What Is a Deferred Annuity?

A deferred annuity is a type of annuity contract that delays income, installment or lump-sum payments until the investor elects to receive them. This type of annuity has two main phases: the savings phase, which is when you invest money into the account, and the income phase, which is when the plan is converted into an annuity begins paying the account owner. A deferred annuity can be variable or fixed.

Key Takeaways

  • A deferred annuity is a contract between an individual and an insurance or financial company that guarantees income upon maturation, often until the annuitant dies.
  • Annuities are highly customizable. Payments may be fixed or indexed to a stock market index, and may or may not adjust for inflation.
  • Early withdrawals from a fixed annuity contract are subject to surrender charges, and so these are illiquid assets.

Understanding Deferred Annuities

A deferred annuity is a contract between an individual and a life insurance company in which funds are exchanged for a promise to provide a competitive interest rate with a minimum interest rate guarantee. The contract also guarantees the principal investment. Because annuities are classified as non-qualified retirement instruments, they receive a tax benefit in the form of tax deferral on earnings. Earnings are taxed as ordinary income upon withdrawal or annuitization.

There are two types of deferred annuities. As their name indicates, fixed income annuities offer a fixed income equal to the principal and a minimum interest rate to investors. Most life insurance policies are structured as fixed annuities. A variable deferred annuity enables investors to put their money into the stock market through fund-like structures.

Income available to investors is dependent on the fund's performance. Variable annuities are regulated by State Insurance Departments and the SEC. A third type of annuity, known as equity-indexed annuity, is actually a fixed annuity with set income that is linked to the performance of an equity index chosen by the investor.

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What Are Deferred Annuities?

How a Deferred Annuity Works

When funds are deposited with a life insurer, they are credited to an accumulation account in the annuity owner's name. The life insurer then credits the account balance with a fixed interest rate. In most cases, the fixed interest rate is guaranteed for one year to 10 years. When that period expires, the insurer resets the interest rate, typically for one-year periods.

Most annuity contracts include a minimum rate guarantee that ensures the interest rate the account receives never falls below a certain minimum, regardless of the economic climate at the time.

Withdrawals are allowed in most contracts with certain limitations. In a typical contract, the withdrawal provisions allow for one annual withdrawal. If any withdrawal exceeds 10 percent of the account's value, the insurer charges a surrender fee on the excess. The fee can range from 7% to 15% on a declining schedule. Each year, the surrender fee drops by one percentage point until it reaches zero. At that point, the surrender period ends, and the annuity owner can withdraw funds without penalty.

Withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income, and withdrawals made prior to age 59 ½ are subject to a 10% penalty. A deferred annuity can be annuitized to provide guaranteed income payments for a set period of time or for the life of the annuitant.

This type of annuity also includes a death benefit component that ensures the beneficiaries receive no less than the principal investment plus any gains in the account. The death benefit proceeds are taxable to the beneficiary as ordinary income.

Example of a Deferred Annuity

Jane is in her 30s and is in the top 30% tax bracket. She wants to make sure that she has a steady stream of income upon retirement. She invests in a life insurance policy with an interest rate of 3% per year. She is able to defer taxes on the interest her premium payments earn. The annuity matures when Jane retires and she has another source of income to ensure a comfortable existence post-retirement.