Building Your Own TIPS Annuity

Building a CubeI got an interest payment from one of my TIPS recently.  It feels pretty good to watch your income automatically go up with inflation.  As I mentioned in the article: “Introducing Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS)“, these bonds pay out interest on your inflation adjusted principle.  The percentage of interest stays the same, but the bond amount itself goes up as it is adjusted for inflation.  That means that your income goes up too.

What I feel when I get my inflation adjusted income, may be a result of the fact that I’m so used to being charged an inflation premium.  All I’m really experiencing is consistency.  I’m just getting the same purchasing power from my money as I had when I purchased my bond.  As I considered the fact that loaning out money is capable of producing an ongoing, inflation protected income, I realized that this could be used to create a reliable income and preserve the principal at the same time.

Considering the Possibilities

I don’t talk very much about the income from TIPS because I primarily focus on their ability to protect our savings, but if you have enough money and don’t want to risk it somewhere else, you could use TIPS as a way of getting inflation adjusted income for the rest of your life while also protecting your principal.

You’re intention would be to preserve the principal for the rest of your life.  Perhaps you already have a large sum that is intended for your heirs or for charitable giving in your will.  You could be using that money to generate an income while keeping the principle safe and adjusted for inflation.

Even if you don’t really need the income, you could generate it and give it away while you are still alive.

Making Your Own Annuity

There’s really nothing new to creating your own “annuity” with TIPS.  It’s just a frame of mind.  The only difference is that you are using TIPS for the purpose of generating income.  If you do plan to use them in this way, you might consider getting the 30 year TIPS.  Not only will the income stay consistent for 30 years, you usually get the highest amount of income from the longer term bonds.

Keeping it Real

You might be wondering why you wouldn’t just use CD’s for this purpose.  Remember, that the interest rate for TIPS is a “real” interest rate.  That means that inflation has already been calculated into the TIPS interest.  You have to subtract the inflation rate from your CD’s current interest rate and then compare it to the TIPS rate.

If, for instance, the interest rate on your CD is 2.04%, and inflation is currently at 1.90%, your real interest rate for the CD is only  .14%.  If you compare that to a 1% interest rate on a TIPS, you would see that you would earn .86% more “real interest.”  That’s a whopping 614% more income on the same principal.

Fee Considerations

There really aren’t any fees when you buy a TIPS, but I like to consider any bond premiums and taxes as fees when you make an annuity out of them.

A premium is when you pay more than the face value for the bond.  This happens when you buy a TIPS at auction and the price for the TIPS goes above the TIPS amount itself.  It can also happen when you buy a TIPS from someone else on the market.  For instance, you may end up buying a $1000 TIPS for $1100 at auction.  If you do, you are paying a premium of $100 to get a $1000 TIPS.  That $100 is like a fee because you had to pay it up front just to get the bond.  It could take a while to recover that fee, but if you are doing it to protect a future income stream from inflation, it may not matter much to you.  You are paying for a guarantee, just like you would with insurance.  As long as you are still working, you can pay that fee with current income.  This is a way of protecting future income while you have current income.

Taxes are a similar kind of thing.  With TIPS, taxes are like an annual fee.  You could think of it as a fee to the government for using their system to protect your money.  The fee is paid at your tax rate.  The bad thing about this fee is that it goes up with inflation.  That makes this fee pretty expensive in a high inflation environment.

These fees may still be acceptable to you for protecting your income stream.  With a commercial annuity, you may end up in the same place when you calculate in the loss of principal to your heirs.

If you were to put this annuity in an IRA or 401k, you would completely remove the tax “fee” and if you were careful to only buy your TIPS at a discount instead of a premium, you would also not have to pay the premium “fee.”

You’re the Boss

The thing that makes this so much better than a commercial annuity, is that you have complete control over the principal.  The terms are very clear and your investment is backed by the full credit of the United States.  All of the money is still under your control.

If you are wondering why you’ve never heard of this before, it might be because there is no money in this kind of annuity for anyone else but you.  When you build your own TIPS annuity, you get to decide what to do with the principal and your heirs get it all back in the end without any exposure to the markets.


Copyright © Troy Taft 2020

Thinking of Retirement as Standard of Living Insurance

Professor Zvi Bodie of Boston University said something that really shaped my thinking about retirement savings.  He said that we should think about retirement savings more like we think about insurance.  When I tried that, I realized that it caused me to challenge the advice about retirement that I often hear and read about.  It exposed something that I was seeing that I knew didn’t seem right as I was planning for retirement.

Assurances are not Guarantees

Fund managers want you to invest in their products, but they don’t give guarantees.  They are careful to have disclaimers so that we understand that we could actually lose our money.  That’s worth taking time to consider.  Professor Bodie says that these management companies are in a far better position to understand risk management than the common person, yet they refuse to guarantee that you will even have your retirement savings when you need it.  They give assurances, but they refuse to give a guarantee.  Professor Bodie says that the reason they don’t give a guarantee, is that they can’t.  Instead, they leave the risk of the investment with the person who is least knowledgeable about what they are doing.

A good thing to ask ourselves is: “Why can’t they give a guarantee when they are managing the money?”  The answer is: “Because the investments they use are risky and they know it.”

Professor Zvi Bodie does a great job of explaining the problem here in his video:

Is it really Savings?

