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Comparing Fixed-Rate Annuities to Bank CDs

Fixed-rate annuities and bank CDs have distinct pros and cons - make sure to compare them before investing.

By Ken Nuss

Fixed-rate annuities act much like bank certificates of deposit but usually pay much higher rates than CDs of the same term.

How can insurers afford to do that? After all, both banks and insurers pay a set rate. Before we answer that question, let’s cover the basics of how each works.

Ken Nuss

Ken Nuss

A very popular type of fixed annuity, the multi-year guarantee annuity, pays a guaranteed rate of interest for a period of two to 10 years. There’s no sales charge. This is why they’re often referred to as “CD-type annuities,” but there are key differences between them and CDs.

Taxation, Penalties and Liquidity

One is taxation. As long as you reinvest annuity interest and don’t withdraw it, you won’t pay income tax. Tax-deferral lets your interest compound faster. When the guarantee period ends, you can renew for another term or reinvest the entire amount in a new annuity via a 1035 exchange and continue to defer taxes.

CD interest is taxable each year when credited, even if it is not withdrawn.

CDs have penalties for early withdrawal. So do fixed annuities. Withdrawals larger than allowed by the contract before the surrender period has ended will result in early-surrender charges. However, many fixed-rate annuities let you withdraw up to 10 percent of the value annually without penalty; some are more restrictive.

With most CDs or annuities, if you choose to receive interest payments instead of reinvesting them, you won’t be penalized.

Unlike CDs, with an annuity, if you receive interest from it before age 59½, you’ll owe the IRS a 10% penalty on the accumulated interest earnings you’ve withdrawn as well as ordinary income tax. So, don’t buy a fixed annuity if you may need the money before age 59½. The IRS will waive the penalty if you’re permanently disabled.

Unlike CDs, fixed annuities are not FDIC-insured, but they are covered by state guaranty associations, which provide some protection up to certain limits. Each state has a guaranty association that’s backed by life insurers that do business in that state. Should your annuity company become insolvent, the guaranty association is required to cover the shortfall. In most states, they will cover an annuity up to $250,000, but in a few states it’s lower ($100,000 in New Jersey and Puerto Rico are the lowest) and in several states it’s $300,000, with New York the highest at $500,000. The associations provide full coverage up to the limit, except in California, where coverage is 80% not to exceed $250,000.

FDIC or NCUA insurance is backed by the United States government. Individual accounts are insured up to $250,000.

Furthermore, annuity issuers have a good track record, and economists consider annuities to be safe, especially if you choose a highly rated insurer.

Fixed-rate annuities offer terms from two to 10 years. CDs are typically available with terms from one month to five years. A few banks offer terms up to 10 years.

Annuity Rates Dwarf CD Rates

As of mid-November 2021, you can earn up to 3.15% annually on a five-year fixed annuity. The top five-year CD rate was 1.25%, according to Bankrate.

One advantage of CDs is that they usually have lower minimums to get started—with some, there’s no minimum. Most fixed annuities require at least $2,500, and some have a substantially higher minimum premium.

Let’s say you have at least $10,000 to invest. You could buy a five-year annuity paying 2.80% from an insurer with an A.M. Best “A” rating. Interest is compounded daily and credited annually. It offers 10% penalty-free withdrawals annually, but the interest portion of these withdrawals will be taxable (any portion that’s return of principal is not taxed). If you instead reinvest all interest, you’ll defer federal and state income tax.

As mentioned above, you’ll continue to defer taxes on the interest you’ve accrued. However, if you decide instead to surrender your annuity and cash out, you’ll then owe tax on five years’ worth of interest if you had let all interest accumulate in the annuity.

Here’s a roughly comparable CD from an NCUA-insured credit union open to anyone (NCUA federal insurance is the credit-union equivalent of FDIC insurance). The minimum on its five-year CD is $1,000, but it pays the same no matter how much you deposit. The APY as of Nov. 23 was 1.25 percent. The credit union carries the top five-star rating for financial strength from Bauer Financial.

Dividends are posted monthly and are taxable annually. Within 365 days from the open date of the certificate, the penalty for early withdrawal before maturity will be the last 365 days of dividends earned. After 365 days the penalty is 30% of gross amount of dividends that would have been earned if the certificate had reached maturity.

Fixed annuities often outperform CDs at shorter terms too, and terms up to 10 years are available. See this annuity rate table.

Why Insurers Can Pay More

Why can insurers safely afford to pay more? It’s in large part determined by what insurers and banks can invest in. Additionally, higher minimum premiums and longer terms may help insurers be able to pay more.

Banks make their money mostly on loans: mortgages, commercial loans, and personal loans such as auto loans. Interest rates on most loans are low these days. Additionally, banks have to absorb significant overhead costs and loan defaults. They don’t have a lot left over to pass on to CD buyers.

Fixed annuities are backed by the insurance company’s general account. Life insurers invest in a mix of corporate and government bonds, stocks, mortgages, real estate, and policy loans. These investments are often longer-term and can offer higher returns than bank loans.

Insurers are primarily regulated by the states. The federal government is the primary bank regulator. These different regulatory systems can give insurers advantages in cost structure, risk tolerance, and investment flexibility.

Consider All Options for Guaranteed Rates

If you’re looking to secure a guaranteed interest rate, don’t automatically jump into a bank CD—or a fixed annuity for that matter. CDs and fixed annuities each have their pros and cons, and because of penalties on pre-59½ annuity withdrawals, annuities are usually most appropriate for people in their 50s and older. If you don’t have at least $2,500 available, you won’t find very many fixed-rate annuity options.

But annuities do have two distinct advantages over CDs: tax deferral and typically higher guaranteed interest rates. Today, it’s easy to shop for and compare CDs and fixed annuities online.

About the author: Ken Nuss

Ken Nuss is the founder and CEO of AnnuityAdvantage, a leading online provider of fixed-rate, fixed-indexed and lifetime income annuities. He’s a nationally recognized annuity expert and author. A free rate comparison service with interest rates from dozens of insurers is available at or by calling (800) 239-0356. 

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