Annuity vs. Mutual Fund: Which Makes More Sense For Retirees?

Annuity vs. Mutual Fund

Two of the most prevalent investment options for retirees are mutual funds and annuities. Like all financial and investment products, investing in either of these options comes with a set of benefits and drawbacks.

Let us discuss in detail and try to find out which one of these two investment options makes sense for you if you are about to retire.

What is an Annuity?

In an annuity, you can invest an amount of money, as a lump-sum payment or in parts, as a part of a contract between you and your insurance company. In return, you can choose to receive guaranteed proceeds either for a fixed tenure or for as long as you live. Whether the payments start immediately or after a fixed period, depends on the terms and conditions of the annuity you invest in.

Based on the likely rate of return, annuities broadly fall into two types of categories, namely, fixed annuities and variable annuities.

Fixed Annuity

A fixed annuity, true to its name, provides an assured return for the tenure of the contract. The insurance company guarantees reimbursement in advance, regardless of the market performance.

Variable Annuity

The variable annuity payouts are neither fixed nor assured. They may increase or decrease based on the market performance.

A key advantage of annuities is that investors defer taxes on interest, dividend, or capital gains for the duration of time their money is in the annuity. The taxation, at withdrawal, is only on the capital gains and not on the amount contributed towards the annuity. Also, as their name suggests, the annuities can be annuitized. You can make a guaranteed income stream for a fixed period.

Annuities are basically insurance products and not investment securities and hence the insurance companies provide the guarantees to back them. However, you should keep in mind that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulates only the variable annuities and not the fixed ones.

Annuities are a useful means to defer taxes on investments and generate assured regular income in retirement which is even more vital in a rising cost and energy environment because of new policies.

What Is a Mutual Fund?

In a mutual fund, investment companies collect money from investors and invest it on their behalf. The money goes into a mix of investment securities and money market instruments to maximize returns.

You can set up and use a 401(k) account, a brokerage account, or an individual retirement account (IRA) to invest in mutual funds. Investment specialists and money managers run mutual fund portfolios and are responsible to generate the maximum possible returns for their investors consistently.

There are several types of mutual funds, each based on its investment strategy and the nature of securities that it invests in:

  • Equity Funds invest entirely in stocks
  • Index Funds imitate the investment mix of a market index, and their performance is directly linked to that of the index
  • Exchange-Traded Funds trade on stock exchanges
  • Money Market Funds invest in debt instruments
  • Fixed Income Funds invest in bonds
  • Balanced Funds invest in both stocks and bonds
  • Sector Funds invest in a particular sector
  • Global Funds invest in overseas markets

Annuity or Mutual Fund: Factors to Consider Before Investing

Here is a comparison that may help you choose between the two types of investments:

Safety

If you do not foresee having a steady income post-retirement, a fixed annuity may be the best option for you. In a fixed annuity, the insurance company guarantees to pay you a particular amount until the end of your contract period. Variable annuities do not guarantee a specific amount, but some may have a minimum rate of return guaranteed by the insurance provider.

With mutual funds, there is no guaranteed income. The rate of returns on the money you invest varies a great deal depending on the market performance.

Expenses

Annuities have some of the highest associated expenses among the investment products.

Mutual funds, especially index funds, are very low on expenses.

Tax-Deferral

Tax on any income from annuities is deferred until the time of withdrawal. On withdrawal, only the capital gains are taxable.

In mutual funds, you are liable to pay taxes on dividends and capital gains. However, if you invest through an individual retirement account (IRA) or a 401(k) account, you are liable to pay tax only at the time of withdrawal.

Return on Investments

Mutual funds may offer variable returns based on market performance, while annuities offer assured returns. On the other hand, there are many charges and fees associated with the annuities, which, when deducted from your gains, tend to make the returns on investment much lower. 

Liquidity

With mutual funds there is no lock-in period, making it easier for you to sell and exit anytime you wish. 

With annuities, however, there can be a lock-in period, as long as 10 years sometimes. Any early withdrawal can attract high surrender charges which hurts even more in a slow growth or no growth economy.

The Bottom Line

If you are looking for absolute safety, annuities are the best option for you. But if you do not mind some added risk with the potential to earn higher returns, you should invest in mutual funds.