Written By : Elaine Silvestrini
This page features 24 Cited Research Articles

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Annuity Products Vary

One reason annuities come in so many different varieties is they are actually contracts between an annuity holder — also known as an annuitant — and an insurance company. Contracts can carry different provisions, different costs, different payouts, etc. The upside is an annuity can be personalized to fit your needs. The downside is the vast array of possibilities can seem overwhelming to potential annuitants.

Annuity Costs, Benefits

The wide menu of annuity products can seem daunting to investors who are considering whether annuities make sense for their portfolios. Making things even more confusing is that a particular annuity can have a mixture of provisions, meaning it will fit into different types and classifications. And virtually every possible provision comes with different costs and benefits.

Understanding Annuities

Understanding different types of annuities and how they work is crucial for investors to make the right decisions for their needs. This holds true whether you have an annuity and are considering selling the payments or if you are thinking about buying an annuity.

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Primary Types

What level of risk are you comfortable with? The answer will help guide you through your annuity choices. Interest-rate risk is a factor in determining the calculation of your payments. Low risk yields predictable payment amounts. Higher risk could boost your expectations. The main types of annuities in this area are fixed, variable and indexed.

Type Interest Risk Reward
Fixed Preset/guaranteed Low Predictable
Variable Tied to investment portfolio Higher Potentially higher or lower
Indexed Preset minimum. Can change according to index like stock market Medium Won’t sink below set level.

Fixed Annuity

This is the option with the least risk and the most predictability. Fixed annuities come with a guaranteed, set interest rate that doesn’t vary beyond the terms of the contract. While other investments might soar or dive, the fixed annuity is steady. Sometimes, however, the interest rate will reset after a predetermined number of years.

Variable Annuity

A variable annuity comes with more risks and potentially higher rewards. The interest rate of variable annuities is tied to an investment portfolio. This kind of annuity carries the potential for a higher payout if the portfolio does well, but also can take a hit if your investment portfolio doesn’t do well.

Indexed Annuity

Indexed annuities, also known as equity-indexed annuities and fixed-indexed insurance products, have characteristics of both fixed and variable annuities. It’s a way to balance the risks and rewards, carrying lower risks than variable annuities and higher income potential than fixed annuities. So the interest rate won’t sink below a preset amount. But the rate is also tied to a specified index, such as a stock market index, and can rise higher than a fixed annuity. The tradeoff is this kind of annuity also comes with higher costs and fees. And the methods for calculating interest are complex.

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Annuity Payout Options

Another classification relates to when the annuity holder will start receiving payments.

Immediate Annuity (AKA Income Annuity)

With an immediate annuity, also known as an income annuity, the annuity holder begins receiving payments within a year after purchasing it. An example of this might be if someone wins a lottery or receives a large inheritance. The person may decide to use part of the money to purchase an annuity so he or she can shield part of the windfall from temptation to spend.

Deferred Annuity

With a deferred annuity, the investor receives payments starting at some point later in the future. Typically, this happens when the investor retires. In the meantime, the investment builds, tax-deferred.

How Long Annuities Are Paid

Generally, annuities are considered retirement investments that guarantee the investor won’t outlive his or her funds because they are paid at least until the annuity holder dies. But some annuities are different.

Lifetime Annuities

These are annuities that guarantee an income stream for the annuity holder’s lifetime. In some cases, lifetime annuities allow for a beneficiary to receive payments after the annuitant’s death. With these annuities, the amount of the payment will be set depending on the health and age of the annuity holder.

Pro Tip
The longer the person is expected to live, the lower the individual payments are likely to be.

This is because the payments are likely to continue longer for younger, healthier people.

Fixed-Period Annuities

An example of a fixed-period annuity, also known as a term-certain annuity, is a lottery prize. In many cases, lottery winners can elect to receive their windfall as an annuity. Those payments are spread out over a fixed period, typically 20 or 30 years. With these annuities, the age and health of the annuity holder are not relevant to the amount of the payments because the number of payments is unaffected.

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Other Annuity Choices

There are numerous other possible ways to design annuity contracts to include provisions for the investor. For example, there are qualified and nonqualified annuities. This refers to whether the annuities are held in qualified retirement accounts and covered by the same laws regarding taxation and withdrawal requirements.

Other options include:
  • Life-only annuities pay the length of the annuitant’s life and no longer. However, you can choose provisions that provide for your spouse or even a refund.
  • Life annuities with period certain pay a certain number of years even if the annuitant dies before the end of the period.
  • Joint and survivor annuities provide payments over the lifetime of both the annuitant and a beneficiary.

Secondary Market Annuity (SMA)

When an annuity holder needs access to funds tied up in the annuity, he or she can sell the rights to receive future payments on the secondary market. Often, these sales involve structured settlements. Structured settlements are settlements in legal cases that involve payments over time.

If someone is severely injured, for example, he or she might sue a company that manufactured and sold the product that caused the injury. In a structured settlement, the company would agree to pay a certain amount of money over a period of years.

Those payments are typically from an annuity issued by an insurance company. They are often structured or scheduled to provide a dependable stream of income, along with financial security, to the injured party.

Why Annuitants Sell

But then, if the injured person encounters expenses that exceed the amount of the payments, he or she might sell the rights to receive the payments to another company — an insurance firm or other entity.

