Buying an annuity is a way of turning a pension pot into an income for life. At retirement you exchange your accumulated pension for a regular income from an annuity company.
Most people are familiar with annuities. Until 2015, they were the only option for the vast majority of retirees with a defined contribution / money purchase pension.
However, you can still buy an annuity pension if you want to secure yourself a guaranteed retirement income for the rest of your life. This guide explains annuities, defining what a life annuity is and how they work. It also offers a chance to compare annuity rates from the UK’s leading providers.
When you buy an annuity, you take the amount you’ve accumulated in your pension pot throughout your career and exchange it for a regular income for the rest of your life. You can choose to have your income paid monthly, quarterly, biannually or annually.
Annuities essentially work like Life Insurance but in reverse. Rather than paying regular premiums and receiving a lump sum on your death, with annuities you pay a lump sum at retirement and receive regular returns for life.
You don’t have to use your entire pension pot to buy an annuity. You can use part of your retirement savings to do so and access the rest of your pension under the new pension freedom legislation if you want.
There’s also no need to buy an annuity on the exact day you retire if you don’t want to. Annuities are available to purchase as and when you see fit (or not at all).
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Under the old rules, you had to buy an annuity at age 75, no matter how you started taking your pension income. Thanks to the pension freedoms this is no longer the case.
If you die early during the annuity, you may not live long enough to see all of your capital return.
Conversely, though, you may live a long time after purchasing your annuity. If so, you may end up receiving see more back from the annuity company than you paid in.
There are many different types of annuity available. You can also adjust and add to the various types on the market in a way that will impact how much your annuity is worth and how it is paid.
The simplest annuities are single life annuities, where the annuity is just based on the life on one person, known as the annuitant. Annuitant is just the technical term for someone receiving an annuity.
A single annuity pays out an income to one person, usually for the rest of your life (but potentially for a fixed period depending on the type of annuity you buy).
A joint annuity pays you an income for life but then, on your death, transfers to a selected beneficiary until their death. This could be a spouse, partner or any other chosen beneficiary, who’ll receive the income until they pass away. Alternatively, you could pass your annuity to a dependent child and the annuity will usually pay out until they’re 23.
A joint annuity can be a better option than a single annuity if you have a spouse or partner with little to no pension arrangements of their own.
The income your partner will continue to receive after your death is usually expressed as a percentage of your retirement benefit, e.g. 50% or 100%.
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You decide on how much your partner will continue to receive when you take out the annuity, but the more you want to offer them in income after you pass away the lower your initial annuity pension will be.
Unfortunately, not everyone makes it to retirement in good health. Some people even have to retire early due to illness. If you’re unwell at retirement, though, it could work in your favour in the form of a larger pension from an enhanced annuity.
Enhanced annuities are offered to people with lower than average life expectancies, which is why they’re sometimes known as impaired life annuities. They can increase your pension income by up to 50%.
Annuities for smokers are usually enhanced annuities because smoking reduces life expectancy. However, most impaired life annuities are given to people with life-limiting medical conditions, such as:
Depending on the severity of the condition, other medical problems may also qualify, such as asthma, high cholesterol and obesity.
You may be able to get a joint annuity on enhanced terms if your partner depends on your financially, even if you’re perfectly healthy and it’s your partner who’s ill.
Similarly, if you’re ill and your partner is healthy you’re likely to get an enhanced joint annuity rate — although perhaps not enhanced to the degree it would be if it was a single enhanced annuity or if you were both ill.
An immediate needs annuity is an annuity that you use to pay care home fees. They’re also know as immediate care plans and immediate need care fee payment plans. They’re designed to cover any gap between your income and the cost of long-term care.
The benefit of an immediate needs annuity is that it’s tax-free because you technically never receive the money — it all goes to the retirement home to pay for your care.
Immediate needs annuity costs will be determined by the usual factors, such as your age, state of health, the size of the lump sum you’re using to purchase the annuity and your life expectancy.
You can ensure that your annuity income will rise in line with future increases in care home fees by building this into your plan. This way, you can be sure that you never run out of money to pay for long-term care, no matter how long you live.
Short-term annuities are as simple as they sound. Rather than lasting for the rest of your life, as is usual for annuities, payments will only continue for a set period, e.g. 5-10 years, or until you die (whichever occurs first). For this reason short-term annuities are also known as temporary annuities.
The benefits of a short-term annuity are that, because you’re only securing income for a short period, they don’t cost as much as a ‘normal’ long-term annuity that pays until your death. This may therefore leave spare funds not tied up with an annuity for you to invest and draw an income from.
Not committing everything to a life annuity today may mean that, should annuity rates rise in the future, you may benefit from purchasing an annuity at a later date. Also, as you age, your annuity rate will rise anyway if you look to purchase a long-term annuity in the future.
