Determine what kind of annuity you hold. There are three kinds of annuity, each one of which pays out money slightly differently. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulates all variable annuities and some index annuities. The SEC does not regulate fixed annuities.
- A fixed annuity pays out a predetermined amount at specific intervals over a period of time. This amount is usually based on a specific interest rate applied to your initial investment.
- An indexed annuity provides payment to the investor based on the performance of a stock market index fund (or, a fund that tracks the entire stock market performance). Most indexed annuities, however, have a set minimum for payments even if the index fund performs poorly.
- A variable annuity allows the investor to choose amongst various investment vehicles, usually mutual funds. Your periodic payment will depend upon the performance of these investments.
Determine the type of account your annuity is held in. In addition to the different types of annuity payments, annuities can be held in various types of accounts for certain purposes. These typically include investment and retirement accounts. Both types operate generally the same way, however, they may differ in early withdrawal and tax penalties charged. Check your investment documents or retirement plan agreement to see what type of penalties and restrictions there are on your annuity.
Consider penalty-free early withdrawal options. Some deferred annuity policies provide an option for small cash withdrawals without extra penalties. For example, a withdrawal of 5-10% of your initial investment might be accomplished without paying a “surrender fee” to your insurance company. While taking an early withdrawal will diminish your investment’s ability to grow, you might be able to get the cash you need without completely emptying your annuity.
- If your annuity is part of a retirement account and you are under 59.5 years old, you might still have to pay a 10% tax to the federal government, even if you don’t have to pay a penalty to your insurance company.
Determine your surrender period. A surrender period is the period of time after the initial purchase of the annuity where you will be charged hefty fees for cashing out your plan. A surrender period can be anywhere from 5-10 years after purchase, depending on your contract, though it is usually between 6-8 years.
- If your surrender period has passed, you might be able to cash out your annuity without paying too many fees.
- If your surrender period has not yet passed, you might want to consider the expenses involved before continuing the early withdrawal process.
Reread your annuity contract. Review the details of your annuity contract. Pay attention to the full-disclosure clause of your agreement. It’s important that you understand what portion of your annuity payments you are exchanging for a lump-sum cash payment.
Understand the process. If you are seeking a lump sum of cash in lieu of structured payments, you are in effect signing over to someone else all your rights to receive future annuity payments. That “someone else” is the entity giving you the lump-sum cash.
- Be aware that in the long term your annuity is worth much more if you receive structured payments according to the original contract. Talk to your insurance agent to determine the exact worth of your annuity. You may decide to ride out your immediate cash-flow crisis instead of cashing in.
Be aware of possible financial penalties. Withdrawing cash from your annuity early can lead to hefty penalties, taxes, and fines. Be sure that you take these penalties into account before making your decision to withdraw your cash.
- If your annuity is part of a retirement account and you withdraw your money before you are 59.5 years old, you will have to pay a 10% early withdrawal fee to the federal government.
- If you withdraw your money within the first 5-8 years of purchase, you will likely have to pay a “surrender fee” to your insurance company. The exact fee amount depends on your contract. Many surrender fees begin at about a 7% penalty for the first year after purchase and decrease over time from there. However, some companies might charge a fee as high as 20%.
Research companies that offer cash in exchange for annuity payments. None will give you the full value of your future payments. They might offer anywhere from 60% to 85% of the value of your annuity. Getting 85% of your annuity’s value would be considered a fairly good offer. Since you are legally transferring your rights, you want a company that follows standard procedures and will prepare you for any required court proceedings.
Consult your tax attorney or financial advisor. Before agreeing to sell your annuity to a third party, consult a trusted legal or financial expert. They will help you determine your financial liability and help you navigate through the complicated contracts you might have to sign. This will help to ensure that you understand what is happening and that it is done correctly. They might also be able to help guide you to the most reputable companies that purchase annuities.
Collect your documents. Documents required for the sale of an annuity include two forms of identification, your initial annuity policy, and an application to sell your annuity to a third party. You might have to contact your insurance company in order to receive correct, up-to-date copies of your paperwork.
Complete the transaction. Upon submitting your paperwork and paying your fees and penalties, you will be able to receive your cash payout. Make sure that you report this income correctly during tax time and that you pay all the extra taxes on this money to avoid future penalties.
- You might want to consider discussing your finances with a financial advisor to ensure that you will use and invest the cash payout properly.