Independent Review of the Intelligent Variable TIAA-CREF Annuity – [Updated January 2020]

What’s Covered In This TIAA-CREF Review?

The TIAA annuity we’ll cover in today’s review is the TIAA-CREF Intelligent Variable Annuity:

  • Product Typetiaa_logo
  • Fees
  • Current Rates
  • Realistic long term investment expectations
  • What to expect, and what not to expect

Consumers who are familiar with TIAA annuities might be impressed with the TIAA-CREF Intelligent Variable Annuity – especially given its promise of low fees, high-quality investments, and guaranteed income options. For these reasons, it might even appear to be a one-size-fits-all investment and income-producing solution that is tailor-made for the average investor.

But the big question still remains. Is it really a good fit for you and your specific short- and long-term needs? This is where we try to help you with our extensive TIAA CREF reviews.

Annuities should always be considered as long-term financial endeavors. And, while TIAA-CREF has made an attempt to do away with as many fees as possible, the reality is that the Intelligent Variable TIAA Annuity is still just exactly that – a variable annuity! And because of that, there are some areas where it will still cost you.

In fact, not only do most variable annuities charge you fees – they can also end up costing you in other ways, too. This is particularly the case for someone who has a nest egg to preserve for the next 20 or 3 years. So, it isn’t enough to just run through the features of this annuity. But rather, we need to go over the good, the bad, and yes, even the really ugly. That’s really the only way for you to make a well-balanced decision regarding whether or not this is the annuity for you.

Annuities are complex products, and the more “bells and whistles” they offer, the more confusing they tend to be. Because of that, many consumers aren’t really sure what they are purchasing – only to find out after they’ve purchased that the product really isn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

Unfortunately, at that point, it is too late to get out of the annuity without having to pay a substantial withdrawal fee. This is definitely not the way to grow and / or protect your hard-earned savings.

That’s where we come in!

Annuity and Retirement Income Planning Information You Can Actually Trust

If you have never been to our website before, please allow us first welcome you here to We encompass a team of experienced and knowledgeable financial professionals who focus on providing highly informative and unbiased annuity reviews.

While you may have noticed other similar websites on your quest for annuity information, we’ve actually been offering annuity product reviews for many years – far longer than most of the other copycat sites. (Although, it has been said that imitation is the highest form of flattery).

It is possible that your present insurance or financial advisor has offered you a TIAA annuity or some other similar product. Likewise, you may have recently attended an annuity seminar where, in return for a free lunch or dinner, you were presented with information about how an annuity could solve all of your financial needs.

But, even though you may feel like the presenter left you “well informed,” it is still extremely important that you know more about the entire picture before you commit what could be a sizeable sum of your retirement savings.

In researching annuities online, you may have come across other annuity websites – many of which tout some pretty bold claims about their annuities, such as:

  • Highest income payouts
  • Low fees
  • Top-rated annuity carriers

But unfortunately, rather than present you with all of the pertinent details about the annuities that they’re marketing, these websites would rather just highlight the good features, in order to get you to provide your contact information.

As enticing as some of these claims may be, you absolutely, positively need to know both sides of the story when it comes to annuities. This means understanding that, while the Intelligent Variable TIAA Annuity certainly has some very nice features, there are also some key areas where this product has some big drawbacks.

Unfortunately, while most insurance and financial services representatives will work to do what is right for their clients, they may only place a key focus on the positive features of a product, while leaving out the possible drawbacks.

All of our annuity reviews, including our TIAA-CREF review, will offer you the good and the bad, which in turn can allow you to make a much more well-informed decision as to whether or not the Intelligent Variable Annuity will be right for you.

So, if you’re ready to move forward, let’s dive right in!

The Intelligent Variable TIAA Annuity at a Glance

Product Name TIAA-CREF Intelligent Variable Annuity
Issuer TIAA-CREF (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association- College Retirement Equities Fund)
Standard & Poor’s Rating:AAA (exceptionally strong)
Phone Number877 554-8282

Opening Thoughts on the TIAA-CREF Intelligent Variable Annuity

For 100 years, TIAA-CREF has been serving investors and policy holders in the areas of growing and protecting wealth. This company has a primary focus on serving the financial needs of those who work in the academic, government, medical, cultural, and other non-profit fields.

TIAA-CREF sports a long list of awards and accolades, including being the only company to win the “Best Overall Large Fund Company” for six years in a row, and the “Best Mixed Assets Large Fund Company United States” for three years running, from Thomson Reuters Lipper.

The company has also been ranked as a top-five Best Fund Family from Barron’s (in 2017), and as of mid-year 2018, 73% of the company’s mutual funds have received a Morningstar overall rating of 4- or 5-stars across all asset classes (based on risk-adjusted returns).

