Imagine this: You’ve worked hard your whole life, diligently saving up for retirement. You’ve carefully put money away each month, invested in stocks and bonds, and maybe even started a 401(k) or IRA. However, as you start approaching retirement age, and the prospect of not having a steady salary is closer to becoming a reality than ever, you begin to question whether, despite everything you did to prepare yourself for this moment, you will actually have enough money to keep living your life at the same standard as before retirement.

You’re not the only one, as that’s something many people worry about, especially considering the unstable market situation and the ever growing inflation. Thankfully for both you and them, there is a financial product that can provide you with a worry-free retirement – it’s called an annuity.

What exactly is an annuity, how does it work, and what are the different types of annuities? These are some of the questions that will be answered in the article below.

What Is an Annuity

In layman’s terms, an annuity represents a contractual agreement between an individual, often someone approaching or in retirement, and an insurance company.

Within the framework of this agreement, the individual pledges to make either a single lump-sum payment or a sequence of payments over time. In return, the insurance provider commits to repaying the individual through regular installments, ensuring a steady and predictable stream of income. These payments generally continue either for the remainder of the individual’s life or for a predetermined number of years, depending on the terms of the annuity contract.

Types of Annuities

Not all annuities are created equal – there are several different types an individual can choose from, all of which have their pros and cons.

Immediate Annuity vs Deferred Annuity

The first two types of annuities divide this financial product based on when the annuity payments will start.

An immediate annuity is a type of annuity that starts paying within a year from when the annuitant purchased it. Also known as a single premium immediate annuity (SPIA), is often a preferred option for those who are close to retirement age and want to use this financial product as a supplementary retirement income stream.

Most people who decide to purchase an immediate annuity do it by funding it with one lump-sum payment rather than a series of payments.

A deferred annuity, on the other hand, starts paying once you reach the previously established age or once you become a retiree. It is usually chosen by those who have quite some time left before they retire and are looking for a way to grow their investments tax-free, which will then result in larger payments once they reach the agreed age.

Fixed Annuity vs Variable Annuity vs Indexed Annuity

A deferred annuity can be further divided into three other types of annuities – fixed, variable and indexed annuity.

Fixed Annuity

Fixed annuities pay out a guaranteed amount. While it is definitely a good option for those who don’t want to try their luck and want to have a specific amount paid out to them, it’s worth keeping in mind that the purchasing power of this guaranteed income might become lower over the years due to inflation.

The way a fixed annuity works is simple: the annuity owner invests a lump sum of money with an insurance company. The insurance company, in turn, invests the money in a portfolio of fixed-income securities like bonds or Treasury bills, providing the owner with a guaranteed interest rate. The insurance company assumes the investment risk and guarantees the principal amount invested.

Variable Annuity

In variable annuities, on the other hand, the insurance company invests on behalf of the policy owner in a number of mutual funds that the policyholder chose. Depending on how the funds perform, the total amount they receive can either increase or decrease, which is why, while there’s definitely an opportunity for a higher return than with some other investment options, the risk of losing money is also higher.

Variable annuities offer a range of investment options, allowing the owner to allocate their money into different mutual funds or “sub-accounts,”. The annuity’s interest rate is not fixed, as it is based on the performance of the selected sub-accounts, which can rise or fall depending on market conditions.

Indexed Annuity

Indexed annuities lie somewhere between fixed and variable annuities. They offer the potential for higher returns than fixed annuities but with less risk than variable annuities. Indexed annuities’ interest rate is linked to the performance of a particular market index, like the S&P 500, rather than mutual funds.

There are two ways to calculate the indexed annuity’s rate – by comparing a year-on-year index’s gain or by calculating the average monthly gain over a 12-month period.

However, you have to keep in mind that, in many cases, you won’t receive the full benefit of the rise in the specific index. Insurance companies offer those annuitants that opt for an indexed annuity a “participation rate,” which is basically the maximum potential gain that you can receive. On average, it is around 80 to 90%, however, there are some that offer you a participation rate of either as high as 100% or as low as 25%.

What does it mean in practice?

