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DEFINITION of 'Surrender Period'

The amount of time an investor must wait until he or she can withdraw funds from an annuity without facing a penalty. Surrender periods can be many years long, and withdrawing money before the end of the surrender period can result in a surrender charge, which is essentially a deferred sales fee. Generally, but not always, the longer the surrender period, the better the annuity’s other terms.

BREAKING DOWN 'Surrender Period'

After the surrender period has passed, the investor is free to withdraw the funds without being subject to a fee. Some annuities have no surrender period and therefore no surrender fees. A typical annuity might have a surrender period of six years, and a surrender fee that starts at 6% and decreases by 1% each year.

If you purchased a $10,000 annuity in 2010 with these terms and closed your annuity in 2013, which is during the third year of the surrender period, you would pay a fee of 4% of $10,000, or $400. The surrender period would end in 2017, at which point you could withdraw your $10,000 without paying a surrender fee. To avoid possible surrender fees, you should not put money into an annuity that you might need to withdraw during the surrender period.

If you make additional investments or premium payments to the annuity, there may be a separate surrender period for each investment. Suppose you paid $5,000 into an annuity in 2012 and another $5,000 in 2013. Again, assume a six-year surrender period with a 6% fee that declines by 1% each year. If you withdrew the entire $10,000 in 2014, you would be in year 2 of the surrender period on your first $5,000 investment, so your fee would be 5%, or $250, but you would only be in year 1 of the surrender period on your second $5,000 investment, so your surrender fee would be 6%, or $300, for a total surrender fee of $550 to withdraw your $10,000.

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