Web Site Combats Annuity Sales Abuses

An article in the Wall Street Journal in 2002 described a training session at "Annuity University," which billed itself as the "nation''s first and foremost Annuity Sales Training School." Included in training session advice on how to sell annuities to seniors was the following: "Treat them like they're blind 12-year-olds . . .;" "There's the technical answer," . . . and "there's the senior answer;" and "Tell them you can protect their life savings from nursing-home and Medicaid seizure of assets. They don't know what that is, but it sounds scary."

Across the nation, the elderly are being targeted by salespeople selling annuity products. For some seniors, an annuity may be an appropriate part of an overall financial plan. But for others an annuity is totally unsuitable. Often, as the above high-pressure sales tactics attest, people are not being told in a clear way about all aspects of the annuities they are being offered.

To help older adults and families make better decisions about annuities, the Healthcare and Elder Law Programs Corporation (H.E.L.P.) has created a Web site, annuitytruth.org. The site features H.E.L.P.'s new seven-part "Special Report: Annuities and Older Adults," as well as a list of federal and state agency contacts for making complaints if a person has been sold an annuity in unsuitable circumstances. Note that the site refers to "Medi-Cal," which is the name for Medicaid in California, where the site was created.

H.E.L.P., which is a community-funded, non-profit information resource for older adults, offers the following list of circumstances in which the purchase of a deferred annuity by an older adult is highly questionable:

  • The annuity has surrender charges for longer than six years.
  • You are likely to need principal back from the annuity while surrender charges will apply.
  • You are being told that it will help you protect assets under the Medi-Cal (Medicaid) nursing home rules.
  • The salesperson will not tell you how much he or she will earn from selling you the annuity.
  • The salesperson will earn a commission greater than four percent.
  • The annuity will be purchased and held within an IRA or other tax-deferred account.
  • The annuity will be purchased with money that you withdraw from an IRA or other tax-deferred account.
  • You don''t need to pay income taxes (with or without the annuity).
  • You''re being asked to convert a high percentage of your assets into deferred annuities.
  • The annuity is a variable annuity, and you are unable to leave the principal untouched for 15 or more years.