Understanding Guaranteed Lifetime Withdrawal Benefits (GLWB) Riders

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If you are planning to purchase an annuity, it is a good chance that you’ve been pitched about the guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefits (GLWB) rider. You might be wondering what exactly is a GLWB rider and how it can help you secure your financial future. In this article, we’ll delve into the world of GLWB riders and provide a comprehensive understanding of how they work.

What is a GLWB Rider?

A GLWB rider is an add-on feature that can be purchased alongside certain annuities. It provides the annuitant with guaranteed lifetime withdrawals, irrespective of how long they live or how much the account value is. This means that regardless of how the market performs, you’ll receive a steady income stream for the rest of your life, which can provide a great sense of financial security in retirement.

However, it’s important to understand that a GLWB rider comes with some trade-offs. In exchange for the guaranteed income stream, you’ll typically pay a higher fee for the annuity, which can reduce the overall return on your investment. Furthermore, the rider’s provisions may limit the yearly income amount you receive.

Understanding the Mechanics of a GLWB Rider

To understand how a GLWB rider works, it’s important to understand the concept of “income base.” The income base is the amount of money that the annuity provider uses to calculate your guaranteed income stream. Typically, the income base is the initial investment amount plus any bonuses that may have been offered when you purchased the annuity.

Activating your GLWB rider locks in the income base, which cannot be reduced by market losses. You’ll then receive a percentage of the income base as your guaranteed income stream each year, typically ranging from 4% to 6%, depending on the terms of the rider.

Benefit Base Determination

It’s important to note that the percentage you receive each year is not fixed. A good market performance increases the value of your annuity and your income base, leading to a higher income stream. Conversely, during a poor market performance, your income base won’t decrease, but an increase in income stream may not occur. To illustrate, imagine you paid $50,000 in premiums and chose a 5% withdrawal rate, but your cash value is only $35,000 when you opt for annuitization because the market performed poorly. In this scenario, the issuer would use your benefit base of $50,000, which is the larger amount, to determine the minimum guaranteed withdrawals. As a result, you would receive $2,500 annually ($50,000 x 0.05 withdrawal rate).

With GLWB riders, you may have the option to take extra withdrawals from your cash value while in the annuitization stage, but this typically results in a reduction of your benefit base. If you withdraw 20% of your cash value, for instance, your guaranteed minimum payments for the rest of your life would decrease by 20%. Using the earlier example, a withdrawal of this magnitude would lower the GLWB payment to $2,000 ($40,000 x 0.05 withdrawal rate).

The Need to Scrutinize

Most insurance providers typically levy annual fees to absorb the market risk that would ordinarily be borne by the policyholder. These expenses can differ significantly, underscoring the significance of scrutinizing annuity documentation before making a purchase.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a GLWB

A Guaranteed Lifetime Withdrawal Benefit (GLWB) rider provides a key advantage in protecting you against the possibility of receiving a reduced lifetime payout in the event of market downturns. Additionally, the rider permits accessing cash value, unlike traditional annuities that bind invested funds once annuitization commences.

However, the drawback is the added expense of purchasing this protection, which can be a drag on your payouts, affecting them negatively. Contributors who begin before annuitization face less market risk as they have more time for their subaccount investments to recover.

 Consequently, individuals with a longer time horizon may choose to forego the extra fee associated with a GLWB rider.

Downsides of a GLWB Rider

While a GLWB rider can provide a great sense of financial security in retirement, it’s important to understand that there are some limitations to this type of annuity.

For example, most GLWB riders have maximum withdrawal percentage that you can take each year, typically ranging from 4%-6%. Going over the maximum withdrawal limit incurs penalties that can lessen the annuity’s total value.

Additionally, the income stream you receive from a GLWB rider may not keep pace with inflation. Your standard of living in retirement may be affected by the declining purchasing power of your income stream over time.

Additional Features

Certain GLWB riders offer extra features that could potentially raise your guaranteed withdrawal amount. These additional benefits may result in an additional charge, either separately or included in the cost of the rider. Some typical examples include:

Step-Up Provision 

The issuer compares the annuity account’s cash value with benefit base during annuitization phase using the step-up feature. The issuer then uses the higher value of the two to calculate your income distributions. As a result, your distributions could potentially increase after annuitization with a step-up feature.

Suppose, for instance, the initial guaranteed withdrawal amount was $2,500 per year, based on a benefit base of $50,000 with a 5% withdrawal rate. If the cash balance five years later grows to $60,000, the higher balance is used to calculate the withdrawal rate. Consequently, the new guaranteed withdrawal amount would be $3,000 per year, calculated as 5% of $60,000. Again, this comes with an increased fee.

Minimum Rate of Return

The insurer may provide a guaranteed minimum rate of return to your benefit base, which determines your withdrawal amount. This benefit base is compared with the cash value, and the higher value is used to calculate your lifetime payments. For instance, if you paid $50,000 in premiums and received a guaranteed 4% rate of return, your benefit base would increase to $54,080 in two years. 

If the cash value remained at $50,000, the benefit base would be used to calculate your lifetime payouts. Assuming a 5% withdrawal rate, you would receive annual payments of $2,704 ($54,080 x 0.05 withdrawal rate).

Special Withdrawals

Certain GLWB riders permit you to take additional withdrawals from your annuity following annuitization. Although this increased liquidity can be beneficial, unanticipated withdrawals will lead to a reduction in future income distributions.

Tax Implications

Typically, taking a distribution from an annuity prior to reaching age 59 1/2 can result in a 10% early withdrawal penalty, as well as taxes owed on the distribution. If the annuity was funded with pre-tax dollars, all income distributions, including the principal and earnings components, are taxable. 

In contrast, if the annuity was purchased with after-tax funds, only the earnings distributions are subject to taxes. However, if the annuity is held within a retirement vehicle designed like a Roth account, all distributions are tax-free.

GLWBs can have complex and varied tax implications, so consulting a tax pro or financial advisor is crucial.

Who Should Opt-In for a GLWB Rider?

If you desire the potential for higher returns with a variable annuity while still needing protection from losses, a GLWB rider may be a suitable choice. Its attractiveness is amplified by the allowance for withdrawals. Always remember GLWB benefits come at a cost, which can reduce your payments.

In summary, GLWB riders are an appealing feature that can provide a guaranteed stream of income for life in retirement. Nonetheless, comprehending the trade-offs is vital, such as the increased charges and restrictions on withdrawals. Knowing the workings and limits of a GLWB rider helps you decide if this annuity aligns with your financial objectives.


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