Let’s say that you chose an indexed annuity that has a participation rate of 90%. The specific index you chose noticed a gain of 20%. In this case, the credited yield that you can expect from this specific annuity would be 18%. If, on the other hand, your participation rate is 60%, then you could expect to gain 12%, and so on.

Additionally, many indexed annuities have something called a yield or a rate cap, which further limits how much you actually gain from a market index performing well. What it means is that you will have a maximum percentage you can receive from the index’s gain, no matter how high that is.

For example, let’s say that your rate cap is 12% (on average, it’s between 4 and 15%). Your participation rate is 80%, and the index your annuity is based on experience a gain of 40%. Your participation rate would mean that you’d get a credited yield of 32%. However, because of the rate, you will only receive 12%.

Not all annuity contracts have a rate cap, but it is still important to take those things into consideration when shopping around for an annuity contract, as it can make a significant difference when it comes to how much you actually gain from this financial product.

Finally, you might be wondering, “But what happens when an index decreased rather than increased?” Most annuity contracts will have a solution for that as well, called a minimum rate of investment. On average, that is about 2%, but depending on your specific annuity contract, it might be anywhere from 0% to 3%.

How Long Do Annuity Payments Last?


You can structure your payment schedule in a way that best suits your needs. The most common annuity payout options include:

  • single life/life only – the annuity pays out regular installments for the entire duration of the annuitant’s life. It’s important to notice that this is only relevant to the annuity holder – there is no survivor benefit in this case. If you die before you receive the whole amount, the rest of your annuity remains with the insurance company.
  • life annuity with period certain (fixed period/guaranteed term) – the annuity pays out regular installments for a minimum period of time, even if the annuitant dies before the established time frame ends (in which case the remaining payments for that duration will be directed to either a designated beneficiary or the estate of the annuitant).
  • joint and survivor annuity – in this case, the regular payments will be distributed until both the annuitant and another specified person, typically a spouse, dies. It is possible to name a beneficiary that will receive the rest of the payments in case both policy holders pass away before the whole sum is paid out.
  • lump sum payment – the annuitant will receive the total annuity value in the form of one payment. Keep in mind that, in this case, the IRS will require you to pay the taxes in the year you receive the money.
  • systematic annuity withdrawal – the annuity is paid out in equal installments in set intervals until the annuitant receives the complete amount.
  • early withdrawal – you can withdraw money before you reach retirement age (59 1/2 years) – however, you should be aware that if you do it, the money will be subjected to not only income taxes but also a 10% penalty that you will need to pay to the government. Additionally, if you want to withdraw money within five to seven years since you purchased it, you might also have to pay a surrender charge of up to 20% to your annuity provider.

Annuity and Fees

There are several types of fees you will have to pay when you take out an annuity. The biggest and most important one is the premium – that is, if you decided to fund your annuity through a number of smaller periodic payments rather than one lump-sum payment. How much a premium will be is an individual matter, as it depends on the type of annuity you decide to go with.

Then, we have commissions. Those are usually not highlighted in the contract – instead, they are built into the overall price of the annuity. Commissions are given to agents that contributed to you purchasing an annuity. The exact amount will differ depending on the insurance company, as they all have their own rates, but it typically ranges between 1% to 10% of the total value of your annuity.

The third type of fees associated with an annuity are administrative fees, which need to be paid in order for the insurance company to manage and administer your annuity. Depending on your company, you will either pay a percentage of your annuity (typically 0.3%) or a flat fee, which in most cases doesn’t exceed $30.

Another type of fees that you might have to pay are surrender charges. In most cases, you will be able to withdraw more money than your predicted income payments – however, there needs to pass a specific number of years after you purchased your annuity for you to be able to do it without additional fees. This time period is also known as the surrender-fee period. Also, keep in mind that if the withdrawal happens before you reach retirement age – which is 59.5 years old – you will also be subject to a 10% penalty from the IRS.

Mortality expenses serve to reimburse the insurance company for the inherent risk it assumes and can be levied by the firm in the form of a commission. Annually, this fee may fluctuate between 0.5% and 1.5% of the policy’s value.

Then, we have the investment expense ratio – this fee is used to cover the cost of managing investments in case of variable annuities.

