Annuities are a type of insurance contract that investors can use to fund their retirement or meet other financial goals. When someone purchases an annuity, they pay premiums to the annuity issuer. The annuity company then makes payments back to the annuitant as agreed in the annuity contract.
Those payments can start almost immediately or be deferred to a future date. Payments can be made monthly, annually, or in a single lump-sum. Earnings from the annuity are typically tax-deferred and withdrawals are taxable as ordinary income.
Generally, annuities are indexed, fixed, or variable. With a fixed annuity, you’re guaranteed to earn a minimum rate of return, making them relatively safe investments. Variable annuity returns hinge on how underlying annuity investments, such as mutual funds, perform which can make them riskier. Indexed annuities strike a middle ground in terms of their risk/reward profile.
Annuities can provide a steady stream of income in retirement, something that might feature in many people’s investment goals. What’s important to keep in mind, however, is that rates of return generated can vary from one annuity to the next. It’s helpful to understand how to compare index annuity rates side by side to find the best one for your needs.
What Is an Indexed Annuity?
An indexed annuity, or fixed index annuity, is a specific type of annuity product that can yield a minimum guaranteed rate of return along with a rate of return that’s linked to a stock market index. For example, the annuity’s performance may be based on the performance of the S&P 500 Composite Price Index. This is a market capitalization-weighted index that represents 500 of the largest publicly traded U.S. companies.
This type of annuity may be suitable to investors who seek upside potential with built-in downside protection, while enjoying the benefits of tax-deferred growth. Indexed annuities may also be favorable among investors who lean toward a passive versus active investing strategy.
What Are Fixed Index Annuity Rates?
Fixed index annuity rates are the guaranteed minimum rate of return on an annuity. Rather than tracking with interest rates, the fixed index annuity rate is benchmarked against a particular index.
How Fixed Indexed Annuities Work
Fixed index annuities have two phases: the accumulation phase and the income phase.
Once you purchase a fixed indexed annuity, the accumulation phase begins. This is the period during which your annuity earns interest on a tax-deferred basis. The amount of money you have in the annuity, also referred to as the contract value, can fluctuate over time based on how the underlying index that the annuity tracks is performing.
Annuity returns are typically recalculated every 12 months, though the annuity contract should spell out how and when return calculations occur. It’s important to keep in mind that the contract may specify a cap rate, which represents the maximum positive rate of return an indexed annuity can earn.
The income or annuity phase is when payments are made back to you from the contract. These payments can be made periodically or be delivered in a single lump sum. Additionally, they can last for a specified time frame or for the duration of your natural life. If you’re married, indexed annuity payments can also continue to be paid to your spouse after you pass away. The annuity contract will detail the payment schedule.
For example, in the accumulation phase, an annuity might pay out a minimum of 3% with a 7% rate cap (even if the index is tracking at 11%). In the income phase, the fixed index annuity might be paid monthly starting at a predetermined date, and pay out across the lifetime of you and/or your spouse.
How Are Fixed Index Annuity Rates Set?
Broadly speaking, index annuity rates are tied to the index they track. So again, this could be an index like the S&P 500 Composite Price Index or the Nasdaq 100.
With a fixed index annuity, the annuity company guarantees a minimum interest rate alongside the interest rate generated by the underlying index.
When setting fixed index annuity rates, annuity contract providers typically use several factors to determine how much of a return is credited to the contract owner. The actual rate of return realized from an indexed annuity can depend on:
• Cap rate
• Participation rate
• Margin/spread fees
Here’s more on how each one affects fixed index annuity rates.
Cap rate represents the upper limit on returns that an annuity can earn over time. So for instance, an indexed annuity that has a 3.5% cap rate would limit the returns credited to the annuity owner to that amount—even when the underlying index produces a higher rate of return. Generally, cap rates fall somewhere between 3 and 7% per year.
If the index an annuity tracks goes up, the participation rate determines how much of that gain is credited to an annuity owner. For instance, if the index increases by 10% and the participation rate is 80%, an 8% return would be credited.
Also referred to as an administrative fee, this fee can deduct a set percentage from index gains. An indexed annuity that realizes a 10% gain and has a 3% spread fee, for example, would yield a net credited return of 7%.
Riders can be used to enhance fixed indexed annuity benefits. For instance, you might choose to add a rider that would guarantee lifetime income payments to your spouse if you’re married. Expanding the annuity’s coverage can result in added premium costs, which may reduce credited returns.
What Is a Good Fixed Index Annuity Rate?
A “good” fixed index annuity rate is one that results in a rate of return that aligns with your objectives and needs. Index annuity rates can also vary based on the length of the contract term. Cost is also an important consideration, as indexed annuities can charge a variety of fees, including administrative fees and surrender charges, which may apply if you decide to cancel an annuity contract.
The top index annuities are the ones that offer the best combination of high rates and low fees. It’s also important to consider an annuity company’s ratings before purchasing an indexed annuity. Annuity Advantage can offer insight into how financially healthy an annuity provider is and how likely they are to be able to make annuity payments back to you when the time comes.
Is an Indexed Annuity Right for You?
Fixed index annuities can offer the potential to earn higher rates of return compared to traditional fixed annuities. At the same time, they may be less risky than a variable annuity product since they track an index rather than investing in the market directly.
Investment risk management is an important part of any strategy for growing wealth, even when you’re starting from scratch with building an investment portfolio. Indexed annuities aim to help with balancing that risk while creating an ongoing stream of income to rely on in retirement.
That said, it’s also important to consider how fixed index annuity rates compare to the rate of return one could earn by investing in the market directly. For example, you may see better returns by investing in individual stocks. That does involve taking more risk but individuals with a longer timeline until retirement generally have a broader window to recover from market downturns.
A fixed index annuity offers investors a minimum guaranteed rate of return along with a rate of return that’s linked to a stock market index. While fixed indexed annuities do offer some advantages, they may not suit every investor and it’s important to research index annuity rates to find the right one.
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