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What is a Life Annuity?

What is a Life Annuity?

A life annuity refers to a financial product that provides a regular, predetermined payout to the owner, known as the annuitant, for their entire life. Annuitants can secure a life annuity either by paying premiums periodically during their working years or through a lump-sum payment, typically at the time of retirement. This structure is designed to provide guaranteed or supplemental retirement income that lasts as long as the annuitant lives.

Payout Schedules and Types of Life Annuities

Life annuity payouts primarily occur on a monthly basis. However, they can also be set up for quarterly, semi-annually, or annual disbursements, depending on the annuitant's preference and financial needs. There are also various types of life annuities available, including joint-life annuities, which guarantee an amount to two people as long as one is alive.

A lifetime income annuity, another common variant of life annuities, guarantees a stream of payments for the duration of the annuitant's life. The payout is based on the sum used to purchase the lifetime income and the age of the annuitant at the time of purchase. Lifetime income annuities are similar to traditional pensions, but with one crucial difference: they pass the longevity risk to the insurance company, rather than the employer or annuitant themselves.

Understanding the Calculations Behind Life Annuities

Although the methodology for calculating the payout is fairly standardized across insurance companies, the actual amount will vary depending on each company's fixed portfolio and the level of risk they are prepared to take on. Potential annuitants should exercise caution, as companies promising higher payout rates may simply be attempting to raise capital, and may not necessarily be financially stable over the long term.

The payout calculation is also based on life expectancy. This means that roughly half of annuitants will die before their calculated life expectancy, and the other half will live beyond it. Those who die earlier may leave a death benefit for their beneficiaries, typically comprising any remaining principal.

Conversely, those who outlive their life expectancy will continue to receive an income stream from a pool of money, often called a mortality pool. This pool is largely funded by the leftover earned interest from the principal amounts of those annuitants who died earlier.

Why Choose a Life Annuity?

Life annuities offer financial security and guaranteed income, aspects that appeal to many people planning for their retirement. Even though most annuitants will eventually spend down their principal amount, the guarantee of a steady income stream for as long as they live provides a level of financial peace of mind.

Financial experts generally advise purchasing a life annuity with less than half of an individual's available retirement assets. This recommendation is particularly relevant for individuals who might otherwise run the risk of depleting their retirement funds.

Life annuities offer a financial safeguard for those concerned about outliving their retirement savings. By providing a steady, guaranteed income for life, these financial products provide annuitants and their loved ones with a layer of security in their golden years. However, as with any significant financial decision, it's essential to thoroughly research and consider the implications before purchasing a life annuity.


Annuities are primarily designed to pay a substantially similar sum at regular intervals until the annuitant dies. Life insurance companies write these contracts since they are designed as a kind of longevity insurance.

A lifetime income annuity, sometimes called a life annuity, is a stream of guaranteed payments for the duration of the annuitant’s life, based on the sum used to purchase the lifetime income and the age of the annuitant at the time of purchase. Life annuities can also be joint-life, meaning the contract will pay an amount to either of two people as long as one is alive.

These are similar to traditional pensions, but employers do not fund the contract, or, in cases where they do, they pass the longevity risk to the insurance company instead of bearing it themselves. The payment could be the same for the duration, or it might start out a little lower and increase with an interest rate or inflation.

The way the company calculates the payment is similar for all life insurance companies, but the payout will be different depending on how their fixed portfolio and the risk that they are prepared to take. Be warned that in some cases companies will promise higher payout rates when they are mostly trying to raise capital, and that company may not be around for 30 year or however long you may live.

The payout is based on life expectancy because 50% of annuitants will die before that and 50% will die after that. Those who die before may leave a death benefit, which will generally be any remaining principal, for their beneficiaries.

Those who outlive their life expectancy will benefit from a pool of money that keeps their income stream flowing. This pool is mostly based on the amount of earned interest left on the table by those who died earlier, and it is sometimes called a mortality pool.

People like the guarantees and security it brings even though they will almost surely spend down their principal amount. Ideally these would be purchased with less than half of a person’s available retirement assets, unless they were definitely going to run out of money anyway.

How Do I Know that Life Insurance Companies are Reliable?
Do I Need Life Insurance if I have an Annuity?

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