Qualified vs. Non-Qualified Annuities

Christian Worstell
In this article...
  • Discover the differences between qualified vs. non-qualified annuities and learn how to make tax-advantaged decisions about your retirement savings.

Comparing the benefits of qualified and non-qualified annuities is essential for making informed decisions if you're considering an annuity as part of your retirement savings.

In this guide, we'll explain more about the differences between qualified and non-qualified annuities, including their tax advantages and disadvantages as well as different distribution rules.

Table of Contents:

Qualified and Non-Qualified Annuities

An annuity is a financial product that pays out income over time, either in the form of regular payments or as a lump sum. Different tax treatments may apply to qualified and non-qualified annuities, depending on the investor's circumstances.

  • Qualified annuities are those purchased with pre-tax money and include IRA and 401(k) accounts. Contributions to these investments, made without being subject to taxation at the time, enable investors to postpone their taxes until distributions start.

    The money held in these accounts will grow tax deferred until you withdraw money, at which point all withdrawals will be taxed as ordinary income based on your marginal tax rate at that time.

  • Contributions to non-qualified annuities must be made with after-tax dollars, and any gains earned within these accounts will be subject to taxation as ordinary income upon withdrawal. You can't postpone taxation on income earned in this type of account, similar to what is accessible with qualified accounts like IRAs or 401(k)s.

    Non-qualified annuities may have more flexibility than qualified plans when it comes to accessing funds, as there are fewer restrictions around withdrawing money from these accounts before retirement age (59 ½).

When selecting between a qualified and non-qualified plan, it is essential to contemplate your personal circumstances thoroughly and assess both long-term and short-term objectives. This will help you make an informed decision about which option best suits your needs while maximizing potential returns, minimizing risk exposure given current market conditions, and taking into consideration inflationary pressures.

Qualified annuities are a great way to save for retirement, but they come with certain tax implications that should be considered. Make sure during your working years that you have your retirement plans financially reviewed by a qualified professional.

Key Takeaway: Qualified annuities are pre-tax investments such as IRA or 401(k) accounts, and they offer the benefit of tax deferral on earnings until distributions begin. Non-qualified annuity contributions, on the other hand, must be made with after-tax dollars, and gains will also be taxed as ordinary income upon withdrawal. It's important to carefully weigh your individual situation before deciding between qualified or non-qualified plans in order to maximize returns while minimizing risk exposure.

Tax Implications of Qualified vs Non-Qualified Annuities

Earnings from qualified annuities, placed in retirement accounts like IRAs or 401(k)s, remain untaxed until withdrawal. At that point, the withdrawals become taxable income.

Non-qualified annuities, however, are funded with money that has already been taxed and don't provide any short-term tax advantages. Any growth within the account is subject to taxation when it is withdrawn.

When it comes to distributions from qualified annuities, there may be additional taxes due depending on how long the money has been invested and whether any gains have occurred since purchase.

  • If you withdraw funds before age 59 ½, you may incur an IRS penalty of 10% plus applicable state taxes on top of regular income taxes that must be paid out of pocket upon withdrawal. This penalty does not apply if you take out a loan against your policy or use it for certain medical expenses or disability costs.

  • If your total withdrawals exceed what was originally contributed (the basis), all earnings will also be subject to taxation as ordinary income regardless of when they were taken out during the year in question.

Keeping tabs on the accrued gains within a non-qualified annuity is essential, as any such earnings will be subject to ordinary tax rates once distributed. As opposed to qualified plans where immediate taxes must be paid upon withdrawal, non-qualifying plans are taxable over time through smaller amounts added onto each check received by way of reduced principal balance (also known as “basis recovery”).

Types of Qualified Retirement Plans

Retirement plans can be a beneficial option for saving for the future, providing tax-deferred growth and potential employer contributions. They offer tax-deferred growth and the potential for additional contributions your employer makes. These features can make them an attractive option for many people from highly compensated employees to those just starting out in their career.

There are several types of qualified retirement plans available, each with its own set of rules and regulations.

  • The most common type of qualified plan is the 401(k). Employees may contribute pre-tax dollars to their 401(k) accounts up a limit of $22,500 in 2023, and employers often match or provide additional incentives such as stock options or profit sharing.

    Employers may also match employee contributions or provide other incentives such as stock options or profit sharing opportunities. Withdrawals from this account can be made after age 59 ½ without penalty but will be subject to income taxes at that time.

  • A 403(b) is a type of qualified plan, akin to a 401(k), tailored for non-profits and educational institutions. Employees can make pretax contributions up to $22,500 per year (as of 2023) with catch-up contributions allowed if you’re over 50 years old ($7,500 more than the standard contribution amount in 2023). The same withdrawal rules apply as with a 401(k).

  • The 457(b) plan is another kind of qualified retirement program, analogous to both the 401(k) and 403(b). It's offered by state and local governments along with some non-profits.

