Annuities are agreements between you and an insurance company where you agree make a lump-sum payment or series of payments, and in return, the insurer agrees to make payments to you beginning immediately or a future date. Typically earnings are tax-deferred, and may include a death benefit that will pay your beneficiary a guaranteed minimum amount, such as your total purchase payments.
There are generally two types of annuities—fixed and variable. Fixed annuities are characterized by a minimum interest rate guaranteed by the issuing insurance company. Typically, a minimum annuity benefit is also guaranteed. The funds contributed to the contract by the annuity owner are placed in the insurance company’s general account, and the investment risk involved rests entirely on the insurance company. With a fixed annuity, the focus is on safety of principal and stable investment returns.
In contrast, a variable annuity contract generally has no guarantees as to investment return or annuity benefits. The funds contributed by the contract owner are placed in special, variable annuity subaccounts. Within these subaccounts, the annuity owner may choose to invest the funds in a wide variety of investment options. Annuity benefits depend upon the investment results achieved, and the investment risk rests entirely on the contract owner. With a variable annuity, the goal is to provide benefits that keep pace with inflation.