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BUYER'S GUIDE TO
FIXED DEFERRED ANNUITIES
Prepared by the
National Association Of Insurance Commissioners
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners is an association of state insurance regulatory officials.
This association helps the various insurance departments to coordinate insurance laws for the benefit of all consumers.
This guide does not endorse any company or policy.
Jeff McLeod 800-286-1812
It is important that you understand the differences among various annuities so you can choose the kind that best fits your needs. This guide focuses on fixed - deferred annuity contracts. There is, however, a brief description of variable annuities. If you're thinking of buying an equity-indexed annuity, an appendix to this guide will give you specific information. This Guide isn't meant to offer legal, financial or tax advice. You may want to consult independent advisors. At the end of this Guide are questions you should ask your agent or the company. Make sure you're satisfied with the answers before you buy.
cover page 1/17/2003
WHAT IS AN ANNUITY? page 2
An annuity is a contract in which an insurance company makes a series of income payments at regular intervals in return for a premium or premiums you have paid. Annuities are most often bought for future retirement income. Only an annuity can pay an income that can be guaranteed to last as long as you live.
An Annuity is neither a life insurance nor a health insurance policy. It's not a savings account or a savings certificate. You shouldn't buy an annuity to reach short-term financial goals.
Your value in an annuity contract is the premiums you've paid, less any applicable charges, plus interest credited. The insurance company uses the value to figure the amount of most of the benefits that you can choose to receive from an annuity contract. This guide explains how interest is credited as well as some typical charges and benefits of annuity contracts.
A deferred annuity has two parts or periods. During the accumulation period, the money you put into the annuity, less any applicable charges, earns interest. The earnings grow tax-deferred as long as you leave them in the annuity. During the second period, called the payout period, the company pays income to you or to someone you choose.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF ANNUITIES?
This guide explains major differences in different kinds of annuities to help you understand how each might meet your needs. But look at the specific terms of an individual contract you're considering and the disclosure document you receive. If your annuity is being used to fund or provide benefits under a pension plan, the benefits you get will depend on the terms of the plan. Contact your pension plan administrator for information.
This Buyer's Guide will focus on individual fixed deferred annuities.
Single Premium or Multiple Premium
You pay the insurance company only one payment for a single premium annuity. You make a series of payments for a multiple premium annuity. There are two kinds of multiple premium annuities. One kind is a flexible premium contract. Within set limits, you pay as much premium as you want, whenever you want. In the other kind, a scheduled premium annuity, the contract spells out your payments and how often you'll make them.
Immediate or Deferred
With an immediate annuity, income payments start no later than one year after you pay the premium. You usually pay for an immediate annuity with one payment.
The income payments from a deferred annuity often start many years later. Deferred annuities have an accumulation period, which is the time between when you start paying premiums and when income payments start.
Fixed or Variable page 3
During the accumulation period of a fixed deferred annuity, your money (less any applicable charges) earns interest at rates set by the insurance company or in a way spelled out in the annuity contract. The company guarantees that it will pay no less than a minimum rate of interest. During the payout period, the amount of each income payment to you is generally set when the payments start and will not change.
During the accumulation period of a variable annuity, the insurance company puts your premium (less any applicable charges) into a separate account. You decide how the company will invest those premiums, depending on how much risk you want to take. You may put your premium into a stock, bond or other account, with NO guarantees, or into a fixed account, with a minimum guaranteed interest. During the payout period of a variable annuity, the amount of each income payment to you may be fixed (set at the beginning) or variable (changing with the value of the investments in the separate account).
HOW IS THE INTEREST RATE DETERMINED FOR MY FIXED DEFERRED ANNUITY?
During the accumulation period, your money (less any applicable charges) earns interest at rates that change from time to time. Usually what these rates will be is entirely up to the insurance company.
Current Interest Rate
The current rate is the rate the company decides to credit to your contract at a particular time. The company will guarantee it will not change for some time period.
