Video: Annuities Explained

What is an 'Annuity'

An annuity is a contractual financial product sold by financial institutions that is designed to accept and grow funds from an individual and then, upon annuitization, pay out a stream of payments to the individual at a later point in time. The period of time when an annuity is being funded and before payouts begin is referred to as the accumulation phase. Once payments commence, the contract is in the annuitization phase.

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.

Types of Annuities

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 2 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 portfoliopotential 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 livingriders are common to adjust the annual base cash flows for inflation based on changes in the CPI.

Who Sells Annuities

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.

Who Buys Annuities

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.

CASH REFUND ANNUITY 

DEFINITION of 'Cash Refund Annuity'

An annuity contract that returns funds back to a beneficiary in the event that the annuitant dies too early. A cash refund annuity has a provision which stipulates that if the annuitant passes away before the annuity payments received equal the annuity payments made, the insurance company will pay the difference to the beneficiary. Some variations might include the addition of interest earned on top of the difference.

BREAKING DOWN 'Cash Refund Annuity'

Annuities are used to guarantee a constant stream of income over a specified period of time. Depending on the annuity features, the payments will either continue or stop when you die. In a cash refund annuity, your beneficiary receives a lump sum. For example, assume a retiree purchases an annuity for $100,000, and receives $60,000 in annuity payments before passing away. The beneficiary, in this case, would receive $40,000 as a lump sum cash refund from the insurance company. An installment refund annuity would return the $40,000 in payments over a period of time instead of a lump sum.

IMMEDIATE VARIABLE ANNUITY 

An immediate variable annuity is an insurance product where an individual pays a lump sum upfront for payments that begin right away. The payments from an immediate variable annuity continue for the lifetime of the annuity holder, but the amounts fluctuate based on the performance of an underlying portfolio

BREAKING DOWN 'Immediate Variable Annuity'

The immediate variable annuity is unique in that most annuities have payouts that begin after an accumulation phase and that end when a specified age limit is reached. The immediate variable annuity skips the accumulation phase by having the holder contribute a lump sum, and then starts in the annuitization phase. Immediate variable annuities are less common, but can make sense particularly when the investor is older and worried about outliving his or her savings.


WHOLE LIFE ANNUITY DUE

A financial product sold by insurance companies that requires annuity payments at the beginning of each monthly, quarterly or annual period, as opposed to at the end of the period. A whole life annuity due is a type of annuity that will provide the annuitant with payments during the distribution period for as long as he or she lives. After the annuitant passes on, the insurance company retains and funds remaining. Annuities are usually purchased by investors who want to secure some type of income stream during retirement. The accumulation period occurs as payments are being made by the buyer of the contract to the insurance company; the liquidation period occurs when the insurance company makes payments to the annuitant. Also called annuity due.

BREAKING DOWN 'Whole Life Annuity Due'

Annuities are financial products that are often purchased as part of a retirement plan to ensure income during the retirement years. Investors make payments into the annuity, and then, upon annuitzation, the annuitant will receive regular payments. Annuities can be structures to make payments for a fixed amount of time, commonly 20 years, or make payments for as long as the annuitant and his or her spouse is alive. Actuaries work with the insurance companies to apply mathematical and statistical models to assess risk when determining policies and rates.


VALUATION PERIOD

The time between the end of the business day of the first business day and the end of the business day of the second business day. The valuation period refers to variable annuities. Annuities are financial products that provide an income source in retirement. Variable annuities are annuity products that provide annuity payouts based on the current value of the annuity's investments.

BREAKING DOWN 'Valuation Period'

The contract value of a variable annuity depends on the performance of the investments. The owner of the annuity can choose the investment vehicles and allocate certain percentages or amounts towards various investment products. A variable annuity offers the potential for greater earnings (and larger payouts) but at the same time involves more risk than other annuity products such as fixed deferred annuities.


YEARS CERTAIN ANNUITY

An insurance product that pays the holder a monthly income for a specified number of years. A years certain annuity is similar to other annuities because they are generally used to provide a steady income during retirement, but differ by providing income for a predetermined amount of time regardless of how long the annuitant lives. This differs from a life annuity which provides payouts for the remainder of the annuitant's life and, in certain cases, the life of the annuitant's spouse.

BREAKING DOWN 'Years Certain Annuity'

A years certain annuity typically involves larger monthly payouts, but this type of annuity is less common than a life annuity. A years certain annuity may be more appealing to individual who will have another source of income during retirement (such as another annuity or other retirement plan). A years certain annuity would be risky if it were the only retirement income because the annuitant could outlive the monthly payment period and be forced to spend the remaining retirement years on a reduced income.


MORTALITY AND EXPENSE RISK CHARGE

A variable annuity fee included in certain annuity or insurance products which serves to compensate the insurance company for various risks it assumes under the annuity contract.

BREAKING DOWN 'Mortality And Expense Risk Charge'

Any time an insurance company offers an annuity to someone, it must make assumptions about uncertain factors (such as the life expectancy of the annuitant) and the likelihood of uncertain events actually occurring; it must also provide the annuitant with peace of mind via lifetime payout options for the future and fixed insurance premiums. The insurance company prices these risks inherent to the structure of an annuity as accurately as possible and packages it into a dollar value charge for the annuitant.




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Roffé M. Hofmann profile photo
Roffé M. Hofmann
Managing Member & CCO / Investment Adviser Representative
Association Financial Services, LLC
Office : (800) 943-8804, Ext.# 202
Fax : (248) 942-4886