I think that there is terminology that retirement fund salespeople should not be using.  They often refer to the money that we put into mutual funds or the stock market and other volatile investments, as our “retirement savings.” In my opinion, the money we are putting into those kinds of investments are actually “retirement ventures.”  Since no one is committed to maintaining a specific amount of money in those accounts, I don’t think that it can legitimately be called: “savings.”

When we use the word “savings” we naturally think of money in a piggy bank or money in a banking institution.  In those places, our money is insured in some way.  Our piggy bank is locked in our house and our bank accounts even have deposit insurance from the federal government.  We naturally expect that when we return to our bank, we will find the same amount or more than we left in it, but that’s not how most “retirement savings” accounts work in my experience.

Unfortunately, we need to be on guard when money managers use the term: “savings.”

Guaranteeing our Savings

There are ways to guarantee savings, and some of them come at a cost.  We know that insurance has a cost because many of us have insurance for other things like healthcare,  our cars or a house.  Insurance costs something because someone else is bearing a risk for us.  When we think of something as important as our retirement, doesn’t it make sense to insure that it will meet our basic needs?  Sure there are things in retirement, like golf or fancy vacations, that we don’t really need.  I’m not talking about that necessarily, but what about food and medical needs?  What about the power bill or visiting family for Christmas?  Do we want to become a burden on our adult children when it can be avoided?

Zvi Bodie brings up an interesting point in another place.  He suggests that we consider the fact that we are willing to pay $1000 for fire insurance for our house even though it is very unlikely that our house will burn down.  The chances are very small, yet we still pay for it.   That’s because we believe that the seriousness of not having a house outweighs the fact that it is unlikely to happen.  What good a house if I am unable to live in it in because my retirement savings has disappeared?  It doesn’t really make sense to protect the house and not protect my income.

Two Categories of Retirement Funds

Thinking about retirement in this way leads to dividing our retirement funds into two parts.  One part is the part you reasonably believe you can’t do without in your old age.  The other part is for things that you hope for, but that are not critical to your survival.  When we divide it up like this, and get insurance for the critical part, it can lead to peace of mind knowing that our critical retirement needs are guaranteed to be there for us.

Guaranteed Retirement Options

When it comes to ways to guarantee the critical part of your retirement, you might be imagining a large piggy bank or perhaps a bank CD.  If you have been reading my blog, however, you know what I think about that.  Both piggy banks and CD’s are not usually inflation protected, which means that they are not a guarantee.  They fail to be a guarantee because you don’t know what the contents of your piggy bank will buy in 30 years when you need it.

There have been CD’s that were “inflation-linked” in the past but I have not seen any in the last few years.  Hopefully, demand for them will increase and they will be offered again in the future.

Social Security

One obvious form of retirement insurance is Social Security.  It is inflation protected and it’s definitely something to consider when thinking about your critical retirement savings.  Social Security is likely to go through some changes in the future, but I expect that something very similar to it will be available for a long time to come.  There’s more about this investment in the article: Possibly the Most Popular Inflation Protected Investment.

Company or Government Pensions

If you happen to have a job that offers a pension that adjusts your payments for inflation, you are in a good position.  When I say pension, I mean the old fashioned kind that doesn’t require that you manage the money and that does provide a written guarantee.  Pensions that don’t adjust for inflation, are helpful but they don’t guarantee that you won’t run out of money to pay your expenses in the distant future.

Be Careful With Insurance Annuities

Other insurance products are provided by insurance companies by way of inflation adjusted annuities.  I would just make sure that the inflation adjustments are connected to actual inflation and not a flat percentage increase each year.  It’s important to understand how much you are paying for that insurance up front too.  Beware: Insurance companies use the word “guarantee” in a similar way that fund managers use the word “savings.”  Make sure you know what they are actually guaranteeing.  Guaranteed percentages are not the whole story.  You also need to know the exact amount of principal the percentage is calculated against.  If the principle goes down with something other than inflation, it’s not much of a guarantee.  Also remember that if the guarantee isn’t in writing, it’s still not a guarantee.  Insurance companies do and have gone out of business.  Zvi Bodie recommends splitting up your funds between companies.

Home Equity

The Equity in our homes really is a form of inflation protection.  Because a house is a physical thing that represents one of our important needs, it’s automatically inflation protected.  Its value goes up with inflation because a house is still a house no matter what the value of money is.  Just having your home paid off is big part of insuring your retirement.

This presents an option for those who have no heirs or have no other choice.  Many of us spend our lives paying the bank to own a house.  The tables can be turned.  It is possible to sell the equity to the bank and have them pay you to live in your own house.  That’s what is called a reverse mortgage.

Once again caution is needed.  Make sure to read everything in any contract to make sure that the bank isn’t taking too much for themselves in the deal.  They may woo you with assurances that the remaining equity will go to your heirs, but I am told that this is often not the case because of high fees.  Again, there’s no guarantee.

Another thing to consider is selling your house to your heirs, with permission to continue living in the house as long as you can.  Working a deal with your loved ones could be a practical option and it can be a win-win situation with them.

Inflation Protected Bonds

My favorite option is to use Treasury Inflation Protected Securities and I Bonds for savings that I want to insure.  I do have to do a bit more work myself, but fees are low or non existent.  These are just boring government bonds that usually don’t make a whole lot of interest, but they do one thing very well: they protect long-term savings from inflation and that’s what I’m looking for when it comes to protecting the critical part of my retirement savings.


Copyright © Troy Taft 2020