Equity-indexed annuities (EIAs): What they are, how they work

Equity-indexed annuities are dependent on the performance of a stock market index. They usually come with a guaranteed minimum interest rate, as well as a cap on your investment returns.

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Katherine MurbachEditor & Licensed Life Insurance AgentKatherine Murbach is a life insurance and annuities editor, licensed life insurance agent, and former sales associate at Policygenius. Previously, she wrote about life and disability insurance for 1752 Financial, and advised over 1,500 clients on their life insurance policies as a sales associate.

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Antonio Ruiz-CamachoAntonio Ruiz-CamachoAssociate Content DirectorAntonio helps lead our life insurance and disability insurance editorial team at Policygenius. Previously, he was a senior director of content at Bankrate and CreditCards.com, as well as a principal writer covering personal finance at CNET.

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Equity-indexed annuities (EIAs) are a type of insurance contract where you invest funds now in order to receive a stream of income later. The growth of your money in an equity-indexed annuity is tied to the performance of a stock market index — for example, the S&P 500.

Key takeaways

  • Equity-indexed annuities earn interest based on the performance of a market index you choose when you sign the contract, depending on the options your annuity provider offers.

  • Equity-indexed annuities typically guarantee a minimum rate of return, or a certain percentage of principal protection, alongside a performance cap that acts as a maximum rate of return.

  • EIAs are often used for long-term investment and retirement goals to give your money time to grow.

What is an equity-indexed annuity?

Equity-indexed annuities are a specific type of indexed annuity where your funds grow based on the performance of a market index. The terms “equity-indexed annuity” and indexed annuity” are sometimes used interchangeably, since all indexed annuities are tied to the performance of equity markets.

Equity-indexed annuities guarantee a minimum interest rate, which greatly reduces your investment risk compared to investing directly in the stock market. [1] However, your total earned interest is still subject to the performance of your chosen market index. In fact, some EIAs only guarantee you’ll receive 90% of your initial funding amount, plus accumulated interest at a predetermined minimum rate; this feature is called a guaranteed minimum cash value. [2]

Learn more about other types of annuities

How does an equity-indexed annuity work?

Like many types of annuities, EIAs have an accumulation period, which begins when you fund the annuity with either a large, lump-sum payment, or a series of smaller payments over time. During this time, your money will gain interest based on the terms set by your insurer and the market index you selected. 

Later, usually between three and 10 years, you’ll enter the annuitization period, which is when you’ll start to receive income payments from your annuity. You can typically select to receive payments on a set schedule, either monthly or annually. 

The parameters insurers use to dictate how your money grows can vary widely, so it’s important to check the details of your specific contract. Below are a few aspects to look out for.

Participation rates

Participation rates dictate how much interest will be credited to your account relative to the performance of your chosen index. For instance, if the index earned 10% in a specific year, but the participation rate is 80%, then only 8% growth will be credited toward your funds. 

Insurers often use participation rates with all kinds of indexed annuities. Make sure to check your contract details for specific information related to your annuity.

Floors or minimum returns

Indexed annuities — including EIAs — can come with floors, which limit your losses if your chosen index underperforms. For instance, if you have a 2% floor and the market underperforms by 6% in a given year, you’ll be limited to just a 2% loss.

Some EIAs come with a minimum interest rate that applies to a set percentage of your money. According to FINRA, the percentage is usually around 87.5% of the money you've funded the annuity with, at 1% to 3% interest. [3]


Your insurer may also set a cap on the interest you earn. Insurers often set these parameters to buffer against loss on their end, since they also offer minimum guarantees to protect you. So if your selected index earns 9% in a given year, and your annuity has a cap of 7%, you’ll only get 7% growth credited toward your funds instead of the full 9%.

Surrender period & other fees

Like many annuities, EIAs also have surrender periods, which is the amount of time after buying your contract during which you can’t withdraw funds without paying a penalty fee. This fee is called a surrender charge. [4]

Surrender periods often last between three and 10 years, but it depends on the insurer. Many annuities have surrender periods with fees that decrease over time, where you’d pay more for making an early withdrawal in year one than you would in year three.

Insurers may also charge administration fees, which can further detract from your credited returns. You may see these fees called “spread,” “margin,” or “asset” fees in your contract.

Many annuities can have both participation rates and caps, which, combined with fees, can reduce the accumulated value of your contract significantly. Before you purchase your annuity, make sure to meet with a financial expert who can help you understand all the terms and fees included in your contract.

