What to Know Before Buying an Annuity (Do I Have to Buy an Annuity?)
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Do I Have to Buy an Annuity?

If you could purchase a product that promised to give you a steady income for life and take the worry out of outliving your assets, would you jump at the chance? While it sounds like an easy decision, this type of product, called an annuity, may not be appropriate for everyone.

What is an annuity?

An annuity is an insurance contract that is typically used to provide a guaranteed income for life. In the world of personal finance, however, “guarantees” usually carry hefty price tags, and annuities are no exception. You should fully understand the pros and cons of these products before you decide whether an annuity is right for your investment portfolio. Additionally, these products are most often sold by a broker who receives a hefty commission for selling these products. Before you buy, it may be in your best interest to consult a fiduciary financial advisor before purchasing an annuity.

What types of annuities are there?

There are two basic types of annuities – immediate and deferred.

  1. Immediate annuity – If you need a guaranteed stream of income right away, you can convert a lump sum to an immediate annuity that pays out monthly, quarterly or annually.
  2. Deferred annuity – If you are years away from your retirement and want to make sure you have a fixed income coming in every month in your retirement, you can get a deferred annuity. You invest tax deferred money in the annuity to receive payments at a later date. Until you are ready to start receiving the payments your money will grow tax free like your 401k.

Each of these annuities can have multiple options – single premium, flexible premium, fixed annuity, variable annuity, life income annuity, joint annuity, and equity-indexed annuity, to name a few.

  • Single premium – You buy an annuity using a lump sum.
  • Flexible premium – You pay multiple premiums to the company.
  • Fixed – Your money will earn a fixed interest rate set by the insurance company. When you begin receiving income, a fixed payment is guaranteed.
  • Variable – Your money will be split into sub-accounts depending on your risk level, and be invested in mutual funds.  The annuity may pay a guaranteed minimum income based on the annuity value and performance, but the downside is it has substantially higher fees than traditional investment vehicles.
  • Equity-Indexed – A variation of a fixed annuity where the interest rate is based on an outside index, such as a stock market index. Like variable annuity this product pays a minimum rate which might go up if the index performs better.
  • Life income – You receive income as long as you live – even if payments exceed the amount of money you put into the annuity. If you buy an installment refund rider your beneficiaries will continue to receive payments even after you die until the total amount paid to you and your beneficiaries equals the premium. If you didn’t buy any rider, the insurance company will keep the money.
  • Joint-life income – This policy is typically purchased by couples, and payments are organized in a similar manner as life-only, except payments will continue until either you or your spouse pass away. Although you will get a lower monthly income than if you purchased a life-only option, the joint-life annuity option ensures that income will continue for the surviving spouse.

What are the advantages and the disadvantages?


  • Peace of mind that you won’t outlive your retirement assets
  • With a variable annuity you can take risks (via the underlying investment options) and still have control of the outcome (via the option of guaranteed minimum income)
  • Deferred annuity earnings are tax deferred – which can add a good chunk of money to your nest egg
  • There is no yearly contribution limit for a non-qualified annuity meaning you can store away large amounts of cash and defer paying taxes. So, to put it in context, in the realm of tax-deferred vehicles such as an IRA or a 401k, there is a limit to what you can contribute. Whereas in an annuity, you can put in as much money as you want


  • Annuities can be expensive in terms of the benefits they provide. Below is a laundry list of costs that come with annuities
    • Annual contract fee: Either fixed dollar amount or an expense ratio; for high value annuities, this fee may be waived
    • Investment management fees
    • Optional rider fees
    • Commissions
    • Withdrawal or surrender charges
  • You already own an income annuity – it’s called Social Security
  • Reduced liquidity
  • Annuity earnings when you start drawing the payments are taxed as ordinary income
  • Lack of transparency – annuities are very complex insurance products

Our Takeaway: Before You Buy an Annuity

It’s important to keep in mind that by buying an annuity, you are signing a contract with an insurance company to make payments for a set period of time or for your lifetime. Not to mention, any type of “guarantee” comes at a high cost and not everyone will need one. On top of that there are so many different varieties of annuities with hundreds of options, riders, disclaimers, footnotes and contingencies, making them extremely complex. Locking your money up for a long time will take away flexibility and it’s important to think through what your true needs are.

Read our Free Personal Capital Insurance Guide

For more questions about your long-term financial goals, schedule a free appointment with an advisor today.

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All insurance analysis and insight provided is extended to you as a courtesy for educational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as the primary basis of your insurance planning decisions. We are not licensed insurance professionals. You should consult a qualified licensed insurance professional regarding your specific situation.

The content contained in this blog post is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal, tax, accounting or investment advice. You should consult a qualified legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation. Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money.

Any reference to the advisory services refers to Personal Capital Advisors Corporation, a subsidiary of Personal Capital. Personal Capital Advisors Corporation is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training nor does it imply endorsement by the SEC.

Jesse has been working in financial services since 2012, beginning his career as a Financial Consultant with AXA Advisors in Denver, CO. While at AXA Jesse services a client base of individuals, families, and small businesses helping them to develop personalized strategies to meet their financial goals.
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