How Safe is the Secondary Market for Annuities?

The question of safety of the Secondary Market is one  we receive frequently, especially after sending out a list of currently available offers that pique reader interest.

Quite simply, we like  structured settlement secondary annuities  because  they offer the highest yield and highest level of safety available to consumers for retirement income purposes.  They are not the simplest  transactions for buyer or agents to complete, and they are not appropriate for all situations.  For example, for older investors,  other types of annuities may have more benefits in flexibility or longevity protection.  However as planning tools with excellent  yield and safety, they simply can’t be beat.

Be sure to reference our post on the difference between Structured Settlement Annuities  and viatical (life insurance) transactions

 So now that you know why we like them in general, the question remains, is this market for real and how safe is it?

Secondary market annuities can more specifically be called structured settlements in technical terms. A structured settlement originates when an individual wins a settlement- this can be a car accident, medical malpractice, or any other sort of award.

The settlement essentially takes the same form as an annuity contract that is available to anyone who invests retirement assets with an insurance company- it’s a promise by a highly rated carrier to make a series of future payments to the individual.

In this case, rather than an individual buying those future promised with a premium (AKA an annuity), in a settlement, the losing party in the case settles their obligation by transferring a sum of money to satisfy those future payments. The sum is transferred to an insurance company who then shoulders the future market risk and court-ordered obligation to make specific payments. The winning party- usually an individual- enjoys this income stream tax-free per IRS regulations.

However, circumstances change for people, and sometimes they wish to sell their future payments for a lump sum. This is where our ”Secondary Market Annuities” originate.

Because of this slight difference in origination of funds in the settlement, there is one critical difference that separates primary market from secondary market annuities. In addition I’ll add two other reasons that will show clearly why the secondary market is a much SAFER investment.

Safety Factor #1

An insurance company becomes party to a structured settlement as part of a final court order in a lawsuit. In the unlikely event that this specific insurance company fails in the future, an existing court order compelling the company to make payments would place that liability among the company’s most senior debt obligations. And that means it gets paid out ahead of all other company liabilities. The insolvent insurance company would be held in contempt of court for failing to make payments according to the terms of a structure settlement. The stream of income provided to you via the secondary market annuity would not be affected nor have to wait for further bankruptcy or liquidation proceedings.

Safety Factor #2

And now for the somewhat less critical but also quite relevant…

Each state has an insurance guaranty fund that covers the guarantees of insurance policies and annuities for insolvent insurance companies who can’t make payments. Let’s assume your state guaranty fund covers $100,000 for annuities but you need to invest quite a bit more money to cover your retirement income needs. Within the primary market, no matter what you decide to invest, you may only be covered to the maximum limit of $100,000.

By using the secondary market, you are subject to the guaranty limits of the state where the contract was initially issued, not necessarily your state of residence. Structuring an income portfolio in the secondary market typically requires multiple deals to complete. It is quite probable that each contract will have originated in a different state, which affords you the total protection of all states involved rather than simply the limits offered in your current state of residency.

Safety Factor #3:

The risks in an SMA are generally transactional in nature- meaning, it has a risk of not closing due to the seller changing their mind or the court not approving the transfer. In both of these cases, there is no financial consequence to you if the case fails, and your deposit is fully refunded.  This happens in about 1 in 10 cases where generally a court disallows the seller from selling due to the seller’s personal situation.

Other risks in an improperly handled SMA transaction are that a payment stream could be already committed or not transferable. Our process eliminates that risk as our outside counsel reviews and will not release purchase funds until a thorough checklist is complete.

Thus the three key items that ensure legal safety are:

  1. Benefits letter from the issuer to the payee, which establishes that the Payee has the payments to sell,
  2. Court order changing the payee to you,
  3. Acknowledgement letter or stipulation agreement after the court hearing from the Issuer naming you as the new payee of the specific payment stream you purchased.

