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    Jennifer Schell

    Jennifer Schell

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    Jennifer Schell is a professional writer focused on demystifying annuities and other financial topics including banking, financial advising and insurance. She is proud to be a member of the National Association for Fixed Annuities (NAFA) as well as the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA).

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  • Updated: August 4, 2023
  • 7 min read time
  • This page features 10 Cited Research Articles
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How to Cite's Article

APA Schell, J. (2023, August 4). Qualified vs. Nonqualified Annuities. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from

MLA Schell, Jennifer. "Qualified vs. Nonqualified Annuities.", 4 Aug 2023,

Chicago Schell, Jennifer. "Qualified vs. Nonqualified Annuities." Last modified August 4, 2023.

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Key Takeaways

  • Qualified annuities are purchased with pre-taxed income. It only becomes taxable once you begin receiving the funds from your annuity. Owners of qualified annuities are required by law to begin taking distributions at the age of 73.
  • Nonqualified annuities are purchased with after-tax dollars so only the earnings on your investment are taxable. There is no legal age requirement for withdrawing from a nonqualified annuity.
  • Any money taken out before you turn 59 ½ will result in a 10% early withdrawal penalty in most cases.

All annuities are allowed to grow tax-deferred. This means any earnings on the investment are not taxed until they are paid out to the annuity holder. However, there are differences that govern if and when taxes are due on the annuity principal, the money used to purchase or fund the annuity.

The key differences between qualified and nonqualified annuities lie in how they are funded. A qualified annuity is acquired using pre-tax dollars, while a nonqualified annuity is funded with post-tax dollars, meaning the money used to purchase it has already been taxed.

What Is a Qualified Annuity?

Qualified annuities are purchased with pre-tax dollars, such as money from an IRA. The IRS says the premiums from a qualified annuity may be wholly or partially tax deductible. Any applicable tax payments on this type of annuity are deferred until the money is withdrawn.

In other words, buying a qualified annuity is like contributing to a 401(k). The money you used to purchase a qualified annuity is subtracted from your annual income in the year you make the purchase. It is taxed only when you begin to receive the funds from the annuity, usually at retirement.

What Is a Nonqualified Annuity?

With a nonqualified annuity, your purchase is made with money on which you have paid income or other applicable taxes already. These annuities are purchased privately by consumers, usually with a lump-sum premium.

Because that initial investment is money that has already been taxed, you will only owe taxes on the earnings the annuity accumulates as it matures. There is no annual cap on how much money you can put into a nonqualified annuity and no mandatory distribution age.

Pro Tip

Nonqualified annuities can be an advantageous investment option for people who have maxed out their employer-sponsored retirement plan contributions. 

Source: Nasdaq

If you’ve contributed the maximum amount to employer-sponsored accounts and still want tax-deferred savings, you can purchase a nonqualified deferred annuity to continue growing your savings without excessive taxation.

Taxes impact nearly every part of your financial plan, and annuities are no exception. Whether your annuity is qualified or nonqualified determines how it is taxed.

Key Features of Qualified and Nonqualified Annuities

Key Features Qualified Annuities Nonqualified Annuities
Purchased with Pre-tax funds (typically money from a retirement account such as a regular 401(k) or a traditional IRA) After-tax funds
Annual limit on purchases The IRS limits how much you can invest annually depending on your income No limit
Tax treatment of distributions All distributions of both principal and earnings are taxed as income Only distributions of earnings are taxed as income; distributions of principal are not taxed
Distribution requirement IRS generally requires distribution of funds by age 73 No IRS requirement; state laws may differ
Early distribution penalty A 10% penalty generally applies for distribution taken prior to age 59 ½  A 10% penalty  generally applies for distribution taken prior to age 59 ½ 
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How soon are you retiring?

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What is your goal for purchasing an annuity?

Select all that apply

Qualified Annuities and Retirement Plans

The IRS treats qualified annuities like tax-favored retirement plans. In fact, qualified annuities are often purchased through an employer tax-favored retirement plan. You can also purchase them with money from an IRA, 401(k) or other tax-deferred account.

Qualified Retirement Plans

Unlike nonqualified annuities, qualified annuities do have caps on how much money you may invest in them. The annuity holder’s income and whether they participate in other qualified pension plans govern these caps.

