Inflation Fears, Legislation Could Boost Annuities

NEW ORLEANS ( TheStreet) -- Supporters of annuity plans, who often bill them as "personal pensions," are touting their recession era durability and pushing for federal tax breaks they say will advance their adoption.

The economic downturn seems to have had no ill effect on the immediate annuity market, which saw sales increase 30% in 2008, even as financial markets crashed.

"It is the only segment of the annuity market that grew last year and that will continue," says Craig Hemke, president and founder of BuyAPension.com, a site where users compare and buy plans.

Concerns about rising prices and the diminished buying power of the dollar are helping to shape new annuity products, including offerings with payments that adjust for inflation, rather than the traditional Cost of Living Index.

"An adjustment that somewhat approximates inflation could be valuable for someone who is worried about it," Hemke says. "At the end of the day, the number one choice of immediate annuities is still 'life only' or 'fixed.' People just want as much income as they can."

Other products go beyond "life only" plans to ensure a benefit for beneficiaries.

"The other option is the cash refund ," Hemke says. "It's a way of protecting beneficiaries with a lump sum. If you put $10,000 in this annuity and died after only getting $10,000 out in income, the insurance company gives your beneficiary $90,000."

Who are the people relying on annuities?

A recent survey by the Gallup Organization and the Committee of Annuity Insurers (CAI) says that eight out of 10 annuity owners have annual household incomes that are less than $100,000. Nearly half have household incomes that are less than $50,000.

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