An annuity is a contract where the person who pays for the annuity (the annuitant) will receive a set amount every year for a certain period. Despite the name annuity, the payments may be made monthly and the cost of the annuity will depend on the likely length of time for which it will be paid.
Most annuities are bought for a lump sum, i.e. single premium, and start immediately – known therefore as immediate annuities. Regular premium annuities are also available.
Annuities are normally expressed in terms of annual amounts payable, though in practice, they can be payable monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or annually. An annuity can be paid in advance or arrears, for example, where an annuity is effected on 1st January 2003, the first annual payment is due on the same date if it is paid in advance, or on 1st January 2004 if it is paid in arrears.
All types of annuity have in common the fact that they provide certainty of income over a given period. They are not usually savings schemes and it is possible that the amounts recovered will be less than the cost of the annuity. This is particularly true for a purchased life annuity. In return for the premium (single or regular), annual payments are made for the duration of the annuitant’s life, however long or short that might be. There are also annuities where the amounts paid depend on the growth of the sum invested, which might be used to buy units.
Where an annuity is payable in arrears, it can either be with proportion or without proportion. This is because each payment is made at the end of the period to which it relates. Thus, when the annuitant dies, there will be a period since the last instalment date for which no payment has been made. Under a with proportion annuity, a proportionate payment will be made to cover this period. This is not the case for a without proportion annuity, where no payment is made.