals etc. sign on, and I know their fees are low. But other than that, I know little, except that one of the "A's" stands for "annuity", which, ah, er, uh, ...

Remarks? Questions to ask? Things you'd want to know?
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Given your SILs distancing herself from her accounts in general, I would want to ask for and hope the supplied 3 things

Do you have Index Funds
Do you offer automatic re-balancing
Do you have a structured Withdrawal plan

IF they offer all 3 give control over to them, and put her in good hands.

Otherwise decide on an allocation and see if you can put it in there, or perhaps have her call Vanguard and then after you define a sane allocation for her, have them do an automated quarterly re-balance.

For someone who does not really want control, allocation and a rebalance mechanism would IMO be a solid move.
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I think TIAA offers the same range of services that most other investment companies do. You can buy mutual funds and annuities, they have a brokerage where you can buy any assets you want, you can get a mortgage, buy insurance, etc. Your SIL's specific retirement plan will only allow her access to specific products. If you go in by yourself, I doubt they will tell you about the detailed options within SIL's plan.
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TIAA-CREF is not a broker per se, but does offer a number of products these days. Notably, the CREF piece is a sort of stock mutual fund, which is not an index fund, but which has done very well over the years. If you have to be in a no control pension fund, it is far, far from the worst option.

Which said, the TIAA piece *is* an annuity. Probably a good example of the breed, but still just an annuity.
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Things I know TIAA-CREF provides:

1. A very nice and IMO sophisticated analysis tool to look at her retirement plan using all her resources. It's VERY nice!

2. Personal counseling that takes into account HER wants and desires. We can do it four times a year, but we usually use it once a year. I REALLY like the professionals they provide us and assume my wife will use then should/when I pass. She establishes the personal relationship with the counselor. It overcame a great concern of mine in our plan.

3. They do have a wide variety of funds available as well as individual stock purchase options. I'm not sure what the circumstances are for stock purchase.

I find those funds are less expensive than most, but not as inexpensive as Vanguard. They use some Vanguard funds but charge a small additional fee.

4. They also provided help with estate planning and have really good affiliated Trust services.

5. They've just started banking functions, although I don't use them.

Hope that helps! Ask questions and I'll answer if I can. Go in with her and ask questions with her. Some items may change depending on her plan doccuments.

bob
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My brother has been a teacher for decades. Two Universities, both TIAA.

If you want to talk to them about your SIL's account, all she has to do is authorize it with them....I get copies of all my brother's statements.

You've not indicated the age of your sister, her intentions for retirement, a lot of data that would help someone help point out some things you could ask or consider.

My brother has a much younger wife and he is still working although he has turned 70 1/2. One of the questions he was exploring was what amount per month would he get in a second-to-die scenario. I told him to ask the question but not to annuitize at rates this low, he could take out the same amount of money and just wait for rates to rise.

The money from the first University is subject to Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) because of his age, but since he is still working at the 2nd University, the RMD will kick in when he stops working.

The amount per year he wants to pull out will exceed the combined RMD when he fully retires, so that is not an issue.

So...given the little information I have...1). I would ask what investment choices are open to her and if you could have a list of them; 2). I would ask what retirement options she would have available when she makes that choice; 3). If we assume she is close to retirement age, what are the disadvantages to rolling the money over to a self-directed IRA?; 4). what are the advantages to not doing so....explained to your satisfaction; 5) When was the last time she updated her beneficiaries and does she have contingent beneficiaries listed....it is surprising how many people forget to do that...;6). What would TIAA recommend for her account at this point?; 7). The catch all question, "If you were me, what would you have asked that I didn't?

I would see if your sister would give a verbal OK to the rep you are seeing if she was called while you were there, it would make your trip more productive to have actual numbers for her. I've often called annuity companies from clients homes or when clients are at my desk, even when I'm not the broker of record. There has never been a problem, they will ask her some ID verification questions and you'll be good to go.

What does your SIL want you to clarify for her?

BTW, annuities pay money earned as the first out so the income is taxable until she starts eating into principal. If she annuitizes then a portion of the income stream will be taxable and a portion will be a return of principal. Also if annuitization is the choice, I always ask what happens if she dies after payment number one....who gets the remainder?

Sort of a scattered response on my part, and I apologize for that.

Poz
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In that vein, and while I am summering in Boston, I happened to walk past a storefront that said "TIAA" in Harvard Square, so I called and made an appointment to talk to a live, in-person human being.
=== ===
Geographically, "Harvard Square" is in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
--BigBunk
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