Which Lifetime Income Annuity is Best for You at Retirement – Basic or Participating?

If you are a Pension Boards member approaching retirement, it is important to understand the two lifetime income annuity options available to you, the Basic and Participating Annuity. In this article, the Pension Boards interviews Pension Counselor Anna Blandino to share the differences and benefits of the options so you can make an informed choice suitable to your future.

Q. Anna, as a Pension Counselor, you must receive numerous questions from our members who need assistance with their accounts or in preparing for retirement. But today, we want to focus on the two annuity options offered through the Pension Boards to members at retirement – the Basic Annuity and the Participating Annuity. Please describe these annuities and how they work.

A. The Basic and Participating Annuity options are available to Pension Boards members at the time they elect to convert the monies you have accumulated over a career to a steady stream of lifetime income. These monthly payments provide a lifetime benefit to our members and the joint survivors they select. These payments can vary based on the different investment strategies of the two annuities.

Q. Let’s break it down even further. What is the Basic Annuity?

A. The Basic Annuity is the more secure and steady annuity option where benefits are expected to remain relatively constant though retirement. The underlying investments are fixed-income securities such as U.S. Treasury securities, government agency bonds, corporate and municipal bonds. These investments allow for more stability and less volatility of future monthly benefits. The Fund’s assets are managed by our internal core fixed income team, by Voya Financial, and three other managers.

Q. What type of retiree is the Basic Annuity most suitable for?

A. There are many reasons someone might elect the Basic Annuity but let me stress these are personal elections. What works for one member, might not work for another member because these elections are dependent on personal circumstances such as other sources of income, Social Security, etc. If you are more concerned with security and want to prioritize a consistent and steady stream of income, the Basic Annuity might be the better option for you. However, we encourage our members to consult with their own personal financial advisor or an EY financial planner before making this decision, so that their individual needs may be evaluated.

Q. Moving to the second annuity option. What is the Participating Annuity?

A. The Participating Annuity is the more growth-oriented lifetime income annuity option. However, there is also more risk from year to year. The Pension Boards investment team allocates 55% to global stocks, 35% bonds, and 10% in real and other private assets. This investment allocation creates more opportunity for growth of future monthly benefits.

Q. What type of investor is the Participating Annuity more suitable for?

A. If you are comfortable with bearing some investment volatility in exchange for the possibility of increased benefit income, then the Participating Annuity might be a suitable option for you. Again, I encourage our members to consult with their financial advisor or an EY planner before making any investment decision.

Q. Has there ever been a decrease in payments from these annuities?

A. Both the Basic and Participating annuity options are affected by market performance. While neither of these two annuities has ever seen a decrease since the Pension Boards offered these options in April 2006, the Participating Annuity assets will be more variable.

Q. How does the Pension Boards decide if the Basic or Participating Annuities are going to increase or decrease payments?

A. Each year in November during our Annual Board of Directors and Trustee Meeting, our Board of Trustees meet with the Pension Boards’ investment team and appropriate committees to evaluate the funded status: the relationship between the financial assets, and the value of the liabilities, (future payments we will make to you) expressed in a ratio. This funded status is based on September 30 - September 30 performance, fees, and any other statistical adjustments needed. At that point, the decision is made to set the annuity benefits effective January 1 for the upcoming year. Once a decision is made, the Pension Boards communicates the decision to make any future changes to your monthly annuity benefits.

Q. Can a Pension Boards member change their election after selecting one of these annuities at retirement?

A. No. These are irrevocable elections that cannot be changed. This is another reason why discussing your financial goals with a planner is important.

Q. Who can our members call if they need more information on these two annuities.

A. Pension Boards members can speak with a Pension Counselor when they are ready to make this choice at retirement, and in fact, we are here to serve our members at all points of their career and journey. Members can call 1.800.642.6543.