Minimum Guaranteed Rate
The minimum guaranteed interest rate is the lowest rate your annuity will earn. This rate is stated in the contract.
Minimum Interest Rates
Some annuity contracts apply different interest rates to each premium you pay or to premiums you pay during different time periods.
Other annuity contracts may have two or more accumulated values that fund different benefits options. Theses accumulated values may use different interest rates. You get only one of the accumulated values depending on which benefit you choose.
WHAT CHARGES MAY BE SUBTRACTED FROM MY FIXED DEFERRED ANNUITY?
Most annuities have charges related to the cost of selling or servicing it. These charges may be subtracted directly from the contract value. Ask your agent or the company to describe the charges that apply to your annuity. Some examples of charges, fees, and taxes are:
Surrender or Withdrawal Charges
If you need access to your money, you may be able to take all or part of the value out of your annuity at any time during the accumulation period. If you take out part of the value, you may pay a withdrawal charge. If you take out all of the value and surrender, or terminate, the annuity, you may pay a surrender charge. In either case, the company may figure the charge as a percentage of the value of the contract, of the premiums you've paid or of the amount you're withdrawing. The company may reduce or even eliminate the surrender charge after you've had the contract for a stated number of years. A company may waive the surrender charge when it pays a death benefit.
Some annuities have stated terms. When the term is up, the contract may automatically expire or renew. You've usually given a short period of time, called a window, to decide if you want to renew or surrender the annuity. If you surrender during the window, you won't have to pay surrender charges. If you renew, the surrender or withdrawal charges may start over.
In some annuities, there is no charge if you surrender your contract when the company's current interest rate falls below a certain level. This may be called a bail-out option.
In a multiple-premium annuity, the surrender charge may apply to each premium paid for a certain period of time. This may be called a rolling surrender or withdrawal charge.
Some annuity contracts have a market value adjustment feature. If interest rates are different when you surrender your annuity than when you bought it, a market value adjustment may make the cash surrender value higher or lower. Since you and the insurance company share this risk, an annuity with an MVA feature may credit a higher rate than an annuity without that feature.
Be sure to read the Tax Treatment section and ask your tax advisor for information about possible tax penalties on withdrawals.
Your annuity may have a limited free withdrawal feature. That lets you make one or more withdrawals without a charge. The size of the free withdrawal is often limited to a set percentage of your contract value. If you make a larger withdrawal, you may pay withdrawal charges. You may lose any interest above the minimum guaranteed rate on the amount withdrawn. Some annuities waive withdrawal charges in certain situations, such as death, confinement in a nursing home or terminal illness.
A contract fee is a flat dollar amount charged either once or annually.
A transaction fee is a charge per premium payment or other transaction.
Percentage of Premium Charge page 5
A percentage of premium charge is a charge deducted from each premium paid. The percentage may be lower after the contract has been in force for a certain number of years or after total premiums paid have reached a certain amount.
Some states charge a tax on annuities. The insurance company pays this tax to the state. The company may subtract the amount of the tax when you pay your premium, when you withdraw your contract value, when you start to receive income payments or when it pays a death benefit to your beneficiary.
WHAT ARE SOME FIXED DEFERRED ANNUITY CONTRACT BENEFITS?
Annuity Income Payments
One of the most important benefits of deferred annuities is your ability to use the value built up during the accumulation period to give you a lump sum payment or to make income payments during the payout period. Income payments are usually made monthly but you may choose to receive them less often. The size of income payments is based on the accumulated value in your annuity and the annuity's benefits rate in effect when income payments start. The benefit rate usually depends on your age and sex, and the annuity payment option you choose. For example, you might choose payments that continue as long as you live, as long as your spouse lives, or for a set number of years.
There is a table of guaranteed benefit rates in each annuity contract. Most companies have current benefit rates as well. The company can change the current rates at any time, but the current rates can never be less than the guaranteed benefit rates. When income payments start, the insurance company generally uses the benefit rate in effect at that time to figure the amount of your income payment.
