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  • Writer's pictureViolet Maile

How Do Annuities Work?

Annuities can be optimized for income or long-term growth, but they are not short-term investment strategies. These products appeal to people whose objectives include long-term financial security, retirement income, diversification and principal preservation.

How Do Annuities Work?

Annuities work by converting a lump-sum premium into a stream of income that a person can’t outlive. Many retirees need more than Social Security and investment savings to provide for their daily needs. Annuities are designed to supply this income through a process of accumulation and annuitization or, in the case of immediate annuities, lifetime payments guaranteed by the insurance company that begin within a month of purchase — no accumulation phase necessary. In essence, when you buy a deferred annuity, you pay a premium to the insurance company. That initial investment will grow tax-deferred throughout the accumulation phase, typically anywhere from ten to 30 years, based on the terms of your contract. Once the annuitization, or distribution, phase begins — again, based on the terms of your contract — you will start receiving regular payments. Annuity contracts transfer all the risk of a down market to the insurance company. This means you, the annuity owner, are protected from market risk and longevity risk, that is, the risk of outliving your money. To offset this risk, insurance companies charge fees for investment management, contract riders, and other administrative services. In addition, most annuity contracts include surrender periods during which the contract holder cannot withdraw money from the annuity without incurring a surrender charge. Furthermore, insurance companies generally impose caps, spreads and participation rates on indexed annuities, each of which can reduce your return.

How Are Annuities Taxed?

Finance professionals widely recommend annuities to their clients for their tax-deferred growth potential. Once you purchase the annuity, your investment grows tax free for the length of the contract. You won’t owe taxes until you receive income payments when the annuity matures. The part of your annuity payout that is taxed depends on the type of annuity you have. If you own a qualified annuity, you’ll pay income taxes on the full withdrawal amount. Meanwhile, only earnings are taxed on non-qualified annuity withdrawals.

How Do Annuities Pay Out?

Annuities come in two basic configurations: immediate or deferred. The option you select will depend on your financial goals. If you want to begin receiving annuity payments right away, you will choose an immediate annuity. Alternately, if you would like to set your payments to begin at some point in the future, you will purchase a deferred annuity and specify the start date in your contract.

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