Accumulation Phase: What it is, How it Works, Examples

What Is the Accumulation Phase?

Accumulation phase has two meanings for investors and those saving for retirement. It refers to the period when an individual is working and planning and ultimately building up the value of their investment through savings. The accumulation phase is then followed by the distribution phase, in which retirees begin accessing and using their funds.

Key Takeaways

  • Accumulation phase refers to the period in a person's life in which they are saving for retirement.
  • The accumulation happens ahead of the distribution phase when they are retired and spending the money.
  • Accumulation phase also refers to a period when an annuity investor is beginning to build up the cash value of the annuity. (The annuitization phase, when payments are dispersed, follows the accumulation period.)
  • The length of the accumulation phase will vary based on when an individual begins saving and when the person plans to retire.

How the Accumulation Phase Works

The accumulation phase is also a specific period when an annuity investor is in the early stages of building up the cash value of the annuity. This building phase is followed by the annuitization phase, where payments are paid out to the annuitant.

The accumulation phase essentially begins when a person starts saving money for retirement and ends when they begin taking distributions. For many people, this starts when they begin their working life and ends when they retire from the work world. It is possible to start saving for retirement even before beginning the work phase of one's life, such as when someone is a student, but it is not common. Typically, joining the workforce coincides with the start of the accumulation phase.

Importance of the Accumulation Phase

Experts state that the sooner an individual begins the accumulation phase, the better, with the long-term financial difference between beginning to save in one's 20s vs. in the 30s substantial. Postponing consumption by saving during an accumulation period will most often increase the amount of consumption one will be able to have later. The earlier the accumulation period is in your life, the more advantages you will have, such as compounding interest and protection from business cycles.

In terms of annuities, when a person invests money in an annuity to provide income for retirement, they are at the accumulation period of the annuity's life span. The more invested during the accumulation phase, the more will be received during the annuitization phase.

Real-World Examples

There are many income streams that an individual can build up during the accumulation phase, starting from when they first enter the workforce, or in some cases, sooner. Here are a few of the more popular options.

  • Social Security: This is a contribution automatically deducted from every paycheck you receive.
  • 401(k): This is an optional tax-deferred investment that can be made paycheck-to-paycheck, monthly, or yearly provided your employer offers such an option. The amount you can set aside has yearly limits and also depends on your income, age, and marital status.
  • IRAs: An Individual Retirement Account can be either pretax or after-tax, depending on which option you choose. The amount you can invest varies year-to-year, as set out by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and depends on your income, age, and marital status.
  • Investment portfolio: This refers to an investor's holdings, which can include assets such as stocks, government, and corporate bonds, Treasury bills, real estate investment trusts (REITs), exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, and certificates of deposits. Options, derivatives and physical commodities like real estate, land and timber can also be included in the list.
  • Deferred payment annuities: These annuities offer tax-deferred growth at a fixed or variable rate of return. They allow individuals to make monthly or lump-sum payments to an insurance company in exchange for guaranteed income down the line, typically 10 years or more.
  • Life insurance policies: Some policies can be useful for retirement, such as if an individual pays an after-tax, fixed amount annually that grows based on a particular market index. The policy would need to be the kind that allows the individual to withdraw in retirement the principal and any appreciation from the policy essentially tax-free.
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