Companies may offer various income payment options. You (the owner) or another person that you name may choose the option. The options are described here as if the payments are made to you.
Death Benefit page 6
In some annuity contracts, the company may pay a death benefit to your beneficiary if you die before income payments start. The most common death benefit is the contract value or the premiums paid, whichever is more.
CAN MY ANNUITY'S VALUE BE DIFFERENT DEPENDING ON MY CHOICE OF BENEFITS?
While all deferred annuities offer a choice of benefits, some use different accumulated values to pay different benefits. For example, an annuity may use one value if annuity payments are for retirement benefits and a different value if the annuity is surrendered. As another example, an annuity may use one value for long-term care benefits and a different value if the annuity is surrendered. You can't receive more than one benefit at the same time.
WHAT ABOUT THE TAX TREATMENTS OF ANNUITIES?
Below is a general discussion about taxes and annuities. You should consult a professional tax advisor to discuss your individual tax situation.
Under current federal law, annuities receive special tax treatment. Income tax on annuities is deferred, which means you aren't taxed on the interest your money earns while it stays in the annuity. Tax-deferred accumulation isn't the same as tax-free accumulation. An advantage of tax deferral is that the tax bracket you're in when you receive annuity income payments may be lower than the one you're in during the accumulation period. You'll also be earning interest on the amount you would have paid in taxes during the accumulation period. Most states' tax laws on annuities follow the federal law.
Part of the payments you receive from an annuity will be considered as a return of the premium you've paid. You won't have to pay taxes on that part. Another part of the payments is considered interest you've earned. You must pay taxes on the part that is considered interest when you withdraw the money. You may also have to pay a 10% tax penalty if you withdraw the accumulation before age 59 1/2. The Internal Revenue Code also has rules about distributions after the death of a contract holder.
Annuities used to fund certain employee pension benefits plans (those under Internal Revenue Code Sections 401(a), 401(k), 403(b), 457 or 414) defer taxes on plan contributions as well as on interest or investment income. Within the limits set by the law, you can use pretax dollars to make payments to the annuity. When you take money out, it will be taxed.
You can also use annuities to fund traditional and Roth IRA's under Internal Revenue Code Section 408. If you buy an annuity to fund an IRA, you'll receive a disclosure statement describing the tax treatment.
WHAT IS A "FREE LOOK" PROVISION?
Many states have laws which give you a set number of days to look at the annuity contract after you buy it. If you decide during that time that you don't want the annuity, you can return the contract and get all your money back. This is often referred to as a free look or right to return period. The free look period should be prominently stated in your contract. Be sure to read your contract carefully during the free look period.
HOW DO I KNOW IF A FIXED DEFERRED ANNUITY IS RIGHT FOR ME?
The questions listed below may help you decide which type of annuity, if any, meets your retirement planning and financial needs. You should think about what your goals are for the money you may put into the annuity. You need to think about how much risk you're willing to take with the money. Ask yourself:
WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD I ASK MY AGENT OR THE COMPANY?
FINAL POINTS TO CONSIDER page 8
Before you decide to buy an annuity, you should review the contract. Terms and conditions of each annuity contract will vary.
Ask yourself if, depending on your needs or age, this annuity is right for you. Taking money out of an annuity may mean you must pay taxes. Also, while it's sometimes possible to transfer the value of an older annuity into a new annuity, the new annuity may have a new schedule of charges that could mean new expenses you must pay directly or indirectly.
You should understand the long-term nature of your purchase. Be sure you plan to keep an annuity long enough so that the charges don't take too much of the money you put in. Be sure you understand the effect of all charges.
If you're buying an annuity to fund an IRA or other tax-deferred retirement program, be sure that you're eligible. Also, ask if there are any restrictions connected with the program.
Remember that the quality of service that you can expect from the company and the agent is a very important factor in your decision.
