The Registered Index-Linked Annuity (RILA): The Buffer Annuity

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

Did you know there is such a thing as a registered index-linked annuity? Believe it or not, these unique investments can provide safety and stability to your portfolio. But what are they, exactly? And how do buffered annuities work? This guide will explain the basics of both types of annuities and how they could benefit you. So keep reading to learn more!

The Registered Index-Linked Annuity (RILA) is a hybrid annuity providing benefits of both a fixed index annuity and a variable annuity.

What Are RILA Annuities?

The Registered Index-Linked Annuity is a hybrid annuity providing benefits of both a fixed index annuity and a variable annuity. This annuity may be an excellent choice for investors that want to limit their downside exposure but are willing to be exposed to more downside risk in exchange for more upside growth potential.

Another name for this investment-based annuity is the “Buffer Annuity” or “Shield Annuity.”

The index-linked annuity is not the same as the fixed index annuity. You can lose money in a buffer annuity. You can not lose money in a fixed index annuity.

How Does a Registered Index-Linked Annuity Work?

Like a fixed indexed annuity, when the index performs positively, the annuity can earn interest credits, limited to a cap rate or a participation rate. The difference between these two annuity types is if the index performs negatively, an annuity owner can lose money up to a “buffer” or “floor.”

The Stock Market Downside Protection

  • Floor: The maximum negative index percentage loss an annuity owner can experience over each index performance term, even if the negative index performance exceeds that percentage.
  • Buffer: The buffer is the percentage of losses from which the insurance company protects an annuity owner. The annuity owner assumes any losses beyond the buffer.

The Floor

The floor is designed for those comfortable with a set percentage of downside risk and who want an absolute limit on losses at the end of each interest term in exchange for more upside potential.

The index performance is measured by the change in the index between the beginning of the interest term to the end of the interest term. Interest will be credited based on that growth if the index has grown at the end of the term. Conversely, if the index has declined by the end of the term, the insurance company will protect the annuity owner from losses beyond the floor.

Example: If the floor is 10%, and the index declines by 15%. The annuity owner will absorb the first 10% loss, and the insurance company will absorb the remaining 5%.

The Buffer

The buffer is designed for those wanting limited protection from down markets in exchange for more upside potential. The insurance company protects the annuity owner up to the buffer’s percentage. Any losses beyond the buffer percentage are the annuity owner’s responsibility.

The buffer is measured by the change in the index’s value from the beginning to the end of the interest term. If the index has grown, interest will be credited. If the index has declined, the insurance company will protect the buffer’s percentage. Any losses exceeding the buffer will be deducted from the annuity’s value.

Example: If the buffer is 10%, and the index declines by 15%, the insurance company protects the annuity owner from the first 10%, and the owner absorbs a 5% loss to their annuity.

Lock-in Feature

The lock-in feature allows an annuity owner to lock in the value on any business day before the end of the index-performance term. As a result, any interest earned applied to the index-linked annuity will be based on the beginning of the term and the lock-in date.


Like index and variable annuities, the index-linked annuity offers annual withdrawals penalty-free. The death benefit is a lump sum to beneficiaries or spousal continuance for surviving spouses.

Annuitization is an option if the annuity owner wants a steady income stream.

Waivers of Premium for eldercare purposes (nursing home, terminal illness, long-term care) are available too.

How Do Buffer Annuities Compare?

Fixed Index
Buffer Annuity
Principal ProtectionNoYesYesYesYesNo
Access To PrincipalYesYesYesNoNoYes
Control Over MoneyYesYesYesNoNoYes
Tax-Deferred GrowthYesYesYesNoNoYes
Guaranteed GrowthNoYesYesNoNoNo
Guaranteed IncomeYesYesYesYesYesYes
Inflation ProtectionYesYesNoYesYesYes
Death BenefitYesYesYesYes/NoYes/NoYes
Long-Term Care HelpYesYesYesNoNoYes

Next Steps

The registered index-linked annuity offers more upside potential than a fixed indexed annuity but less than a variable annuity. On the other hand, this annuity can potentially lose money like a variable annuity. Still, it is limited to the amount of loss an annuity owner can be exposed to before applying for downside protection, like a fixed index annuity.

Use our annuity calculators to get a quote.

How Does A Registered Index-Linked Annuity (Rila Annuity) Buffer Annuity Work?

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between an FIA and a RILA?

Both fixed index and registered indexed linked annuities earn interest based on the performance of an underlying index. However, a fixed index annuity offers a guaranteed minimum interest rate, while a RILA does not. As a result, you can lose money in a RILA but not with a fixed index annuity.

When were registered index-linked annuities created?

RILA is a relatively new product, with the first being introduced only a few years ago. On the other hand, fixed index annuities have been around for 20+ years.

Are equity-indexed annuities registered investment products?

Equity-indexed annuities (EIAs) are insurance products, regulated by state insurance departments, not registered investment products regulated by the SEC or FINRA. They provide a guaranteed minimum rate of return with the opportunity to participate in stock market gains while protecting against losses.

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. 

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