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    Rachel Christian

    Rachel Christian

    Financial Writer and Certified Educator in Personal Finance

    Rachel Christian is a writer and researcher focusing on important, complex topics surrounding finance and investments. She is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance with FinCert, a division of the Institute for Financial Literacy, and a member of the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education (AFCPE).

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    Lee Williams
    Lee Williams, Senior Financial Editor for Annuity.org

    Lee Williams

    Senior Financial Editor

    Lee Wiliams is a financial editor for Annuity.org. As a professional writer, editor and content strategist, Lee has strengthened the brand storytelling for global and nationally recognized brands in the higher education, advertising and marketing fields.

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  • Financially Reviewed By
    Rubina K. Hossain, CFP®
    Rubina K. Hossain

    Rubina K. Hossain, CFP®

    Client Advisor for MEIRA

    Certified Financial Planner Rubina K. Hossain is chair of the CFP Board's Council of Examinations and past president of the Financial Planning Association. She specializes in preparing and presenting sound holistic financial plans to ensure her clients achieve their goals.

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  • Updated: August 17, 2023
  • 7 min read time
  • This page features 5 Cited Research Articles
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Key Takeaways

  • An income annuity converts your premium payments into a steady stream of income.
  • Instead of providing a fixed rate of return, an income annuity provides a fixed monthly income that is guaranteed for life.
  • Lifetime income annuities can provide a hedge against outliving your savings.
  • Income annuities may include penalties and surrender charges if you withdraw payments too soon.

Income annuities are uniquely designed to generate a stream of income in exchange for one or more premium payments. The payments from an income annuity may be received monthly, quarterly or annually depending on your preference.

Unlike other types of annuities, income annuities are annuitized immediately, regardless of when your payments actually begin. This differentiates them from accumulation annuities, which some people never annuitize.

How Do Income Annuities Work?

An income annuity works by converting a large sum of cash into a stream of regular payments. You give the money to an insurance company, and in exchange, the insurer agrees to pay you for a certain length of time — or for the rest of your life.

You may receive your annuity payouts monthly, quarterly or yearly, depending on your contract.

Because your regular payouts from the insurance company begin within a year, income annuities are often called immediate annuities.

Other names for income annuities include:

Keep in mind that income annuities are intended to provide guaranteed income, not help you accumulate retirement savings.

Unlike other types of annuities, income annuities are annuitized immediately, regardless of when your payments actually begin. This differentiates them from accumulation annuities, which some people never annuitize.

Finally, all annuities are tax-deferred — which means you won’t owe taxes until you start receiving payments. Money is taxed as ordinary income when it’s withdrawn or distributed.

Annuity contracts are legal documents. If you have questions about the terms of your contract, make sure you get answers before you sign. Ask about commissions and fees, surrender charges and the free-look period.


Use the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s free background-research tool to find a financial professional.

If you need assistance with any aspect of your retirement planning, talk to a credible financial advisor.

When Do Income Annuity Benefits Typically Begin?

One of the most attractive features of income annuities is their ability to provide guaranteed income in retirement.

You can customize your annuity contract so that income payments begin right away or at a later date. According to FINRA, the annuity is known as a deferred income annuity if the payout is set to begin at a predetermined future date.

Immediate and Deferred Annuities

Your income payments will begin within a year of purchasing the annuity.
Your income payments will begin at least one year after your purchase.

Deferred income annuities may be a better option if retirement is still a few years away or you don’t need income right now.

Read More: What Is a Fixed Annuity?

What Are the Pros and Cons of Income Annuities?

The biggest benefit of income annuities — specifically lifetime income annuities — is insurance against outliving your retirement savings. In other words, the insurance company is on the hook for your payments — even if you draw down your account to zero.

Pros of Income Annuities

  • Protection from outliving your savings (risk protection)
  • Customizable contract details
  • Tax-deferred growth
  • Payment from your contact lasts even after you’ve recovered your principal and all your earnings
  • Fluctuations in the stock market have no effect on income payments

One disadvantage of income annuities is they typically pay a fixed amount of income. Over time, inflation may eat away at the value of your payouts.

Some insurers offer optional riders that increase your income payments to help keep pace with inflation. However, this perk comes at an extra cost.

