Annual rates, non-smoker, 10 year level premium
Should you "buy term and invest the rest," or fuel your life insurance with "the power of cash value"?
Life insurance is often touted for its "pure insurance protection," which includes none of the cash value features inherent in whole life policies. Life insurance covers you for a specific period of time — as short as one year, or as many as 10, 20, or even 30 years. You can also buy term insurance that covers you until you reach a certain age, usually 65 or 70. Term insurance policies expire at a set time.
Generally, you purchase Life insurance if you want to protect your loved ones from debts. For example, if you and your spouse own a home, and you were to die tomorrow, your spouse could be stuck paying the mortgage on his or her own. If you had a Life insurance policy, your spouse could have enough money from the policy's death benefit to pay off the mortgage.
Term insurance doesn't just cover specific debts, however. If you have children or if your spouse does not work, term insurance can protect your family's finances, providing money for college and living expenses if you die before your children are fully grown.
When you apply for Life coverage, the insurance company will probably require a medical exam before issuing a policy. Some companies require a medical exam for all policies, but others require the exams only for policies with a substantial face value. The examination is basic, covering your height, weight, medical history, and blood and urine testing. With the blood and urine tests, the insurer looks for specific medical problems. Positive results could affect your premium, or even your ability to buy a policy.
Smokers will pay more for life insurance, although cigar smokers might get less expensive premiums than those using cigarettes. If you smoke marijuana, but not cigarettes, you still must admit to being a smoker on the policy application. Insurers don't generally differentiate between different types of smoke inhalation. (Marijuana users must also disclose their drug use.)
As you age, the likelihood you will die sooner increases. That’s why older individuals pay more for life insurance. Many term policies give you the option to renew your coverage at the end of the term without undergoing another medical exam. You also can lock in low premiums by asking for a "level premium" policy. That means for a specific time period, say 20 years, your premium rate stays the same. After that term expires, your rates will increase.
If you have trouble finding life insurance because of illness or a troubled medical history, you can turn to guaranteed issue life insurance coverage, also called "quick issue" or "simplified issue" insurance. Guaranteed issue policies require no medical exam, but you pay a higher premium in exchange for the guaranteed coverage. That's because the insurance company takes on more risk in insuring people without knowing their medical condition. Guaranteed issue policies can require waiting periods before coverage kicks in, and often require yearly fees. They might be the only option for some people. A life insurance broker can search the marketplace for a guaranteed issue policy that meets your needs.
When you are researching what kind of policy you should buy, your income, short-term and long-term debts, and financial obligations to your loved ones are among the factors to consider.
Figuring out which term you should buy — 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, or some other number — requires a major review of your debts, financial needs, dependents' needs, and when all these might change. Jack Dolan of the American Council of Life Insurers suggests you ask yourself, "When will my dependents reach financial independence?" Also look at major debts, such as mortgages or other loans, and at how much money your spouse or dependents would need in order to pay them off if you die.
Determining the best coverage for your family is an important financial decision, both now and for the future. “Consumers can save themselves hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars if they know how to shop wisely for insurance," says May Chao, executive director of the Consumer Protection Board of New York-state.
"If you are purely interested in financial protection for your family, that's what life insurance is designed for. So when your children are grown, reconsider your life insurance needs," Dolan says. You might still need coverage if a spouse or other relative depends on you. On the other hand, you might be able to scale back on the amount of life insurance you own.
"Perhaps you want to leave assets for your heirs, or for charity, or you need the death benefit for business planning purposes. These are all areas where life insurance can play a role, but it's really designed for financial protection," Dolan says. For that reason, after you've purchased life insurance coverage, you should periodically evaluate whether your current coverage amount is still right for you.
Term life insurance or term assurance is life insurance that provides coverage at a fixed rate of payments for a limited period of time, the relevant term. After that period expires, coverage at the previous rate of premiums is no longer guaranteed and the client must either forgo coverage or potentially obtain further coverage with different payments or conditions. If the life insured dies during the term, the death benefit will be paid to the beneficiary. Term insurance is typically the least expensive way to purchase a substantial death benefit on a coverage amount per premium dollar basis over a specific period of time.
