Is An Annuity Considered Income?

When it comes to securing a stable financial future, understanding how your income streams are classified can have significant implications. If you’re wondering, “is an annuity considered income?” the short answer is yes – annuities provide a stream of income and are indeed considered taxable income.

However, tax treatment of annuity payments varies depending on the type of annuity and other factors. This article explores the intricate tax landscape of annuities, offering insights to help you navigate your annuity income wisely.


  • Annuity income is classified as ‘unearned’ for tax purposes, not affecting Social Security benefits calculations, and annuity payments are taxed as ordinary income, with tax implications varying between qualified and non-qualified annuities.
  • Retirement planning should include strategies to minimize tax liabilities and optimize financial outcomes, taking into consideration the impact on RMDs, Medicare premiums, and Social Security benefits taxation.
  • Consultation with a trusted advisor is crucial when dealing with annuities, especially regarding taxation of withdrawals, strategies for deferring RMDs, handling inheritance tax implications, and considering annuity rollovers or exchanges.

Need help deciding which annuities are best for your retirement needs? If so, it’s best to speak with an annuity specialist. Watch this short video to see how I can help you do this (at no cost to you!)

Understanding Annuity Income: Is It Earned Income?

Annuities are financial tools that convert your savings into a consistent income. They possess a unique tax classification, which refers to this income as ‘unearned.’ Neither pension income nor any other form of annuity income is categorized as earned income for tax purposes.

Interesting to note that since annuity income is not classified as earned income, it does not affect Social Security benefits, which are based on earned income calculations. This means individuals receiving annuity income could qualify for certain benefits due to a reduced amount of earned income.

The Tax Status of Annuity Payments: Ordinary Income Explained

Annuity payments are classified and taxed as ordinary income. How is it implemented? This depends on whether the annuity is qualified or non-qualified. Each type carries unique tax implications, including ordinary income tax, which we’ll explore in the following subsections.

Qualified Annuity Taxation: When Retirement Plans Affect Taxes

Imagine stashing away your hard-earned money in a retirement plan like a 401(k) or traditional IRA. These pre-tax dollars are then used to purchase a qualified annuity. The contributions made to this annuity are deductible within the IRS limits for retirement plans.

This provides tax benefits for individuals who are saving for retirement. But what happens when the time comes to start receiving payments?

Qualified annuity payouts, also known as annuity payments, are taxed as ordinary income, meaning the entire annual amount received is taxable. Regardless of whether you’ve contributed after-tax amounts, annuity payments from a qualified employer retirement plan are fully taxable.

Similarly, if these payments stem from an IRA, they’re taxed at ordinary income rates.

Non-Qualified Annuity Taxation: The Exclusion Ratio Advantage

Non-qualified annuities have the following features:

  • They are bought using post-tax dollars, meaning taxes have already been paid on the money used to purchase them.
  • They offer an advantage known as the exclusion ratio, which can save you some dollars when tax season rolls around.
  • The IRS employs methods like the General Rule and the Simplified Method to calculate the taxable and non-taxable portions of annuity payments.

Non-qualified annuity payouts are also taxed as ordinary income, but only the profit portion is taxable, leaving the principal portion untaxed.

This results in partially taxable payments. Using after-tax dollars to fund these annuities provides an opportunity to defer taxes on earnings, distinguishing them from other investment accounts.

Planning Retirement Income: Net Income and Tax Implications

Retirement planning can be as challenging as steering a ship in stormy seas. Some strategies that can help lower RMDs, thereby reducing income tax liabilities and influencing Medicare premiums and the taxation of Social Security benefits, include:

  • Employing strategies such as QLACs
  • Utilizing tax-efficient investment vehicles
  • Maximizing contributions to tax-advantaged retirement accounts
  • Implementing a Roth conversion strategy

These strategies can help navigate the complex landscape of retirement planning and optimize your financial situation.

Adjusting investment strategies before and after retirement is necessary. This is because post-retirement investments generally lean towards more conservative growth rates.

The ghost of inflation also needs to be considered in retirement planning to safeguard the purchasing power of retirement income over time.

An annuity income calculator can be a handy tool to estimate monthly retirement income by considering annual savings and expected returns.

Health Expenses and Annuity Income: Preparing for the Unexpected

Health expenses can be a significant drain on retirement savings. Annuities can offer a lifeline here. They can provide unique tax benefits, allowing policyholders to pay for long-term care and health expenses without incurring the usual taxes on distributions.

