• Retirement and Annuity Advisor Jennifer Lang

Benefits of Annuities During a Recession.

Updated: Feb 24

Annuities have become increasingly popular in recent years. While due to many reasons, two big ones are that annuities pay guaranteed income and provide tax-advantaged growth for your money.

The biggest advantage of their guaranteed payouts? Your income stream doesn't change with political or economic conditions, such as a recession.

The technical definition of an economic recession is two successive quarters of negative economic growth. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is the body that determines when the U.S. economy is going through a recessionary period.

According to research by NBER and graph data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the United States has been through 17 recessions since 1920.

Annuities come in all sorts of flavors, but the two primary flavors are fixed annuities and variable annuities. One type of fixed annuity, the fixed index annuity, is so popular with retirees and working-age retirement savers, it’s also worth a mention.

The biggest risk with annuities in a recession is risk of loss – or how much the money you have parked in the annuity loses value due to market conditions. Depending on the type of annuity you hold, your money might be at greater risk for loss based on how the market behaves.

Let’s go into more depth about these annuity types and how a recession affects them differently.

How Do Annuities Work?

Annuities are a kind of insurance product. They come from life insurance carriers. In exchange for a lump-sum payment or series of payments, the insurance company pays you a secure, steady stream of monthly income payments.

Depending on how you set up payments with the insurance company, the income stream can last for 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, or even life. Not only that, the payouts can be structured so that only person receives them or that two spouses receive income. These are called “single life” or “joint life” payouts.

The IRS tax law classifies annuities as retirement savings vehicles. This gives them special tax treatment.

The money you put into an annuity grows tax-deferred, meaning the dollars you accumulate from its growth aren't taxed until they are withdrawn. Your withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income.

Once you start your income from the annuity, you receive a monthly check that is always for the same amount. Many people flock to annuities because of the secure income streams they pay out for retirement.

What Risk Do Different Annuities Carry? In a recession, variable annuities carry more risk than fixed annuities. In fact, variable annuities are the riskiest type of annuity. The money inside a variable annuity is invested in a selection of funds called subaccounts. The subaccounts rise and fall with the values of the underlying securities (stocks, bonds, or real estate) that they hold. These fund choices are directly linked to market indexes, which recessions generally cause to go down.

On the other hand, fixed annuities give you guaranteed fixed interest rates. The interest rate is pre-set and is guaranteed for a certain period. Your fixed annuity contract will earn this interest no matter what the stock market does. Therefore the value of your money doesn’t go down.

Because fixed annuities protect your money during down periods, many people buy them for peace of mind. One type of fixed annuity, a fixed index annuity, allows you to earn interest based on an underlying index benchmark, but without market risk to your principal.

Fixed Index Annuities and Their Interest-Earning Potential

Fixed index annuities are a special kind of fixed annuity. They don't pay a guaranteed rate of interest like fixed annuities.

Instead, the interest that they pay is linked to an underlying financial benchmark like the Standard & Poor's 500 price index.

When the benchmark rises in value, the insurance company will credit the contract with interest based on a portion of that index increase. And when the index declines? The index annuity contract earns zero for that period, so the value of your money stays the same in spite of the index loss.

In return for this non-guaranteed rate, most fixed index annuities pay more interest over time than traditional fixed annuities. Keep in mind, though, this interest isn’t guaranteed, and in exchange for protection of your money, the insurer can also limit your index annuity’s growth with caps, participation rates, or spreads.

While your principal and earned-interest money are protected in fixed and fixed index annuities, your money could lose purchasing power due to inflation in periods when you earn low or no interest.

How Can Recessions Affect Variable Annuities?

In times when the market isn't doing so well, it’s possible to lose money in a variable annuity. Why? Because they offer no guarantee of principal.

However, they can also provide better growth for your money than fixed or indexed annuities can because their potential for growth isn’t limited.

But variable annuities are by far the most vulnerable type of annuity to a recession of the three types of annuities. After all, the markets usually decline during a recession. This is due to the higher risk-reward relationship of variable annuities.

Fixed Annuities and Recessions

Contrast that with fixed annuities, which have less exposure to risk. When you start a fixed annuity contract, the insurance company takes the bulk of your premium dollars and puts them into low-risk, fixed-income