Term life insurance can be contrasted to permanent life insurance such as whole life, universal life, and variable universal life, which guarantee coverage at fixed premiums for the lifetime of the covered individual unless the policy is allowed to lapse. Term insurance is not generally used for estate planning needs or charitable giving strategies but is used for pure income replacement needs for an individual. Term insurance functions in a manner similar to most other types of insurance in that it satisfies claims against what is insured if the premiums are up to date and the contract has not expired and does not provide for a return of premium dollars if no claims are filed. As an example, auto insurance will satisfy claims against the insured in the event of an accident and a homeowner policy will satisfy claims against the home if it is damaged or destroyed, for example, by fire. Whether or not these events will occur is uncertain. If the policyholder discontinues coverage because he or she has sold the insured car or home, the insurance company will not refund the full premium.
Because term life insurance is a pure death benefit, its primary use is to provide coverage of financial responsibilities for the insured or his or her beneficiaries. Such responsibilities may include, but are not limited to, consumer debt, dependent care, university education for dependents, funeral costs, and mortgages. Term life insurance may be chosen in favor of permanent life insurance because term insurance is usually much less expensive (depending on the length of the term), even if the applicant is an everyday smoker. For example, an individual might choose to obtain a policy whose term expires near his or her retirement age based on the premise that, by the time the individual retires, he or she would have amassed sufficient funds in retirement savings to provide financial security for the claims.
The simplest form of term life insurance is for a term of one year. The death benefit would be paid by the insurance company if the insured died during the one-year term, while no benefit is paid if the insured dies one day after the last day of the one-year term. The premium paid is then based on the expected probability of the insured dying in that one year.
Because the likelihood of dying in the next year is low for anyone that the insurer would accept for the coverage, purchase of only one year of coverage is rare.
One of the main challenges to renewal experienced with some of these policies is requiring proof of insurability. For instance the insured could acquire a terminal illness within the term, but not actually die until after the term expires. Because of the terminal illness, the purchaser would likely be uninsurable after the expiration of the initial term, and would be unable to renew the policy or purchase a new one.
Some policies offer a feature called guaranteed reinsurability that allows the insured to renew without proof of insurability.
A version of term insurance which is commonly purchased is annual renewable term (ART). In this form, the premium is paid for one year of coverage, but the policy is guaranteed to be able to be continued each year for a given period of years. This period varies from 10 to 30 years, or occasionally until age 95. As the insured ages, the premiums increase with each renewal period, eventually becoming financially inviable as the rates for a policy would eventually exceed the cost of a permanent policy. In this form the premium is slightly higher than for a single year's coverage, but the chances of the benefit being paid are much higher.
More common than annual renewable term insurance is guaranteed level premium term life insurance, where the premium is guaranteed to be the same for a given period of years. The most common terms are 10, 15, 20, and 30 years.
In this form, the premium paid each year remains the same for the duration of the contract. This cost is based on the summed cost of each year's annual renewable term rates, with a time value of money adjustment made by the insurer. Thus, the longer the period of time during which the premium remains level, the higher the premium amount. This relationship exists because the older, more expensive to insure years are averaged, by the insurance company, into the premium amount computed at the time the policy is issued.
Most level term programs include a renewal option, and allow the insured person to renew the policy for a maximum guaranteed rate if the insured period needs to be extended. The renewal may or may not be guaranteed, and the insured person should review the contract to determine whether evidence of insurability is required to renew the policy. Typically, this clause is invoked only if the health of the insured deteriorates significantly during the term, and poor health would prevent the individual from being able to provide proof of insurability.
Most term life policies include an option to convert the term life policy to a Universal Life or Whole Life policy. This option can be useful to a person who acquired the term life policy with a preferred rating class and later is diagnosed with a condition that would make it difficult to qualify for a new term policy. The new policy is issued at the rate class of the original term policy. This right to convert may not extend to the end of the Term Life policy. The right may extend a fixed number of years or to a specified age, such as convertible to age seventy.
A form of term life insurance coverage that provides a return of some of the premiums paid during the policy term if the insured person outlives the duration of the term life insurance policy.
For example, if an individual owns a 10-year return of premium term life insurance plan and the 10-year term has expired, the premiums paid by the owner will be returned, less any fees and expenses which the life insurance company retains. Usually, a return premium policy returns a majority of the paid premiums if the insured person outlives the policy term.