The company would offer a lower amount of money than the total payments are worth.

Pro Tip
The benefit to the seller is receiving a relatively large lump sum.

Most states require factoring companies that purchase structured settlements to disclose this difference between the value of the future payments and the amount of the lump sum being offered to purchase them.

In addition to structured settlements, these transactions may involve other kinds of annuities, such as lottery prizes that winners elected to receive as annuities. When the lottery winner decides to sell a lottery annuity, that is also at a discounted rate.

Investors Benefit from Secondary Market Annuities

The company that purchased the structured settlement payments and other annuities may sell them to investors on the secondary market. It’s at this point that the investment is referred to as a secondary market annuity.

Investors buying secondary market annuities may be attracted by the higher rates of return than available on the primary market. These annuities are also said to carry a lower risk that the company selling the annuity will default on payments.


If you buy one of these annuities previously owned by someone else — also known as a factored structured settlement — you may get a better deal and higher interest returns than if you buy an annuity on the primary market.

But the transaction is more complicated, partly because it has to be approved by a judge and clear state regulatory approvals because the original annuity is considered a binding contract. These transactions involve a lot of paperwork.

Secondary market drawbacks

Also, once you buy an annuity on the secondary market, you won’t be able to sell those payments. The annuity, in other words, cannot be resold. Some critics say these purchases are best left to sophisticated investors.

Last Modified: November 26, 2019

24 Cited Research Articles

  1. CNN Money. (n.d.). Ultimate Guide to Retirement. What are the different types of annuities? Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/retirement/guide/annuities_basics.moneymag/index2.htm
  2. Insurance Information Institute. (n.d.). What are the different types of annuities? Retrieved from https://www.iii.org/article/what-are-different-types-annuities
  3. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. (n.d.). Annuities. Retrieved from http://www.finra.org/investors/annuities
  4. Farrell, C. (2012, February 10). The skinny on secondary market annuities. Retrieved from https://www.marketplace.org/2012/02/10/your-money/ask-money/skinny-secondary-market-annuities
  5. CNN Money. (n.d.). Ultimate Guide to Retirement. What is an equity-indexed annuity? Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/retirement/guide/annuities_equityindexed.moneymag/index.htm?iid=EL
  6. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Equity-Indexed Annuities – A Complex Choice. Retrieved from http://www.finra.org/investors/alerts/equity-indexed-annuities_a-complex-choice
  7. Investopedia. (n.d.). What is an equity-indexed annuity? Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/122214/what-equityindexed-annuity.asp
  8. CNN Money. (n.d.). Ultimate Guide to Retirement. What is a variable annuity? Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/retirement/guide/annuities_variable.moneymag/index.htm?iid=EL
  9. Investopedia. (n.d.). Secondary Market Annuity – SMA. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/secondary-market-annuity.asp
  10. MarketWatch. (2013, October 29). Secondary market annuities boast higher yields. Retrieved from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/secondary-annuity-market-boasts-higher-yields-2013-10-29
  11. Anspach, D. (2018, June 14). What Are Annuities? Types of Annuities & How They Work. Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/annuities-4074052
  12. Investopedia. (n.d.) Income Annuity. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/i/income_annuity.asp
  13. MarketWatch. (2013, April 11). Life-only annuity: A sexy pension alternative? https://www.marketwatch.com/story/life-only-annuity-a-sexy-pension-alternative-2013-04-09
  14. Alabama Department of Insurance. (n.d.). Types of Annuities. Retrieved from http://www.aldoi.gov/Consumers/AnnuityTypes.aspx
  15. Murdoch, A. (2015, December 10). How to choose among the 5 major annuity types. Retrieved from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-to-choose-among-the-5-major-annuity-types-2015-12-10
  16. Kaplan, E. (2015, July 15). Annuities: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/feeonlyplanner/2015/07/15/annuities-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/#6d835adb7990
  17. SafeMoney.com. (n.d.). 5 Annuity Types. Retrieved from https://safemoney.com/annuities/5-annuity-types
  18. Pennsylvania Insurance Department. (n.d.). Annuities For Seniors. Retrieved from http://www.insurance.pa.gov/Pages/Annuities-for-Seniors.aspx
  19. Ryan, J.B. (2015, December 3). Insurance: Understanding the different types of annuities. Retrieved from https://www.cincinnati.com/story/money/business/2015/12/03/insurance-understanding-different-types-annuities/76729202/
  20. United States Postal Service. (n.d.). 584 Types of Annuities. Retrieved from https://about.usps.com/manuals/elm/html/elmc5_059.htm
  21. Advisor World. (n.d.). Types of Annuities. Retrieved from https://www.advisorworld.com/types-of-annuities/
  22. National Association of Insurance Commissioners. (n.d.). Annuities and Senior Citizens. Retrieved from http://www.naic.org/documents/consumer_alert_annuities_senior_citizens.htm
  23. Bergethon, K. (n.d.). Secondary Market Annuities: So Misunderstood, So Attractive. Retrieved from https://thefranklinsociety.com/secondary-market-annuities-so-misunderstood-so-attractive/
  24. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (n.d.). Investor Bulletin. Pension or Settlement Income Streams. What You Need to Know Before Buying or Selling Them. Retrieved from https://www.sec.gov/files/ib_income_streams.pdf