Annuities and Retirement Planning
You may have heard that IRAs and employer-sponsored plans (e.g., 401(k)s) are the best ways to invest for retirement. That's true for many people, but what if you've maxed out your contributions to those accounts and want to save more? An annuity may be a good investment to look into.
Get the lay of the land
An annuity is a tax-deferred insurance contract. The details on how it works vary, but here's the general idea. You invest your money (either a lump sum or a series of contributions) with a life insurance company that sells annuities (the annuity issuer). The period when you are funding the annuity is known as the accumulation phase. In exchange for your investment, the annuity issuer promises to make payments to you or a named beneficiary at some point in the future. The period when you are receiving payments from the annuity is known as the distribution phase. Chances are, you'll start receiving payments after you retire. Annuities may be subject to certain charges and expenses, including mortality charges, surrender charges, administrative fees, and other charges.
Understand your payout options
Understanding your annuity payout options is very important. Keep in mind that payments are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuer. You want to be sure that the payments you receive will meet your income needs during retirement. Here are some of the most common payout options:
You surrender the annuity and receive a lump-sum payment of all of the money you have accumulated.
You receive payments from the annuity over a specific number of years, typically between 5 and 20. If you die before this "period certain" is up, your beneficiary will receive the remaining payments.
You receive payments from the annuity for your entire lifetime. You can't outlive the payments (no matter how long you live), but there will typically be no survivor payments after you die.
You combine a lifetime annuity with a period certain annuity. This means that you receive payments for the longer of your lifetime or the time period chosen. Again, if you die before the period certain is up, your beneficiary will receive the remaining payments.
You elect a joint and survivor annuity so that payments last for the combined life of you and another person, usually your spouse. When one of you dies, the survivor receives payments for the rest of his or her life.