The premiums for a return premium term life plan are usually much higher than for a regular level term life insurance policy, since the insurer needs to make money by using the premiums as an interest free loan, rather than as a non-returnable premium.
Both term insurance and permanent insurance use the same mortality tables for calculating the cost of insurance, and provide a death benefit which is income tax free. However, the premium costs for term insurance are substantially lower than those for permanent insurance.
The reason the costs are substantially lower is that term programs may expire without paying out, while permanent programs must always pay out eventually. To address this, some permanent programs have built in cash accumulation vehicles to force the insured to "self-insure", making the programs many times more expensive.
Other permanent life insurance policies do not have built in cash values. In these cases, the policy owner may have the option of paying additional premium in the early years of the policy to create a tax deferred cash value. If the insured person dies and the policy has a cash value, the cash value is often paid out tax free, in addition to the policy face amount.
A scaled back underwriting process that is simplfied. Coverage amounts are lower than traditional fully underwritten policies. Simplified issue policies typically do not require a medical exam and have less application questions to answer. Many of these policies can be approved within several days.
A life insurance policy that is guaranteed approval. Coverage amounts will be lower than traditional policies. Premiums will be considerably higher. Since there are no medical questions and everyone is approved, these policies will have a waiting period before benefits are paid out. If the insured dies during the initial waiting period, only premiums plus interest will be returned. Once the waiting period has been satisfied, the full death benefit will be paid out to the beneficiary.
Whole life insurance, sometimes called "straight life" or "ordinary life," is a life insurance policy which is guaranteed to remain in force for the insured's entire lifetime, provided required premiums are paid, or to the maturity date. As a life insurance policy it represents a contract between the insured and insurer that as long as the contract terms are met, the insurer will pay the death benefit of the policy to the policy's beneficiaries when the insured dies. Because whole life policies are guaranteed to remain in force as long as the required premiums are paid, the premiums are typically much higher than those of term life insurance where the premium is fixed only for a limited term. Whole life premiums are fixed, based on the age of issue, and usually do not increase with age. The insured party normally pays premiums until death, except for limited pay policies which may be paid-up in 10 years, 20 years, or at age 65. Whole life insurance belongs to the cash value category of life insurance, which also includes universal life, variable life, and endowment policies.
The death benefit of a whole life policy is normally the stated face amount. However, if the policy is "participating", the death benefit will be increased by any accumulated dividend values and/or decreased by any outstanding policy loans. (see example below) Certain riders, such as Accidental Death benefit may exist, which would potentially increase the benefit.
In contrast, universal life policies (a flexible premium whole life substitute) may be structured to pay cash values in addition to the face amount, but usually do not guarantee lifetime coverage in such cases.
A whole life policy is said to "mature" at death or the maturity age of 100, whichever comes first. To be more exact the maturity date will be the "policy anniversary nearest age 100". The policy becomes a "matured endowment" when the insured person lives past the stated maturity age. In that event the policy owner receives the face amount in cash. With many modern whole life policies, issued since approximately 2000, maturity ages have been increased to 120. Increased maturity ages have the advantage of preserving the tax-free nature of the death benefit. In contrast, a matured endowment may have substantial tax obligations.
The entire death benefit of a whole life policy is free of income tax, except in unusual cases. This includes any internal gains in cash values. The same is true of group life, term life, and accidental death policies.
However, when a policy is cashed out before death, the treatment varies. With cash surrenders, any gain over total premiums paid will be taxable as ordinary income. The same is true in the case of a matured endowment. This is why most people choose to take cash values out as a "loan" against the death benefit rather than a "surrender." Any money taken as a loan is free from income tax as long as the policy remains in force. For participating whole life policies, the interest charged by the insurance company for the loan is often less than the dividend each year, especially after 10–15 years, so the policy owner can pay off the loan using dividends. If the policy is surrendered or canceled before death, any loans received above the cumulative value of premiums paid will be subject to tax as growth on investment.
It should be emphasized that, while life insurance benefits are generally free of income tax, the same is not true of estate tax. In the US, life insurance will be considered part of a person's taxable estate to the extent he possesses "incidents of ownership." Estate planners often use special irrevocable trusts to shield life insurance from estate taxes.
