Deferred Annuity Definition, Types, How They Work

What Is a Deferred Annuity?

A deferred annuity is a contract with an insurance company that promises to pay the owner a regular income, or a lump sum, at some future date. Investors often use deferred annuities to supplement their other retirement income, such as Social Security. Deferred annuities differ from immediate annuities, which begin making payments right away.

Key Takeaways

  • A deferred annuity is an insurance contract that promises to pay the buyer a regular income or a lump sum of money at some date in the future. Immediate annuities, by contrast, start paying right away.
  • Deferred annuities come in several different types—fixed, indexed, and variable—which determine how their rates of return are computed.
  • Withdrawals from a deferred annuity may be subject to surrender charges as well as a 10% tax penalty if the owner is under age 59½.

How Deferred Annuities Work

There are three basic types of deferred annuities: fixed, indexed, and variable. As their name implies, fixed annuities promise a specific, guaranteed rate of return on the money in the account. Indexed annuities provide a return that is based on the performance of a particular market index, such as the S&P 500. The return on variable annuities is based on the performance of a portfolio of mutual funds, or sub-accounts, chosen by the annuity owner.

All three types of deferred annuities grow on a tax-deferred basis. Owners of these insurance contracts pay taxes only when they make withdrawals, take a lump sum, or begin receiving income from the account. At that point, the money they receive is taxed at their ordinary income tax rate.

The period when the investor is paying into the annuity is known as the accumulation phase (or savings phase). Once the investor elects to start receiving income, the payout phase (or income phase) begins. Many deferred annuities are structured to provide income for the rest of the owner's life and sometimes for their spouse's life as well.


What Are Deferred Annuities?

Special Considerations

Deferred annuities should be considered long-term investments because they are less liquid than, for example, mutual funds purchased outside of an annuity.

Most annuity contracts put strict limits on withdrawals, such as allowing just one per year. Withdrawals may also be subject to surrender fees charged by the insurer. In addition, if the account holder is under age 59½, they will generally face a 10% tax penalty on the amount of the withdrawal. That's on top of the income tax they have to pay on the withdrawal.

Before purchasing an annuity, buyers should make sure they have enough money in a liquid emergency fund.

Prospective buyers should also be aware that annuities often have high fees, compared with other types of retirement investments. Fees can also vary widely from one insurance company to another, so it pays to shop around.

Finally, deferred annuities often include a death benefit component. If the owner dies while the annuity is still in its accumulation phase, their heirs may receive some or all of the account's value. If the annuity has entered the payout phase, however, the insurer may simply keep the remaining money unless the contract includes a provision to keep paying benefits to the owner's heirs for a certain number of years.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Topic No. 558 Additional Tax on Early Distributions From Retirement Plans Other Than IRAs."

  2. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). "Annuities."

Take the Next Step to Invest
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.