As the stock market gets increasingly choppy, older investors take flight to products like variable annuities (VAs) that offer guaranteed income in their retirement years.

According to LIMRA, VA sales in the first half of the year rose 16 percent over the same period in 2010, reaching $80.7 billion. (LIMRA did not have third-quarter figures.)

What makes the product so attractive is the ability to maintain steady income in retirement. Some VAs have minimum guarantees of 5 percent, much better than the roughly 2 percent return generated in the S&P 500 stock index year-to-date.

VAs do carry some hefty fees; oftentimes, 3 percent or more annually, higher than the cost for the average actively managed mutual fund. Early withdrawals also come with heavy penalties in most contracts. Yet that seems to be a trade-off investors are willing to make for guaranteed income.

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