Last but not least, we have riders. Riders constitute supplementary provisions that can be incorporated into annuity contracts for an additional fee. Prominent examples of riders encompass the death benefit rider, providing the annuity’s residual value to a designated beneficiary upon the annuitant’s passing, and the guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit, permitting the annuitant to extract a specified sum from the annuity annually without incurring penalties.

Why Should You Consider an Annuity?

Annuities can be an attractive option for those seeking financial stability during their golden years, as they offer a reliable source of income designed to help maintain a comfortable lifestyle. By entering into an annuity agreement, retirees can enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing they have a dependable income source, regardless of how long they live or how the financial markets perform.

However, that is only one reason why an annuity might be a good financial choice – there are a few more.

Tax-Deferred Growth

Tax-deferred growth is a valuable benefit that allows investors to earn interest on their investments without paying taxes on the earnings until they withdraw the funds. This can lead to more significant gains over time as the earnings are reinvested and continue to grow tax-free.

Unlimited Contribution

Contrary to accounts such as 401(k) or IRA, there is no limit in regard to how much after-tax funds you can put into an annuity, no matter what your income source or income level is.

Death Benefit Protection

Death benefit protection is a valuable feature that ensures your beneficiaries will receive a specified amount of money if you pass away before the annuity contract ends. Depending on your annuity contract, you can name a beneficiary that will receive the amount you weren’t able to withdraw due to passing away.

This can be especially beneficial for individuals who want to leave a financial legacy for their loved ones and make sure that they won’t have to worry about maintaining the same standard of living when they pass away, especially when they have others depending on them, such as a spouse or a child.


Annuities are very flexible. There isn’t only one option you can go for – instead, you can choose things like the type of annuity or the way in which annuity payments will be distributed.

Less Risk than Other Investment Options

Investing money always carries some kind of risk. However, with fixed annuities, you don’t have to worry that much about losing it because, while the insurance company does invest the funds you pay them on your behalf, there should be a close in your contract that protects you from ending up with less than you invested.

Fixed annuities promise a certain percentage gain on your initial investment, and while the percentage may be small, you’ll still earn more than the amount of your total initial investment.

How to Choose the Best Annuity

signing papers

Selecting the most suitable annuity for your financial needs and goals can be a daunting task. To make an informed decision, it’s crucial to understand the various types of annuities and their features, as well as your own financial objectives and risk tolerance.

  • Assess Your Financial Goals and Needs: Before choosing an annuity, determine your financial objectives, such as the level of income you desire during retirement, the need for liquidity, and your overall investment strategy. Consider your current financial situation, expected future expenses and life expectancy to help you make a well-informed decision.
  • Understand the Different Types of Annuities: Research the various types of annuities available in the market – we included the most common ones above.
  • Consider the Financial Strength of the Insurance Company: Evaluate the financial stability of the insurance company offering the annuity. Ratings from independent agencies can provide valuable insight into the insurer’s financial strength and ability to fulfill its obligations.
  • Compare Fees and Expenses: Annuities often involve fees and charges, such as surrender charges, mortality and expense risk charges, and management fees. Comparing these costs across different annuity products and providers will help you identify the most cost-effective option.
  • Evaluate Optional Riders: Annuities may offer additional features or riders, such as guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefits or enhanced death benefits, for an extra cost. Assess whether these riders are beneficial for your specific financial situation and goals, and factor in the associated costs when making your decision.

Annuity - Frequently Asked Questions

Are annuities taxable?

As we already mentioned, annuities grow on a tax-deferred basis, which means that you don’t have to worry about taxes until you start to receive payments. When it comes to how much you will have to pay in taxes, it all depends on what you used to fund the annuity.

If you purchased an annuity with pre-tax dollars (such as with funds from an IRA or 401(k)), the payments you receive will be taxed as ordinary income. In this case, the portion of the payment that represents the earnings on the investment will be taxed as ordinary income, while the portion that represents the return of principal will not be taxed.

If you purchased an annuity with after-tax dollars, then only the earnings portion of the payment will be taxed as ordinary income, while the return of principal will not be taxed.

Is there such a thing as a fee-free annuity?

Regardless of what type of annuity you decide to purchase, there are some fees that cannot be avoided, such as administrative fees and mortality expenses. So, no – as of right now, there isn’t any fee-free annuity, as all of them require you to pay at least some of the fees.

