If an annuity (fixed or variable) was purchased with non-qualified or after-tax dollars, a portion of each payment is considered to be a tax-free return of principal. The remainder of the payment is subject to taxation to the extent it represents earnings. Current federal income tax law specifies that the taxable portion of annuitized payments is taxable at ordinary income tax rates.
To determine the amount of each fixed annuity payment that qualifies as a tax-free return of principal, the insurance company makes an underlying calculation based on a formula known as the “exclusion ratio.” For variable annuities, since the amount of each future payment is unknown, a different calculation is performed to determine the exclusion amount.
If an annuity was purchased with qualified or pre-tax dollars using funds from a 403(b), a 401(k), or an IRA (other than a Roth or an after-tax IRA), the full amount of each distribution is taxable at ordinary income tax rates, even the amount attributable to principal.
Qualified assets, once they have been annuitized, are not subject to the required minimum distribution rules of the Internal Revenue Code since the insurance company is deemed to have already made the appropriate calculation for a lifetime distribution of the underlying assets.
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