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ordinary annuityAn annuity is a contract to guarantee a series of structured payments over time. It starts at a predetermined date and lasts for a predetermined time. There are two main forms of annuity: the ordinary annuity and the annuity due.

Annuity Basics

An annuity has three chief characteristics.

First, this is a payment against a larger obligation. For example, a cable bill is not an annuity. A car payment is.

Second, each payment in an annuity is the same. For example, a student loan charging $800 per month is an annuity.

Finally, each payment period is fixed to the same interval. This can be a monthly, quarterly or weekly payment. If a payment happens on an irregular pattern, or fixed to some factor other than time, it is not an annuity.

For investors, an annuity typically means a product which delivers a payment at a later date. For example, many people saving for retirement purchase lifetime annuities. These are products which you buy early, and from which you receive fixed sums each month in your retirement.

What Is an Ordinary Annuity?

An ordinary annuity is an annuity which makes its payment at the end of each interval period. For example, an ordinary annuity with a monthly interval would make its payments at the end of the month.

This is different from an annuity due, which is paid at the beginning of each interval. (One of the most common examples of an annuity due is apartment rent payments, which are due at the beginning of a monthly interval.)

Common examples of an ordinary annuity include:

  • Home mortgages, for which the homeowner makes payments at the end of each month.
  • Income annuities, such as the lifetime annuity noted above, which also typically make payments at the end of each month.
  • Dividend payments, which are typically paid at the end of each quarter.

What Makes an Ordinary Annuity Different?

ordinary annuityThe key to an ordinary annuity is present value.

Present value, otherwise stated as the time value of capital, is the idea that money is worth more the sooner you have it. For any given contract, the longer you can hold onto a payment or the earlier you can get it, the more that money is worth. This is because the longer you have that money, the longer you can use it to generate a return.

An ordinary annuity typically has higher present value to the party making payments and lower present value to the party receiving them.

Consider, for example, a $2,500 mortgage payment. Since a typical mortgage payment is due at the end of the month, this gives you 30 extra days (on average) to invest this money and see a return. This can mean 30 more days of interest from the bank or growth from a well invested portfolio.

For the bank receiving this mortgage, that’s 30 days that it can’t invest, lend or otherwise use the $2,500. This annuity is worth less to the bank than an annuity due would be.

Interest Under an Ordinary Annuity

The present value of payments also changes the relationship each party in an ordinary annuity has to interest.

When interest rates go up, the value of an ordinary annuity goes down for a lender. This is because the nature of an ordinary annuity is such that it ties up the lender’s money for an extra month. Take our example above in the context of a higher-interest environment. The homeowner has an additional 30 days to take advantage of those greater potential gains while the bank has to lose out on 30 days of better returns.

Under an annuity due, the bank would be able to invest that $2,500 earlier to capture an extra 30 days’ worth of returns at a higher interest rate.

The Bottom Line

ordinary annuityIn a nutshell, an ordinary annuity virtually always benefits the party making the payments because they occur at the end of a pay period. This differs from an annuity due, which virtually always benefits the party receiving those payments.

Tips for Saving

  • One way to strengthen your savings strategy is to buy an annuity that will help you generate additional income once you retire. But it’s important to understand the pros and cons of annuities before deciding.
  • An annuity may be one of many sources of retirement income, alongside pensions, IRA distributions and other savings. Use our retirement calculator to see if you’re on pace to meet your eventual retirement income needs.
  • The rules around annuities are complex and can be difficult to navigate. That’s why it pays to speak to a financial advisor who can explain your options and help you decide whether annuities should be part of your retirement plan. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you find and choose an advisor in your area. Just answer some questions about your financial situation and goals, and the tool will find up to three local advisors who can meet your needs.

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Eric Reed Eric Reed is a freelance journalist who specializes in economics, policy and global issues, with substantial coverage of finance and personal finance. He has contributed to outlets including The Street, CNBC, Glassdoor and Consumer Reports. Eric’s work focuses on the human impact of abstract issues, emphasizing analytical journalism that helps readers more fully understand their world and their money. He has reported from more than a dozen countries, with datelines that include Sao Paolo, Brazil; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and Athens, Greece. A former attorney, before becoming a journalist Eric worked in securities litigation and white collar criminal defense with a pro bono specialty in human trafficking issues. He graduated from the University of Michigan Law School and can be found any given Saturday in the fall cheering on his Wolverines.
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