When you receive your annuity contract, READ IT CAREFULLY!! Ask the agent and company for an explanation of anything you don't understand. Do this before any free look period ends.
Compare information for similar contracts from several companies. Comparing products may help you make a better decision.
If you have a specific question or can't get answers you need from the agent or company, contact your state insurance department.
APPENDIX 1 - EQUITY INDEXED ANNUITIES
(Note: This appendix is not suitable for use in Massachusetts.)
This appendix to the Buyer's Guide for Fixed Deferred Annuities will focus on equity-indexed annuities. Like other types of fixed deferred annuities, equity-indexed annuities provide for annuity income payments, death benefits and tax deferred accumulation. You should read the Buyer's Guide for general information about those features and about provisions such as withdrawal and surrender charges.
WHAT ARE EQUITY-INDEXED ANNUITIES?
An equity-indexed annuity is a fixed annuity, either immediate or deferred, that earns interest or provides benefits that are linked to an external equity reference or an equity index. The value of the index might be tied to a stock or other equity index. One of the most commonly used indices is Standard & Poor's 500 Composite Stock Price Index (the S&P 500)1, which is an equity index. The value of any index varies from day to day and is not predictable.
When you buy an equity-indexed annuity you own an insurance contract. You are not buying shares of any stock or index.
While immediate equity-indexed annuities may be available, this appendix will focus on deferred equity-indexed annuities.
HOW ARE THEY DIFFERENT FROM OTHER FIXED ANNUITIES?
An equity-indexed annuity is different from other fixed annuities because of the way it credits interest to your annuity's value. Some fixed annuities only credit interest calculated at a rate set in the contract. Other fixed annuities also credit interest at rates set form time to time by the insurance company. Equity-indexed annuities credit interest using a formula based on changes in the index to which the annuity is linked. The formula decides how the additional interest, if any is calculated and credited. How much additional interest you get and when you get it depends on the features of your particular annuity.
Your equity-indexed annuity, like other fixed annuities, also promises to pay a minimum interest rate. The rate that will be applied will not be less than this minimum guaranteed rate even if the index-linked interest rate is lower. The value of your annuity also will not drop below a guaranteed minimum. For example, many single premium contracts guarantee the minimum value will never be less than 90 percent of the premium paid, plus at least 3% in annual interest (less any partial withdrawals). The guaranteed value is the minimum amount available during a term of withdrawals, as well as for some annuitizations (see "Annuity Income Payments") and death benefits. The insurance company will adjust the value of the annuity at the end of each term to reflect any index increases.
1 S&P 500 is a registered trademark of the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., used with permission.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE EQUITY-INDEXED CONTRACT FEATURES?
Two features that have the greatest effect on the amount of additional interest that may be credited to an equity-indexed annuity are the indexing method and the participation rate. It is important to understand the features and how they work together. The following describes some other equity-indexed annuity features that affect the index-linked formula.
The indexing method means the approach used to measure the amount of change, if any, in the index. Some of the most common indexing methods, which are explained more fully later on, include annual reset (ratcheting), high-water mark and point-to-point.
The index term is the period over which index-linked interest is calculated; the interest is credited to your annuity at the end of a term. Terms are generally from one to ten years, with six or seven years being most common. Some annuities offer single terms while others offer multiple, consecutive terms. If your annuity has multiple terms, there will usually be a window at the end of each term, typically 30 days, during which you may withdraw your money without penalty. For installment premium annuities, the payment of each premium may begin a new term for that premium.
The participation rate decides how much of the increase in the index will be used to calculate index-linked interest. For example, if the calculated change in the index is 9% and the participation rate is 70%, the index-linked interest rate for your annuity will be 6.3% (9% x 70% = 6.3%). A company may set a different participation rate for newly issued annuities as often as each day. Therefore, the initial participation rate in your annuity will depend on when it is issued by the company. The company usually guarantees the participation rate for a specific period (from one year to the entire term). When that period is over, the company sets a new participation rate for the next period. Some annuities guarantee that the participation rate will never be set lower than a specified minimum or higher than a specified maximum.