Not surprisingly, these three key pieces are what must be in place before your funds are released to a factoring company and seller, and are what constitute our closing book after a transaction is complete.

Safety Factor #4:

And finally we’re going to talk about a safeguard that is inherent to any sound retirement income plan. Any advisor worth their salt will advise you to spread your assets between several different insurance companies. While this is a great recommendation, it rarely happens because most salesmen are lazy and benefits can vary greatly between carriers to the point where it puts you at a financial disadvantage.

Because a typical case involves multiple Secondary Market Annuities, purchasing contracts in the secondary market virtually assures that you will place assets in several companies with no sacrifice to average yield or overall performance.


A retirement income portfolio based on secondary market annuities thus offers unparalleled safety of 1) credit quality, 2) seniority status among the issuing company obligations, 3) rock solid legal review, and 4) diversity of carriers.

If you’d like to explore this profitable yet extremely safe opportunity for your retirement income plans, we’re ready for your call.

Annuity Straight Talk


Calculating Yields in the Secondary Market

Nearly every time we send out an email with new secondary market annuity offers, several inquiries come back with people asking how the return is calculated.

The first resource is one from the vault- a piece we wrote several years ago that is just as accurate today- Which 10% Do you Want?

For more, let’s see an example that everyone can relate to…

Assume a purchase price of $282,951 where monthly income payments of $1500 begin one month from today and continue for 360 months. The effective annual yield is 5% and aggregate cash flow comes to $540,000.

Everyone has seen this similar loan and repayment amortization schedule with a conventional mortgage. With a mortgage you would be the borrower but with a Secondary Market Annuity you are essentially the lender.

The payments outlined above can be a good example of a 30 year mortgage or it could be an excellent income stream from the secondary market. Either would be calculated exactly the same way.

With Secondary Market Annuities many people want to assume that the $282,951 is simply growing at 5% for 30 years, but this is not the case, just as it is not the case with the amortizing mortgage either. Why is this? When money is paid out, the compounding asset balance shrinks.

Every payment on an amortizing mortgage is part interest and part principal, and Secondary Market Annuities are no different- each payment includes an interest earned component, plus a return of principal component.  We won’t bore you with an extensive amortization table here outlining 360 payments- if you really want it, just ask and we’ll send it over!

Alternative  Way of Looking at Secondary Market Annuities Yields:

There is another simple way to look at it so let’s have another example. Assume you placed $282,951 in a savings account earning 5% effective annual interest (unlikely, I know). If you were to withdraw $1500 per month, after 360 months you would have collected $540,000 and the account would be empty. While you are in fact earning 5% interest, you are not earning interest once the money comes out of the account.

The calculations for these returns are slightly more complicated than a simple (money ‘times’ interest rate ‘times’ time) formula. If that were the case, $282,951 growing at 5% for 30 years would compound to $1,222,886 which isn’t the case here. Money at work in the account earns interest while money in your pocket does not.

Secondary Market Annuities Yield Summary

These examples indicate that not all income deals in the secondary market are appropriate unless the structure meets specific objectives for your retirement plan. Immediate income works for some people and deferred income or future lump sum payments work for others. Which one is best for you? You must answer that question.

There are several ways to capitalize on the secondary market. What we have are above average interest rates and extremely high levels of safety, and a variety of available cash flows. The rate and safety are a compelling proposition in any economy and especially true now. The only thing to determine is what you are seeking, and then match your goal with an available offer.

To maximize the strength of this market, use the right tool for the job- don’t buy an income stream if you have no need for the payments. Instead, let it defer and accrue a few years! Likewise, don’t buy a 10 year deferral annuity if you need money every month.

Please don’t hesitate to call us if there are any specific questions you have about how the secondary market for annuities works, and for assistance selecting the right offers for your specific situation.

You can always view our available Secondary Market Annuities here, or give us a call or make an appointment to help setting your goals and matching appropriate tools for the job-

Have a great week!

Bryan J. Anderson
[email protected]