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We’re here to help clear up some of the confusion about annuities during Annuity Awareness Month, which happens each June!

In the first quarter of 2024, U.S. annuity sales were $106.7 billion, the highest first quarter total since the 1980s, when LIMRA first started tracking annuity sales. Despite these high sales numbers, research indicates that many people don’t really know what annuities are.

One recent study revealed that only 9% of consumers say they feel very knowledgeable about annuities, while other studies confirm this lack of understanding. Research by the American College of Financial Services gave older Americans a score of 12% out of a possible 100% for their knowledge of annuities based on their performance on a short quiz. And a TIAA Institute and Stanford University study showed that the annuity ranks dead last—respondents know more about Medicare, life insurance and long-term care than annuities.

During Annuity Awareness Month, we wanted to cover some facts we hope will help you understand annuities better.

Annuities Are Ancient

The concept of the annuity goes back centuries. In fact, during the Roman Empire, soldiers and their families would receive annual payments for life known as “annuas” in return for their military service; this is the origin of the word “annuity.” In the Middle Ages, annuities were available in France during the 17th century, when lifetime annuities (called “tontines”) could be purchased from feudal lords in exchange for an initial upfront payment.

In other words, for millennia, annuities have been around to provide regular income during retirement. Fast forward to today.

Annuities Are Contracts

When you invest in something, typically you assume all the risk. Since annuities are not investments, but instead are contracts between you and an insurance carrier, one of the main risks you assume with annuities is that the payouts will be made per the terms in your contract. Certain contractual guarantees* are made by any insurance company which issues an annuity, and these guarantees are subject to that company’s financial strength and claims-paying ability.

It is very important that you have a trusted financial professional, tax professional and/or legal professional by your side to examine the terms and language of your annuity contract as well as provide information about the insurance company’s financial rating before you make any decision.

In fact, this is good advice when making any decision that involves investing or entering into any kind of a contract. Some financial industry experts and academic leaders in the financial field, like Dr. Wade Pfau and Dr. Roger Ibbotson, have found that annuities belong in the fixed portion of some people’s retirement portfolios (depending on their individual situation) because of insurance company guarantees, and because some annuities may perform better than stock market investments for retirees.

But there are many different types of annuity contracts.

Today’s Annuities Are Complex

Despite their simple structure in the beginning, annuities have become increasingly sophisticated over time. In addition to providing retirement income, insurance companies have added more features to provide retirees with coverage for spouses, long-term care, death benefit for heirs, etc., either as part of the basic annuity or added on as a rider for an additional cost.

While not a comprehensive list, below is basic information about how some annuities work. We recommend that you work with a financial professional to help you compare and choose between the hundreds of annuity contracts available from dozens of different insurance companies. As with any contract, it’s important to read and understand the fine print before you sign, and you should compare policies from multiple insurance companies to find the best value. That’s where a good independent financial advisor can help.

Fixed Annuities

Fixed annuities are probably the easiest type of annuity to understand because they work similarly to the way a bank CD (certificate of deposit) works. An insurance company will pay a fixed interest rate on your fixed annuity contract for a selected term, usually from one to 15 years.

Variable Annuities

Variable annuities were developed in the 1950s, and unlike most other types of annuities, before purchase they require that you be issued a prospectus, since part of your money will actually be invested in the stock market. This means that there is market risk involved with variable annuities—you can either make money on the amount invested in what’s called “sub-accounts,” or you can lose it depending on market performance.

Variable annuities are usually purchased with the expectation that at some point the contract owner will annuitize or begin taking periodic payments. But depending on contract terms, your annuity payments may fluctuate based on stock market performance, and it’s possible that some variable annuity policies can lose principal due to stock market losses.

Fixed Indexed Annuities

Fixed indexed annuities (FIAs) were first designed in 1995. The biggest difference between FIAs and variable annuities is that fixed indexed annuities are not actually invested in the stock market so they are not subject to market risk. Instead, a selected index (such as the S&P 500) is used as a benchmark for policy credits at periodic intervals, such as annually.

Many FIA contracts offer a minimum amount which gets credited, and nearly all FIA contracts will not credit less than 0%, which means even that if the benchmark index loses money, your FIA contract value will not go down. With fixed indexed annuities, after you have owned the policy for a specified number of years (called the “surrender period”) your principal is guaranteed* and credits, therefore any policy gains, are locked in.

In other words, with fixed indexed annuity contracts, you have the potential to participate in market gains but are protected from market downturns. And most FIAs offer the option of lifetime income no matter how long you live either as part of the main annuity contract, or available as a rider for an additional charge.

Other Things to Know About Annuities

*The guarantees provided by annuities rely on the claims-paying ability and financial strength of the issuing insurance company.

Some annuities can be purchased on a deferred basis, and some on an immediate basis, and you can use pre-tax or after-tax funds. It’s important to get professional help to understand the implications for your particular situation.

Annuities must be considered carefully based on your particular situation because they are not liquid. Almost all annuities are subject to early withdrawal penalties. Make sure you understand the contract terms and the type of annuity you are purchasing. Your financial advisor and tax and legal professionals can help you compare and analyze policies.

Are You Prepared for Retirement?

With people living much longer and pensions quickly becoming a thing of the past, annuities can help provide income throughout retirement and help quell the fear of running out of money. If you are considering the purchase of an annuity, it’s important to speak with a financial professional who understands them, and can explain the fine print of an annuity contract.


Contact us to explore your options! You can reach Tremblay Financial Services in Nashville at (615) 432-5515.  


This article is provided for general information purposes only and is accurate to the best of our knowledge. This article is not to be relied on or considered as investment or tax advice.