How Do Annuities Work

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on annuities, where we explore how they work, what types are available, and whether they are a good fit for your retirement plan. An annuity is a contract between an individual and an insurance company, providing a guaranteed income stream for a specific period or the rest of their life. 

How Do Annuities Work?

In an era where people are living longer and may need more income in retirement than ever, annuities have become a popular option for those seeking predictable income in retirement. 

Annuities can also be complex, with different types, fees, and features. Our guide aims to demystify annuities and provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision about whether an annuity is a right choice for your financial future.

What Are Annuities?

An annuity is a financial product that provides a steady stream of income to the holder over a period of time, usually during retirement. 

In exchange for a lump sum payment, or on-going payments, an insurance company or other financial institution promises to make regular payments to the annuity holder for a specified period. The period can even last a person whole life!

This is something that has to be agreed upon in the annuity contract but it isn’t uncommon!

Annuities are often used as a form of retirement income because they offer a way to receive guaranteed payments for a set period or the rest of one’s life. There are several types of annuities, including fixed, variable, and indexed which we will discuss later in the article. 

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Annuity Definitions

An annuity is a financial product that provides regular income payments to an individual in exchange for a lump sum or a series of payments.

Here is a list of other terms relating to annuities that are important to understand:

AnnuitantThe person who receives the payments from an annuity
PremiumThe lump sum or series of payments made to purchase an annuity
Payout RateThe percentage of the premium that is paid out to the annuitant each year
AccumulationThe period of time during which the annuity is being funded
Annuity PeriodThe period of time during which the annuitant receives regular payments
Fixed AnnuityAn annuity that provides a guaranteed payout rate and a fixed amount of income each period
Variable AnnuityAn annuity that allows the annuitant to invest in a variety of funds and provides a payout rate that varies based on the fund’s performance
Immediate AnnuityAn annuity that begins making payments to the annuitant immediately after the premium is paid
Deferred AnnuityAn annuity that delays payments to the annuitant until a later date
Surrender ChargeA fee that may be charged for early withdrawal of funds from an annuity

How An Annuity Works?

An annuity is a contract between an individual and an insurance company in which the individual makes a lump sum payment or a series of payments. In return, the insurance company provides a guaranteed stream of income for a set period of time. 

The length of time and the amount of the payments are determined by the terms of the annuity contract.

Annuity Rates

The annuity rate is the interest rate the insurance company uses to calculate the payment amounts for the annuity contract. 

The rate is based on several factors, including the individual’s age, life expectancy, and the prevailing interest rates at purchase. Annuity rates can vary widely among insurance companies and types of annuities. Rates change often because they are some what tied to general market conditions in things such as the stock market.

Annuity Taxation

Annuities offer some tax advantages, as the earnings on the annuity are not taxed until they are withdrawn. This can be a useful tool for retirement planning, as the individual can defer paying taxes on the annuity until they are in a lower tax bracket.

The Pros and Cons of Annuities Infographic (Tax-deferred growth, guaranteed income, diversification, fees, restrictions, inflation risk).

Types Of Annuities

There are different types of annuities because they are designed to meet the diverse needs and preferences of individual investors. Different investors have different financial goals, risk tolerances, and income needs, and annuity products are tailored to suit these various needs.

Types Of AnnuitiesImmediate AnnuitiesDeferred AnnuitiesVariable AnnuitiesFixed Annuities
Investment Options
Rate Of Return
Market RiskNone

Immediate Annuities

An immediate annuity starts providing payments to the individual immediately after the lump sum payment is made. The payments can be fixed or variable, and can continue for the rest of the individual’s life or for a set period of time.

Deferred Annuities

A deferred annuity allows the individual to make a series of payments over time, and the payments are not distributed until a future date. The earnings on the payments are tax-deferred until distribution. Deferred annuities can be fixed or variable.

Variable Annuities

Variable annuities allow the individual to invest in a portfolio of stocks, bonds, and other securities. The payments from the annuity are then determined by the performance of the underlying investments.

Fixed Annuities

Fixed annuities provide a guaranteed rate of return on the investment, and the payments are not affected by market fluctuations.

Why Are There Different Types Of Annuities?

The different types of annuities available provide investors with a range of options to help them meet their specific financial goals and needs.

Here are some reasons why there are different types of annuities:

  1. Diverse Investment Objectives: Some investors may want a guaranteed fixed income stream, while others may prefer a variable income stream based on market performance. Different types of annuities provide different investment options and payout structures to suit different investment objectives.
  2. Flexibility: Different annuities offer varying degrees of flexibility when it comes to contributions, withdrawals, and other terms. For instance, some annuities may allow for partial withdrawals without penalties, while others may charge surrender fees for early withdrawals.
  3. Risk Tolerance: Investors with different risk tolerances may prefer different types of annuities. Fixed annuities provide a guaranteed rate of return with no market risk, while variable annuities provide exposure to market returns, which can be more or less volatile depending on the underlying investments.
  4. Tax Implications: The tax treatment of annuities can vary depending on the type of annuity and the individual’s tax situation. For instance, deferred annuities can provide tax-deferred growth, while immediate annuities may have different tax implications. Different types of annuities can help investors manage their tax exposure in different ways.
  5. Retirement Planning Needs: Annuities can play a role in retirement planning by providing a regular income stream. Different types of annuities can be used in different ways to meet different retirement planning needs, such as supplementing Social Security income, providing income for life, or leaving a legacy for heirs.

