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MassMutual Ascend Review [Formerly Great American Life Insurance Company]

Fact Checked by Jason Herring & Barry Brooksby
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Categories: Life Insurance, Reviews
review Great American Insurance Company

About MassMutual Ascend

MassMutual Ascend, formerly Great American, began operations in New York City in 1872 under the name “German American Life Insurance Company.”  With the U.S. and Germany on opposing sides in World War I, the company adopted the “Great American” name in 1918.

Throughout the Twentieth Century, Great American continually grew and expanded, including through its 1959 entry into the life insurance market via a new subsidiary—Great American Life Insurance Company.

Following its 1973 acquisition by the American Financial Group, in the 1970s the Great American Insurance Group relocated its headquarters to Cincinnati, where it now sponsors Great American Ball Park, home of the Cincinnati Reds.  Great American’s specialty is highly specialized property and casualty policies for businesses and agricultural operations.  The group’s consumer-oriented products are primarily sold through its life insurance subsidiary.

At the beginning of this century, Great American overhauled its personal offerings and discontinued marketing of life insurance policies to consumers—choosing instead to concentrate on annuities.

Thus, the Great American Life Insurance Company—though a serious player in retirement-oriented annuities—presently has the unusual (but not unique) distinction of being a life insurance company that does not sell life insurance.  The company does, however, still service previously issued life insurance policies.

In May 2021, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company acquired Great American. In October 2022, the company was renamed MassMutual Ascend.

Great American Life Financial Ratings

A.M. Best: A
Fitch: NR
Moody’s: A2
S&P Global: A+
Comdex Ranking: 81

Great American enjoys very strong scores from all of the major financial rating services.  With assets totaling over $40 billion and a healthy capital surplus, Great American is well-positioned to meet all of its financial obligations into the foreseeable future.

Although not accredited by the Better Business Bureau, Great American currently holds an A+ rating from BBB.  Considering the size of the company, Great American does not draw a large number of consumer complaints and appears to be responsive when complaints are raised.

Products Offered by Great American Life Insurance Company:

  • Fixed Annuities
  • Fixed-Indexed Annuities
  • Variable Annuities
  • Immediate Annuities
  • Retirement Annuities for Educators

Annuity Products Offered by Great American Life

Secure American (fixed):  Secure American is Great American’s most straight-forward annuity offering.  The minimum initial premium is $10,000, and annuitants can make additional contributions of at least $5,000 during the next three years.  The annuity grows at a fixed, guaranteed rate (currently 1.00%). Great American’s fixed annuities are predominately lifetime annuities, though alternate annuitization structures are also available.  Upon annuitization, annuitants can receive a bonus of 1% per year for each year the contract has remained in place, up to 10%.  Early withdrawals up to ten percent do not incur fees, though withdrawals over ten percent are subject to gradually decreasing fees of from 9% – 3% for the first seven years.

Index Protector 7 (fixed indexed):   Index Protector 7 is a deferred, fixed-indexed annuity available for applicants aged 0-85.  The minimum premium is $100,000.  Upon conclusion of the deferral period, an annuitant can elect to receive payments for a defined term, for life, for life subject to a minimum period of payments, or for life plus the life of a designated joint annuitant.

Annuity growth is linked to an equity index (such as the S&P 500).  Interest credited is based on yearly index performance, subject to either a contractual cap on annual growth or a participation rate.  In the latter case, annual interest is credited at a specified percentage of the index’s total growth.  If the index decreases over the year, the interest rate for that year is 0%, so there’s no risk of lost principal.  Early withdrawals over ten percent are subject to withdrawal fees for the first seven years.  Fee-waiver riders are available for annuitants confined to a long-term care facility or diagnosed with a terminal illness.

American Landmark 5 Plus (fixed indexed):  American Landmark 5 is a deferred fixed-index annuity with most of the same features as Indexed Protector 7.  The big differences are that new annuitants can be up to 89 years old, and the minimum initial premium is decreased to $10,000.  The withdrawal fee period is also reduced to five years.

Index Summit 6 (registered index-linked):  Index Summit 6 is an indexed option for annuitants who are willing to accept a little more risk in exchange for more up-side potential.  Like with Index Protector and American Landmark, growth is linked to an external index (though a portion of an annuity’s value can be assigned to fixed returns), and several annuitization options are available.  Index Summit 6, though, credits growth at a notably higher participation rate (or subject to a lower interest cap) because the annuitant shares half of the loss risk if the index goes down for the year.

Index Summit 6 is available for new purchasers up to age 80, with a minimum initial premium of $25,000.  Early withdrawals over ten percent are subject to withdrawal charges for the initial six years.  Index Summit 6 includes a death benefit payable to a named beneficiary and measured as the higher of the current annuity account value or the sum of all premium payments (reduced for any prior withdrawals).

Commodore Advantage (variable):  Commodore Advantage is a variable annuity geared toward growth potential.  Great American makes available a notably large menu of investment funds for annuitants to select from.  This allows clients to vary an annuity’s risk/reward profile to their individual tastes and circumstances.  The minimum premium to purchase a Commodore Advantage annuity is $10,000, and annuitants can withdraw up to ten percent per year without any withdrawal fee.  For the first seven years after issuance, withdrawals over ten percent are subject to fees starting at 8.00% and lowered by 1.00% per year.  Like most variable annuities, Commodore Advantage has multiple other fees, including a $30 per year maintenance fee, a 1.4% per year administrative charges, and investment fees depending on the investment options selected.

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