While TIAA-CREF offers a variety of fixed and variable deferred annuities, as well as immediate annuity options, the Intelligent Variable TIAA Annuity product is one that the company promotes heavily as a way to earn market-linked returns that can help investors with meeting or beating inflation.

While variable annuities have taken somewhat of a back seat to other, safer, alternatives like fixed and fixed indexed annuities over the past decade, there is a definite niche for these products – particularly with those who are seeking the opportunity for a higher rate of return, as well as the tax-deferred growth of assets.

Before we get into the gritty details, there are some required legal disclosures here…

This is an independent TIAA-CREF annuity product review. It is not a recommendation to purchase or to sell an annuity. TIAA-CREF has not endorsed this review in any way, nor do we receive any type of compensation for providing this review. This annuity review is meant solely to be an independent review at the request of our readers so that they may see our perspective when breaking down the positives and the negatives of this particular annuity. Prior to committing to the purchase of any type of insurance and/or investment vehicle, it is critical that you do your own due diligence, and that you also talk with a properly licensed professional if you have any questions that relate to your specific situation. All of the names, materials, and marks that have been used in compiling this annuity review are the property of their respective owners.

How TIAA-CREF Describes the Intelligent Variable Annuity

According to TIAA-CREF’s Intelligent Variable Annuity brochure, this product can help investors to save for retirement, minimize taxes, and also create a retirement income that can be depended upon in the future.

As with any other annuity, the Intelligent Variable Annuity from TIAA-CREF offers tax-deferred growth of funds while in the account, as well as growth potential with professional money management.

When you’re ready to convert the annuity to an income stream, this can provide you with a guaranteed incoming cash flow – and, this guarantee can also be put in place for your spouse, too.

There are a few other bells and whistles, too, that are offered on this annuity. For all of the direct, and in-depth, information on the Intelligent Variable TIAA Annuity, you can check out the company’s product brochure HERE.

How a Financial Advisor Might “Pitch” this TIAA Annuity

TIAA-CREF sounds like an organization with its heart in the right place, as their mission is to serve people who have given their lives to the service of others. And coming from a company that had originally structured pensions for teachers, you would expect the Intelligent Variable Annuity to deliver.
The company’s marketing materials make a lot of claims that, while true individually, may not all come together to paint the rosy picture that you might be led to believe here.

When pitching this variable annuity to customers, there are three primary points that you are likely to hear advisors focus on. These are:

  • This investment can grow your money faster because the funds can accumulate tax-deferred
  • Lower fees can also equate to greater accumulation, as compared to other annuities
  • You have the option to receive fixed income payments for as long as you and/or your spouse live (or alternately, you can receive payments for a fixed period of time)

First, let’s take a look at growth. All annuities regardless of whether they are a variable or fixed are able to grow your money tax-deferred. This means that you pay the taxes on the qualified money you put into the investment only when you take it out. This is how traditional IRAs and 401(k)s are designed – to help encourage investors to save.

If you are already putting the maximum amount of money into these savings vehicles and you are looking for an investment to grow even more money tax-deferred, then this annuity might make sense. However, if security is an issue – for example, you are ten or fewer years away from retirement – then other, more secure options might be a better choice. There are tax-deferred investments out there that can grow your money without exposing it directly to the stock market loss.

Second, even though this TIAA annuity does an admirable job of keeping its fees low for a variable annuity, using it as an accumulation vehicle has several drawbacks. As an insurance product participating in the stock market, you will be charged fees on both sides of the table. While the management fees charged for each mutual fund selection are reasonable and fair, you’re also going to get hit on the insurance end while growing that money.

This variable annuity (like all variable annuities) will deduct a mortality and expense fees and risk fees from your account every year even before you start taking income because the insurance company knows that one day, they will be responsible for guaranteeing that income. Furthermore, to ensure your beneficiaries will get this money should you pass away before turning on the income stream, you also need a Guaranteed Minimum Death Benefit (GMDB) which increases your fees by .10%.

The advertisements for the TIAA-CREF point out that on a $100,000 investment, each .05% increase in fees can decrease your savings by at least $22,000 over 20 years (assuming a 6% annual rate of return.) TIAA CREF describes the reason for this fee in the fine print of their prospectus: “TIAA’s mortality risks come from its obligations to make annuity payments.” If growing and accumulating money is your current goal, why would any intelligent person choose an investment where you are paying out fees for something you don’t even need?

There’s also more to unravel here on the income side of things. The Intelligent Variable TIAA Annuity does offer single and joint life guaranteed income options, but because the investments inside this variable annuity work against the goal of guaranteeing income, it will ultimately result in less income paid to you than what you could get from other annuities.

You can also expect more restrictions. In order to get the guaranteed options offered by the TIAA-CREF Intelligent Variable annuity, your money is annuitized. To annuitize basically, means to trade in a sum of money in exchange for a regular income payment.

