noun an·nu·i·ty \ ə-ˈnü-ə-tē , -ˈnyü- \
Updated on: 13 Oct 2017

Definition of annuity

plural annuities
1 :a sum of money payable yearly or at other regular intervals
2 :the right to receive an annuity
3 :a contract or agreement providing for the payment of an annuity

Examples of annuity in a Sentence

  1. Part of her retirement income will come from an annuity.

  2. his grandfather's will provided him with an annuity of $5,000 a year to be used for school expenses

Recent Examples of annuity from the Web

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Did You Know?

This is a payment made at a fixed interval. A common example is the payment received by retirees from their pension plan. There are two main classes of annuities: annuities certain and contingent annuities. Under an annuity certain, a specified number of payments are made, after which the annuity stops. With a contingent annuity, each payment depends on the continuance of a given status; for example, a life annuity continues only as long as the recipient survives. Contingent annuities depend on shared risk. Everyone pays in until the annuity begins; some will live long enough to collect more than they have paid, while others will not live long enough to get back the money they invested.

Origin and Etymology of annuity

Middle English annuite, from Anglo-French annuité, from Medieval Latin annuitat-, annuitas, from Latin annuus yearly

Financial Definition of ANNUITY


What It Is

An annuity is a financial contract written by an insurance company that provides for a series of guaranteed payments, either for a specific period of time or for the lifetime of one or more individuals.

How It Works

An annuity is similar to a life insurance product, but there are important differences between the two. Under the terms of a life insurance policy, the insurer will generally make a payment upon the death of the insured. Under the terms of an annuity, the company makes its payments during the lifetime of the individual. In addition, unless the annuity contract specifies a beneficiary, most annuity payments cease upon the death of the recipient.

There are several ways categorize types of annuities:

Immediate Annuities are usually purchased at retirement age, with benefits that begin immediately (within one year of purchase).

Deferred Annuities offer benefit payments that begin at some future date. Interest usually accrues on a tax-deferred basis in the interim.

Qualified Annuities are annuities that an investor funds with either pre-tax dollars or tax-deductible contributions.

Non-Qualified Annuities are those contracts funded with after-tax dollars.

A Fixed Annuity is a personal retirement account in which the earnings are based on a fixed rate set by the insurance company. Fixed annuities are susceptible to inflation risk due to the fact that there is no adjustment provided for runaway inflation.

A Variable Annuity is a personal retirement account in which the investment grows tax-deferred until the investor is ready to withdraw the assets. Another important feature of the variable annuity is the family protection, or death benefit, that often comes along with such contracts. This guarantees that, should the investor die during the accumulation phase of the variable annuity, the account owner's beneficiary will receive at least the amount of the investor's contributions minus withdrawals or the current market value of the account.

Why It Matters

Unlike an IRA, there are no restrictions on the amount of the annual investment. In addition, variable annuities offer the potential for greater returns and the opportunity for the investor to make his/her own decisions regarding how the assets are invested.

Annuities are often obtained from a structured settlement of a personal injury lawsuit.

deferred annuity

What It Is

A deferred annuity is a type of annuity that delays monthly or lump-sum payments until an investor-specified date. The interest usually grows tax-deferred before it is withdrawn.

How It Works

There are two phases in the life of a deferred annuity: the savings or accumulation phase, and the income or annuitization phase. During the accumulation phase, the investor will deposit money into the account either periodically or all in one lump-sum. When the annuity reaches the contractually agreed-upon date, the investor will begin receiving several payments over a period of time or in one lump-sum.

It is important to note that earnings on a deferred annuity are only taxed when they're withdrawn. However, if an investor withdraws money before the contractually agreed-upon date, he or she may have to pay considerable surrender fees. Annuity owners younger than 59.5 years old may also have to pay a 10% penalty tax, even if the surrender period has expired.

Another important feature of deferred annuities is the family protection, or death benefit, which guarantees that, should the owner die during the accumulation phase, the beneficiary will receive at least the amount of the owner's investments minus withdrawals, or the current market value of the account.

Often, the beneficiary cannot take advantage of a "step-up" in basis on an annuity, meaning that he or she becomes responsible for paying income taxes on all the gains in the account since it was opened.

Why It Matters

Investors purchase deferred annuities for many reasons, the most common being the tax deferral of earnings, the lack of restrictions on the amount of the annual investment (unlike an IRA or 401(k)), and the guarantee of a lifelong annual income. Control over the investment decisions and the ability to switch between investments is also attractive to some investors.

Despite these advantages, wise investors must consider some important drawbacks to annuities. For one, annuity investors pay taxes on gains at their ordinary income tax rate (rather than the lower long-term capital gains tax rate) when they make withdrawals.

Fees are also major source of controversy for annuities. There are often front-end loads, state taxes, annual fees based on a percentage of the account value, early withdrawal penalties, etc., and they may offset much or all of an annuity's tax advantages. Variable annuities are particularly controversial because fees charged by their underlying mutual funds also burden them.

This is why less-than-stellar returns can turn into serious setbacks for some annuity investors. And even though investors can trade within their annuities and defer the taxes on the realized gains, most investors do not trade frequently enough to make this a huge advantage.

Pressuring sales tactics and less-than-transparent disclosure have also tarnished the image of annuities, so wise investors should be sure to read these disclosure materials and ask his or her financial consultant plenty of questions.

Ultimately, the appropriateness of an annuity is dependent on the investor's financial goals, tax situation, and the types of annuities available. Inflation and interest rate expectations may affect the type of annuity an investor chooses, as will the investor's wishes for his or her dependents and heirs.

variable annuity

What It Is

A variable annuity is a contract sold by an insurance company. The contract provides the holder with future payments based on the performance of the contract's underlying securities. The insurer guarantees a minimum payment, but the rate of return on the underlying securities may vary. The performance of these securities, usually mutual funds, dictates the size of the eventual annuity payment.