Tax implications

Similar to other types of annuities, equity-indexed annuities earn interest on a tax-deferred basis. You won’t pay taxes on any earnings you put into the annuity until you begin receiving income payments. However, you will face a tax penalty if you make early withdrawals before age 59 ½.

If you fund your EIA with post-tax dollars (also called non-qualified funds that have already been taxed), you’ll only pay taxes on the interest earned when you become receiving income payments, rather than taxes on both the principal and the interest. 

By contrast, if you fund your annuity with pre-tax dollars (also called qualified funds) — for example, with money from a 401(k) or an IRA — you’ll pay taxes on the principal and the interest when you start taking withdrawals. [5]

Learn more about qualified annuities

What are the pros & cons of equity-indexed annuities (EIAs)?

“Since EIAs track market indexes, owners can participate in some of the market’s upside if the market performs well,” says Shawn Dye, senior manager of product marketing at Zinnia. Plus, EIAs typically come with minimum guarantees. However, your funds are still subject to some market volatility, and you don’t know exactly how much interest you’ll earn.


  • Higher earning potential. You could earn more from an EIA than you would with a fixed indexed annuity (FIA), but it depends on market performance.

  • Tax deferral. Like other types of annuities, you won’t need to pay taxes on the interest earned until you start making withdrawals during the payout phase.

  • Protection against inflation. Your money has a chance to grow alongside against inflation, as opposed to earning interest with a fixed annuity or multi-year guaranteed annuity (MYGA) that remains at a set rate.


  • Some investment risk. EIAs may only guarantee your principal up to a certain percentage — for example, 90% — so you do take on some investment risk, and you could lose some money.

  • Fees and penalties. Equity-indexed annuities can come with commissions, surrender fees, and other administrative costs that can subtract from your earnings.

  • Caps and participation rates could limit earnings. Even when the market is performing well, your earnings could be limited by caps set by your insurer.

What should you consider before buying an equity-indexed annuity?

Each EIA will have different guidelines regarding caps, floors, fees, and how interest is credited toward your account, so it’s important to read the fine print of your contract. Here are a few other considerations to take into account while considering this type of annuity.

Your age

Equity-indexed annuities are primarily used as long-term investment tools, so if you need an additional income stream sooner rather than later, you might want to consider an immediate annuity instead.

Your investment goals

As mentioned above, EIAs can complement your long-term investment goals, but you’ll need to check that the terms of your specific contract align with your plans. If you’re comfortable with some investment risk, but you still want a minimum guarantee, an EIA could be a good fit.

Your risk tolerance

EIAs do require some investment risk, but you'll at least know how much you might earn or lose thanks to minimum guarantees.

If you have a low risk tolerance and you want more guarantees, you may consider a different type of annuity, like a fixed annuity or fixed indexed annuity (FIA). If you have an even higher risk tolerance and you’re comfortable with even more market volatility, you could consider a variable annuity.

Who should consider equity-indexed annuities?

Equity-indexed annuities “might be better for someone who is more risk-averse and looking for some growth potential with a guaranteed minimum return,” says Dye of Zinnia.

When buying any kind of indexed annuity, it’s important to take a holistic look at your financial plan. If you’re comfortable with interest rate fluctuations and you’re looking to earn interest tax-deferred, you can consider an EIA. A financial advisor or annuities professional can help you understand the terms of your contract and determine if an equity-indexed annuity is right for you.

Explore other annuity options


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Policygenius uses external sources, including government data, industry studies, and reputable news organizations to supplement proprietary marketplace data and internal expertise. Learn more about how we use and vet external sources as part of oureditorial standards.

  1. FINRA

    . "

    Annuities: Types

    ." Accessed May 02, 2024.

  2. Washington state Office of the Insurance Commissioner

    . "

    What you need to know before you buy an Equity-Indexed Annuity

    ." Accessed May 02, 2024.

  3. FINRA

    . "

    The Complicated Risks and Rewards of Indexed Annuities

    ." Accessed May 02, 2024.

  4. NAIC

    . "

    What you should know before buying an annuity

    ." Accessed May 02, 2024.

  5. IRS

    . "

    Publication 575 (2023), Pension and Annuity Income

    ." Accessed May 02, 2024.


Katherine Murbach is a life insurance and annuities editor, licensed life insurance agent, and former sales associate at Policygenius. Previously, she wrote about life and disability insurance for 1752 Financial, and advised over 1,500 clients on their life insurance policies as a sales associate.


Antonio helps lead our life insurance and disability insurance editorial team at Policygenius. Previously, he was a senior director of content at Bankrate and CreditCards.com, as well as a principal writer covering personal finance at CNET.

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