Navigating TIAA Retirement Plans: Real-Life Case Scenario

February 05, 2024

Greetings, HigherEd retirees! Greg Shepard here from the HigherEd Retire Blog, your ultimate resource for untangling the complexities of higher education retirement plans, with a special emphasis on the often puzzling world of TIAA accounts. Today, we're diving into the topic of retirement income, building upon our recent video, "Retirement Income: Is It Really That Hard?" to simplify the game plan and offer insights into a successful strategy.

A Recent Success Story:

In a recent Zoom call, a client found themselves grappling with the complexities of TIAA and needed assistance in crafting a retirement income plan that made sense for their unique situation. This client had recently retired, and the myriad options available were causing confusion and uncertainty. This story might resonate with many of you who are either approaching retirement or have recently retired.

The Optimal Game Plan: A Macro Perspective:

After years of navigating the higher education retirement landscape, I've found that a macro perspective typically favors a combination of two vendors. In this particular case, we utilize Charles Schwab to custody our assets and implement a Rollover IRA. Simultaneously, we leverage TIAA lifetime income annuity options. This dual-vendor approach allows for efficient income extraction during retirement.

Understanding the Client's Situation:

This specific client, having retired less than a month ago, presented a common scenario with six different contracts, each adding a layer of complexity. To simplify, we initiated a step-by-step process to address their immediate income needs and establish a secure financial future.

  1. Determining Desired TIAA Guaranteed Income: We began by identifying the dollar amount the client was comfortable receiving as guaranteed income. This became the starting point for crafting a game plan that aligned with their financial goals.
  2. Implementing TIAA Lifetime Income Annuity Options: With the identified amount, we strategically activated the lifetime income annuity option on a particular TIAA contract, providing the client with TIAA guaranteed income for life. The specifics included tailoring the annuity option to suit their preferences, such as spousal benefits and payout rates.
  3. Strategic Implementation of Penalties: To enhance liquidity and flexibility, we explored options within the client's contracts. On one traditional contract, we implemented a TIAA 2.5% penalty within 120 days of separation of service, effectively turning it into a liquid rollover IRA.
  4. Combining TIAA Traditional and Rollover IRA: The remaining contracts, both liquid and non-liquid, were consolidated into a rollover IRA with Charles Schwab. This consolidation streamlined their retirement accounts, making it easier to manage and extract income efficiently.
  5. Addressing Unique Contract Limitations: Recognizing that some contracts limited access to TIAA Traditional due to a shift away from annuity products, we explored alternative solutions. In this case, redirecting funds to a separate IRA allowed us to access TIAA Traditional for lifetime income purposes.


Simplifying your retirement income game plan involves a careful understanding of your unique circumstances. While this client's strategy may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, it highlights the importance of having a tailored approach. Remember, retirement decisions are often irrevocable, emphasizing the need for informed decisions.

Whether you're in a similar situation or just starting to plan your retirement, reach out for guidance. I'm here to help you navigate the TIAA retirement maze and ensure your retirement journey is as smooth as possible.

Feel free to contact me for educational purposes and personalized insights. Greg Shepard, signing off from S&A Financial Services. Take care and embark on your retirement journey with confidence. Bye for now!

Greg Shepard

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*Disclosure* S&A Financial Services, Inc. is a registered investment advisor. Content presented is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as investment advice or as an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Always consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding your specific situation.