An annuity is a contract between you, the purchaser or owner, and an insurance company, the annuity issuer. In its simplest form, you pay money to an annuity issuer, and the issuer pays out the principal and earnings back to you or to a named beneficiary. Life insurance companies first developed annuities to provide income to individuals during their retirement years.
Annuities are either qualified or nonqualified. Qualified annuities are used in connection with tax-advantaged retirement plans, such as 401(k) plans, Section 403(b) retirement plans (TSAs), or IRAs. Qualified annuities are subject to the contribution, withdrawal, and tax rules that apply to tax-advantaged retirement plans. One of the attractive aspects of a nonqualified annuity is that its earnings are tax-deferred until you begin to receive payments back from the annuity issuer. In this respect, an annuity is similar to a qualified retirement plan. Over a long period of time, your investment in an annuity can grow substantially larger than if you had invested money in a comparable taxable investment. Like a qualified retirement plan, a 10 percent tax penalty on the taxable portion of the distribution may be imposed if you begin withdrawals from an annuity before age 59½. Unlike a qualified retirement plan, contributions to a nonqualified annuity are not tax deductible, and taxes are paid only on the earnings when distributed.
It is important to understand that annuities can be an excellent tool if you use them properly. Annuities are not right for everyone.
Nonqualified annuity contributions are not tax deductible. That’s why most experts advise funding other retirement plans first. However, if you have already contributed the maximum allowable amount to other available retirement plans, an annuity can be an excellent choice. There is no limit to how much you can invest in a nonqualified annuity, and like other qualified retirement plans, the funds are allowed to grow tax deferred until you begin taking distributions.
Annuities are designed to be long-term investment vehicles. In most cases, you’ll pay a penalty for early withdrawals. And if you take a lump-sum distribution of your annuity funds within the first few years after purchasing your annuity, you may be subject to surrender charges imposed by the issuer. As long as you’re sure you won’t need the money until at least age 59½, an annuity is worth considering. If your needs are more short term, you should explore other options.