Cap Rate or Cap
Some annuities may put an upper limit, or cap, on the index-linked interest rate. This is the maximum rate of interest the annuity will earn. In the example given above, if the contract has a 6% cap rate, 6% and not 6.3%, would be credited. Not all annuities have a cap rate.
Floor on Equity-Indexed Linked Interest
The floor is the minimum index-linked interest rate you will earn. The most common floor is 0%. A 0% floor assures that even if the index decreases in value, the index-linked interest that you earn will be zero and not negative. As in the case of a cap, not all annuities have a stated floor on index-linked interest rates. But in all cases, your fixed annuity will have a minimum guaranteed value.
In some annuities, the average of an index's value is used rather than the actual value of the index on a specified date. The index averaging may occur at the beginning, the end, or throughout the entire term of the annuity.
Some annuities pay simple interest during an index term. That means index-linked interest is added to your original premium amount but does not compound during the term. Others pay compound interest during a term, which means that index-linked interest that has already been credited also earns interest in the future. In either case, however, the interest earned in one term is usually compounded in the next.
In some annuities, the index-linked interest rate is computed by subtracting a specific percentage from any calculated change in the index. This percentage, sometimes referred to as the "margin", "spread", or "administrative fee," might be instead of, or in addition to, a participation rate. For example, if the calculated change in the index is 10%, your annuity might specify that 2.25% will be subtracted from the rate to determine the interest rate credited. In this example, the rate would be 7.75% (10% -2.25% = 7.75%). In this example, the company subtracts the percentage only if the change in the index produces a positive interest rate.
Some annuities credit none of the index-linked interest or only part of it, if you take out all your money before the end of the term. The percentage that is vested, or credited, generally increases as the term comes closer to its end and is always 100% at the end of the term.
HOW DO THE COMMON INDEXING METHODS DIFFER?
Index-linked interest, if any, is determined each year by comparing the index value at the end of the contract year with the index value at the start of the contract year. Interest is added to your annuity each year during the term.
The index-linked interest, if any, is decided by looking at the index value at various points during the term, usually the annual anniversaries of the date you bought the annuity. The interest is based on the difference between the highest index value and the index value at the start of the term. Interest is added to your annuity at the end of the term.
The index-linked interest, if any, is determined by looking at the index value at various points during the term, usually the annual anniversaries of the date you bought the annuity. The interest is based on the difference between the index value at the end of the term and the lowest index value. Interest is added to your annuity at the end of the term.
Point to Point
The index linked interest, if any, is based on the difference between the index value at the end of the term and the index value at the start of the term. Interest is added to your annuity at the end of the term.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE FEATURES AND TRADE-OFFS OF DIFFERENT INDEXING METHODS?
Since the interest earned is "locked in" annually and the index value is "reset" at the end of each year, future decreases in the index will not affect the interest you have already earned. Therefore, your annuity using the annual reset method may credit more interest than annuities using other methods when the index fluctuates up and down often during the term. This design is more likely than others to give you access to index-linked interest before the term ends.
High Water Mark
Since interest is calculated using the highest value of the index on a contract anniversary during the term, this design may credit higher interest than some other designs if the index reaches a high point early or in the middle of the term, then drops off at the end of the term.
Interest is not credited until the end of the term. In some annuities, if you surrender your annuity before the end of the term, you may not get index-linked interest for that term. In other annuities, you may receive index-linked interest, based on the highest anniversary value to date and the annuity's vesting schedule. Also, contract with this design may have a lower participation rate than annuities using other designs or may use a cap to limit the total amount of interest you might earn.
Low Water Mark
Since interest is calculated using the lowest value of the index prior to the end of the term, this design may credit higher interest than some other designs if the index reaches a low point early or in the middle of the term and then rises at the end of the term.