Example Of An Annuity

As an example, let’s say that a 65-year-old individual purchases an immediate annuity for $100,000. The annuity contract specifies that the insurance company will provide monthly payments of $500 for the rest of the individual’s life. 

If the individual lives for 20 more years, they will receive $120,000 in payments from the annuity, even if the original lump sum payment was only $100,000.

AgeAnnuity Purchase
65$100,000 lump sum
Payout$500 per month
PeriodFor life
ResultPayments total $120,000 if individual lives for 20 years

In this scenario, the individual purchases an immediate annuity with a lump sum payment of $100,000. The annuity contract specifies that the insurance company will provide monthly payments of $500 for the rest of the individual’s life. 

If the individual lives for 20 more years, they will receive $120,000 in payments from the annuity, even if the original lump sum payment was only $100,000. It’s important to note that actual annuity payouts may vary depending on the individual’s age, life expectancy, and other factors, and may be subject to fees, charges, and taxes.

How Much Do You Need To Start An Annuity?

Annuities are an investment option that typically requires a significant amount of capital to get started. The minimum investment amount for an annuity can vary depending on the type of annuity you choose and the insurance company offering it.

Immediate annuities, which begin making payments to the investor immediately after the investment is made, generally require a higher minimum investment than deferred annuities, which delay payments until a specified date in the future. 

The minimum investment for an immediate annuity can range from $5,000 to $100,000 or more, depending on the insurer and the annuity terms. Deferred annuities, on the other hand, may have lower minimum investment requirements, typically around $1,000 to $5,000. 

Many insurers may offer incentives, such as a higher interest rate, for larger initial investments. It’s important to note that some insurers may also charge fees or penalties for early withdrawals or surrender the annuity.

In addition to the minimum investment, investors should consider their financial goals and needs when deciding how much to invest in an annuity. Annuities are typically used as long-term investments and are not suitable for short-term financial goals. 

Before investing in an annuity, assess your financial situation and determine if an annuity is the right investment option for your needs. It’s also important to consider other investment options and consult with a financial advisor to determine the best strategy for your specific financial situation.

How Do I Buy An Annuity?

If you would like to buy an annuity but would prefer to talk to a representative for assistance, you can contact an insurance company or financial institution that offers annuities. They will provide you with information on their annuity products and guide you through the buying process.

A well-structured retirement plan should include a mix of different income sources, one of which could be an annuity. An annuity is an investment vehicle that provides regular income payments in exchange for a lump sum or a series of payments.

If you’re considering buying an annuity, here are some important things to keep in mind:

Special Considerations

Before you purchase an annuity, consider your financial goals and risk tolerance. Determine the amount of income you need during your retirement years, and make sure the annuity you select is well suited to meet those needs.

Understanding Fees

Annuities come with a range of fees and charges that can eat into your returns. Make sure you understand all the fees, including any upfront commissions or ongoing expenses, associated with the annuity you’re considering.

Surrender Period

The surrender period is the length of time that you must keep your annuity before you can access your full principal or make changes to the contract. Surrender periods can vary from a few years to over a decade, so be sure to carefully consider the length of the surrender period when selecting an annuity.

Non-Qualified Annuity

Non-qualified annuities are annuities that are purchased with after-tax dollars, as opposed to qualified annuities, which are funded with pre-tax dollars. Non-qualified annuities can be a good option for people who have already maxed out their other tax-advantaged retirement accounts.

How To Choose An Annuity Provider?

It’s important to choose an annuity provider that is financially stable and has a good reputation for customer service. Look for a company that has been in business for a long time and has strong ratings from independent credit rating agencies.

Reduce Risk

Annuitization is the process of converting your annuity into a stream of income payments. One way to reduce your risk when purchasing an annuity is to annuitize gradually, which means you start receiving payments in smaller amounts and gradually increase them over time. 

This allows you to minimize the impact of changes in interest rates or inflation and ensure you get the most out of your investment.

Are Annuities A Good Idea?

Annuities can be a good option for some individuals, but they are not always the best choice. Before deciding whether or not to purchase an annuity, it is important to consider your personal financial situation and goals.

Who Should Consider Annuities?

Annuities can be a good option for individuals looking for a reliable source of retirement income.

Reasons To Consider An Annuity

  1. Guaranteed Income: Annuities can provide a reliable source of income during retirement. With a fixed annuity, you can count on a predetermined amount of income each month, while with a variable annuity, your income will fluctuate based on the performance of your investments.
  1. Tax Benefits: Annuities offer tax-deferred growth, meaning you do not pay taxes on the earnings until you withdraw the money. This can be beneficial for individuals who are in a higher tax bracket during their working years, but expect to be in a lower tax bracket during retirement.
  1. Legacy Planning: Annuities can also be used for legacy planning. If you name a beneficiary, any remaining funds in your annuity will be passed on to them upon your death.