A steady income stream from annuities can effectively cover ongoing health care expenses.

Certain annuities come with long-term care riders. These allow annuity owners to access their annuity’s death benefit to pay for long-term care expenses tax-free, provided they meet the required conditions of being chronically ill.

If annuity policyholders or their spouses become gravely ill, some annuities allow withdrawals without surrender fees.

Sheltering Income from Market Risk with Annuities

Annuity as Shelter from Market Risk

The financial world can be a roller coaster ride, with market values going up and down. Here’s where annuities can provide a comforting shelter.

Deferred income annuities allow individuals to create a guaranteed income stream that begins at a future date, offering protection from market risks with various payout options tailored to meet different needs.

Non-qualified annuities offer a stage of tax deferral during the accumulation phase, protecting from periodic tax events unlike other investment products such as mutual funds and ETFs.

Various types of annuities offer different levels of protection and growth, and consulting a professional advisor can help you understand the best choice for your individual financial goals and tax circumstances.

Withdrawals and Penalties: Accessing Annuity Funds Early

Accessing annuity funds before the age of 59½ can be a slippery slope. This can lead to a 10% early withdrawal penalty tax. However, there are exceptions to this penalty, including:

  • Distributions that are part of a series of substantially equal periodic payments
  • For individuals who are totally and permanently disabled
  • For immediate annuity contracts

The earnings portion of an early withdrawal from a deferred annuity is taxed as ordinary income. Special rules apply to qualified public safety employees and distributions paid to alternate payees under Qualified Domestic Relations Orders, exempting them from the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

Inheritance Considerations: Passing on Annuity Wealth

Passing on annuity wealth to your loved ones can be a complex process. Beneficiaries must pay income tax on inherited annuity payments attributed to profits. Lump-sum distributions from the annuity are also taxed based on profits. Beneficiaries have several payout options, each with different tax impacts:

  • Take a lump-sum distribution
  • Roll the annuity into an inherited IRA
  • Take systematic withdrawals
  • Take annuitized payments

It is important to consult with a financial advisor or tax professional to determine the best option for your specific situation, especially when it comes to income taxes and how to pay income taxes efficiently, as well as understanding when and how to pay taxes.

Spousal beneficiaries can opt for spousal continuation, keeping the annuity’s tax-deferred status. On the other hand, non-spouse beneficiaries will owe income tax at their personal tax rates.

Distributions made to beneficiaries or the estate on or after the annuity owner’s death are exempt from the 10% penalty, aiding in a smoother transition of annuity wealth.

Annuity Rollovers and Exchanges: Tax Rules and Opportunities

Annuity rollovers and exchanges offer another layer of possibilities. Here are some key points to know about 1035 exchanges:

  • A 1035 exchange permits a tax-free transfer of an existing annuity contract or life insurance policy to a new like-kind product.
  • The transaction must be direct between institutions.
  • The cost basis of the old contract transfers to the new one, which is then reported on tax return Form 1099-R without incurring immediate taxes.

Rolling over funds from traditional IRAs or 401(k) plans into an annuity preserves the tax-deferred status. Similarly, Roth options maintain their tax-exempt status. However, contemplating exchanges or rollovers requires professional advice due to the complexity involved.

Leveraging QLACs for RMDs: Tax Deferral Strategies

Qualified Longevity Annuity Contracts (QLACs) offer a strategy to defer Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) until age 85. Purchasing QLACs can strategically lower RMDs from ages 73 to 85, reducing taxable income during those years.

The SECURE 2.0 Act of 2022 increased the QLAC investment limit to $200,000 or 25% of an individual’s retirement account balance, whichever is less. This provides a substantial option for deferring taxes on a portion of retirement savings. However, QLACs defer taxes on RMDs, but they do not avoid them entirely.

Here are some key points to remember about QLACs:

  • The QLAC investment limit is now $200,000 or 25% of an individual’s retirement account balance, whichever is less.
  • QLACs allow you to defer taxes on required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your retirement savings.
  • RMDs from the QLAC must commence by age 85.
  • Payments from the QLAC are taxed as ordinary income.


Navigating the world of annuities and their tax implications can be a complex journey. But with the right knowledge and guidance, you can turn this journey into a rewarding one.

From understanding the nature of annuity income to leveraging QLACs for RMDs, the path to financial security in retirement can be paved with informed decisions. And remember, when in doubt, consult with a financial expert to ensure you’re making the best choices for your unique financial situation.

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During the consultation, you will:

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