In the United States an annuity contract is created when an insured party, usually an individual, pays a life insurance company a single premium that will later be distributed back to the insured party over time. Annuity contracts traditionally provide a guaranteed distribution of income over time, until the death of the person or persons named in the contract or until a final date, whichever comes first. However, the majority of modern annuity customers use annuities only to accumulate funds free of income and capital gains taxes and to later take lump-sum withdrawals without using the guaranteed-income-for-life feature.

Annuity contracts in the United States are defined by the Internal Revenue Code and regulated by the individual states. Variable annuities have features of both life insurance and investment products. In the U.S., annuity insurance may be issued only by life insurance companies, although private annuity contracts may be arranged between donors to non-profits to reduce taxes. Insurance companies are regulated by the states, so contracts or options that may be available in some states may not be available in others. Their federal tax treatment, however, is governed by the Internal Revenue Code. Variable annuities are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the sale of variable annuities is overseen by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) (the largest non-governmental regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States).
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