A level annuity will never rise beyond what was agreed when you first bought an annuity. So if you bought an annuity aged 60 that pays you £10,000 a year and survive to 90, you’d still be receiving £10,000 every year.
Although your benefit hasn’t dropped, in ‘real’ terms (i.e. inflation-adjusted terms), it won’t be buying you the same basket of goods at the end of that 30 year period.
In 2016 the average price of a pint of milk was 42.7 pence — up from 23.9 pence in 1986!1 You can see how a fixed benefit today could easily be eaten up over 30 years by inflation.
An escalating annuity, also known as index-linked annuity, will rise over time. You can either have your annuity rise each year by a set amount — say 3% — or it can simply be tied to inflation and maintain pace with that.
While this reduces the risk of your benefit being eroded by inflation, it will be at the cost of a smaller annuity at the start to reflect that you’ll be receiving a higher income over time.
Provides a set income for a fixed period (typically between 5 and 10 years), but then unlike a short-term annuity it pays a ‘maturity amount’ at the end of the period. This maturity amount can be used to invest in another retirement product, perhaps a long-term annuity, another fixed-term annuity or however else you see fit.
You can adjust the annuity, although the higher the income you need the lower the maturity amount will be. The main benefit of a fixed-term annuity is that you don’t have to lock in a product for life and when the term ends you can find another retirement product if required.
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The risk with fixed-term annuities is that you don’t have control over the maturity amount. Market conditions may mean that the amount you receive at the end isn’t enough to continue to provide the retirement income you need.
A deferred life annuity is one that you buy but then don’t start receiving an income from until a later date. The longer your deferred period, the better the annuity rate.
Also known as capital protected annuities, these are one way in which you can secure a return of unspent capital in your pension pot when you pass away. No other life annuity will return ‘unused’ pension cash in this way.
The lump sum you receive back is equivalent to the amount you paid for the annuity minus the gross income (pre-tax) you’ve received from it.
If you die before the age of 75, your beneficiaries can receive this value protection payout from your life annuity tax-free. If you die after the age of 75, the amount your beneficiaries will get will be added to their income and taxed as income in the usual way.
When you add capital protection to an annuity, you’ll be sacrificing income to make up for the fact that you’ll be receiving a returned lump sum. Shop around to find the best deal and ask a pensions adviser whether this is the best thing. Alternatives include other annuity protections, such as a guarantee period.
Investment-linked annuities are generally seen as a riskier alternative to a traditional annuity. With an annuity, you’re guaranteed an income for life (or a fixed period, depending on the type of annuity you choose). This income will be yours regardless of how the money you invested with the annuity company is performing.
With an investment-linked annuity, however, your income will depend on the performance of the underlying investment, which may include stocks and shares.
This is good news if the stock market rises because you’ll benefit from a higher income than if you’d stuck with a traditional life annuity.
However, if the stock market falls your income will also likely fall. (This said, most investment-linked annuities offer a minimum income guarantee.)
There are two types of investment-linked annuities: with-profits annuities, where your income is linked to the annuity company’s with-profits fund, and unit-linked annuities, where you get to choose your investments.
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As your funds will be managed in an investment environment, you’ll usually need to pay ongoing fund management fees for an investment-linked annuity. This would not be the case for a traditional life annuity and will eat into your retirement income.
Pension annuities can only be bought with a pension pot, something that applies to most annuities. Purchased life annuities are purchased with other monies you may have (although potentially you could use your pension commencement lump sum). This could include the sale of a property or an inheritance.
A lifetime purchased life annuity can still provide you with a guaranteed income for the rest of your life and they have all the same options as pension annuities — however, they’re treated very differently for tax purposes which may be to your benefit.
Unlike pension annuities, which assume you’ve received tax relief on the money used to purchase them and so are taxed as income, purchased life annuities work differently. Part of each payment is treated as a return of the initial capital invested and is therefore free from income tax.
The proportion of your payment made up of return of capital will depend on your age when you purchased the annuity. With a purchased life annuity, tax is only paid on the interest your investment earns.
To get the best annuity rates, you’ll need to do an annuity comparison between the various providers on the market.
Don’t just stick with your pension provider if you do decide to turn your pension pot into an annuity. You might well find that another provider will offer you a far better rate.
You could go to the leading UK providers and look for annuity rates from each one individually, or you could use our quote engine which compares annuity quotes from the leading UK providers to help you find a good deal.
We started Drewberry because we were tired of being treated like a number. We want to give you as our client the service you deserve when discussing matters as important as planning your financial future.
Below are just a few reasons why it makes sense to let us help:
The best annuity rates are only available if you shop around. An annuity is a big commitment as you can’t change your mind.
That’s why it pays to get expert advice before jumping in. Please don’t hesitate to pop us a call on 02084327334 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.