Non-Qualified vs Qualified Annuities

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF® | Reviewed by Editorial Team

Updated on December 23, 2022

An annuity is an investment contract sold by an insurance company that guarantees a fixed or variable income for a specific period of time.

Annuities can be used to save for retirement or to provide a steady income stream during retirement.

There are two types of annuities: qualified and non-qualified.

What Is a Qualified Annuity?

A qualified annuity is an annuity that meets the requirements of Section 401(a) of the Internal Revenue Code.

A qualified annuity allows you to defer taxes on your contributions and earnings until you withdraw them.

In order to be a qualified annuity, the contract must meet certain requirements, including:

  • The contract must be for a specific period of time.
  • You must receive at least one guaranteed payment after your investment is made, regardless of how long you held the contract
  • Your money can't be used by the issuer
  • You may have to pay a penalty if you withdraw funds before age 59 1/2

Qualified annuities are generally appropriate for individuals who have reached the age of retirement and are looking to supplement their current income.

What Is a Non-Qualified Annuity?

A non-qualified annuity, also known as an "NQ" annuity, is any type of annuity contract that does not meet the requirements of a qualified annuity.

Non-qualified annuities offer more flexibility than qualified annuities, but they are also subject to taxation on contributions and earnings when withdrawn.

Non-qualified annuities may be a good choice for individuals who want to save for retirement but don't want to be limited by the restrictions of a qualified annuity.

They may also be a good option for those who are already retired and want to receive payments over a long period of time.

Which One Is Better?

The answer to this question depends on your individual circumstances.

Qualified annuities offer tax-deferred growth and are generally a better choice for those who are already retired. However, they may be more costly due to the increased fees, and leaving the funds invested for an extended period of time could result in lower returns.

Non-qualified annuities do not offer tax-deferred growth but allow you to withdraw your contributions at any time without a penalty or extra taxes. They are a better choice if you're planning to leave your funds invested for a shorter period of time, as the fees may outweigh the tax benefits. Non-qualified annuities allow access to your money without penalty before age 59 1/2, but they are taxed on contributions and earnings when withdrawn.

You should consider consulting with a financial adviser or tax professional if you have additional questions about qualified vs. non-qualified annuities.

How to Choose an Annuity

If you are looking to purchase an annuity, it is important to understand the different types of annuities and their features.

  • When choosing an annuity, you should consider:
  • The amount of money you plan to invest
  • Your age and retirement goals
  • How long do you plan to keep your funds invested
  • How soon you would like to receive payments from your annuity
  • The fees associated with each type of annuity (qualified or non-qualified)  

Non-Qualified and Qualified Annuities: Tax Treatment

Non-qualified annuities are treated differently than qualified annuities.

Contributions made to non-qualified accounts are treated as income and will be taxed accordingly. If the non-qualified account is funded with after-tax dollars, withdrawals of earnings may also incur taxes on top of the required 10% penalty for early withdrawal. Withdrawals of the original contribution (not earnings) will not be subject to taxes or penalties.

Qualified annuities are funded with pre-tax dollars, so contributions and any earnings are not taxed until they are withdrawn. The 10% penalty for early withdrawal does not apply to qualified withdrawals, but you must start taking required minimum distributions at age 70 1/2.

The Bottom Line

There are many factors that influence which type of annuity is best for your individual situation. Before making a final decision, consider consulting with a financial adviser or tax professional to determine which one will provide the best benefits for your needs.

  • If you are planning to leave your funds invested for an extended period of time, qualified annuities may be better since they offer tax-deferred growth
  • Non-qualified annuities are a good choice if you want to have immediate access to your funds without penalty or extra taxes
  • Consider the amount of money you plan to invest, your age and retirement goals, and how soon you would like to receive payments when making your decision.


Non-Qualified vs Qualified Annuities FAQs

Can a non-qualified annuity be converted to qualified annuities?

No, once the money is in a non-qualified account, it cannot be changed into a qualified plan. You can purchase a new qualified plan and transfer the funds from your existing non-qualified annuity to that plan.

How do I know if I'm considered "rich" for the purposes of buying an annuity?

Medical insurance is part of any retirement plan, even for those who are or seem to be rich. It depends on what you consider wealthy, but generally it's people with $1 million dollars in savings and annual income of $200,000.

What are some types of annuities?

Fixed or variable annuities are the most common type. Fixed-rate annuity guarantees that your principal will never decrease in value, but also means you'll earn a lower rate of return on your investment. Variable annuities allow you to pick different mutual funds, which come with their own risks and rewards. Indexed annuities are a type of variable annuity that guarantees you a minimum rate of return, usually higher than what you would get with a fixed annuity.

How do I start taking distributions from my qualified annuity?

You must start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your qualified annuity at age 70 1/2. The amount you are required to withdraw is based on your life expectancy and the total value of all your qualified accounts. You can take distributions in larger or smaller amounts, but you must meet the RMD requirement each year.

When am I taxed on my distributions from a qualified annuity?

Distributions from your qualified plan are taxed as income unless you made nondeductible contributions. Contributions that were not tax-deductible will be treated as a return of principal and therefore will not create taxable income when withdrawn.

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website, view his author profile on Amazon, or check out his speaker profile on the CFA Institute website.

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