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Indexed annuities have been growing in popularity in recent years. They’re a complicated kind of annuity that combines the features of fixed and variable annuities.
Annuities are contracts between purchasers and insurance companies. In most cases, the annuity buyer is purchasing a steady income stream to fund retirement.
Some annuities are fixed. With fixed annuities, the income stream comes in payment amounts set in the contract at the time of purchase. The payments do not change over time, unless that is spelled out in the contract.
Some annuities are variable. Income payments from variable annuities change according to the performance of an investment portfolio. These annuities carry the risk of much lower payments, but also the possibility of higher payments.
And yet other annuities are indexed. The income payments for indexed annuities — also known as fixed-index annuities — are tied to an equity index, such as Standard & Poor’s index of 500 stocks. The amounts vary more than a fixed annuity, but less than a variable annuity.
Guaranteed Minimum Return
Index annuities carry what’s called a guaranteed minimum return. Typically, this means if you buy an index annuity, you are guaranteed to receive at least a certain amount – usually at least 87.5 percent – of your principal back, plus 1 to 3 percent interest. If your index performs consistently well, you have the potential to earn a higher return than traditional fixed annuities.
Indexed Annuities vs Fixed Indexed Annuities
Indexed annuities were created during the stock boom of the mid 1990s when investors were more interested in the potentially higher gains of stocks and less interested in stable, lower returns from investments like bonds. They were specifically designed to compete with certificates of deposit.
The appeal was they included protections against stock market losses, as well as the potential to profit from the market’s gains. So while investors in EIAs could benefit if the market went up, the annuities also guaranteed a minimum rate no matter how badly the market performed.
Indexed annuities took off after the market crashed in 2000. But when investors began to grow leery of stock-based investments, companies dropped the word “equity” from the name and began referring to them as fixed index annuities (FIAs) and just index annuities.
Index Annuity Pros and Cons
Like any investment, index annuities have their benefits and costs. Since they are essentially a hybrid of fixed and variable annuities, they have a mixture of pros and cons. The main things you will hear about them is they have the potential of higher returns, without the risk of losing your money. But the returns are not the full amount of the index gains and they do not include dividends. And these annuities are complicated to understand.
- When stocks in your index, such as the S&P 500, rise in value, your payments increase.
- The added increase in yields may serve as a hedge against inflation.
- If the stock market tanks, you don’t lose money.
- Index gains are locked in.
- May provide better rates than certificates of deposit.
- Your gains will be capped and won’t reflect the entire increase in the value of stocks.
- High fees cut into your gains, meaning you might not make more than if you invested in something safer, like bonds.
- Fees are tough for the purchaser to figure out. They’re often not spelled out clearly in the contract.
- Sales commissions are high and may not be clearly disclosed.
- The cap in the increasing value may be lowered in later years of your contract. Likewise, the percentage of the gain you may receive in the index value may decrease along the way.
- As with other types of annuities, these come with steep surrender charges if you want to get out of the contract early
Indexed and Fixed Annuity Differences
With a fixed annuity, the amounts of the income payments are present in the contract. They do not change, except when the contract calls for them to be reset.
The increase will be capped at a certain level, however, and may not account for a raging market.
Even below the yield or rate cap, the increase also may reflect only a percentage of the rise in stock values in the index. This percentage is known as the participation rate. So if your participation rate is 75 percent, your annuity payment will increase by 75 percent of the increased value of the specified stock index, up to the amount of your cap.
If the stock index tanks, on the other hand, your payments will not fall below a preordained level.
Index Annuity Yields
How your index rate is calculated will depend on the particular provisions of your annuity contract. According to the Financial Industry Regulating Authority (FINRA), the computation may typically involve three factors:
- Participation Rate
- This is the percentage of the gain in the stock index you will receive on your annuity. For example, if the participation rate is 80 percent and the index gained 10 percent, the annuity would be credited with 80 percent of the 10-percent gain, or 8 percent.
- Spread/Margin/Asset Fee
- Some index annuities use this in place of or in addition to a participation rate. This is a percentage that is subtracted from any gain in the index. If the fee is 3 percent and the index gains 10 percent, then the annuity would gain 7 percent.
- Interest Rate Caps
- Some index annuities put an upper limit on your return. So if the index gained 10 percent and your cap was 7 percent, then your gain would be 7 percent.
How Does an Indexed Annuity Work?
FINRA says there are several indexing methods to determine the change in the index over the time you have the annuity:
- Annual Reset (Rachet)
- Compares the change in the index from the start of the year to the end of the year. Declines are ignored.
- High Water Mark
- Looks at the index value at various points and takes the highest of the values and compares it to the level at the start of the contract.
- Point to Point
- Compares the change in the index rates at two preselected points in time. This can be the start and end of the contract term.
- Index Averaging
- Some index annuities average the value of the index daily or monthly, as opposed to looking at the value on a particular date.
14 Cited Research Articles
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