Why Annuities are the Answer (But Such a Tough Sell)

The decline of traditional pensions and steady erosion of Social Security benefits has begun to leave most retirees without a source of guaranteed lifetime income. Plugging that hole is emerging as the most important retirement issue of our day.

Good luck figuring this one out. When it comes to the one sure-fire solution—immediate fixed annuities—retirees have a split personality. According to a BlackRock retirement survey, 77% of retirees wish they had locked in a guaranteed income stream when they retired and 86% say their employer should have helped them arrange one. Yet almost as many (69%) say they prefer to keep control of their retirement assets.

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You can’t have it both ways. No company is going to guarantee income for life without taking control of the assets standing behind the guarantee or charging mightily for the privilege. “We need a national conversation on this issue,” says David Laibson, a Harvard economics professor. “We need to learn more about what people want.” His comments came during a press conference for the annual retirement survey, which found that retirees with a guaranteed income stream tend be most confident about their finances.

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