An annuity is a contract or a financial product that pays out a series of regular payments over a set period or for life

Author: Michael Rahme
Michael Rahme
Michael Rahme
Reviewed By: Celine Khattar
Celine Khattar
Celine Khattar
Coming from a background in Financial Engineering, Céline is a Financial Writer with 2+ years of experience in the Fintech industry. Currently based in the UAE, she covers diverse topics within the space, and is constantly following the latest market news and developments.
Last Updated:April 8, 2024

What Is an Annuity?

An annuity is a product sold to investors by financial institutions: a contract in which investors pay a certain amount of money over time. Then at a predetermined time, it begins to pay the money back to the investor for a specific amount of time.

To provide cash payments in the future, the company using annuities uses investor money to grow funds—an equivalent of a mutual fund, except that the returns are guaranteed.

Annuities are frequently used by investors who wish to set aside funds for retirement. In general, the investor assumes they will live long enough to pay back more than they invested, while the company is betting the investor will receive less than they invested.

The terms and conditions of an annuity, including payment amounts, frequency, and duration, are outlined in the annuity contract, which is a legally binding agreement between the annuitant and the insurance company.

In technical terms, it is a series of constant cash flows occur at the end of each period for some fixed number of periods.

Key Takeaways

  • Annuities give retirees regular income and come in different types to fit different needs, giving investors choices.
  • A lump sum or periodic payments are made to investors during the accumulation phase of an annuity.
  • After annuitization, the annuitant begins receiving payments for a fixed period or the rest of their lives.
  • It falls into two categories: immediate or deferred, which can be fixed or variable in structure.

Type of Annuities

Annuities are available in many different types to suit different needs. You can determine which type is right for you based on your individual goals and objectives.

1. Fixed

A fixed annuity offers consistent payments to the annuitant, with a guaranteed interest rate over a specific duration, providing stability in income. It is backed by the issuing company, ensuring reliability for the investor.

Interest rates in fixed annuities remain constant for a predetermined period or may change annually, offering flexibility in investment strategies while still providing a secure source of income for the annuitant.

2. Fixed Index

In a fixed index annuity, interest is tied to market indexes like the S&P 500, offering potential for growth without direct stock market exposure. These annuities ensure premiums are preserved and guarantee a minimum rate of return for added security.

These type of annuities do not directly participate in stock market fluctuations, providing a balance of potential growth and protection of principal. 


Deferred annuities involve an accumulation phase where the holder makes regular payments or a lump sum to the insurance company, and the income payments begin at a later date, often in retirement.

3. Variable

Variable annuities offer the potential for larger payments if investments do well but may result in smaller payments if investments perform poorly, providing flexibility but less stable cash flow.

Interests are added periodically through investments within the annuity, offering significant growth potential despite non-guaranteed returns.

4. Immediate or Deferred

Annuities can begin immediately upon a deposit or be in the form of deferred benefits. After the annuitant deposits a lump sum, the immediate payment begins paying.

Conversely, deferred income annuities do not begin paying after the initial investment. As an alternative, a client specifies an age at which they would like to receive payments.

How does an Annuity Work?

It means converting a lump-sum payment into an income stream the consumer cannot outlive. Providing for their daily needs is more than relying on Social Security and investment savings for retirees.

It is designed to supply this income through accumulation and annuitization. In the case of immediate annuities, lifetime payments are guaranteed by the insurance company that begins immediately following a purchase with no accumulation phase needed.

You pay the insurance company a premium when you purchase a deferred annuity. However, depending on your contract terms, your initial investment may grow tax-deferred for ten to thirty years during the accumulation phase.

Annuity premiums represent your investment in its plan and the firm that provides it. It can be paid in full or in installments. The insurance company invests the premium into an annuity fund, which is an investment vehicle that includes stocks, bonds, and other securities.

Following the annuitization or distribution phase, you will start receiving regular payments based on the terms of your contract.


Due to their complexity and the variety of options available, it is important for individuals to thoroughly understand the terms and conditions of any annuity product before making a purchase. Consult with a financial advisor to know whether an annuity is a suitable addition to their retirement plan.

A contract for annuities transfers all the risks associated with a down market to the insurance company. Therefore, a contract owner is protected from market risk and longevity risk, meaning there is no chance of outliving their money.

Insurance companies charge investment management, contract riders, and other administrative services to offset this risk. In most contracts, a surrender charge is imposed when the contract holder withdraws money from the annuity during the surrender period.

In addition, insurance companies generally impose caps, spreads, and participation rates on indexed annuities, reducing your return. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) provide regulation of annuity products.

