Be wary of trading your pension for structured settlement, lump-sum payment
Retirees shouldn't be surprised to hear that a pension check is so valuable that regulators are warning about the risks of schemes that promise a lump sum to those who are willing to sell off that income stream.
Ever hear of something called a “mirrored pension” that touts robust returns? If you're not careful, you could be looking at a “smoke and mirrors” kind of a deal.
Offers for upfront cash might sound tempting when budgets are tight. Maybe you do need a lump sum upfront immediately to cover a big medical bill. But think carefully before trying to get a settlement out of a regular pension, and do lots of research into various offers.
These deals are far more costly than many realize.
Or on the flip side, potential investors are being warned, too. In a time of ultra-low interest rates, new financial products pop up with big promises. A broker or financial adviser could pitch a financial product that supposedly is tied to an income stream. The promise is a high return, as an alternative to a low-paying CD. But connecting an investment to a structured settlement is risky and complex.
High yields in general come with high risks for investors and considerable fees.
“Our fear is that people don't understand just how bad these deals can be,” said Gerri Walsh, senior vice president for FINRA investor education.
And yes, some pushy salespeople are getting overly aggressive with elderly people about signing over their pensions. Retired government workers and retired members of the military are among those being targeted.
A “mirrored pension” or structured settlement shouldn't be confused with the one-time lump-sum payouts that have been made to former retirees by their old employers, like the General Motors and Ford offers that rolled out last year.
These are different deals, and structured settlements are way more costly for consumers.
Leon LaBrecque, CEO of LJPR, a fee-only financial adviser in Troy, Mich., gave one example. Take a 70-year-old with a $1,000-a-month pension.
A plan sponsor, such as an employer, looking to offer a lump-sum payout might offer a company's retiree something in the $140,000 range. By contrast, that same pension might net only about $75,000 in a structured settlement, LaBrecque said.
Structured settlements are promoted by outside salespeople.
A structured settlement can be filled with high fees for brokerage commissions, legal fees and various administrative charges.
“While a lump sum is appealing, you may well effectively be paying too much for that lump sum,” Walsh said.
A warning by FINRA said in some cases there may be “outright fraud.”
FINRA noted in its report that a typical structured settlement involves the resolution of a personal injury or workers compensation lawsuit, which often takes the form of “structured” or periodic payments made to the injured party. The periodic payments are commonly funded by an annuity issued by an insurance company, and are often structured to provide a dependable stream of income and a degree of financial security to the injured party.
The structured settlement industry notes that the federal tax code has recognized and encouraged the use of structured settlements as a way for accident victims to receive guaranteed, tax-free income tailored to their needs.
FINRA's warning pertains to those who are considering selling away their rights to a pension or structured settlement income and to people who may be considering buying secondary market products that carry various names, including factored structured settlements.
The range of names attached to these products also includes mirrored pensions, pension income programs, pension loans and secondary-market annuities.
Of course, you're likely to hear the words “safe” and “guaranteed” somewhere along the line, too.
“Selling off the security of a steady income stream for a lump sum is a recipe for even greater financial distress in the future,” warned Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com.
“If someone sells their pension income stream because of a lack of cash today, what is the guarantee they'll have sufficient cash to live on in the future?” he asked.
Walsh recommends first talking to the plan sponsor to find out if opting for a settlement with a pension would even be allowed under the plan.
Regulators say you want to move carefully if you're being approached to sell rights to an income stream, like a pension or a settlement following a personal injury lawsuit.
Experts say to look at other options first. It may be better to find other ways to get cash, maybe even a loan from a 401(k) plan or through special programs at a credit union.
“Anyone with a structured settlement or a pension is potentially a target,” Walsh said.
Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Energy companies vie for experienced workers with skills in high demand
- Energy-saving tactics pay off in Green Workplace Challenge
- Energy Spotlight: Adam Pope
- Former athletes open businesses
- Workarounds exist for battery woes
- Chevron laying off 162 workers from Moon-based unit
- Password change can block hackers from wireless cameras
- McDonald’s employees cite race in firings, sue fast-food giant over franchisee actions
- Bank of New York Mellon 4Q earnings rise to $793 million, but revenue sluggish
- Typewriters back in style, keeping repair shops busy
- Mylan loses Supreme Court fight over multiple sclerosis drug