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Annuities are classified according to the nature of the payment and the duration of time for payment. A fixed annuity requires payment in a specified amount to be made for the term of the annuity regardless of economic changes due to inflation or the fluctuation of the ventures in which the principal is invested. A variable annuity provides for payments that fluctuate in size contingent upon the success of the investment of the principal. Such variation offsets the effect of inflation upon the annuitant. If, however, the investment has fared poorly, the size of the payments decreases.

A straight annuity is a contract by an insurance company to make variable payments at monthly or yearly intervals. A life or straight life annuity is payable to an annuitant only during the annuitant's lifetime and ceases upon his or her death. The size of the periodic payment is usually fixed based upon actuarial charts that project the expected life span of a person based upon age and physical condition. This type of annuity often contains provisions that promise payment to be made to a secondary beneficiary, named by the annuitant to receive benefits in case of the annuitant's death, or to the annuitant's heirs for a period of time even if the annuitant has died before the expiration of the designated period. A deferred annuity is one in which payments start at a stipulated future date only if the annuitant is alive at that time. Payment of the INCOME TAX due on the income generated is delayed until payments start. A deferred annuity is used primarily by a person who does not want to receive payments until he or she is in a lower tax bracket, such as upon retirement.

A refund annuity, sometimes called a cash refund annuity, is a policy that promises to pay a set amount annually during the annuitant's life. In case the annuitant dies before receiving payments for the full amount of the annuity, his or her estate will receive a sum that is the difference between the purchase price and the sum paid during the annuitant's lifetime.

A joint annuity is one that is payable to two named persons but upon the death of one, the annuity terminates. A joint and survivorship annuity is a policy payable to the named annuitants during their lives and continues for the benefit of the surviving annuitant upon the death of the other.

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