What is the Difference Between an Immediate Annuity and a Deferred Annuity?

by Rob Phillips, CPA

 Do you want income now or income later?

When you purchase an annuity, you can choose between an  immediate annuity – if you want the income right away – or a deferred annuity – if you want the opportunity to build your account value over time and convert it to income in the future.

 What You Receive:

When you buy an immediate annuity, the size of the monthly payment you’ll receive, on the other hand, is set by the annuity provider based on:

  • How much you invest in the annuity (annuity principal)
  • The payout option chosen
  • Whether you have chosen a fixed annuity or variable annuity
  •  Note: Some variable annuity contracts may permit you to choose between receiving annuity payments that are fixed in amount or annuity payments that vary based on the performance of the underlying investment subaccounts.
  • Personal factors that includes your age and, if it’s a joint and survivor annuity, the age of the other person

 The Immediate Advantage:

There are certain advantages offered by an immediate annuity that can make it an attractive choice for retirement income.

Principally, an immediate annuity can help ease the concerns people may have about managing a diversified investment portfolio or, even more frightening, of outliving their assets. Don’t forget about overfunding a defined benefit plan.

As an example, someone who has just received a large sum of money—an inheritance, a bonus, or profits from selling a home or a business—but really needs a steady source of income can choose an immediate annuity. Also, many experts suggest that anyone who expects a lump sum pension or 401(k) distribution should consider an immediate annuity as a way to convert these funds into a stream of income they can’t outlive.

How to Choose a Contract:

The primary reason that many people used to choose a fixed immediate annuity was for the guaranteed annuity payments it promised. However more recently, low interest rates and the potential for strong equity performance have created an increased interest in variable immediate annuities. You can also use it on Schedule A.

Because the guarantee of principal and return of a fixed annuity is based on the claims paying ability of the insurer, the reason to choose a fixed immediate annuity usually comes down to which highly-rated fixed annuity company provider will guarantee the largest regular income for the term selected. However, income amounts vary because each fixed annuity company may use different annuity purchase rates for determining the annuity payments they make.

As an example, a 55-year-old widow who buys a $100,000 immediate annuity, and elects to receive monthly annuity payments for the rest of her life, might receive anywhere from $611 to $766 each month depending on the fixed annuity company provider. If she lived for 35 years—to age 90—the difference could amount to more than $65,000.

In choosing a variable immediate annuity, most annuity contracts allow you to choose to have your annuity payments last for a set period of time (such as 20 years) or for an indefinite period (such as your lifetime). During payout your contract may allow you to choose between receiving annuity payments that are fixed in amount or annuity payments that vary based on the performance of the underlying investment subaccounts.

There are many factors to take into account, including the potential performance of the investment portfolios in the contracts being considered, the options offered, the annual expenses of the contracts and whether or not you are willing to take the risk that your account may decrease if the underlying investments perform badly. 

Do you want income now or income later?

When you purchase an annuity, you can choose between  immediate annuities – if you want the income right away – or  deferred annuities – if you want the opportunity to build the account value over time and then at some point convert it to income in the future.

Deferred Annuities:

A deferred annuity gives a person the opportunity to build their retirement savings over a number of years. What is being deferred is when the income is received. But in the period between signing the contract and converting the accumulated assets to a revenue stream, the deferred annuities investment has the opportunity to grow in either a fixed account, variable sub-accounts (investment portfolios–depending on investment performance), or both.

Unlike immediate annuities, which can only be purchased with a lump-sum, deferred annuities can be purchased with both a lump sum and or a series of payments. The ability to combine the one-time and periodic contributions gives added flexibility in building a retirement annuities account.

In most cases, there is still limited access to the funds in a deferred annuities account until those accumulated assets are converted to a revenue stream. This means there can be some annual withdrawals, or surrender the contract entirely, getting back its then-current value minus any surrender fees. But if there are withdrawals, the money will be gone, and the retirement annuities account will be reduced. There may also be a 10% tax penalty prior to age 59½, see tax deferred annuities .

It Can Pay to Wait:

Deferred annuities are especially appealing if a person has “maxed out” their employer’s salary-reduction plan but wants to put away more for their retirement. And if a person isn’t earning income, deferred annuities are one way for potential earnings on the investments to grow tax deferred.

Unlike employer-sponsored plans and IRA’s, there are no annual limits to the amount that can be contributed to non-qualified deferred annuities; therefore more can be contributed when more is available, for example as the result of a big bonus or other windfall.

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