The average immediate annuity premium is $107,000, and 90% of policyholders purchase additional riders that either keep payments flowing to heirs, or that return the balance of the contract to heirs, if the contract holder dies unexpectedly early, according to Limra research.

Two-thirds of all buyers also pay extra for liquidity options that allow access to remaining principal, features that Matt Drinkwater, associate managing director of Limra retirement research, said should be an additional selling point for advisers whose clients are worried about losing access to assets they might need in an emergency.

Drilling deeper, while the average immediate annuity buyer is 73 years old, purchasers tend to cluster around two age groups, Drinkwater said.

"One-third of contracts use pretax money predominantly from individual retirement accounts at age 62 to 66 and then 70 to 71," he said.

"That indicates to us that people are buying immediate annuities in conjunction with other retirement decisions, such as when to take Social Security and required minimum distributions from qualified plans."

To be sure, immediate annuities are small fry in the annuities market, peaking in 2008 with $7.9 billion in sales but falling slightly to $7.5 billion in 2009, when sales of annuities totaled $238.8 billion.

Drinkwater expects 2010's immediate annuity sales figures to fall somewhat in the middle of where they performed in the past couple of years.

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