Life Insurance

The Basics

Why do I need Life Insurance?

Life insurance is an essential part of financial planning. One reason most people buy life insurance is to replace income that would be lost with the death of a wage earner. The cash provided by life insurance also can help ensure that your dependents are not burdened with significant debt when you die. Life insurance proceeds could mean your dependents will not have to sell assets to pay outstanding bills or taxes. An important feature of life insurance is that no income tax is payable on proceeds paid to beneficiaries. The death benefit of a life policy owned by a C corporation may be included in the calculation of the alternative minimum tax.

How much Insurance do I need?

Before buying life insurance, you should assemble personal financial information and review your family's needs. There are a number of factors to consider when determining how much protection you should have. These include:

  • any immediate needs at the time of death, such as final illness expenses, burial costs and estate taxes

  • funds for a readjustment period, to finance a move or to provide time for family members to find a job

  • ongoing financial needs, such as monthly bills and expenses, day-care costs, college tuition or retirement.

Although there is no substitute for a careful evaluation of the amount of coverage needed to meet your needs, one rule of thumb used is, buy life insurance that is equal to five to seven times annual gross income.

If you want to be more precise, take the time and complete the Needs Analyzer

Choosing a Plan

Buying life insurance is not like any other purchase you will make. When you pay your premiums, you're buying the future financial security of your family that only life insurance can provide. Among its many uses, life insurance helps ensure that, when you die, your dependents will have the financial resources needed to protect their home and the income needed to run a household.

Choosing a life insurance product is an important decision, but it often can be complicated. As with any other major purchase, it is important that you understand your needs and the options available to you.

 

The main types of life insurance available are term and permanent. Term life insurance provides protection for a specified period of time. Permanent life insurance provides lifelong protection.

Permanent Life Insurance

Permanent life insurance provides lifelong protection and is known by a variety of names. These policies are designed and priced for you to keep over a long period of time. If you don't intend to keep the policy for the long term, it could be the wrong type of insurance for you.

Most permanent policies including whole, ordinary, universal, adjustable and variable life have a feature known as "cash value" or "cash surrender value." This feature, which is not found in most term insurance policies, provides you with some options:

  • You can cancel or "surrender" the policy -- in total or in part -- and receive the cash surrender value as a lump sum of money. If you surrender your policy in the early years, there may be little or no cash value.

  • If you need to stop paying premiums, you can often use the cash surrender value to continue your current insurance protection for a specific period of time or to provide a lesser amount of protection to cover you for as long as you live if there is sufficient cash value.

  • Usually, you may borrow from the policy, using the cash value in your life insurance as collateral. Unlike loans from most financial institutions, the loan is not dependent on credit checks or other restrictions. You ultimately must repay any loan with interest or your beneficiaries will receive a reduced death benefit.

  • The interest crediting rate and therefore cash values of many life insurance policies may be affected by your carrier's future experience, including mortality rates, expenses and investment earnings.

  • Keep in mind that with all types of permanent policies, the cash value of a policy is different from the policy face amount. Cash surrender value is the amount of available cash when you surrender a policy before its maturity or your death. The face amount is the money that will be paid at death or at policy maturity.

What are the Types of Permanent Insurance?

There are many different types of permanent insurance. The major ones are described below:

Whole Life or Ordinary Life
  • This was the most common type of permanent life insurance. It was sold by Mutual Life Insurance Companies, however, some stock life insurance companies do offer a derivative product they call Whole Life. It is Life insurance that is kept in force for a person's whole life as long as the scheduled premiums are maintained. All Whole Life policies build up cash values. Most Whole Life policies are guaranteed* as long as the scheduled premiums are maintained. The variable in a whole life policy is the dividend which could vary depending on how well the investments and other business criteria of the insurance company are doing. If the company is doing well and the policies are not experiencing a higher mortality than projected, values are paid back to the policyholder in the form of dividends. Policyholders can use the cash from dividends in many ways. It can be used in three main areas: to lower premiums, to purchase more insurance or to pay for term insurance.

Universal Life or Adjustable Life
  • This variation of permanent insurance allows you, after your initial payment, to pay premiums at any time, in virtually any amount, subject to certain minimums and maximums. You also can reduce or increase the amount of the death benefit more easily than under a traditional whole life policy. (To increase your death benefit, you usually will be required to furnish the insurance company with satisfactory evidence of your continued good health.)(Decreasing does not lower premiums.)

Variable Universal Life
  • This type of permanent policy provides death benefits and cash values that vary with the performance of an underlying portfolio of investments held in a separate account. You can choose to allocate your premiums among a variety of investments which offer varying degrees of risk and reward. You will receive a prospectus in conjunction with the sale of a variable product.

  • The cash value of a variable universal life policy is not guaranteed*, and the policyholder bears that risk. However, by choosing among the available fund options, the policyholder can create an asset allocation that meets his or her objectives and risk tolerance. Good investment performance will lead to higher cash values and death benefits. On the other hand, poor investment performance will lead to reduced cash values and death benefits.

  • Some policies guarantee* that death benefits cannot fall below a minimum level. There are both universal life and whole life versions of variable universal life.

Term Life Insurance

Term life insurance provides protection for a specific period of time. It pays a benefit only if you die during the term. Level term products are the most popular plans purchased today. The level term can be from 5 years to 30 years. The premium and death benefit are designed to stay level during the term of the contract. The premiums can be either guaranteed* or not guaranteed. When purchasing a level term life insurance policy be sure you are aware of the guaranteed* premium period. Once you have been approved and placed the policy in force with the first payment, the insurance company is obligated to keep the policy in force as long as you keep paying the premiums. You are not obligated to pay, but once you stop paying, the policy will lapse after usually a 30 day grace period. Some term insurance policies can be renewed when you reach the end of a specific period which can be from one to 30 years. The premium rates increase at each renewal date. Most policies require that evidence of insurability be furnished at renewal for you to qualify for the lowest available rates.

Note: Any reference to the word guarantee is based on the claims paying ability of the underlying insurance company.