Are Annuities Safe?

Annuities can be a safe and reliable way to save for retirement, but they are not without risks.

Here are some factors to consider when evaluating the safety of annuity investments:

Insurance Guarantees

One of the primary ways annuity investments are safer than other investment options is that the issuing insurance company guarantees them. This guarantee means that the insurance company promises to pay a specified amount to the annuity owner, regardless of how the financial markets perform. 

Some types of annuities come with a death benefit. This guarantees that the annuity owner’s beneficiaries will receive a minimum payout if the annuity owner passes away before receiving all of their payments.

Further Reading On Annuities

Want to learn more about annuities? We have many articles to help! In each of the following sections there is a link to the matching article. If you have any question, make sure to reach out to us!

What Is The Accumulation Period For Annuities?

The accumulation period is the time when you make payments into an annuity. During this time, the principal amount accumulates, and the interest is added to the account. The accumulation period typically lasts for several years, and it depends on the type of annuity you have. You can choose to make payments during the accumulation period, or you can make a lump sum payment.

Annuities Certain

Annuities certain is a type of annuity that provides a guaranteed income for a specific period, such as 10 years, 20 years, or 30 years. With this type of annuity, the payments are made for the specified period, regardless of whether the annuitant is alive or not. Annuities certain are a good option for those who want to ensure that their beneficiaries receive income for a specific period.

How Do Lottery Annuities Work?

Lottery annuities are a type of annuity that is paid out as an annuitized prize over a period of years. When a person wins a lottery, they have the option to receive the prize as a lump sum or as an annuity. If they choose the annuity option, the lottery will purchase an annuity from an insurance company, and the winner will receive regular payments over a specific period.

Split Annuities

Split annuities are a type of annuity that is divided into two or more parts. Each part has a different payout rate, and the annuitant can choose to receive payments from one part or multiple parts.

Bonus Annuities

Bonus annuities are a type of annuity that offers a bonus to the annuitant when they purchase the annuity. The bonus can be a fixed amount or a percentage of the premium paid. Bonus annuities may also have higher fees and surrender charges compared to other types of annuities.

How To Understand Strategy Spread In Annuities?

Strategy spread is a term used to describe the difference between the interest rate earned by the annuity and the interest rate paid to the annuitant. Understanding the strategy spread is important because it affects the payout rate and the overall return of the annuity.

How Do RMDs Work For Annuities?

RMDs or Required Minimum Distributions are the minimum amount that the owner of a tax-deferred retirement account, such as an IRA or 401(k), must withdraw from their account each year once they reach age 72. If you own an annuity within a tax-deferred retirement account, the RMD rules apply to the annuity as well.

How Hybrid Annuities With LTC Work?

Hybrid annuities with LTC are a type of annuity that offers long-term care benefits in addition to the regular annuity payments. With this type of annuity, the annuitant can use the funds to pay for long-term care expenses if needed.

How Do Annuities With An Employer Plan Work At TIAA?

Annuities with an employer plan refer to annuities that are offered as part of a retirement plan through an employer. TIAA is a financial services company that specializes in providing retirement plans and annuities to employees of educational, research, and healthcare organizations.

How Annuities Are Affected By DOL Fiduciary Rule?

The DOL Fiduciary Rule is a regulation that requires financial advisors to act in the best interest of their clients when providing advice regarding retirement accounts, including annuities. The rule was designed to protect consumers from conflicts of interest and ensure that financial advisors act in the best interest of their clients.

Why Do Men Have Larger Annuities Than Women?

The gender gap in annuity payouts is a result of differences in life expectancy between men and women. Women tend to live longer than men, which means that insurance companies have to pay out annuity payments for a longer period. As a result, annuity payments for women are generally lower than those for men.

Which Annuities Provide For Withdrawal Options?

Annuities with withdrawal options allow the annuitant to withdraw funds from the annuity before the end of the contract term. There are several types of annuities with withdrawal options, including fixed annuities, variable annuities, and indexed annuities.

How To Switch Annuities?

Switching annuities refers to the process of transferring funds from one annuity to another. There are several reasons why an annuitant may want to switch annuities, such as to get a better rate of return or to take advantage of new features or benefits.

How To Complain Against Insurance Companies With Annuities?

Handling complaints against annuity insurance companies can be a challenging process, but there are steps you can take to resolve the issue. If you have a complaint against an insurance company that sells annuities, you should first try to resolve the issue directly with the company. If this is unsuccessful, you can file a complaint with your state insurance regulator or seek legal assistance.


Annuities can be a powerful tool for retirement planning, providing guaranteed income for life, protection from market volatility, and death benefits. 

However, there are also drawbacks to consider, such as limited liquidity, fees and expenses, and potential for inflation risk. It is important to carefully consider all factors before deciding if an annuity is the right choice for you. 

If you do choose to invest in an annuity, be sure to do your research and understand the fees and surrender period. As with any investment, it is important to work with a trusted financial professional to help guide you through the process.

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