How It Works

Let's assume you put $300,000 into an annuity at age 60 and the insurance company offers to pay you $1,000 per month for the rest of your life.

$300,000 / $1,000 = 300 months
300 months / 12 = 25 years to recover investment

According to our math, you will have to live until age 85 to break even on the investment, and if you live past 85 the insurance company must continue making payments.

To invest in a variable annuity, the buyer makes an investment with the insurer and allocates this money according to a menu of mutual funds allowed by the contract. Some insurance companies also offer asset-allocation funds, which automatically allocate the money in a range of stocks, bonds, treasuries and other investments. The contract grows tax-deferred until the buyer chooses to receive payments ("annuitizes the contract"). Unlike investors who directly own mutual funds, annuity holders may switch in and out of funds and receive year-end distributions from those funds on a tax-deferred basis until the contract is annuitized.

It is important to know that buyers cannot begin receiving annuity payments before age 59 1/2 without paying a 10% federal tax penalty. When payments begin, the contract's investment gains are taxed at the buyer's ordinary income tax rate. Some insurers allow buyers to make small emergency withdrawals without penalty. In some circumstances, buyers may also exchange an annuity tax-free for another annuity with a different insurance company, which is known as a 1035 Exchange and is governed by Section 1035 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Why It Matters

Unlike some other tax-deferred retirement vehicles, there are no annual size restrictions on annuity purchases. Additionally, the insurance feature of a variable annuity guarantees that an annuity's owner and/or named beneficiaries will receive the greater of the full amount of the original investment or the account value at the time of the buyer's death, net of withdrawals. Note that heirs must pay ordinary income tax on the annuity's capital gains. In some states, variable annuities are also a way to shelter assets from creditors.

Variable annuities are somewhat controversial because of their fee structures and the financial incentives given to some sellers of annuities. Fees associated with variable annuities can include commissions to the seller, underwriting fees, management fees, annual fees, application fees, administrative fees, charges for special add-on benefits, annual mortality fees and expense-risk charges. An annuity's underlying mutual funds also generally carry fees. In addition, surrender charges typically apply to the first several years of a contract's life and serve as a penalty for making withdrawals before a specified period. Exchanging variable annuities may expose the buyer to new fees as well.

National Association of Securities Dealers rules require brokers and insurance agents to recommend the purchase or exchange of an annuity contract only after informing a potential buyer about the pros and cons of the investment and only if the investment is in the potential buyer's best interest after evaluating his or her personal financial needs.

ANNUITY Defined for English Language Learners



Definition of annuity for English Language Learners

  • : a fixed amount of money that is paid to someone each year

  • : an insurance policy or an investment that pays someone a fixed amount of money each year

ANNUITY Defined for Kids


noun an·nu·ity \ ə-ˈnü-ə-tē , -ˈnyü- \

Definition of annuity for Students

plural annuities
:a sum of money paid yearly or at other regular intervals

Law Dictionary


noun an·nu·ity \ ə-ˈnü-ə-tē, -ˈnyü- \

legal Definition of annuity

plural annuities
1 :an amount payable at regular intervals (as yearly or quarterly) for a certain or uncertain period
2 :the grant of or the right to receive an annuity
  • his will included annuities for several old friends
3 :a contract (as with an insurance company) under which one or more persons receive annuities in return for prior fixed payments made by themselves or another (as an employer)
annuity certain plural annuities certain
:an annuity payable over a specified period even if the annuitant dies
annuity due plural annuities due
:an immediate annuity in which the payment of the benefits is made at the beginning of each payment interval rather than at the end
contingent annuity
:an annuity whose starting or ending date depends on the occurrence of an event (as the death of the annuitant) whose date is uncertain
conventional annuity
:an annuity under which the annuitant receives a specified minimum amount at each payment — compare variable annuity in this entry
deferred annuity
:an annuity in which payment of benefits is delayed until a particular time (as at retirement) — compare immediate annuity in this entry
group annuity
:a pension plan paying annuity benefits at retirement for all eligible persons under a single master contract usually issued to an employer for the benefit of its employees
immediate annuity
:an annuity purchased with a single premium in which payment of benefits begins within the first payment interval (as within a year) — compare deferred annuity in this entry
joint-and-survivor annuity
:an annuity payable as long as any of the two or more annuitants remains alive called also joint-and-last-survivor annuity, joint and survivorship annuity, joint life and survivorship annuity; compare joint life annuity in this entry
joint life annuity
:an annuity payable only until the death of any of the annuitants called also joint annuity; compare joint-and-survivor annuity in this entry
life annuity
:an annuity payable during the annuitant's lifetime and terminating at death called also straight life annuity
life income-period certain annuity
:an annuity that guarantees a minimum number of payments even if the annuitant dies before the minimum amount is paid or a minimum number of payments plus income for life if the annuitant is still alive after the minimum amount is paid
refund annuity
:an annuity in which payments to the annuitant or to the annuitant's estate or to a beneficiary are guaranteed to equal at least the amount of the premium paid for the annuity
straight life annuity
:life annuity in this entry
variable annuity \ˈver-ē-ə-bəl-\
:an annuity that is backed primarily by a fund of common stocks and whose payments go up or down depending on how well the stocks perform — compare conventional annuity in this entry, variable life insurance at life insurance

Origin and Etymology of annuity

Medieval Latin annuitas, from Latin annuus yearly

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