Annuity Basics: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Annuities

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

Since 2009, we’ve dedicated ourselves to demystifying the financial landscape, enabling our readers to navigate their financial futures confidently. Today, let’s delve into the world of annuities. Annuities are intricate financial instruments that have been misunderstood for years. This guide aims to unpack the annuity, giving you clear, people-first explanations that empower you to make informed decisions.

Confused About Annuities?

Are you new to annuities and unsure where to begin? Visit our Annuity Learning Lab for expert guidance and insights.

Introduction: Defining Annuities

What is an annuity? An annuity is a financial product, typically offered by insurance or investment companies, designed to accept and grow funds from an individual and then, upon annuitization, pay out a stream of payments to the individual at a later point in time. Annuities are primarily used to secure a steady cash flow for an individual during their retirement years.

The Basics – How Do Annuities Work?

Annuities work by going through two primary phases: the accumulation phase and the annuitization phase.

Accumulation Phase

In the accumulation phase, you pay money into the annuity as a lump sum or through a series of payments. The money invested grows on a tax-deferred basis, allowing your investment to accumulate without immediate tax implications. For instance, if Sarah contributes $100,000 to a fixed annuity, her money will grow tax-deferred until she decides to withdraw it.

Annuitization Phase

The annuitization phase is when you start to receive periodic payments from your annuity. These payments can be structured to continue for a specified number of years or for your lifetime, offering guaranteed income.

What Is An Annuity?

Types of Annuities Explained

Fixed Annuities

Fixed annuities offer a guaranteed income stream and are usually more suitable for risk-averse individuals. You receive regular payments based on a fixed rate determined at the start of the contract.


If John buys a fixed annuity with a 3% fixed rate, he will receive regular payments calculated using this rate, providing him with a predictable income stream.

Variable Annuities

Variable annuities allow you to allocate money to different investment options, and your payments will vary depending on the performance of these investments.


Jane chooses a variable annuity and allocates her money to several mutual funds. Her eventual payouts will depend on the performance of these funds.

Indexed Annuities

Indexed annuities earn interest based on an equity market index’s performance, offering more growth potential than fixed annuities while protecting the principal.


Mike invests in an indexed annuity tied to the S&P 500. His investment will grow or shrink based on the index’s performance, with a guaranteed minimum return.

Learn more in-depth on the various types of annuities.

Annuity Definition

Annuity Contracts and Providers

When you buy an annuity, you enter an annuity contract with an annuity provider, typically an insurance company. The insurance company’s claims-paying ability plays a pivotal role in ensuring the promised payouts, making it crucial to choose a reputable annuity provider.

Annuity Payments and Payout Options

Immediate and Deferred Annuities

Immediate annuities start payouts almost immediately after a lump sum payment, whereas deferred annuities allow for accumulation before payouts begin.

Annuity Payout Options

You can choose between various payout options, such as life annuity, guaranteed lifetime income, or joint life, providing income for as long as you or your spouse lives.

Taxes and Annuities

Annuities taxed are complex, and understanding the tax implications is crucial. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) taxes the income payments from annuities as ordinary income, and you owe taxes on the interest earned.


Emma receives $2,000 monthly from her annuity, of which $500 is the interest earned. She will need to pay ordinary income tax on the $500.

Withdrawing Money and Surrender Period

Annuities usually have a surrender period, during which withdrawing money can incur hefty penalties. Consulting a financial advisor can aid in understanding the details and avoiding unnecessary losses.


Tom decides to withdraw money from his annuity within the surrender period and faces a 10% penalty on the amount withdrawn.

How Do Annuities Work?

Conclusion: Navigating the Annuity Landscape

Understanding annuities can be a stepping stone to achieving a financially secure retirement. They offer a range of options, each with its features, benefits, and considerations. Whether you value the guaranteed income of fixed annuities or the potential for market-linked growth with indexed annuities, understanding your needs and consulting with a trusted financial advisor can guide you in making an informed decision, aligning your annuity with your retirement goals.

Annuities can be vital in your retirement planning, offering a balance between risk and reward and providing peace of mind with a guaranteed income stream. By grasping the basics, analyzing the types, assessing contract provisions, and understanding the tax implications, you can leverage annuities to fortify your financial future.

Our journey since 2009 underscores our commitment to delivering reliable, people-first content, enabling you to navigate your financial futures with trust and assurance. Keep exploring, stay informed, and secure your financial well-being with the right knowledge and insights.

Annuities Meaning

Request A Quote

Get help from a licensed financial professional. This service is free of charge.

Contact Us

Frequently Asked Questions

How do annuities work after retirement?

After retirement, annuities work by providing a steady income stream to the annuitant, typically every month. This income can be derived from investments made during the annuity’s accumulation phase and can be fixed, variable, or indexed, depending on the annuity type.

Are annuities a good idea for retirees?

Annuities can be a good idea for retirees seeking a stable, guaranteed income stream, as they offer financial security and peace of mind. However, individual needs, risk tolerance, and the annuity contract terms should be carefully considered before purchasing.

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

I’m a licensed financial professional focusing on annuities and insurance for more than a decade. My former role was training financial advisors, including for a Fortune Global 500 insurance company. I’ve been featured in Time Magazine, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, SmartAsset, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg, The Simple Dollar, U.S. News and World Report, and Women’s Health Magazine.

The Annuity Expert is an online insurance agency servicing consumers across the United States. My goal is to help you take the guesswork out of retirement planning or find the best insurance coverage at the cheapest rates for you. 

Scroll to Top