Life expectancies for many Americans have increased to such an extent that most taxpayers who retire at age 65 expect to live for another 20 years or more. Several years ago, a number of insurance companies began to offer a new financial product, often called the longevity annuity or deferred income annuity, which requires upfront payment of a premium in exchange for a guarantee of a certain amount of fixed income starting after the purchaser reaches age 80 or 85. Despite the wisdom behind the longevity annuity, this new type of product did not sell especially well, principally for tax reasons. These roadblocks, however, have largely been removed by new regulations.
Treasury and the IRS recently released final regulations (TD 9673) to encourage taxpayers to purchase “qualified longevity annuity contracts” (QLACs) with a portion of their retirement savings held in IRAs or in retirement accounts held under a 401(k), 403(b) or other defined contribution plans that are subject to the rules for required minimum distributions (RMDs). The final regulations are meant to remove or mitigate some of the tax concerns new retirees may face when deciding whether or not to purchase a deferred income annuity.
Purchase of a longevity annuity provides for a deferred income stream. Although the terms of specific longevity annuity contracts differ from plan to plan, the arrangement generally requires the purchaser to pay the premium as a lump sum to the insurer. The purchaser could be 65 years of age, 55, 50 or some other age, and the insurer would not begin to make payments under the longevity annuity contract until the purchaser had reached the specified age (of no more than 85 years for the tax benefits contained in the final regulations). The amount of the annuity depends on a number of factors, among them: the age at which the contract is purchased; the amount of the premium paid; the contractual interest rate; and the age at which payments begin.
Not every individual who reaches retirement age possesses enough spare cash outside of his or her IRAs or other retirement accounts to purchase an income annuity, let alone a longevity annuity that does not begin to pay out for many years. In such cases individuals can purchase an annuity from within an IRA or defined contribution plan account. Prior to the final regulations, however, the RMD rules requiring taxpayers who reach age 70 ½ to begin taking distributions from these accounts would have forced taxpayers to factor the premium amounts into the calculation of their annual taxable distribution. This would have depleted the account funds more quickly than the actual balance, without premium payment, warranted.
The final regulations provide that only qualified longevity annuity contracts (QLACs) are eligible for account balance exclusion from the RMD calculation. The regulations define a QLAC as:
- A longevity annuity whose premium payment does not exceed the lesser of $125,000 or 25 percent of the employee’s account balance;
- A contract that provides for payouts to begin no later than the first day of the month following the purchaser’s 85th birthday;
- A contract that does not provide any commutation benefit, cash surrender right, or other similar feature;
- A contract under which any death benefit offered meets the requirements of paragraph A-17(c) of Reg. §1.401(a)(9)-6 (see below for more details);
- A contract that states when issued that it is intended to be a QLAC; and
- A contract that is not a variable contract under Code Sec. 817, an indexed contract, or a similar contract.
The total value of all QLACs held by one person cannot exceed the lesser of $125,000 (indexed for inflation) or 25 percent of all qualified retirement accounts put together. This limitation does not extend to funds held in non-retirement accounts or to funds held in Roth IRAs.
In addition, the amount used to pay the QLAC premium is not taxable when the QLAC is purchased. This means the account holder has a zero basis in the QLAC. Distributions from the QLAC are fully taxable.
Most longevity annuities do not provide any death benefit for the purchaser’s beneficiaries. While some longevity annuity plans do offer a death benefit for the beneficiaries of annuity purchasers who die prematurely, plans that maximize the annuity payment generally provide that the insurer keeps the entire premium amount, plus interest, if the purchaser dies before payouts begin or the contract basis is exhausted.
Return of premium. The final regulations attempt to mitigate some of the risk retirees face when deciding to purchase a QLAC by allowing a QLAC to provide certain death benefits in limited circumstances. Notably, the final regulations add a feature missing from the proposed regulations: return of premium. Under the final rules, a QLAC is authorized to guarantee the return of a purchaser’s premium if the purchaser dies before receiving benefits equal to the premium paid.
Surviving spouse. The final regulations provide that, where the purchaser’s sole beneficiary under the QLAC is his or her surviving spouse, generally the only benefit permitted to be paid after the purchaser’s death is a life annuity that does not exceed 100 percent of the annuity that would have been paid to the employee. The final regulations also allow QLACs to provide the return of premium feature if a surviving spouse who receives a life annuity under the contract dies before the payments equal the premium.
Non-spouse beneficiary/beneficiaries. QLACs may also provide a lifetime annuity to designated non-spouse beneficiaries, but the annuity would likely be reduced. Calculation of an annuity payable to a non-spouse beneficiary would be calculated based on the applicable percentage provided in one of the tables in the final regulations. However, if the QLAC provides a return of premium feature, the applicable percentage that the beneficiary would receive is zero.
Please contact this office if you have any questions on how a qualified longevity annuity might fit into your retirement plans now that the IRS has relaxed some of the rules.
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