Structured Settlements – What Are They?

What is a Structured Settlement Annuity?

A Structured Settlement Annuity (SSA) is a contract issued by an insurance company that originated from a legal action such as a car accident, workplace accident, wrongful death, medical malpractice, etc. The original claimant (plaintiff) elected to accept a series of payments instead of a lump sum settlement. This series of payments are guaranteed by an US based insurance company and is in the form of a fixed annuity.

In about 20% of the cases the claimants (or their heirs) elect to sell their SSAs (in full or part) in exchange for a discounted lump sum of cash today.

What is the process when a Claimant decides to sell their SSA?

Claimants that are considering selling their SSAs seek out factoring companies which are institutions that buy SSAs. Claimants are looking to get the largest lump sum of cash today in exchange for the rights that they give up to receive those future payments.

This process must go through the court system which protects both the claimant and the factoring company in the selling of the SSA. Once the agreement is made and approved by the courts the factoring company pays the original claimant the agreed upon amount in a lump sum and the claimant signs off on all rights to receive those future payments.

When a factoring company buys a SSA from a claimant they then offer to sell those court ordered rights to recoup the funds that they paid out. Some factoring companies package the SSAs and sell them on Wall Street or to large institutional investors and pension plans. Some factoring companies sell them to individual investors through a network of brokers as a Safe Money alternative which are good choices for both IRA funds and non-IRA funds.

The payment streams can be either ongoing monthly payments for a set period of time or can come in the form of a deferred lump sum.

The safety rests in the insurance company that is backing the payment stream. In addition, in most states there are State Guarantee Associations which back the principal of these annuities up to a certain amount. These are fixed annuities and as such they are afforded this protection.

The court process is designed to protect all parties. The court sends a letter to the underlining insurance company notifying them that their policy-owner (the claimant) has sold the rights to their contract to the new owner. Once the insurance company responds and accepts (Acceptance Letter) that transfer of ownership the security to the new purchaser is complete.