In the case of variable annuities, agents and brokers must also hold a securities license. An agent or broker typically earns a commission based on the notional value of the annuity contract.

Valuation of Annuities

The formula to find the present value is based on the number of periods/months, the discount rate, and the payments. The same components apply to the formula of the future value. 

PVA = A [1 - (1/ (1 + r)^t)/ r]

FVA = A [(1 + r)^t - 1/ r]


  • A = payments
  • r = discount rate 
  • t = number of periods payments are or will be made

Let’s see both in an example.

Suppose you win the $10 million lottery. The money is paid in equal annual installments of $333,333.33 over 30 years. If the appropriate discount rate is 5%, how much is the sweepstakes worth today (use Present value)?


PVA = $333,333.33 [1 – 1/1.0530] / 0.05 = $5,124,150.29

This means the value of the entire annuity today is $5,124,150.29.

Suppose you begin saving for retirement by depositing $2,000 per year in an RRSP. If the interest rate is 7.5%, how much will you have in 40 years (use Future value)?


FVA = $2,000 (1.07540 – 1)/ 0.075 = $454,513.04

By saving $2000 into my RRSP account every year, I will have $454,513.04 in 40 years.

Annuity uses

Annuities provide long-term income. While they are often viewed as financial solutions for older investors nearing retirement, they can also benefit investors of all ages.

Annuities offer a range of benefits and can be a valuable financial tool for individuals at different stages of life and with various financial goals. It offers:

1. Long-term security

Annuities provide a reliable source of income over an extended period, making them particularly attractive for older investors nearing retirement who seek guaranteed income to cover living expenses. However, they can also offer long-term security for individuals of all ages.

2. Tax-deferred growth

Annuities allow for the growth of invested funds without immediate tax implications, potentially leading to greater accumulation of funds over time.

This feature can be advantageous for investors seeking to grow their savings over the long term.


Annuities often come with fees, including mortality and expense risk charges, administrative fees, and investment management fees in the case of variable annuities.

3. Principal protection

Some annuities offer protection for the original investment, safeguarding the principal sum against market downturns or investment losses, thus providing a level of financial security.

4. Adjustments for inflation

Certain annuities are structured to provide payments that can adjust to account for inflation. This ensures that the purchasing power of the income remains relatively stable over time.

5. Benefits for heirs after death

Annuities may include provisions for beneficiaries to receive payments in the event of the annuitant's passing, providing potential financial support for heirs.

For individuals within one year of retirement who desire the security of guaranteed income, income annuities are a compelling option. Income annuities provide regular payments, offering financial security during retirement years.

Please watch this video for more explanations.

Single Premium Immediate Annuities (SPIAs) are particularly suitable for individuals who have inherited substantial sums of money and wish to protect the inheritance against poor financial management. SPIAs are advantageous for immediate income needs.

Annuities are generally not recommended for short-term financial needs or younger individuals who have more aggressive investment strategies.

Annuity Advantages & Disadvantages

Like any financial instrument, annuities come with their own set of benefits and potential drawbacks.

The pros are:

  1. Tax-Deferred Growth: Interest is not taxed until a later date, so you save money.
  2. No Contribution Limits: In contrast to 401(k)s and IRAs, you determine your investment amount.
  3. Invest in Your Retirement: Annuitants create a steady income stream for life.
  4. Take Care of Your Family: You can transfer money to your loved ones through death benefit riders.


Withdrawing funds from annuities before age 59 ½ may incur a 10% early withdrawal penalty. This penalty typically applies to earnings and interest withdrawn early from pre-tax qualified annuities.

On the other hand, the cons are:

  1. Penalties: They are long-term contracts with penalties for early withdrawals.
  2. Inflation: In certain types of annuities, guaranteed income may not keep up with inflation 
  3. Limited Liquidity: The liquidity is limited, and sometimes there is no liquidity at all.
  4. Less control of investment: Investing in an income annuity will require you to lose control over your investment.


Annuities offer a diverse range of options for investors seeking stable income streams, particularly during retirement. With types ranging from fixed to variable, annuities cater to various risk tolerances and investment preferences.

While they provide long-term security and tax-deferred growth, investors should carefully weigh the advantages against potential drawbacks such as penalties for early withdrawals and limited liquidity.

Despite some limitations, annuities remain a valuable tool for retirement planning, offering the assurance of guaranteed income and protection against market volatility. Whether opting for immediate or deferred annuities, individuals can customize their financial strategy to align with their specific needs and goals. 

In navigating the complexities of annuities, understanding their nuances and implications is paramount. By balancing them, investors can make informed decisions to secure their financial future and achieve peace of mind in retirement planning.

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