ConocoPhillips: Do I Take the Lump-Sum or Annuity?

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As a recruiter I do my best to put people in the right situation. For some people that means a great company culture, for others it means a higher paycheck. While I’m not a financial advisor, I have had a number of my ConocoPhillips clients asking me what is right for them; taking the lump-sum or annuity. While I can’t make that decision for you, I can help you make an informed decision.

Retirees who are eligible for a pension are often offered the choice of whether to actually take the pension payments for life, or receive a lump-sum dollar amount for the “equivalent” value of the pension – with the idea that you could then take the money (rolling it over to an IRA), invest it, and generate your own cash flows by taking systematic withdrawals throughout retirement.

The upside of keeping the pension itself is that the payments are guaranteed to continue for life (at least to the extent that the pension plan itself remains solvent and doesn’t default). Thus, whether you live 10, 20, or 30 (or more!) years in retirement, you don’t have to worry about the risk of outliving the money.

By contrast, selecting the lump-sum gives you the potential to invest, earn more growth, and potentially generate even greater retirement cash flow. Additionally, if something happens to you, any unused account balance will be available to a surviving spouse or heirs. However, if you fail to invest the funds for sufficient growth, there’s a danger that the money could run out altogether, and that you may regret not having held onto the pension’s “income for life” guarantee.

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Ultimately, though, whether it is really a “risk” to outlive the guaranteed lifetime payments that the pension offers, by taking a lump-sum, depends on what kind of return must be generated on that lump-sum to replicate the payments. After all, if the reality is that it would only take a return of 1% to 2% on that lump sum to create the same pension cash flows for a lifetime, there is little risk that you will outlive the lump-sum even if you withdraw from it for life(10). However, if the pension payments can only be replaced with a higher and much riskier rate of return, there’s also a greater risk those returns won’t manifest and you could run out of money.

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