    A 457(b) plan can provide tax advantages similar to those found in other types of qualified plans, such as early withdrawals without penalty before age 59 ½ if there’s an immediate need or emergency situation.

    Contributions are limited at $22,500 in 2023. Some state and local government 457(b) plans may allow catch-up contributions.

  • IRAs represent another form of qualified retirement plan where individuals can contribute up to $6,500 annually in 2023 (individuals over age 50 can add up to an additional $1,000 through catch-up contributions). The various forms such as Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, etc., may have eligibility rules related to your income range.

    Although there are limitations regarding how much money you're able to withdraw during any given period due to taxation considerations, these particular accounts still remain a popular choice among qualified investors due to their flexibility.

Qualified retirement plans offer many benefits, including tax-deferred growth and potential employer matching contributions. Withdrawals and transfers from qualified vs non-qualified annuities can be complex decisions that require careful consideration of all the factors involved.

Key Takeaway: Qualified retirement plans such as 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) plans can offer tax-deferred growth, employer contributions and other incentives. IRAs can provide additional flexibility but may have eligibility limitations. All these options are great ways to save for the future with potential benefits that can't be overlooked.

Withdrawals and Transfers from Qualified vs. Non-Qualified Annuities

Withdrawals from a qualified annuity will generally be taxed as ordinary income. If you make a withdrawal before age 59 1/2, then you may incur a 10% penalty for early withdrawal in addition to the regular taxes owed.

There are important IRS guidelines to consider regarding transferring an annuity contract. Depending on your situation, there may be tax-free ways to transfer certain annuities.

Non-qualified annuity transfers can also occur, but they don’t usually carry the same favorable tax implications as those associated with qualified accounts. Generally speaking, when transferring funds out of a non-qualified annuity, both gains and losses will be recognized upon transfer, so it is important to understand how much taxable income could result before making such a move.

In addition to potential taxation issues related to non-qualified transfers, there may also be surrender charges imposed by certain insurance companies which should always be factored into any decision regarding moving funds between accounts or withdrawing them entirely from an existing plan.

For qualified plans like 401(k)s, participants aged 59 1/2 or older must begin taking required minimum distributions.

Qualified vs Non Qualified FAQs

What is the difference between qualified and non-qualified income?

Income that meets the criteria set by the IRS is deemed qualified income, including wages, salaries, tips, bonuses, self-employment income and alimony.

Non-qualified income is any kind of revenue that does not fulfill the IRS's standards for qualified earnings. Examples include capital gains from investments or interest earned on savings accounts.

Qualified incomes are taxed at a lower rate than non-qualified incomes and may be eligible for other tax benefits as well.

Is a Roth 401 K qualified or nonqualified?

A Roth 401(k) is a qualified annuity, as contributions to a Roth 401(k) plan are made with post-tax dollars. Withdrawals can be made at any time, but earnings must remain in the account until you reach age 59 1/2 or later to avoid taxes and penalties.

Is an IRA qualified or nonqualified?

An IRA (Individual Retirement Account) can be either qualified or nonqualified, depending on the type of contributions made to it.

Nonqualified IRAs are financed with post-tax resources and do not offer any tax advantages, as opposed to qualified IRAs which are funded using pre-tax funds and may provide deductions for contributions. To make an informed choice, make sure you have your plans financially reviewed by a qualified professional.


Qualified retirement plans offer more tax advantages than non-qualified annuities, but they can come with restrictions on withdrawals and transfers. Realizing the taxation disparities and withdrawal regulations between qualified and non-qualified annuities can help you select a plan that is suitable for your situation.

Discover the health and financial tools as well as government benefits programs available to you and learn how to age with good health and financial security. Make sure your retirement plan is qualified for maximum savings!

Christian Worstell
About the Author

Christian Worstell is a senior Medicare and health insurance writer with HelpAdivsor.com. He is also a licensed health insurance agent. Christian is well-known in the insurance industry for the thousands of educational articles he’s written, helping Americans better understand their health insurance and Medicare coverage.

Christian’s work as a Medicare expert has appeared in several top-tier and trade news outlets including Forbes, MarketWatch, WebMD and Yahoo! Finance.

While at HelpAdvisor, Christian has written hundreds of articles that teach Medicare beneficiaries the best practices for navigating Medicare. His articles are read by thousands of older Americans each month. By better understanding their health care coverage, readers may hopefully learn how to limit their out-of-pocket Medicare spending and access quality medical care.

Christian’s passion for his role stems from his desire to make a difference in the senior community. He strongly believes that the more beneficiaries know about their Medicare coverage, the better their overall health and wellness is as a result.

A current resident of Raleigh, Christian is a graduate of Shippensburg University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. You can find Christian’s most recent articles in our blog.

If you’re a member of the media looking to connect with Christian, please don’t hesitate to email our public relations team at Mike@MyHelpAdvisor.com.

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