Variable annuities have become a part of the retirement and investment plans should I Invest In An Annuity many Americans. Before buying any variable annuity, however, you should find out about the particular annuity you are considering. Request a prospectus from the insurance company or from your financial professional, and read it carefully. A variable annuity is a contract between you and an insurance company, under which the insurer agrees to make periodic payments to you, beginning either immediately or at some future date. You purchase a variable annuity contract by making either a single purchase payment or a series of purchase payments. A variable annuity offers a range of investment options. The value of your investment as a variable annuity owner will vary depending on the performance of the investment options you choose.
The investment options for a variable annuity are typically mutual funds that invest in stocks, bonds, money market instruments, or some combination of the three. This feature offers protection against the possibility that, after you retire, you will outlive your assets. Second, variable annuities have a death benefit. Your beneficiary will get a benefit from this feature if, at the time of your death, your account value is less than the guaranteed amount.
That means you pay no taxes on the income and investment gains from your annuity until you withdraw your money. You may also transfer your money from one investment option to another within a variable annuity without paying tax at the time of the transfer. When you take your money out of a variable annuity, however, you will be taxed on the earnings at ordinary income tax rates rather than lower capital gains rates. Under these circumstances, consider buying a variable annuity only if it makes sense because of the annuity’s other features, such as lifetime income payments and death benefit protection.
Remember: Variable annuities are designed to be long-term investments, to meet retirement and other long-range goals. Variable annuities are not suitable for meeting short-term goals because substantial taxes and insurance company charges may apply if you withdraw your money early. Variable annuities also involve investment risks, just as mutual funds do. How Variable Annuities Work A variable annuity has two phases: an accumulation phase and a payout phase. During the accumulation phase, you make purchase payments, which you can allocate to a number of investment options.
The money you have allocated to each mutual fund investment option will increase or decrease over time, depending on the fund’s performance. Your most important source of information about a variable annuity’s investment options is the prospectus. Request the prospectuses for the mutual fund investment options. Read them carefully before you allocate your purchase payments among the investment options offered. During the accumulation phase, you can typically transfer your money from one investment option to another without paying tax on your investment income and gains, although you may be charged by the insurance company for transfers. However, if you withdraw money from your account during the early years of the accumulation phase, you may have to pay “surrender charges,” which are discussed below. If you choose to receive a stream of payments, you may have a number of choices of how long the payments will last.
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The amount of each periodic payment will depend, in part, on the time period that you select for receiving payments. Be aware that some annuities do not allow you to withdraw money from your account once you have started receiving regular annuity payments. In addition, some annuity contracts are structured as immediate annuities, which means that there is no accumulation phase and you will start receiving annuity payments right after you purchase the annuity. The Death Benefit and Other Features A common feature of variable annuities is the death benefit. Example: You own a variable annuity that offers a death benefit equal to the greater of account value or total purchase payments minus withdrawals.
Some variable annuities allow you to choose a “stepped-up” death benefit. Under this feature, your guaranteed minimum death benefit may be based on a greater amount than purchase payments minus withdrawals. For example, the guaranteed minimum might be your account value as of a specified date, which may be greater than purchase payments minus withdrawals if the underlying investment options have performed well. Variable annuities sometimes offer other optional features, which also have extra charges. You may want to consider the financial strength of the insurance company that sponsors any variable annuity you are considering buying. This can affect the company’s ability to pay any benefits that are greater than the value of your account in mutual fund investment options, such as a death benefit, guaranteed minimum income benefit, long-term care benefit, or amounts you have allocated to a fixed account investment option.