Does an annuity provide a death benefit?

It depends on the specific type of annuity you have. Some annuities, such as fixed and variable annuities, may offer a death benefit to beneficiaries. This means that if the annuity holder passes away before receiving the full value of the annuity, the remaining amount is paid out to the designated beneficiaries. The death benefit can be structured in different ways, such as a lump sum payment or ongoing payments for a certain period.

What happens to the annuity when the policy holder dies?

It all depends on which payment structure they chose when purchasing the annuity. For example, if they decided on life only pay out, and they die, the rest of the annuity remains in the hands of the insurance company with whom they signed a contract. On the other hand, if they opted for joint and survivor annuity, the payments will continue to be distributed until the death of the second person or even beyond that if a beneficiary is named.

What happens if the insurance company I purchased the annuity from goes bankrupt?

Anything can happen, and you might be faced with a situation where the company you purchased your annuity from announces bankruptcy.

First of all, you should know that annuities are not protected on a federal level – instead, they are protected by the state guarantee associations in all 50 states. Those associations make sure that you will receive compensation in the event the issuing insurance company goes belly up. However, it’s important to notice that the coverage they provide is limited and may vary depending on the state you’re in.

Who are annuities best for?

An annuity is a great option for anyone who is looking for a guaranteed monthly income during their retirement, as well as those who want to provide their loved ones with some kind of inheritance once they pass away.

Can I withdraw money earlier than once I retire?

Yes, you can withdraw money from an annuity before you reach retirement age. However, as we already mentioned, it should be a well-thought-out decision, as the funds you withdraw will be subject to taxes as well as a 10% penalty that you will need to pay to the government.

Can I purchase more than one annuity?

Yes, as long as you can fund all of them, there’s nothing stopping you from purchasing more than one annuity. What’s more, you can purchase several different types of annuities to meet your retirement income needs.

In fact, many people choose to purchase multiple annuities as a way to diversify their retirement income streams. For example, you might choose to purchase one annuity with a fixed interest rate for stable income and another annuity with a variable interest rate to take advantage of potential market gains.

Can I cancel my annuity?

Truthfully, it depends on your annuity. However, in most cases, canceling before the annuity term is up shouldn’t be a problem – unless we’re talking about immediate annuities, in which, more often than not, you are unable to terminate the contract. Keep in mind that canceling or transferring the funds from your annuity into a different one might make you subject to fees.

What is the difference between an annuity and a life insurance policy?

An annuity provides a stream of income over a specific period of time, while a life insurance policy provides a lump sum payment to the beneficiary in the event of the policyholder’s death. An annuity is typically used to provide retirement income, while life insurance is used to provide financial support to dependents in the event of the policyholder’s death

The Bottom Line

annuity documents

Many people dread retirement as they aren’t sure whether what they have saved and/or invested over the years will be enough for them to live on the same level they did before retiring. Unfortunately, there is no set amount you should have in order to have a comfortable retirement, which is why it’s important that you do as much as you can to secure your retirement funds. One solution that is popular both among those who are close to retirement and those who still have at least a few years left is an annuity fund.

There are several different types of annuities, with the two main ones being immediate and deferred annuities. Deferred annuities can be divided into variable annuities, fixed annuities, and indexed annuities. All of them have their pros and cons, and which one you decide to go with depends solely on your preferences and what you want to achieve with your annuity.

If you’re in the market for an annuity, we can help. Since we have access to every major insurance company in the U.S., we can help you get the most out of your retirement. Get in touch with us today, schedule a free consultation, and allow us to find the best annuity for you

Jeremiah Konger
Jeremiah Konger
CEO at Annuity Association

Jeremiah understood his whole life the importance of community and caring for those who are a part of it. Starting his first business venture at the age of 23, he gained invaluable experience in working with others for a joint purpose.
He founded his first wireless retail business in 2011, expanding it from one store to 12 locations across the state in just three years.
Once he sold his company, Jeremiah began the journey he’s on today, using his talents and experience to work with seniors in order to help them find the best means of financing their retirement plans.

He’s found his true calling working as a proud member of the Annuity Association, assisting retirees in building their safe financial future.