I began receiving periodic annuity payments from a nonqualified variable annuity in 2020. These payments are for lifetime income under a guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit rider (GMWB). My 1099-R shows the taxable amount in box 2a as equal to the gross distribution in box 1. No boxes are checked in 2b. The distribution code in box 7 is 7D. The annuity company says that earnings are paid first, so that is why the full distribution is taxable. IRS publications 575 and 939 do not seem to address this situation for periodic payments; however, I have found some articles on annuities that indicate that periodic payments from lifetime income riders are not treated the same as periodic payments from an annuity that has been annuitized. That is, that they are taxable under the last-in-first-out method so that payments are fully taxable until earnings having been paid out, but not taxable once the cost basis has begun to be paid. If this is the case, may I still use the general rule to exclude a portion of the payment to figure a taxable amount that would be different from the taxable amount reported to the IRS in box 2a, and then use that exclusion ratio in future tax years instead of the taxable amount in box 2a of the 1099-R?
Earnings are paid first only if the periodic payments are in the form of an immediate annuity after annuitizing. Based on what the annuity company told you, apparently the annuity company believes that the payments that you are receiving are not periodic payments from an immediate annuity but are instead non-periodic payments from the deferred annuity that just happen to be equal amounts distributed on a regular basis. As such, distributions are fully taxable until all earnings have been distributed.
Still, I'm not sure how you could be receiving lifetime GMWB benefits without annuitizing. Simply arranging a distribution schedule where a specified amount is paid at regular intervals would not necessarily mean that you annuitized the deferred annuity and may be resulting in the recalculation and lowering of your GMWB. You need to sort this out with the annuity company.
If the annuity has been annuitized but the annuity company did not know the amount of your investment in the contract, they should have left box 2a blank and marked box 2b Taxable amount not determined, in which case you would need to calculate the taxable amount using the General Rule. However, tfact that they put a taxable amount in box 2a indicates suggests that it would be inappropriate to use any other amount as the taxable amount. Specifying a different taxable amount would likely result in a letter from the IRS indicating an underreporting of income.