Personal and family uses
Individuals may find whole life attractive because it offers coverage for an indeterminate length of time. It is the dominant choice for insuring so-called "permanent" insurance needs, including:
Individuals may find whole life less attractive, due to the relatively high premiums, for insuring:
In the second category, term life is generally considered more suitable and has played an increasingly larger role in recent years.
Businesses may also have legitimate and compelling needs, including funding of:
While Term life may be suitable for Buy-Sell agreements and Key Person indemnification, cash value insurance is almost exclusively for Deferred Comp and S.E.R.P.'s.
Level premium whole life insurance (sometimes called ordinary whole life, though this term is also sometimes used more broadly) provides lifetime death benefit coverage for a level premium.
Whole life premiums are much higher than term insurance premiums, but because term insurance premiums rise with increasing age of the insured, the cumulative value of all premiums paid under whole and term policies are roughly equal if the policy continues to average life expectancy. Part of the insurance contract stipulates that the policyholder is entitled to a cash value reserve that is part of the policy and guaranteed by the company. This cash value can be accessed at any time through policy loans that are received income tax-free and paid back according to mutually agreed-upon schedules. These policy loans are available until the insured's death. If any loans amounts are outstanding—i.e., not yet paid back—upon the insured's death, the insurer subtracts those amounts from the policy's face value/death benefit and pays the remainder to the policy's beneficiary.
Whole life insurance may prove a better value than term for someone with an insurance need of greater than ten to fifteen years due to favorable tax treatment of interest credited to cash values. However, for those unable to afford the premium necessary to provide adequate whole life coverage for their current insurance needs, it would be imprudent to purchase less coverage than is adequate as whole life insurance rather than purchase an adequate level of term to cover their current need.
While some life insurance companies market whole life as a "death benefit with a savings account", the distinction is artificial, according to life insurance actuaries Albert E. Easton and Timothy F. Harris. The net amount at risk is the amount the insurer must pay to the beneficiary should the insured die before the policy has accumulated premiums equal to the death benefit.
The advantages of whole life insurance are its guaranteed death benefits; guaranteed cash values; fixed, predictable premiums; and mortality and expense charges that do not reduce the policy's cash value. The disadvantages of whole life are the inflexibility of its premiums and the fact that the internal rate of return of the policy may not be competitive with other savings and investment alternatives.
Death benefit amounts of whole life policies can also be increased through accumulation and/or reinvestment of policy dividends, though these dividends are not guaranteed and may be higher or lower than earnings at existing interest rates over time. According to internal documents from some life insurance companies, the internal rate of return and dividend payment realized by the policyholder is often a function of when the policyholder buys the policy and how long that policy remains in force. Dividends paid on a whole life policy can be utilized in many ways.
The life insurance manual defines policy dividends as refunds of premium over-payments. They are therefore not exactly like corporate stock dividends, which are payouts of net income from total revenues.
Modified whole life insurance features smaller premiums for a specified period of time, followed by higher premiums for the remainder of the policy. Survivorship life insurance is whole life insurance insuring two lives, with proceeds payable after the second (later) death.The level premium system results in overpaying for the risk of dying at younger ages, and underpaying in later years toward the end of life.
Cash values are an integral part of a whole life policy, and reflect the reserves necessary to assure payment of the guaranteed death benefit. Thus, "cash surrender" (and "loan") values arise from the policyholder's rights to quit the contract and reclaim a share of the reserve fund attributable to his policy. (see #Example of non-forfeiture values below)
Although life insurance is often sold with a view toward the "living benefits" (accumulated cash and dividend values), this feature is a byproduct of the level premium nature of the contract. The original intent was not to "sugar coat" the product; rather it is a necessary part of the design. However, prospective purchasers are often more motivated by the thought of being able to "count my money in the future." Policies purchased at younger ages will usually have guaranteed cash values greater than the sum of all premiums paid after a number of years. Sales tactics frequently appeal to this self-interest (sometimes called "the greed motive"). It is a reflection of human behavior that people are often more willing to talk about money for their own future than to discuss provisions for the family in case of premature death (the "fear motive"). On the other hand, many policies purchased due to selfish motives will become vital family resources later in a time of need.
