What is the Greatest Disadvantage of an Equity-Indexed Annuity?

Equity-indexed annuities have grown increasingly popular as they allow you to share in market gains while protecting against declines, yet still provide potential returns. Unfortunately, however, equity-indexed annuities come with some moving parts which could compromise potential returns.

Some annuities follow an index using a point-to-point method that disregards any declines between. Furthermore, many annuities offer participation rates or rate caps which could limit your gains.

1. They’re complex

Equity-indexed annuities can be difficult for consumers to comprehend due to their complex design, with many moving parts that may or may not be entirely transparent.

These annuities combine features from both fixed and variable annuities to offer both low risk with guaranteed minimum interest rate guarantees, and potential upside based on an index’s performance.

These gains may be limited by an “index cap,” which sets an upper limit to how high an index can rise. Furthermore, some annuities include an asset fee that reduces any index gains by subtracting a fixed percentage from any gains.

Other variables can also influence an equity-indexed annuity’s potential return, including its participation rate and loss floor. Due to these complexities, it’s crucial that you carefully consider all of its advantages and disadvantages before investing. Speaking to professionals can also help clarify how they may impact your retirement savings plan.

2. They’re not guaranteed

An indexed annuity provides investors with both potential market gains and protection from market losses, often sold through insurance agents who make generalized marketing claims about its safety and security.

Annuities typically contain what are known as rate caps, which limit how much gains you can accrue if the index rises. For instance, one such rate cap could set an upper limit at 7% and mean that even if it rose 10% in one year, only 7% would go directly to you due to this limit.

Index annuities that don’t incorporate dividends in their calculation of index returns make a serious mistake, given that dividends have historically represented approximately 40% of index returns.

Some indexed annuities also come equipped with a “buffer,” or shield, that provides protection from severe market declines by limiting how much of your principal is lost. Unfortunately, this protection often incurs steep surrender charges over 15 or more years.

3. They’re expensive

Index annuities offer higher potential returns than fixed annuities; however, their fees can also be quite steep – such as participation rates and spread/margin/asset fees that reduce the actual returns you experience from investing.

Participation rates on an indexed annuity define how much you participate in its gains. For instance, if it has an 80% participation rate and the index it links to shows 15% profit, but your insurance company takes its participation rate out before calculating what portion will go directly to you.

Furthermore, how an insurance company calculates index returns may have an outsized influence on your actual returns. Insurance companies usually do not include reinvested dividends into their calculations which could reduce actual index returns by as much as 40%! Lastly, many indexed annuities feature caps that limit how much more can increase.

4. They’re not tax-advantageous

An indexed annuity offers more than guaranteed interest, usually between 1% to 3% on 90% of premiums paid. Its payment is tied to a market index which typically excludes dividends on securities included within it.

Index annuities offer low-risk investments with potential upside potential when markets rise. But it is essential to understand their limitations; for instance if an indexed annuity’s index soars by 30% within one year, your return would still only increase by a certain percentage due to participation rate and yield-spread factors; any gains over this cap are often retained by insurance companies in their profits and not credited back into your annuity – thus drastically decreasing your upside potential.


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