Investors Are Usually Wrong. I’m One of Them.

“I was shocked,” Mr. Harvey said. “I never would have expected that.”

Variable annuities generally impose “surrender charges” that investors must pay if they want to sell their funds before a set period of, say, 10 years. These charges and various other fees have made variable annuities the subject of repeated warnings by experts, including those at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Variable annuities are not suitable for meeting short-term goals because substantial taxes and insurance company charges may apply if you withdraw your money early,” the commission says. “Variable annuities also involve investment risks, just as mutual funds do.”

Yet despite the extra fees and penalties — perversely, it seems, because of them — investors in variable annuities outperformed those in mutual funds over 12 months, as well as over three, five, 10, 15 and 19 years, Dalbar found.

The secret to the annuities’ success appears to be the surrender charges, Mr. Harvey said. Unless you really need the money urgently, a charge of, say, 7 percent, is likely to deter you from going ahead with a sale during a market downturn, he said. Assuming your investment is diversified, sticking with it over a long period may be a better strategy.

This isn’t an endorsement of variable annuities. Because of the fees and constraints, I don’t plan on owning one. But the discipline they impose is worth having.

In a word, I’d call it humility. Clearly, it’s time to recognize that I’m unable to predict the future.

Anticipating rough times this year, for example, I lightened the risk in my portfolio, shifting some of my stock and bond holdings into stable money market funds.

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