What You Need to Know
- The TIAA 403(b) program served 4.3 million participants in 2018.
- About 900,000 were drawing retirement income.
- New retiree use of in-plan lifetime annuities to draw income for the first time fell to 18% in 2018, from 62% in 2000.
The required minimum distribution rules may be pushing older U.S. retirees away from setting up guaranteed streams of lifetime income.
Only 5% of new TIAA 403(b) plan retirees ages 70 and older used lifetime annuities to begin tapping their accounts in 2018, researchers say.
The share of new, older retirees who used annuities to start drawing income was down from 41% in 2000.
The percentage of new, older retirees who used RMDs to draw income increased to 85%, from 52%, over that same period.
Three economists — Jeffrey Brown, James Poterba and David Richardson — have included those figures in a new working paper on retirement income choices published on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The lead author, Brown, is the dean of the business college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a TIAA trustee.
TIAA is a New York-based nonprofit institution that is best known for providing retirement plans for teachers, researchers and other employees at nonprofit and government organizations.
TIAA has been offering defined contribution retirement plan services since 1918. In 2018, its main 403(b) plan program served 4.3 million participants, including 898,990 participants who were drawing income.
The researchers say they based their study on TIAA data because TIAA has a large, well-established defined contribution retirement plan program and can provide more detailed information than many other sources of U.S. retirement income data, such as federal income tax return databases.
The researchers looked only at retirees who used in-plan income and asset-withdrawal strategies, not at retirees who rolled assets into IRAs or individual annuities. TIAA found in 2017, for example, that about 13% of the working-age U.S. adults it surveyed said owned annuities.
Most 401(k) plan sponsors use investment funds held outside annuities to fund the plans.
A 403(b) plan is more likely to use a variable annuity as the funding vehicle, and it’s more likely to offer access to lifetime annuities as income distribution options when participants retire.
The annuity provider converts some or all of the participant’s assets into a stream of income that is guaranteed to reach or exceed a minimum level throughout the participant’s life, or, in the case of a couple, as long as at least one of the spouses or partners is alive.
The federal government sees tax exemptions for cash contributed to or earned by retirement plans as “tax expenditures” by the federal government.
To limit tax expenditures on 403(b) plans and other retirement plans, the government requires participants to begin taking RMDs, to convert some of the plan assets into taxable income, by a specified age.