The marketing of whole life (and other cash value policies) as a substitute for savings and investments is considered controversial in some circles. Sometimes the regulatory agencies forbid the use of the words "savings" or "investment" by sales people when describing life insurance, insisting that life insurance should only be for "protection" against the economic hazard of death.
When discontinuing a policy, according to Standard Non-forfeiture Law, a policyholder is entitled to receive his share of the reserves, or cash values, in one of three ways (1) Cash, (2) Reduced Paid-up Insurance, or (3) Extended term insurance.
This type is fairly new, and is also known as either "excess interest" or "current assumption" whole life. The policies are a mixture of traditional whole life and universal life. Instead of using dividends to augment guaranteed cash value accumulation, the interest on the policy's cash value varies with current market conditions. Like whole life, death benefit remains constant for life. Like universal life, the premium payment might vary, but not above the maximum premium guaranteed within the policy.
Whole life insurance typically requires that the owner pay premiums for the life of the policy. There are some arrangements that let the policy be "paid up", which means that no further payments are ever required, in as few as 5 years, or with even a single large premium. Typically if the payor doesn't make a large premium payment at the outset of the life insurance contract, then he is not allowed to begin making them later in the contract life. However, some whole life contracts offer a rider to the policy which allows for a one time, or occasional, large additional premium payment to be made as long as a minimal extra payment is made on a regular schedule. In contrast, universal life insurance generally allows more flexibility in premium payment.
The company generally will guarantee that the policy's cash values will increase every year regardless of the performance of the company or its experience with death claims (again compared to universal life insurance and variable universal life insurance which can increase the costs and decrease the cash values of the policy). The dividends can be taken in one of three ways. The policy owner can be given a cheque from the insurance company for the dividends, the dividends can be used to reduce the premium payment, or the dividends can be reinvested back into the policy to increase the death benefit and the cash value at a faster rate. When the dividends paid on a whole life policy are chosen by the policy owner to be reinvested back into the policy, the cash value can increase at a rather substantial rate depending on the performance of the company.
The cash value will grow tax-deferred with compounding interest. Even though the growth is considered "tax-deferred," any loans taken from the policy will be tax-free as long as the policy remains in force. In addition, the death benefit remains tax-free (meaning no income tax and no estate tax). As the cash value increases, the death benefit will also increase and this growth is also non-taxable. The only way tax is ever due on the policy is (1) if the premiums were paid with pre-tax dollars, (2) if cash value is "withdrawn" past basis rather than "borrowed," or (3) if the policy is surrendered. Most whole life policies can be surrendered at any time for the cash value amount, and income taxes will usually only be placed on the gains of the cash account that exceeds the total premium outlay. Thus, many are using whole life insurance policies as a retirement funding vehicle rather than for risk management.
Cash values are considered liquid assets because they are easily accessible at any time, usually with a phone call or fax to the insurance company requesting a "loan" or "withdrawal" from the policy. Most companies will transfer the money into the policy holder's bank account within a few days.
Cash values are also liquid enough to be used for investment capital, but only if the owner is financially healthy enough to continue making premium payments (Single premium whole life policies avoid the risk of the insured failing to make premium payments and are liquid enough to be used as collateral. Single premium policies require that the insured pay a one time premium that tends to be lower than the split payments. Because these policies are fully paid at inception, they have no financial risk and are liquid and secure enough to be used as collateral under the insurance clause of collateral assignment.) Cash value access is tax free up to the point of total premiums paid, and the rest may be accessed tax free in the form of policy loans. If the policy lapses, taxes would be due on outstanding loans. If the insured dies, death benefit is reduced by the amount of any outstanding loan balance.
Internal rates of return for participating policies may be much worse than universal life and interest-sensitive whole life (whose cash values are invested in the money market and bonds) because their cash values are invested in the life insurance company and its general account, which may be in real estate and the stock market. However, universal life policies run a much greater risk, and are actually designed to lapse. Variable universal life insurance may outperform whole life because the owner can direct investments in sub-accounts that may do better. If an owner desires a conservative position for his cash values, par whole life is indicated.
Reported cash values might seem to "disappear" or become "lost" when the death benefit is paid out. The reason for this is that cash values are considered to be part of the death benefit. The insurance company pays out the cash values with the death benefit because they are inclusive of each other. This is why loans from the cash value are not taxable as long as the policy is in force (because death benefits are not taxable).