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Fixed Annuities: The Missing Piece of Your Retirement Planning Puzzle?
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Increasingly, the responsibility for funding a comfortable retirement is shifting from the employer and the government to the individual. Many people contribute to employer-sponsored retirement plans and IRAs, but there is another tax-advantaged retirement vehicle you may want to consider: annuities.

Annuity Essentials

An annuity is a long-term contract designed for retirement purposes. Annuities are sold by an insurance company and provide payments to the holder at specified intervals, usually after retirement. It can be purchased through either a lump-sum payment or in periodic installments.

A fixed annuity offers a guaranteed, fixed rate of return for a specified period of time and can provide guaranteed income for the rest of your life.1 Likewise, the amount of the benefit paid out at retirement is fixed. This feature can help when plotting a budget for your later years — you'll know in advance how much regular income you will receive. However, in exchange for less risk, the fixed annuity buyer gives up the potential for a larger investment return. Conversely, a variable annuity allows the buyer to choose from a variety of underlying investment options that will change in value. A variable annuity buyer takes on more investment risk in exchange for greater growth potential.

A Balanced View

Tax advantages — A big plus to owning a fixed annuity is that you can accumulate money on a tax-deferred basis. This means that the earnings in your annuity are not taxable until you "annuitize," or begin receiving payments — at a time when you may be in a lower tax bracket.2

Generous investment guidelines — There are generally no contribution limits on annuities. This can be especially advantageous if you've fallen behind in investing for your later years, or if you're looking to minimize taxes while investing for retirement and have contributed the maximum amounts to other tax-advantaged options. Unlike other retirement vehicles, annuities may allow you to continue contributing even after you've retired and whether you have earned income or not.

Estate planning benefits — If you die prior to receiving money from an annuity, your beneficiary may still receive a death benefit, although he or she will have to pay taxes on the amount.

Fees and penalties — As with other tax-advantaged retirement accounts, you may have to pay a 10% federal income additional tax if you withdraw money from an annuity prior to age 59½. In addition, you may have to pay a "surrender" charge to the issuing insurance company if you cancel your contract prematurely.

Fixed Annuities for Retirees

Already retired? You can still purchase a fixed immediate annuity. In exchange for contributing a lump sum to a fixed annuity, you can immediately begin receiving income payments for a specific length of time. This may be beneficial to a retiree in good health who is concerned about outliving assets.

One annuity can be very different from another, and rules are complex. But if steady income and preservation of principle are goals you want to pursue, a fixed annuity may offer advantages worth looking into.

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1All annuity contract and rider guarantees, or annuity payout rates, are backed by the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. They are not backed by Merrill Lynch or its affiliates, nor do Merrill Lynch or its affiliates make any representations or guarantees regarding the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

2Withdrawals of earnings are taxed as ordinary income.

© Wealth Management Systems Inc. All rights reserved.

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