Annuities - a guaranteed income

If you’ve saved into a pension during your working life, you need to think about how that money work can best for you in retirement. When you stop work, how will your pension provide you with the income you need?

One way is an annuity. This used to be the only option for most pensioners, but even now that more choices are available, annuities remain popular. So what are they, how do they work, and what are the pros and cons?

What are annuities?

An annuity is actually an insurance product. You pay a lump sum to a provider, who in turn agrees to pay you a regular income for the rest of your life. This income is guaranteed and does not depend on a limited pot of money, so if you live a long time you may get back more than you paid.

The big advantage of an annuity is its reliability: you will always have an income. The main disadvantage is that this income may be smaller than you could achieve by another method.

How much will my annuity pay me?

The size of the income paid to you by your annuity will depend on a number of things. The main factors are:

How much you pay for it
Your age
The provider’s annuity rates at the time
Your state of health

Other factors include whether or not you want the annuity to include guarantees or cover your spouse as well, or whether you want the income to increase with time. Even your postcode can be a factor. Annuity rates can also vary a lot between providers, meaning some may give you tens of thousands more than others over the course of your retirement.

For this reason, it’s hard to estimate how much you might receive each year without first speaking to an independent financial adviser. Your adviser can assess all your circumstances and search the whole of the market to find the best deal for you – as well as seeing if you qualify for an enhanced annuity or any guaranteed annuity rates.

Will my annuity cover my spouse?

A standard annuity will stop paying out as soon as you die. However, you can select a joint-life annuity, which means it covers both you and one other person (usually your spouse). This kind of annuity will continue paying out a smaller income (usually 50 per cent of the original amount) to your spouse until they die.

You can also choose an annuity with guarantees. A guarantee means the annuity will pay out for a minimum time period (e.g. five years), even if you die sooner.

What if I have a health condition?

If you’re considering an annuity, then for once it can be an advantage to have a health condition. There are a range of medical conditions that can qualify you for an enhanced annuity – meaning you’ll receive a higher annual income for the same money.

Qualifying conditions include cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and a long list of others. Lifestyle factors may also apply, such as being a long-term smoker. Even if you don’t think you’d qualify, ask your adviser to check for you – as many as 60 per cent of annuity customers could be eligible.

Should I always shop around for the best annuity?

Usually, you can achieve better value from an annuity by looking beyond your existing pension provider. Finding a better product can often give you a significantly bigger income over the course of your retirement. However, always check with your adviser before switching to a new provider. Some pension pots come with a guaranteed annuity rate (GAR), which may entitle you to a very favourable annuity rate (some are worth many thousands more per year than standard annuities).

Often it isn’t easy to tell if your pension has a GAR – not every provider will draw your attention to this fact. Ask your adviser to find out whether you’re lucky enough to have one.

Is an annuity right for me?

There are many advantages to having an annuity, including predictability, security and simplicity. However, your income may not be as much as you hope for, and you won’t have the option of varying it if you suddenly find you need more money. You may want to ask your adviser to help you compare annuities with more flexible options.

Find out about other options for drawing your pension.

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