What are the differences between fixed, fixed index and variable annuities?
Fixed, fixed index and variable annuities differ in the way they generate earnings and also in the amount of risk involved.
When you buy a fixed annuity, the insurance company guarantees you an interest rate for a certain period of time. At the end of this period, the insurance company will declare a renewal interest rate and another guarantee period. In addition, most fixed annuities have a minimum interest rate that is guaranteed for the life of the contract. In other words, regardless of market conditions, you will never receive less than your guaranteed percentage rate. Fixed annuities typically appeal to individuals who feel more comfortable knowing exactly how much their money is earning.
A fixed index annuity gives you more performance risk than a fixed annuity however more potential return. It has less performance risk than a variable annuity but also less potential return. It is also known as an equity indexed annuity, but the name is not appropriate as you are not actually invested in specific equity products.
As its name implies, a fixed index annuity is a type of fixed annuity in which the interest rate is determined in part by reference to an investment-based index such as the S&P 500 Composite Stock Price Index which is a collection of 500 stocks intended to represent a broad segment of the market. As interest is credited, the interest earnings are locked in to the account value and the account will not participate in any future market downturns. Because of this reference to an index, the annuity offers the ability to earn credited interest resulting from a rising financial market while at the same time providing the security and guarantees similar to those associated with traditional fixed annuities.
With a variable annuity, you have added control over your investment dollars. You allocate your funds among a variety of investment options with objectives ranging from aggressive to conservative; insurance companies call these sub-accounts. Your investment returns are tied to the performance of the underlying investments of the sub-accounts. As an investment in securities, the principal amount and investment earnings in a variable annuity are not guaranteed and will fluctuate with the performance of the underlying investments. They differ from fixed products because the policy owner bears investment risk and possible loss of principal. As these products are more complex and have associated with them more risk, the broker who sells this annuity must be licensed to sell securities.
Fixed, fixed index and variable annuities offer you a combination of compound interest and tax deferral. When your earnings are not subject to taxes each year, they compound faster. Faster growth of your money means more retirement income for you in the long run.
What can an annuity do for me?
Provide growth potential - A fixed index annuity has the potential for higher interest earnings than a traditional fixed annuity with a guaranteed minimum interest crediting rate. There's also no direct downside market risk to your money. Your principal is protected from market fluctuations.
Helps you sleep better - An annuity can help you save money on a tex-deferred basis and can guarantee you'll receive income for life. so no matter how long you live, you won't outlive your retirement income.
Fills in the gaps - Sometimes pensions, IRAs and Social Security don't provide enough income for you to live the way you want during retirement. A fixed index annuity can help suppliment your retirement income.
What are the main advantages of annuities?
One of the biggest advantages that annuities have to offer is that they can provide guarantee income payments. Only an insurance company issed annuity can guarantee lifetime and beneficiary income payments.
Unlike other tax-deferred retirement accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs, there is no annual contribution limit for a non-qualified annuity. That allows ou to put away more money fir retirement, and is particularly usefule for those that are closeset to retirement age and need to catch up.
All the money you pay into an annuity compounds year after year without a tax bill from Uncle Sam. That ability to keep every dollar working for you can be a big advantage over taxable investments.
When you cash out, you can choose to take a lump-sum payment from your annuity however most retirees prefer to set up guaranteed paymets for a specific length of time, or for the rest of their life, providing a staedy stream of income.
The annuity serves as a complement to other retirement income sources, such as Social Security and pension plans to enable you to maintain a certain standard of living.
What are the main disadvantages of annuities?
Surrender charges - You're likely to face a prohibitive surrender charge for pulling money out of an annuity within the first several years of buying it. Surrender charges generally decline annually until they get to zero.
High annual fees - If you invest in a variable annuity you may encounter high annual expenses. You will have an annual insurance charge that can run 1.25% or more, annual investment management fees that range anywhere from .5% to more than 2% and fees for various insurance riders that can add another .6% or more. Add them up and you could be paying 2% - 3% a year, if not more.
Also, as with a 401(k) or IRA it's generally not a good idea to take out any money from an annuity until you reach age 59 1/2 because withdrawals made prior to that are hit with a 10% early withdrawal penalt for the IRS.
When is an annuity right for me?
The following situations are examples where an annuity might be exactly what you need.
1. You're saving for retirement - If you're already contributing the maximum to other retirement plans like an IRA or 401(k), a fixed index annuity is an attractive retirement planning option that grows tax-deferred.
2. You don't need the money soon - If you don't anticipate needing the money from a fixed index annuity prior to the time you turn 59 1/2 then a fixed index annuity may be a good option for you.
3. You're worried you might outlive your savings - Annuities can provide guaranteed income for the rest of your life, no matter whether you live to be 100 or even 120. With modern advances in health and medicine people are living longer than ever.
What is an annuity income rider?
Annuity riders have been around for decades, but became popular after the stock market crash in 2008. Investors were driven to find annuities that had income guarantees attached to their mutual fund investments. Those attached benefits are called income riders, and were originally used with variable annuites. Today, income riders are diverse and can be purchased on fixed index annuites as well.
How do life annuities differ from life insurance?
While traditional life insurance guards against "dying too soon", an annuity, in essence, can be used as insurance against "living too long". With an annuity, you will receive in return a series of periodic payments that are guaranteed as to the amount and the payment period. Thus, if you choose to take the annuity payments over your lifetime (there are many other options), you will have a guaranteed source of "income" until your death.
If you "die too soon" (that is if you don't outlive your life expectancy), your beneficiary will get back from the insurer far more than you paid in. On the other hand, if you "life too long" and outlive your life expectancy you may get back far more than the cost of your annuity.