An investor may purchase an annuity contract in one of three ways. They are:
With a single payment deferred annuity, the investor funds the contract completely with one payment and defers receiving payments from the contract until some point in the future, usually after retirement. Money being invested in a single payment deferred annuity is used to purchase accumulation units. The number and value of the accumulation units varies as the distributions are reinvested and the value of the separate account's portfolio changes.
With a single payment immediate annuity, the investor funds the contract completely with one payment and begins receiving payments from the contract immediately, normally within 60 days. The money that is invested in a single payment immediate annuity is used to purchase annuity units. The number of annuity units remains fixed and the value changes as the value of the securities in the separate account's portfolio fluctuates.
With a periodic payment annuity the investor purchases the annuity by making regularly scheduled payments into the contract. This is known as the accumulation stage. During the accumulation stage the terms are flexible and if the investor misses a payment there is no penalty. The money invested in a periodic payment deferred annuity is used to purchase accumulation units. The number and value of the accumulation units fluctuate with the securities in the separate portfolio.
An accumulation unit represents the investor's proportionate ownership in the separate account's portfolio during the accumulation or deferred stage of the contract. The value of the accumulation unit will fluctuate as the value of the securities in the separate account's portfolio changes. As the investor makes contributions to the account or as distributions are reinvested, the number of accumulation units will vary. An investor will only own accumulation units during the accumulation stage, when money is being paid into the contract or when receipt of payments is being deferred by the investor, such as with a single payment deferred annuity.
When an investor changes from the pay-in or deferred stage of the contract to the payout phase, the investor is said to have annuitized the contract. At this point, the investor trades in their accumulation units for annuity units. The number of annuity units is fixed and represents the investor's proportional ownership of the separate accounts portfolio during the payout phase. The number of annuity units that the investor receives when they annuitize a contract is based on the pay-out option selected, the annuitant's age and sex, the value of the account, and the assumed interest rate.
An investor in an annuity has the choice of taking a lump sum distribution or receiving scheduled payments from the contract. If the investor decides to annuitize the contract and receive scheduled payments, once the payout option is selected, it may not be changed. The following is a list of typical payout options in order from the largest monthly payment to the smallest. They are:
This payout option will give the annuitant the largest periodic payment from the contract, and the investor will receive payments from the contract for their entire life. However, when the investor dies, there are no additional benefits paid to their estate. If an investor has accumulated a large sum of money in the contract and dies unexpectedly shortly after annuitizing the contract, the insurance company keeps the money in their account.
A life with period certain payout option will payout from the contract to the investor or to their estate for the life of the annuitant or for the period certain, whichever is longer. If an investor selects a 10-year period certain when they annuitize the contract and the investor lives for 20 more years, payments will cease upon the death of the annuitant. However, if the same investor died only two years after annuitizing the contract, payments would go to their estate for another eight years.
When an investor selects a joint with last survivor option, the annuity is jointly owned by more than one party and payments will continue until the last owner of the contract dies. For example, if a husband and wife are receiving payments from an annuity under a joint with last survivor option, and the husband dies, payments will continue to the wife for the rest of her life. The payments received by the wife could be at the same rate as when the husband was alive or at a reduced rate, depending on the contract. The monthly payments will initially be based on the life expectancy of the youngest annuitant.
All of the following determine the size of the annuity payments:
When an investor annuitizes a contract, they trade their accumulation units in for annuity units. Once the contract has been annuitized the insurance company sets a benchmark for the separate account's performance, known as the assumed interest rate, or AIR. The AIR is not a guaranteed rate of return; it is only used to adjust the value of the annuity units up or down based on the actual performance of the separate account. The assumed interest rate is an earnings target that the insurance company sets for the separate account. The separate account must meet this earnings target in order to keep the annuitant's payments at the same level. As the value of the annuity unit changes, so does the amount of the payment that is received by the investor. If the separate account outperforms the AIR, an investor would expect their payments to increase. If the separate account's performance fell below the AIR, the investor could expect their payment to decrease. The separate account's performance is always measured against the AIR, never against the previous month's performance. An investor's annuity payment is based on the number of annuity units owned by the investor multiplied by the value of the annuity unit. When the performance of the separate account equals the AIR, the value of the annuity unit will remain unchanged and so will the investor's payment. Selecting an AIR that is realistic is important. If the AIR is too high and the separate account's return cannot equal the assumed rate, the value of the annuity unit will continue to fall and so will the investor's payment. The opposite is true if the AIR is set too low. As the separate account outperforms the AIR, the value of the annuity unit will continue to rise and so will the investor's payment. The AIR is only relevant during the payout phase of the contract when the investor is receiving payments and owns annuity units. The AIR does not concern itself with accumulation units during the accumulation stage or when benefits are being deferred.
Contributions made to an annuity are made with after-tax dollars. The money the investor deposits becomes their cost basis and is allowed to grow tax-deferred. When the investor withdraws money from the contract, only the growth is taxed. Their cost base is returned to them tax-free. All money in excess of the investor's cost base is taxed as ordinary income.