An annuity is a contract between you, the purchaser or owner, and an insurance company, the annuity issuer. In its simplest form, you pay money to an annuity issuer, and the issuer pays out the principal and earnings back to you or to a named beneficiary.
The Four Parties To An Annuity Contract
There are four parties to a contract: the annuity issuer, the owner, the annuitant, and the beneficiary. The issuer is the insurance company that issues the policy. The owner is the individual or other entity who buys the annuity and makes the contributions to the annuity. The annuitant is the individual whose life will be used for determining the timing and amount of distribution benefits that will be paid out. The owner and the annuitant are usually the same person but do not have to be. Finally, the beneficiary is the person who receives a death benefit from the annuity at the death of the annuitant.
Qualified or Nonqualified
Annuities are either qualified or nonqualified. Qualified annuities are used in connection with tax-advantaged retirement plans, such as 401(k) plans, Section 403(b) retirement plans (TSAs), or IRAs. Qualified annuities are subject to the contribution, withdrawal, and tax rules that apply to tax-advantaged retirement plans.
One of the attractive aspects of a nonqualified annuity is that its earnings are tax-deferred until you begin to receive payments back from the annuity issuer. In this respect, an annuity is similar to a qualified retirement plan. Over a long period of time, your investment in an annuity can grow substantially larger than if you had invested money in a comparable taxable investment. Like a qualified retirement plan, a 10 percent tax penalty on the taxable portion of the distribution may be imposed if you begin withdrawals from an annuity before age 59½. Unlike a qualified retirement plan, contributions to a nonqualified annuity are not tax-deductible, and taxes are paid only on the earnings when distributed.
Two Distinct Phases To An Annuity
There are two distinct phases to an annuity: (1) the accumulation (or investment) phase and (2) the distribution phase.
The accumulation (or investment) phase is the time period when you add money to the annuity. When using this option, you’ll have purchased a deferred annuity. You can purchase the annuity in one lump sum (known as a single premium annuity), or you make premium payments over time.
The distribution phase is when you begin receiving distributions from the annuity. You have two general options for receiving distributions from your annuity. Under the first option, you can withdraw some or all of the money in the annuity in lump sums.
The second option (commonly referred to as the guaranteed income or annuitization option) provides you with a guaranteed income stream from the annuity for your entire lifetime (no matter how long you live) or for a specific period of time (e.g., 10 years). (Guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.) This option generally can be elected several years after you purchased your deferred annuity. Or, if you want to invest in an annuity and start receiving payments within the first year, you’ll purchase what is known as an immediate annuity.
When Is An Annuity Appropriate?
It is important to understand that annuities can be an excellent tool if you use them properly. Annuities are not right for everyone.
Nonqualified annuity contributions are not tax deductible. That’s why most experts advise funding other retirement plans first. However, if you have already contributed the maximum allowable amount to other available retirement plans, an annuity can be an excellent choice. There is no limit to how much you can invest in a nonqualified annuity, and like other qualified retirement plans, the funds are allowed to grow tax deferred until you begin taking distributions.
Annuities are designed to be long-term investment vehicles. In most cases, you’ll pay a penalty for early withdrawals. And if you take a lump-sum distribution of your annuity funds within the first few years after purchasing your policy, you may be subject to surrender charges imposed by the issuer. As long as you’re sure you won’t need the money until at least age 59½, an annuity is worth considering. If your needs are more short term, you should explore other options.
An annuity is a financial instrument by itself. When considering adding any financial instrument to your portfolio you need to speak to a qualified financial professional to learn about the pros and cons. They will make sure it fits into your overall financial plan. As I mentioned above, annuities are not for everyone. To find out if an annuity would enhance your financial plan, please schedule a time to talk by clicking the link below.