What Is a Qualified Annuity?

A qualified annuity is a retirement savings plan that is funded with pre-tax dollars. A non-qualified annuity is funded with post-tax dollars.

To be clear, the terminology comes from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Any qualified retirement savings plan is one in which the investor's earnings are deducted from his or her gross earnings and are not subject to federal taxes until after retirement when withdrawals are made. Contributions to a non-qualified plan are taxed in the year in which they are earned.

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What Is An Annuity?

Understanding the Qualified Annuity

A deposit into a qualified annuity is made without taxes being withheld. That effectively reduces the taxpayer's income, and taxes owed, for that year. No taxes will be owed on the money that accrues in the qualified account year after year as long as no withdrawals are made.

Key Takeaways

  • Contributions to a qualified annuity are in pre-tax dollars. Taxes are postponed until withdrawals are made after retirement.
  • Contributions to a non-qualified annuity are in post-tax dollars. Taxes are paid in the same year the contributions are made.
  • "Qualified" and "non-qualified" are IRS terms. A qualified plan has an immediate tax benefit.

Taxes on both the investor's contribution and the investment gains that have accrued will be owed after the investor retires and begins taking an annuity or any withdrawal from the account.

While distributions from a qualified annuity are taxed as ordinary income, distributions from a non-qualified annuity are not subject to any income tax on the contributions. Taxes may be owed on the investment gains, which generally are a smaller portion of the account.

No taxes are owed on money that accrues in a qualified account as long as no withdrawals are made

It is a matter of debate which is better. The non-qualified plan offers the prospect of tax-free income after retirement. However, the qualified plan offers immediate tax savings and a smaller hit on take-home pay during the person's working years.

Variations on the Qualified Annuity

Qualified annuities are often set up by employers as part of a company-sponsored retirement plan. Variations include the defined benefit plan, the 403(b) retirement plan, and the individual retirement account (IRA).

  • The defined benefit plan is a savings vehicle that commits the company to a specific payment, whether in a lump sum or in monthly installments, based on the employee's earnings history.
  • the 403(b) is available primarily to teachers and some other public employees as well as workers at tax-exempt organizations.
  • The IRA is the familiar savings plan that allows a pre-tax contribution up to a yearly limit.

An annuity can be if it meets certain IRS criteria and follows its regulatory guidelines. Generally, an annuity that is not used to fund a tax-advantaged retirement plan is a non-qualified annuity.

Other IRS Rules on Annuities

Non-qualified annuities purchased after Aug. 13, 1982, are taxed under a "last-in-first-out" protocol. This means that the first withdrawals made by the investor will be taken from accrued interest, which will be taxed as ordinary income. Once that interest has been fully taxed, the remaining principal or premium will be free of taxes.

All of the rules governing qualified annuities are covered in IRS Publication 575, Pension and Annuity Income.