What is annuity?
Technically, the term "annuity" means "a series of payments over time, where the original investment and interest will be distributed over the annuity payout period". However, most people, when they use the term "annuity" are referring to a COMMERCIAL ANNUITY - a contract between an issuing insurance company and the purchaser. There are two basic types of commercial annuities:
IMMEDIATE - These contracts guarantee an income for either a specified period of time ("Period Certain" annuities) or for the life of the "annuitant" ("Life Annuities"). The annuitant is the person whose age and sex determines the amount of the annuity payments. An immediate annuity may be "fixed" (guaranteeing a specified amount of money each year) or "variable" (guaranteeing an income, the amount of which will vary with the investment performance of the investment accounts chosen by the purchaser).
DEFERRED - These contracts have two phases:
(a) the Accumulation phase, during which the annuity will earn interest, and
(b) the Payout phase, during which payments will be made to the annuitant either for a specified period or for life (the payout phase acts like, and is taxed like, an immediate annuity).
Deferred annuities may be either "fixed" (where principal and a minimum rate of interest is guaranteed) or "variable" (where the value of the contract will vary with the investment performance of the accounts chosen by the purchaser.
For more information, see "The Advisor's Guide
to Annuities" by John Olsen and Michael Kitces (National Underwriter Co. 3rd ed. 2012)
Series of payments at fixed intervals, guaranteed for a fixed number of years or the lifetime of one or more individuals.
Similar to a pension, the money is paid out of an investment contract under which the annuitant(s) deposit certain sums (in a lump sum or in installments) with an annuity guarantor (usually a government agency or an insurance firm).
The amount paid back includes principal and interest, either or both of which (depending on the local regulations) may be tax exempt. An annuity is not an insurance policy but a tax-shelter.
While the interest component (the taxable portion) of a regular annuity payment may be exempt from local or state taxes, it is never, under current law, exempt from Federal income tax. Moreover, to say that an annuity is a "tax shelter", rather than an "insurance policy" is not quite correct. First, an annuity is not a tax shelter, as that term is ordinarily used, because it does not EXEMPT any otherwise taxable income from Federal tax; it merely provides tax DEFERRAL. Moreover, many components of an annuity are, in fact, INSURANCE. An annuity contract is not LIFE INSURANCE, and does not enjoy the same tax treatment of a life insurance policy (e.g. an income tax free death benefit), but the RISK TRANSFER characteristics of an annuity are certainly "insurance". (John Olsen)