Understanding Annuities: What You Need to Know

If you’ve ever wondered about annuities and how they can help with your finances, especially for retirement, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s break it down in simple terms so you can understand what annuities are, the different types, and whether they might be a good fit for you. 

What is an Annuity?

An annuity is a financial product offered by an insurance company. You give them a lump sum of money or make a series of payments, and in return, they promise to pay you a certain amount regularly. Think of it as turning your savings into a steady paycheck, which can be helpful when you retire and need a reliable income.

While annuities can provide a predictable income stream, it’s important to understand that Portfolio Advisors, as a practice, generally do not encourage the use of annuities due to their costs, complexity, and inflexibility. Let’s explore why that is.

How Do Annuities Work?

Understanding how annuities work can help you decide if they’re right for you. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown:

  1. Investment: You start by investing a lump sum or making a series of payments to an insurance company. This initial investment is called the “premium.”
  2. Accumulation Phase: If you choose a deferred annuity, your money goes through an accumulation phase where it grows tax-deferred. This means you don’t pay taxes on the earnings until you start receiving payments.
  3. Distribution Phase: When you decide to start receiving income, the annuity enters the distribution phase. The insurance company starts making regular payments to you, which can be monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on your contract.
  4. Payment Options: You can choose different payment options based on your needs. Some annuities offer payments for a fixed period (e.g., 20 years), while others provide lifetime payments, ensuring you have income no matter how long you live.

Types of Annuities

There are several types of annuities, each with unique features and benefits:

  1. Fixed Annuities: These are straightforward. You get a fixed amount of money at regular intervals. It’s a safe choice because you know exactly how much you’ll get.
  2. Variable Annuities: These are more adventurous. Your money is invested in different things, like stocks. The amount you get can go up or down depending on how these investments do. There’s a chance for higher returns, but there’s also a risk.
  3. Indexed Annuities: These provide returns based on the performance of a specific market index, such as the S&P 500. If the market does well, you get a higher return, but there’s also some protection if the market doesn’t do well.
  4. Immediate Annuities: With these, you start getting payments almost right away after you invest your money. It’s perfect if you need income soon, like within a year.
  5. Deferred Annuities: These delay payments until a future date, allowing the investment to grow tax-deferred.

Benefits of Annuities

  1. Guaranteed Income: Annuities give you a steady paycheck, which can be comforting when you’re no longer working.
  2. Tax Benefits: Your money grows without being taxed until you start taking payments.
  3. Lifetime Payments: Some annuities offer payments for the rest of your life, so you don’t have to worry about running out of money.
  4. Flexible Choices: There are different types of annuities to match your needs and risk tolerance.
  5. Inflation Protection: Some annuities come with optional riders that can help protect your income from inflation.

Drawback of Annuities

  1. Fees: Annuities can have various fees that might eat into your returns. It’s important to understand what you’re paying for.
  2. Complexity: Some annuities have lots of rules and options, which can be confusing. Make sure you understand the terms before committing.
  3. Limited Access to Money: If you need your money back early, you might face penalties. Annuities are meant to be long-term investments.
  4. Lower Returns: Fixed annuities might offer lower returns compared to other investments, especially in a low-interest environment.
  5. Inflation Risk: Without an inflation protection rider, the purchasing power of fixed annuity payments can decrease over time.

Our Perspective

As a firm, we generally do not recommend annuities due to their costs, complexity, and inflexibility. While they can offer certain benefits, there are often more cost-effective and flexible alternatives available. Here are a few alternatives we typically recommend:

  • Diversified Investment Portfolios: Combining stocks, bonds, and other assets to create a balanced portfolio.
  • Retirement Accounts: Maximizing contributions to 401(k)s, IRAs, and other tax-advantaged retirement accounts.
  • Income-producing investments: Such as dividend-paying stocks or real estate.

Is an Annuity Right for You?

Here are some things to think about:

  • Risk Tolerance: If you want guaranteed income and don’t like taking risks, a fixed annuity might be your best bet. If you’re okay with some risk for potentially higher returns, look into variable or indexed annuities.
  • Retirement Income Needs: Annuities can be a solid part of your retirement plan, giving you regular income along with your other savings.
  • Financial Goals: Consider how an annuity fits into your overall financial plan.
  • Health and Longevity: If you expect to live a long life, an annuity that provides lifetime payments can be beneficial.
  • Liquidity Needs: Think about whether you might need access to your money in the near future.


Annuities can be a way to secure steady income during retirement, but they’re not for everyone. Make sure you understand the different types, their benefits, and their downsides. Talking to a financial advisor can help you figure out if an annuity makes sense for your situation.


  1. What are the main types of annuities?
    • Fixed, Variable, Indexed, Immediate, and Deferred annuities.
  2. How does an annuity provide tax benefits?
    • Your money grows tax-deferred until you start withdrawing it.
  3. Can annuities protect me against outliving my savings?
    • Yes, some annuities offer lifetime payments.
  4. What are the fees associated with annuities?
    • Fees can include administrative fees, mortality and expense risk charges, and investment management fees.
  5. Are annuities a good choice for everyone?
    • Not necessarily. Consider your financial goals, risk tolerance, and retirement needs.
  6. How can inflation impact annuity payments?
    • Without an inflation protection rider, fixed annuity payments may lose purchasing power over time due to inflation.
  7. Can I withdraw money from my annuity before retirement?
    • Yes, but you might face penalties and surrender charges if you withdraw funds before a specified period.
  8. What should I look for in an annuity contract?
    • Pay attention to fees, surrender charges, payout options, and any additional riders or features that can enhance your annuity.

I hope this guide helps you understand annuities better! If you have any questions or need more info, feel free to reach out.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. We generally do not recommend annuities due to their costs, complexity, and inflexibility. As always, feel free to contact our office and speak with an advisor if you have any questions.