BlogStructured SettlementWhat Is The Basic Function Of An Annuity?

What Is The Basic Function Of An Annuity?


Annuities are unique financial products that can play an important role in a retirement plan. But what exactly is their core purpose and how do they work? This guide will examine the basic function of annuities to help you understand if they should be part of your overall investment and income strategy.

An Introduction to Annuities

An annuity is a contract between you and an insurance company that provides guaranteed income in exchange for a lump-sum payment or series of payments. With an annuity, you’re able to convert a substantial amount of savings into lifelong income payments.

Annuities are issued by life insurance companies. They have some similarities to life insurance in that they offer financial protection and have a death benefit component. But annuities are primarily designed to provide steady retirement income that you cannot outlive.

There are several major types of annuities:

  • Fixed annuities
  • Variable annuities
  • Immediate annuities
  • Deferred annuities
  • Indexed annuities

History of Annuities

The concept of annuities dates back to ancient Roman times when yearly payments were made to retired soldiers. The first modern annuity contracts were sold in the 1800s by life insurance companies. They gained popularity in the 20th century as pension plans declined and people needed to self-fund retirement. Now annuities exist in various forms but still serve their core function – providing guaranteed lifetime income.

The Core Function Of Annuity: Lifetime Income

The basic function of any annuity is to provide income you cannot outlive. This is achieved by converting your savings into a guaranteed stream of payments that lasts for your lifetime or the combined lifetime of you and your spouse.

Annuities are specially designed to provide retirement income security and address longevity risk – the risk of outliving your assets. By pooling your purchase with other annuity buyers, the insurance company can afford to guarantee very long payout periods, including lifetimes.


Annuities remove the uncertainties and risks inherent in attempting to self-manage savings to last 30 or more years in retirement. For risk-averse individuals, annuities can be an effective tool to insure against longevity and optimize retirement spend-down strategies.

When Do Annuity Income Payments Begin?

A key decision is choosing when you want your annuity payments to start. The two main options are Immediate and Deferred Annuities.

Immediate annuities – Designed to begin providing income right away soon after purchase.

Deferred annuities – Allow you to delay income into the future to match up with a retirement date. Assets grow tax-deferred until annuitization.

Once annuitized, the income payments will continue for life or a set period per the annuity contract terms. The insurance company manages the longevity risk pools and continues paying annuitants regardless of how long they live.

Tax Treatment of Annuities

One of the advantages of annuities is their tax-deferred growth potential. The money invested in the annuity grows without being taxed each year as it would be in a regular investment account. Taxes are deferred until money is withdrawn.

For qualified annuities like 403(b)s, 401(k)s, IRAs, etc., this tax benefit is redundant since those accounts are already tax-deferred. Hence, you don’t have to pay income taxes as the money grows. So the main advantage is the lifetime income guarantee, not the tax deferral.

Death Benefits and Other Features

Along with lifetime income, most annuities also provide a death benefit which guarantees your beneficiaries will receive at least the amount of adjusted purchase payments you contributed if you pass away before annuitization.

Other potential annuity benefits include:

  • Principal protection on the amount invested
  • Probate avoidance since death benefits paid directly to beneficiaries
  • Ability to withdraw up to 10-15% annually without penalty
  • Income riders to help hedge inflation
  • Long-term care coverage through riders

When Do Annuities Make Sense?

Annuities can be appropriate retirement income solutions for several types of investors:

  • Those wanting to hedge longevity risk and secure lifetime income
  • Individuals with low-risk tolerance nearing retirement
  • People who have maxed out 401(k)s, IRAs, etc. and want more tax-deferred savings
  • Retirees with substantial assets they want converted into income
  • Those needing a fixed income stream to cover essential expenses
  • Anyone interested in leaving an inheritance or death benefit to beneficiaries

Conversely, annuities tend to be less fitting for very young investors focused on accumulation or aggressive growth investors comfortable managing market risk on their own. The liquidity restrictions can also make annuities less appealing.

