What Is an Annuity Certain?

An annuity certain is an investment that provides a series of payments for a set period of time to a person or to the person's beneficiary or estate. It is an investment in retirement income offered by insurance companies. The annuity may also be taken as a lump sum.

Because it has a set expiration date, an annuity certain generally pays a higher rate of return than a lifetime annuity. Typical terms are 10, 15, or 20 years.

Key Takeaways

An annuity certain provides a guaranteed retirement income for a pre-set period of time.

It is not a good long-term retirement strategy on its own but can be useful in some cases as a short-term income supplement.

A lifetime annuity yields a lower rate of return but payment is guaranteed for life, or for the life of the surviving spouse.

Synonyms for annuity certain include years certain annuity, period certain annuity, fixed period annuity, and guaranteed term or guaranteed period annuity.

Understanding the Annuity Certain

The set expiration date differentiates the annuity certain from a life annuity. The latter provides payouts for the remainder of the annuitant's life and, in some cases, the life of the investor's spouse. A lower payment will be offered for a life annuity because of the uncertainty of the term.

The investor in an annuity certain could easily outlive the payment period. Beware of relying on one for retirement income.

In the case of the annuity certain, the buyer chooses how long a period the annuity will pay out. The payments will continue to be made until it expires, either to the buyer or the buyer's beneficiary.

Is an Annuity Certain Right for You?

An annuity may be useful as a short-term income supplement but it's not a long-term retirement strategy.

That is, the individual who invests heavily in an annuity certain could easily outlive the payment period and be forced to live on a reduced income thereafter.

The annuity certain option might be useful to supplement retirement income for a limited period of time. For example, if an investor retires at 62 but wants to wait to collect the full Social Security benefit at age 67, an annuity certain might fill the income gap while providing for a surviving spouse in case of need.

Unlike many other investments, the total amount of the payment is guaranteed. That alone makes it an attractive option for some.

Drawbacks of Annuities

The annuity certain comes with the same negatives as other types of annuities. They can have high fees and upfront charges in comparison with other income options such as CDs. They may come with a surrender fee that makes them costly to access early. Some have extremely complex and even exotic terms and conditions that the investor would be wise to read carefully. They often are sold by salespeople working on commission, and that comes out of your payment.

Finally, net returns on an annuity are taxed as ordinary income.