Retirees may choose to take their annuity income benefits in one of several payout structures.

Payout Options for Retirees

  • A lump-sum payout
  • An annuitized income stream for life
  • An annuitized income stream for a specific time period

How Do Withdrawals Compare?

When an annuity owner withdraws funds from a qualified annuity, the entire amount is taxable because they have not paid taxes on those funds.

When they withdraw money from a nonqualified annuity, on the other hand, there are no taxes due on the principal. The IRS levies income taxes only on earnings and interest. 

Pro Tip

The IRS differentiates between nonqualified and qualified annuity withdrawals in terms of taxation. In nonqualified annuities, they tax only the earnings portion. In qualified annuities, they tax all money withdrawn as regular income.

If you purchased your nonqualified annuity after August 13, 1982, your distributions will follow the “last-in-first-out” protocol of the IRS. According to this rule, it’s assumed that any money you withdraw from your annuity is taken first from the contract’s accumulated earnings. This means they tax nonqualified annuity withdrawals as income until the withdrawal amount exceeds the annuity’s growth.

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Comparing Distributions and Transfers

The IRS requires you to be at least 59 ½ years old to receive distributions from your annuity. Any withdrawals made before reaching that age incur a 10% tax penalty on earnings. These rules apply to both qualified and nonqualified annuities.

Federal law requires the owners to begin taking distributions from qualified annuities at the age of 73. There are no federal legal requirements for when distributions must begin for nonqualified annuities. 

Some state laws may set requirements, however. These may be in the annuity contract you have with the annuity provider.

Income payments from qualified annuities are taxed the same as ordinary income, according to investment expert Nate Nead. 

“That means the amount you withdraw will get taxed at your regular income tax rate,” Nead, the managing principal at and a FINRA Series 63 license holder, told

Distributions from a nonqualified annuity are only partially taxable. According to the IRS, payments from a nonqualified annuity are made of two parts. One part is the annuity’s earnings and is subject to income tax; the other part represents the return of the owner’s principal and is not taxable.

The IRS determines which portion of a nonqualified annuity distribution is taxable by using a calculation known as the exclusion ratio. This ratio is based on the annuity’s principal and earnings as well as the annuitant’s life expectancy. The exclusion ratio is designed to spread the principal and earnings over the annuitant’s lifetime. If the annuitant lives longer than their calculated life expectancy, all payments beyond that time period are taxed as income. 

So, for example, if your calculated life expectancy is 85 years old, then the exclusion ratio will determine how much of each payment from your nonqualified annuity will be considered taxable earnings until you turn 85. After the age of 85, all payouts from the annuity are considered taxable income.

With nonqualified annuities, you can transfer the funds between different kinds of annuities, such as fixed and variable, without facing an early-withdrawal penalty because the exchanges are covered by Section 1035 of the Internal Revenue Code. These transfers are 1035 exchanges.

With qualified annuities, you can make a transfer to another qualified account without incurring taxes or penalties. “This type of transfer is commonly known as either a direct rollover or trustee-to-trustee transfer, where all the funds are moved directly between the financial institutions involved,” Nead said.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Qualified vs. Nonqualified Annuities

Are annuities qualified or nonqualified?

Annuities can be either qualified or nonqualified. You pay for a qualified annuity with pre-tax dollars. When you get money from a qualified annuity, you have to pay income taxes on the entire amount. But you pay for a nonqualified annuity with after-tax money, so you only pay taxes on the money your annuity has earned.

Is there an RMD for nonqualified annuities?

Because you’ve already paid income taxes on the money you placed into a nonqualified annuity, there is no required minimum distribution (RMD). This is one of several annuity strategies to take into account when considering an annuity.

How do you know if you have a qualified annuity?

A simple way to know if you have a qualified annuity is to check your statement. If you have not been paying taxes on your earnings, it’s qualified. Qualified annuities are tax-deferred annuities, meaning you don’t pay income taxes on the money in the annuity until you take it out.

Please seek the advice of a qualified professional before making financial decisions.
Last Modified: August 4, 2023

10 Cited Research Articles writers adhere to strict sourcing guidelines and use only credible sources of information, including authoritative financial publications, academic organizations, peer-reviewed journals, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports, court records and interviews with qualified experts. You can read more about our commitment to accuracy, fairness and transparency in our editorial guidelines.

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