In each case the annuity may be immediate (payments start at the time of the contract) or deferred (payments start at a predetermined later time).
An annuity is most often used to provide an income in old age, i.e. a pension.
An annuity may be purchased from an insurance company. In a typical annuity contract, an individual would pay a lump sum or a series of payments to an insurance company, and in return receive a fixed income payable for the rest of his life.
A collection of algebraic shortcuts known as annuity functions are used to model annuities, as well as a variety of other financial arrangements.
Because annuities generally give a series of guaranteed payments, they are priced consistently with other guaranteed investments, such as government bonds. These are less risky that other investments, such as the stock market, and offer a lower expected return than these. (Sometimes annuities offer higher guaranteed rates of return than those offered by bonds, but in this case the annuity provider risks going bankrupt and possibly defaulting on the policy, as has recently been happening in Japan.)
Thus annuities with dependable providers are suited to investors who are risk averse and want a guaranteed return. Investors can expect a higher return from other investments, but at the expense of taking a risk. Annuities also sometimes have different tax treatment to other investments, which may affect how attractive they are relative to other investments. Investors will also receive a better return if they manage to live longer than the annuity provider had predicted.
Annuities are a compulsory feature of certain savings schemes in some countries, where the government grants tax deductions, provided that savings are paid into a fund which can only (or mainly) be withdrawn as an annuity. The United Kingdom and the Netherlands have such schemes. From 2003 the tax deduction in the Netherlands is only allowed if, without additional savings, the old age income would be less than 70 % of the current income.
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