This means you are locked out of the account, and your beneficiaries (such as your spouse) won’t receive any of this money when you pass away unless you have a remaining guarantee period or have elected a joint life option. Furthermore, with this particular variable annuity, you can’t change your mind and stop taking the income once you turn it on. Yikes! Yet another reason why you want to be very sure before you decide to take the plunge.

What About the Fees on the Intelligent Variable TIAA Annuity?

Even though TIAA-CREF touts that its fees are low, the reality is that variable annuities are known for charging fees – and this one is really no different. In this case, while TIAA-CREF states that the industry average for current annual annuity expense charges is in the neighborhood of 1.33%, you can still be hit with a fee on the Intelligent Variable annuity of between 0.25% and 0.50% in Years 1 through 10, and an annual fee of 0.10% in Years 11 and beyond.

What many variable annuity investors are not always aware of, though, is that the fees don’t stop there. That’s because each investment that you choose inside of this TIAA annuity will also typically have its own management fees. So overall, your fee total could be as low as .65% per year, or as high as 4.15%. Ouch! With that in mind, you really be careful not be get blindsided here…especially if it’s too late to get out of the annuity.

For a breakdown of the annual charges from TIAA-CREF itself, take a look HERE.

The Annuity Gator’s End Take on the Intelligent Variable TIAA Annuity

Where it works the best:

  • As an investment for people who are already making the maximum contributions to a 401(k) and/or IRA account, and who still have additional funds that they would like to invest on a tax-advantaged basis.
  • As a “catch-up” investment for accumulating more money for retirement in a tax-deferred vehicle.
  • For those who are seeking a source of guaranteed income – and income that is delivered by a company with an excellent track record

Where it works worst:

  • For younger investors who are not currently investing in their employer-sponsored 401(k) plan (or other retirement plans), or in a Traditional IRA.
  • For investors who do not need a source of guaranteed income
  • For those who will be retiring in the next 5 to 10 years and who do not need to take on any additional risk in their portfolio

In Summary

If you’ve been going back and forth with the thought of purchasing a variable annuity – or any annuity, for that matter – but you’ve been hesitant to move forward because you just aren’t sure which annuity might be right for you, it is important that you know all of the ins and the outs of a particular product before you sign on the dotted line.

This is because an annuity should always be considered as a long-term financial commitment – and if you do end up determining that a particular annuity just isn’t for you after you’ve purchased it, it can be fairly expensive to get out of it.

If you are still leaning towards the TIAA-CREF Intelligent Variable Annuity, there are definitely some nice benefits that you could attain. But, this annuity could also fall somewhat short, particularly if you are looking for a safer haven to put your principal.

So, if you still have any questions as to whether or not this annuity would fit into your overall financial plans, then please feel free to reach out to us directly via our online contact form here and our annuity team will be happy to assist you.

Do You Need Any Additional Info? Did You See Any Mistakes in this TIAA-CREF Review?

While we do realize that this annuity review was a bit lengthy – and we appreciate you sticking with us through it all – we feel that it is much better to “err” on the side of providing “too much” information than not enough. With that in mind, if you felt that this annuity review was helpful, then please feel free to forward it on to anyone else that you think may benefit from it, too.

Also, as humans will often do, we also understand that information about annuities can change quickly. Therefore, if you happened to notice any details in this review that were out of date or that need correction, please let us know that as well, and we will get it fixed quickly.

Are there any other annuities that you would like to also see reviewed?

If you have checked out our list of annuity reviews and there is another annuity (or more than one other annuity) that is not currently in our annuity review database, but that you would like to see reviewed, please let us know the name of the annuity or annuities and our team of annuity “geeks” will get right on it. So, be sure to check back with us soon to see any updates.


The Annuity Gator


4 thoughts on “Independent Review of the Intelligent Variable TIAA-CREF Annuity – [Updated January 2020]”

  1. I retired in2012 from higher ed. I am highly suspicious that I have been. misled re: how long my. TIAA lifetime annuity will last.
    After reading your article I am now even more skeptical and confused.
    Doug Smith
    [email protected]

    1. Hey Doug, Thank you for your comment. We would be happy to answer any questions you might have with your annuity. Getting a second point of view is a must in these cases. Please feel free to reach out to us directly at (888) 440-2468 to speak with one of our annuity experts or you can send us your specific questions at We look forward to talking with you. Best! Annuity Gator

  2. Fran Roberts

    What is your evaluation of a company named SYMETRA for annuities?
    Also, when do I have to begin taking out funds from an annuity?

    1. Hi Frank– Thank you for your message.
      We would be happy to provide you more details on any annuity you might be interested. In order to best support you, we would need some additional information from you. Rather than sending the info back and forth via email, it would be best to discuss it by phone. Please feel free to contact us directly, toll-free, at (888) 440-2468 to chat with one of our annuity specialists or visit
      We look forward to hearing from you.
      Annuity Gator

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