Interest is not credited until the end of the term. In come annuities, if you surrender your annuity before the end of the term, you may not get index-linked interest for that term. In other annuities, you may receive index-linked interest. based on the highest anniversary value to date and the annuity's vesting schedule. Also, contracts with this design may have a lower participation rate than annuities using other designs or may use a cap to limit the total amount of interest you might earn.
Since interest cannot be calculated before the end of the term, use of this design may permit a higher participation rate than annuities using other designs.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF SOME OTHER EQUITY-INDEXED ANNUITY PRODUCT FEATURES?
Cap in Interest Earned
While a cap limits the amount of interest you might earn each year, annuities with this feature may have other product features you want, such as annual interest crediting or the ability to take partial withdrawals. Also, annuities that have a cap may have a higher participation rate.
Averaging at the beginning of a term protects you from buying your annuity at a high point, which would reduce the amount of interest you might earn. Averaging at the end of the term protects you against severe declines in the index and losing index-linked interest as a result. On the other hand, averaging may reduce the amount of index-linked interest you earn when the index rises either near the start or at the end of the term.
The participation rate may vary greatly from one annuity to another and from time to time within a particular annuity. Therefore, it is important for you to know how your annuity's participation rate works with the indexing method. A high participation rate may be offset by other features, such a simple interest, averaging, or a point to point indexing method. On the other hand, an insurance company may offset a lower participation rate by also offering a feature such as an annual reset indexing method.
It is important for you to know whether your annuity pays compound or simple interest during a term. While you may earn less from an annuity that pays simple interest, it may have other features you want, such as a higher participation rate.
WHAT WILL IT COST ME TO TAKE MY MONEY OUT BEFORE THE END OF THE TERM?
In addition to the information discussed in this Buyer's Guide about surrender and withdrawal charges and free withdrawals, there are additional considerations for equity-indexed annuities. Some annuities credit none of the index-linked interest or only part of it if you take out money before the end of the term. The percentage that is vested, or credited, generally increases as the term comes closer to its end and is always 100% at the end of the term.
ARE DIVIDENDS INCLUDED IN THE INDEX?
Depending on the index used, stock dividends may or may not be included in the index's value. For example, the S&P 500 is a Stock price index and only considers the prices of stocks. It does not recognize any dividends paid on those stocks.
HOW DO I KNOW IF AN EQUITY-INDEXED ANNUITY IS RIGHT FOR ME?
The questions listed below may help you decide which type of annuity, if any, meets your retirement planning and financial needs. You should consider what your goals are for the money you may put into the annuity. You need to think about how much risk you're willing to take with the money. Ask yourself:
Am I interested in a variable annuity with the potential for higher earnings that are not guaranteed and willing to risk losing the principal?
Is guaranteed interest rate more important to me, with little or no risk of losing the principal?
Or, am I somewhere in between these two extremes and willing to take some risks?
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH EQUITY-INDEXED ANNUITY IS BEST FOR ME?
As with any other insurance product, you must carefully consider your own personal situation and how you feed about the choices available. No single annuity design may have all the features you want. It is important to understand the features and trade-offs available so you can chose the annuity that is right for you. Keep in mind that it may be misleading to compare one annuity to another unless you compare all the other features of each annuity. You must decide for yourself what combination of features makes the most sense for you. Also remember that it is not possible to predict the future behavior of an index.
QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK YOUR AGENT OR THE COMPANY
You should ask the following questions about equity-indexed annuities in addition to the questions in the Buyer's Guide to Fixed Deferred Annuities.
Final Points to Consider
Remember to read your annuity contact carefully when you receive it. Ask you agent or insurance company to explain anything you don't understand. If you have a specific complaint or can't get answers you need from the agent or company, contact you state insurance department.
Jeff McLeod Agency, Inc., established 19831-800-286-1812
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