What Is an Accumulation Unit?

An accumulation unit is a measurement of the value invested in a variable annuity account during the accumulation period or a kind of investment where a unit trust’s income is reinvested into the trust.

Key Takeaways

  • An accumulation unit measures the value of a contribution to an investment in a structured vehicle, like an annuity.
  • Income units and accumulation units are two different things.
  • Accumulation units represent the value of contribution up to a point. When an investor wants to make distributions, they convert their accumulation units to income units.

How an Accumulation Unit Works

An accumulation unit can refer to one of two things:

1) In the case of a variable annuity, it is a measurement of the value invested in the account during the accumulation period of the contract. As an investor contributes more funds to an annuity account, they accumulate more units. These units are then used as the basis for distributions when the investor wants to start making withdrawals.

2) In the case of a unit trust, an accumulation unit is a kind of investment in which the income of the trust is not paid out as cash to the investor and is instead reinvested into the trust directly.

Accumulation units, in the case of a variable annuity, are used to accurately measure the value of contributions by the annuitant. In times when the variable annuity's investments fall, a fixed level of funding will buy more accumulation units than when the securities are more highly-priced, just as investors are able to buy more shares of cheaper stock than they can of higher-priced stock with the same amount of currency.

Accumulation units within a unit trust can be reinvested back into the trust by spiking the unit price, or else by issuing more units to investors. In either case, the investor is able to reinvest their share of profits back into the trust.

Accumulation Unit Versus Income Unit

If a retiree is looking into investment funds, they have two options: an income or accumulation version of the fund. In this scenario, an investor is looking at the option of income units versus accumulation units. Income units provide interest or dividend income directly to the investor, often at regular intervals. Accumulation units, in contrast, are designed to boost the value of the fund, so any income generated is reinvested directly into the fund.

Investors should look to their goals when deciding between accumulation or income units. These include determinations of whether investors need income right away, or if not, whether the compounded interest will better serve the investor in the future.

Investors can change from one unit type to another, and commonly do so. For instance, when one approaches retirement and needs to bolster any pension payments they may receive, it may make sense to move from accumulation to income units. There may be fees associated with making changes, however, so consulting with an advisor prior to making a change is a good idea.