ANNUITIES

There are five major categories of annuities — fixed annuities, variable annuities, fixed-indexed annuities, immediate annuities and deferred annuities. Which is best for you depends on several variables, including your risk orientation, income goals, and when you want to begin receiving annuity income.

For your particular situation, each type of annuity has advantages and disadvantages. An immediate annuity, for example, pays the most but requires sacrifice of principal. A variable annuity may increase your principal over time, but fees are particularly high. What is important is that a potential annuity buyer become aware of the different types of annuities so that he or she can make the right decision about which type of annuity best fits their particular needs.

FIXED ANNUITIES
These are fixed interest investments issued by insurance companies. They pay guaranteed rates of interest, typically higher than bank CDs, and you can defer income or draw income immediately. These are popular among retirees and pre-retirees who want a no-cost, modest and guaranteed fixed investment.

VARIABLE ANNUITIES
These allow investors to choose from a basket of subaccounts (mutual funds). Account value is determined by the performance of the subaccounts, and a rider can be purchased to lock in a guaranteed income stream regardless of market performance — a key hedge if subaccounts perform poorly. These are popular among retirees and pre-retirees who want a shot at capital appreciation in tandem with guaranteed lifetime income.

FIXED-INDEXED ANNUITIES
These are essentially fixed annuities with a variable rate of interest that is added to your contract value if an underlying market index, such as the S&P 500, is positive. They typically offer a guaranteed minimum income benefit, and the growth upside that is subject to a market-based index (like the S&P 500). These appeal to retirees and pre-retirees who want to conservatively participate in potential market appreciation without fuss and with downside principal protection.

IMMEDIATE ANNUITIES
These are basically a mirror image of a life insurance policy. Instead of paying regular premiums to an insurer that makes a lump-sum payment upon death, the investor gives the insurer a lump sum in return for regular income payments until death, or for a specified period of time, typically starting one to 12 months after receipt of the investment. Payments are typically higher than other annuities because they include principal, as well as interest, and so also offer favorable tax treatment. These are popular among retirees and pre-retirees who need a higher-than-average stream of income and are comfortable sacrificing principal in exchange for higher lifelong income.

DEFERRED ANNUITIES
These delay payments until a future date (greater than one year). They enable people to increase their income stream later in life for less money because the insurance company is not on the hook as long when income payments are deferred. These appeal to people who want guaranteed income in the future, not now, or who want to create a ladder of income over different periods later in life. For example, they may want to work in retirement but know that eventually they will stop working and, at that point, and not before, will need guaranteed income from an annuity.

Breaking Down 'Annuity'
Annuities were designed to be a reliable means of securing a steady cash flow for an individual during their retirement years and to alleviate fears of longevity risk, or outliving one's assets.

Annuities can also be created to turn a substantial lump sum into a steady cash flow, such as for winners of large cash settlements from a lawsuit or from winning the lottery.

Defined benefit pensions and Social Security are two examples of lifetime guaranteed annuities that pay retirees a steady cash flow until they pass.

Annuity Types
Annuities can be structured according to a wide array of details and factors, such as the duration of time that payments from the annuity can be guaranteed to continue. Annuities can be created so that, upon annuitization, payments will continue so long as either the annuitant or their spouse (if survivorship benefit is elected) is alive. Alternatively, annuities can be structured to pay out funds for a fixed amount of time, such as 20 years, regardless of how long the annuitant lives. Furthermore, annuities can begin immediately upon deposit of a lump sum, or they can be structured as deferred benefits.

Annuities can be structured generally as either fixed or variable. Fixed annuities provide regular periodic payments to the annuitant. Variable annuities allow the owner to receive greater future cash flows if investments of the annuity fund do well and smaller payments if its investments do poorly. This provides for a less stable cash flow than a fixed annuity, but allows the annuitant to reap the benefits of strong returns from their fund's investments.

One criticism of annuities is that they are illiquid. Deposits into annuity contracts are typically locked up for a period of time, known as the surrender period, where the annuitant would incur a penalty if all or part of that money were touched. These surrender periods can last anywhere from two to more than 10 years, depending on the particular product. Surrender fees can start out at 10% or more and the penalty typically declines annually over the surrender period.

While variable annuities carry some market risk and the potential to lose principal, riders and features can be added to annuity contracts (usually for some extra cost) which allow them to function as hybrid fixed-variable annuities. Contract owners can benefit from upside portfolio potential while enjoying the protection of a guaranteed lifetime minimum withdrawal benefit if the portfolio drops in value. Other riders may be purchased to add a death benefit to the contract or accelerate payouts if the annuity holder is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Cost of living riders are common touched adjust the annual base cash flows for inflation based on changes in the CPI.

Annuities: Who Sells Them
Life insurance companies and investment companies are the two sorts of financial institutions offering annuity products. For life insurance companies, annuities are a natural hedge for their insurance products. Life insurance is bought to deal with mortality risk – that is, the risk of dying prematurely. Policyholders pay an annual premium to the insurance company who will pay out a lump sum upon their death. If policyholders die prematurely, the insurer will pay out the death benefit at a net loss to the company. Actuarial science and claims experience allows these insurance companies to price their policies so that on average insurance purchasers will live long enough so that the insurer earns a profit. Annuities, on the other hand, deal with longevity risk, or the risk of outliving ones assets. The risk to the issuer of the annuity is that annuity holders will live outlive their initial investment. Annuity issuers may hedge longevity risk by selling annuities to customers with a higher risk of premature death.

In many cases, the cash value inside of permanent life insurance policies can be exchanged via a 1035 exchange for an annuity product without any tax implications.

Agents or brokers selling annuities need to hold a state-issued life insurance license, and also a securities license in the case of variable annuities. These agents or brokers typically earn a commission based on the notional value of the annuity contract.

Annuity products are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

Annuities: Who Buys Them
Annuities are appropriate financial products for individuals seeking stable, guaranteed retirement income. Because the lump sum put into the annuity is illiquid and subject to withdrawal penalties, it is not recommended for younger individuals or for those with liquidity needs. Annuity holders cannot outlive their income stream, which hedges longevity risk. So long as the purchaser understands that he or she is trading a liquid lump sum for a guaranteed series of cash flows, the product is appropriate. Some purchasers hope to cash out an annuity in the future at a profit, however this is not the intended use of the product.

Immediate annuities are often purchased by people of any age who have received a large lump sum of money and who prefer to exchange it for cash flows in to the future. The lottery winner's curse is the fact that many lottery winners who take the lump sum windfall often spend all of that money in a relatively short period of time.

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