By: Shane Flait
You choose an annuity, like any investment, to achieve a goal. Knowing the benefits and disbenefits of an annuity is important to devising your strategy. This article outlines some of each.
Deferred annuity benefits:
A deferred annuity is an investment vehicle for accumulating a lump sum of money. The benefits it offers are:
* A tax-shelter that defers annual taxes on your earnings within your annuity contract. So, you may potentially grow your investment faster than other investments that yearly lose a portion of their earnings to taxes.
* You can contribute any amount you wish to your deferred annuity from any source.
* You can arrange to make your contributions through a flexible payment program.
* You can choose your annuity investment type - i.e. fixed, indexed, or variable - as you wish. Specifically, you can choose a fixed deferred annuity to assure a guaranteed growth rate. Your investment protection comes from the insurance company's financial strength and its state regulations backup insurance.
* You can choose how to convert your lump sum to an income stream (annuitization) or convert to another product or investment. Taxes will be due if you take the money out.
Immediate annuity benefits:
An immediate annuity gives you an income stream. Its benefits are that:
* You can convert a lump sum of money into an income stream for a finite term or for the remainder of your life.
* Your annuitized payments are assured as they come from the insurance company under your annuity contract. The assured payments can be fixed (under a fixed annuity) or be variable (under a variable annuity). Again, the assurance of your payments comes from the financial strength of the insurance company and its state-regulated backups.
* You may use this as retirement income.
* You may assign those payments to someone.
* You can use those assured and ongoing payments to pay some obligation or as premiums for another product such as life insurance.
* Converting a lump sum of money into an income stream may protect your money from Medicaid in some instances since it treats lump sum assets differently from an asset in the form of an income stream.
Each annuity carries specific contract obligations that include fees, surrender and withdrawal terms and conditions. Here are some important issues to be aware of.
Disbenefits of Deferred Annuities
* Deferred annuities have a certain amount of illiquidity. You can't just cash in your funds when you want without incurring fees or penalties.
* All withdrawals from deferred annuities are considered taxable earnings until you've withdrawn all earnings to date.
* You're required to pay a surrender fee of up to 10% over the first perhaps 10 years - the fees decreasing each year. You may be limited to only a 10% withdrawal per year without triggering the surrender fee.
* If you're under 591/2, federal law imposes a 10% tax on whatever you withdraw - in addition to whatever taxable income it triggers.
* Because so many options and guarantees are offered with variable annuities, your investment growth my may suffer from excessive fees.
Disbenefits of Immediate Annuities
* Once an annuity is annuitized - i.e. regular payments begin to you - the company won't generally convert the payments back to a lump sum for you.
* If you no longer need your annuity payments, you may be able to sell them to another party, but at a value that may be significantly less than their present value.
* Fixed annuity payouts for life are constant dollar payouts. Over an extended time such as 20 years, the purchasing power of those payments may fall by as much as 40% if inflation averages about 3%.
Because an annuity, unlike other types of investments, is a contract with an insurance company, it involves insurance-related promises and obligations. These add cost and fees to annuities that other taxable investment types don't have. And it tends to make them considerably more illiquid.
But annuities have unique properties - like a life annuities, and payout properties - that help you achieve goals you can't with other investments. Knowing how to get the benefits of annuities without stumbling over their disbenefits requires careful planning.