Analyzing the Pros and Cons

Pros of Annuities

  • Guaranteed lifetime income
  • Principal protection available
  • Tax-deferred growth potential
  • Benefits for beneficiaries

Cons of Annuities

  • Illiquidity compared to other investments
  • Restrictions and penalties on withdrawals
  • Income payments cease upon death
  • Requires giving up control of assets

How Different Types of Work

Your future annuity payments depend a lot on the specific annuity you picked. There are several varieties of annuities with distinct mechanisms for providing income:

Immediate Annuities – An Immediate Annuity is a type of annuity that begins paying income very soon after purchase, within a year. Popular for retirees already needing income.

Deferred Income Annuities – A Deferred Annuity allows you to lock in lifetime income payments now that don’t begin for years into the future. Provides predictable income starting on your specified retirement date.

Fixed Annuities – A Fixed Annuity provides a guaranteed, fixed rate of return during the savings period. Can convert to predictable, fixed income for life or a defined period.

Indexed Annuities – An Indexed Annuity pays interest tied to the performance of a market index. Your principal is protected from losses, while benefiting from a portion of index gains.

Variable Annuities – A Variable Annuity allows you to invest your account value across a range of investment subaccounts, like mutual funds. Returns are based on the performance of the subaccounts.

Finding the Right One

With many types available, it’s crucial to find an appropriate annuity that aligns with your financial situation and goals.

Here are some key steps to help you get the best annuity plan:

  • Clarify objectives – What do you want to achieve with the annuity? Guaranteed income? Principal protection? Market participation? Tax deferral?
  • Analyze timeline – Are you retired already or years away? This can dictate whether immediate or deferred annuities are preferable.
  • Assess risk tolerance – This helps determine if fixed, fixed indexed, or variable annuities best fit your comfort level.
  • Compare annuity products – Contrast features, options, expenses, and limitations across different annuities.
  • Select reputable providers – Opt for financially strong insurers with a track record of honoring obligations.
  • Read the prospectus – Fully understand how the annuity works before committing to purchase.
  • Work with a trusted advisor – An objective advisor can provide guidance in selecting an appropriate annuity!


The core purpose of any annuity is to provide guaranteed lifetime income during retirement that cannot be outlived. Annuities accomplish this through pooled longevity risk across a large group of buyers. But annuities can also offer other useful benefits depending on the type chosen. By trading access to lump sum assets for lifetime income, annuitants secure consistent payments they cannot exhaust.

Annuities do have limitations like liquidity tradeoffs that must be carefully weighed. But for many retirees concerned about the risk of overspending assets, annuities can provide tremendous utility as part of an integrated financial plan.


Q: How do I buy an annuity?

A: To buy an annuity, you will need to contact an annuity company or an insurance agent who offers annuity products. They will guide you through the process of purchasing an annuity and help you choose the right annuity options based on your financial goals.

Q: What is the role of investment in an annuity?

A: When you purchase an annuity, the annuity company invests the funds in an annuity fund. The investment returns generated by the fund contribute to the growth of your annuity over time.

Q: How does the payout work for an annuity?

A: The payout from an annuity refers to the periodic payments you receive from the annuity contract. The timing and amount of the payments are determined by the annuity options you choose and the terms of the annuity contract.

Q: Does an annuity offer life insurance?

A: No, an annuity is not a life insurance policy. It is primarily designed to provide a source of income, either during retirement or for a specified period of time.

Q: What is an annuity fund?

A: An annuity fund refers to the pool of funds accumulated from annuity purchases. The annuity company invests the funds in the annuity fund to generate returns and fulfill the payout obligations to annuity owners.

Q: What factors should I consider when considering an annuity?

A: When considering an annuity, it is important to evaluate your financial goals, risk tolerance, and long-term income needs. You should also compare different types of annuities and understand the associated costs and fees.

Q: What is a non-qualified annuity?

A: A non-qualified annuity is an annuity that is purchased with after-tax funds, typically outside of a tax-advantaged retirement account. The earnings within a non-qualified annuity grow tax-deferred until withdrawals are made.

Q: When is the right time to buy an annuity?

A: The right time to buy an annuity depends on your individual circumstances and financial goals. Some people choose to purchase an annuity closer to retirement to secure a stable income stream, while others may buy an annuity earlier to take advantage of the long-term investment growth potential.

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