The difficult retirement choice of whether to take a lump-sum distribution from your company's pension or a lifetime monthly annuity is getting more complex.

The recently enacted pension legislation is going to change the formulas for calculating lump-sum distributions from corporate pensions, substituting a new benchmark interest rate and adjusting mortality tables as well.

Early retirees, for example, may find that an annuity is a better option for various reasons. Individuals who don't immediately need a monthly income or who expect to receive a large pension from a company at risk of bankruptcy should consider taking a lump sum. No one should make any decision without getting estimates of lump sums and monthly annuity payments from plan providers. Retirees also should consider their personal circumstances, including their health, investment style, financial obligations and other assets. Some pensions pay early retirees substantially smaller lump sums relative to annuities, according to the Pension Rights Center in Washington. For many people, an annuity is often the safest bet. "If you don't know what to do, take the annuity," advised Dallas Salisbury, president of the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington. Retirees also need to find out whether their annuity provides spousal benefits, which could make a big difference to their families when they die. But someone thinking about an annuity should shop around before foregoing the company policy, which often provides a better deal.

It seems like you can't talk to the folks at your credit-card company lately without fielding an offer to enroll in "credit card protection insurance" or something similar.

If you say on the phone you're not interested, you're likely to continue receiving offers in the mail for this service, which is also dubbed a "credit shield," "payment protection" or credit "safeguard."

Such services offer you supposed peace of mind in case you are laid off or become hospitalized or disabled and can't make your monthly payments. The pitch is simple: Just pay a "nominal" fee on your balance each month and, if you lose your job or fall ill, your payments will be put on hold and the interest suspended, often up to two years.

Discover Card, for example, offers the "Payment Protection" service for "just 89 cents" for every $100 of your outstanding balance, and you're billed each month. But if you carry a $1,000 balance each month, you're paying $106.80 ($8.90 per month for 12 months) each year for this insurance that you're unlikely to ever use. On top of that, most companies won't let you use your card while payments are suspended. If you need credit during your time of need, you're out of luck.

The fine print on these policies often prevents consumers from qualifying for the service when they think they're entitled to it. In many cases, you must prove that your unemployment is involuntary or demonstrate that your illness is not due to a pre-existing condition. You're better off investing the money you'd put toward the "credit protection."

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