What are “separate accounts” in a variable annuity?
The “separate accounts” in a variable immediate or deferred annuity are investment accounts, similar to mutual funds, with specified investment objectives. The contract owner purchases these accounts in “accumulation units” (for deferred variable annuity contracts) or “annuity units” (for immediate variable annuities). The cash value of the deferred annuity and the amount of each annuity payment in the immediate annuity will vary according to the performance of these units.
There is, in both immediate and variable annuities, an annual expense charge of each separate account which impacts the cash value of the deferred contracts and the amount of annuity payments in immediate contracts. The amount of this charge can change over time, and, in some contracts, may be waived in some years.
Variable deferred annuity contracts also offer “fixed” accounts, which act like fixed deferred annuities in having a guarantee of principal and a fixed rate of interest that is usually declared each year. There is no annual expense charge for this “fixed” account
What is a variable annuity?
There are two types of variable annuities: (1) variable immediate annuities and (2) variable deferred annuities.
For both types, the value of the contract (the cash value of the deferred contract or the size of the income payment of the immediate contract) varies with the performance of the “separate accounts” chosen.
Unlike fixed deferred annuities, variable deferred annuities do not guarantee either a minimum rate of interest or safety of principal. Indeed, the concept of “interest” can be misleading when applied to a variable deferred annuity, as the value of the contract does not vary by the addition of interest, but in the fluctuating value of the “accumulation units” purchased in the “separate accounts.”
Variable immediate annuities differ from fixed immediate annuities in that the size of the payments is not guaranteed but varies according to investment performance of the “separate accounts.”
What is an immediate variable annuity?
A variable immediate annuity is an immediate annuity in which the amount of each year’s annuity payment varies with the investment performance of the “separate accounts” chosen by the contract owner.
With regard to the taxation of annuity payments made under a variable immediate annuity (or a deferred contract that has been annuitized under a “variable payout option”), it would not be feasible, or equitable from a revenue standpoint, to apply the regular annuity rules in taxing such payments. If investment experience were very favorable, for example, the application of a constant exclusion ratio would result in a correspondingly increased tax-free portion.