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Inflation Fears, Legislation Could Boost Annuities

"The long held concept of retirement security is changing," says Mathew Greenwald, who worked with CAI on the survey. "That concept since World War II has been the three-legged stool: Social Security, defined benefits and personal savings. With personal savings being the weakest link, defined benefit income going down and Social Security changing, there is uncertainty and annuities offer protections other products don't offer. Middle class people value those protections because they are the most vulnerable."

The survey also says that 58% of non-qualified annuity owners are female. The average age of owners increased from 66 to 70 between 2005 and 2009. Companies that sell annuities include investment firms such as Fidelity Investments and TIAA-CREF, and insurers such as MetLife (MET - Get Report), Hartford Financial Services (HIG - Get Report), and Lincoln Financial (LNC - Get Report).

Annuity providers are watching closely to see if industry-friendly legislation makes headway in Washington. Federal lawmakers are mulling bills that would allow retirees to exclude half of any annuity payouts from their taxable income. A House bill would limit that amount to $10,000 per year, while a Senate bill would cap it at $20,000. Another proposal being considered by the Obama Administration is to allow a portion of 401(k) contributions to be earmarked for the purchase of an annuity.

Joseph McKeever, a lawyer at Washington-based Davis & Harman who counsels the CAI, says the health care debate might overshadow efforts to change the retirement market this year.

"Next year, however, things are much more possible," he says. "I would certainly think that these types of incentives for annuities are going to be in the mix and something that people are going to be seriously considering."

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