Cons of Income Annuities

  • May not provide money for your heirs
  • Funds are not easily convertible into cash
  • Penalties and surrender charges may apply upon withdrawals too much, too soon

Read More: What Is a Fixed Index Annuity?

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Peace of Mind Comes From Knowing Your Money Is Protected

Learn more about how annuities can help provide you with guaranteed income, regardless of market conditions.

How Much Money Can You Expect to Receive with an Income Annuity?

An income annuity doesn’t provide a fixed rate of return, like a certificate of deposit (CD). Instead, you receive a fixed monthly income guaranteed for life, no matter how the markets perform.

How much money you receive from your income annuity is tied to how much money you put in along with your life expectancy at the time payouts begin.

The total payout from your annuity depends on how long you live. The longer you live, the more total income you’ll receive.

You will receive larger monthly payments if you structure payouts to only last your lifetime. If you die prematurely, the rest of your money stays with the insurance company.

However, for a slightly lower monthly payment, you can structure your income annuity to provide payouts to both you and your spouse, or to another beneficiary after you die.

Longevity Risk Protection

Insurance companies can provide longevity insurance thanks to “mortality credits” — a unique characteristic of lifetime income annuities.

Here’s how mortality credits work: When you buy an income annuity, the insurance company adds your premium to the pool of premiums it has collected from other annuity owners. The insurance company bases lifetime income annuity payments, in part, on the average life expectancy of the annuitants in the pool.

Some annuity owners will live longer than the number of years expected, but some will die earlier, leaving behind their share of income payments. These remaining payments are the mortality credits, and they are distributed to the surviving annuity holders from the pool.

If you die before you receive all your income annuity payments and you haven’t purchased a rider to allow for beneficiaries, then your remaining payments will go to annuitants who live beyond their life expectancy.

Read More: What Is a Variable Annuity?

What Is the Difference Between a Deferred Income Annuity and a Deferred Annuity?

Both single premium immediate annuities (SPIAs) and deferred income annuities (DIAs) are annuitized immediately. This means that your premium is converted to a stream of payments right away.

SPIAs are annuitized immediately and begin paying income within a few months while DIAs begin payout later.

SPIAs are straightforward, but people often confuse DIAs with deferred annuities. A deferred annuity doesn’t convert your premium to an income stream until the annuitization date specified in your contract.

To avoid confusion, think of a DIA as an immediate annuity with a delayed start date.

Deferred Income Annuity (DIA)

  • Premium is immediately converted to a series of payments.
  • Income benefits are delayed.
  • Interest is fixed.

Annuity expert Dr. Wade Pfau clarifies the difference in his book “Safety-First Retirement Planning: An Integrated Approach for a Worry-Free Retirement.” Dr. Pfau explains that the word “deferred” in a deferred income annuity refers to the postponement of the income payments, not the process of annuitization.

A deferred annuity, on the other hand, uses the word “deferred” to describe the delay in converting the contract value into a guaranteed stream of payments. Deferred annuities are not immediately annuitized and are often used for wealth accumulation as opposed to retirement income.

Deferred Annuity

  • Contract value is converted to a series of payments if and when you choose to annuitize.
  • Income may be immediate if you add a lifetime income benefit rider to your annuity contract.
  • Interest can be fixed, indexed or variable.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of funds can I use to purchase an income annuity?

Income annuities can be qualified or nonqualified. If you purchase an income annuity with pre-tax dollars from a qualified retirement plan, the annuity is considered a qualified annuity. If you buy the annuity with after-tax dollars, it’s a nonqualified annuity.

What happens to my income annuity money if I pass away prematurely?

If you did not purchase a rider with your income annuity, the insurance company will distribute your remaining account balance as mortality credits to surviving annuitants from the general account pool.

Are there age or health restrictions on an income annuity?

You will benefit from an income annuity if you are in good health and your family history suggests you will live beyond the average life expectancy.

How are income annuities taxed?

Income annuities are tax-deferred. Money is taxed as ordinary income when withdrawn or distributed.

What are the different types of income annuities?

Income annuities are immediate annuities, meaning the premiums are immediately converted to a series of income payments. Single premium immediate annuities (SPIAs) and deferred income annuities (DIAs) are the two types of income annuities and may also be referred to as longevity insurance or payout annuities.

Please seek the advice of a qualified professional before making financial decisions.
Last Modified: August 17, 2023