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Household Ownership of Variable Annuities

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  • Jeffrey Brown
  • James Poterba

Abstract

Variable annuities have been one of the most rapidly growing financial products of the last two decades. Between 1996 and 2004, nominal sales of variable annuities in the U.S. more than doubled, from $51 billion to $130 billion. Variable annuities now account for approximately nearly two thirds of annuity sales. The investment returns associated with variable annuities resemble those from mutual funds, and variable annuity buyers can select among a range of asset allocation options. Variable annuities are considered insurance products under the tax law, so buyers are not taxed on their investment returns until they make withdrawals from their variable annuity accounts. This paper describes the tax treatment of variable annuities, presents summary information on their ownership patterns, and explores the importance of several distinct motives for household purchase of variable annuities. The discussion of tax treatment examines the impact of the 2001 and 2003 tax bills on the relative tax treatment of variable annuities and other financial products. Household data from the 1998 and 2001 Survey of Consumer Finances shows that variable annuity ownership is highly concentrated among high income and high net wealth sub-groups of the population. Variable annuity ownership is less concentrated, however, than ownership of several other types of financial assets. Evidence on the role of tax incentives in encouraging ownership of variable annuities is mixed. The probability of owning a variable annuity rises with the marginal tax rate throughout most of the income distribution, but it is lower for households in the top tax bracket than for those with slightly lower tax rates.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11964.

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Date of creation: Jan 2006
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Publication status: published as Poterba, James (ed.) Tax Policy and the Economy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11964

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  1. Jeffrey R. Brown & Olivia S. Mitchell & James M. Poterba, 2001. "The Role of Real Annuities and Indexed Bonds in an Individual Accounts Retirement Program," NBER Chapters, in: Risk Aspects of Investment-Based Social Security Reform, pages 321-370 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. William M. Gentry & Joseph Milano, 1998. "Taxes and Investment in Annuities," NBER Working Papers 6525, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Feldstein, Martin & Liebman, Jeffrey B., 2002. "Social security," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 32, pages 2245-2324 Elsevier.
  4. Olivia S. Mitchell, 1999. "New Evidence on the Money's Worth of Individual Annuities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1299-1318, December.
  5. Weisbenner, Scott, 2002. "Do pension plans with participant investment choice teach households to hold more equity?," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1(03), pages 223-248, November.
  6. Jeffrey R. Brown & Mark J. Warshawsky, 2001. "Longevity-Insured Retirement Distributions from Pension Plans: Market and Regulatory Issues," NBER Working Papers 8064, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Milevsky, Moshe Arye & Panyagometh, Kamphol, 2001. "Variable annuities versus mutual funds: a Monte-Carlo analysis of the options," Financial Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 10(1-4), pages 145-161.
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Cited by:
  1. Inkmann, Joachim & Lopes, Paula & Michaelides, Alexander, 2010. "How Deep is the Annuity Market Participation Puzzle?," CEPR Discussion Papers 7940, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

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