Frequently Asked Questions
For additional information, please see the Frequently Asked Questions page.
BENEFICIARY - The person or legal entity the owner of an insurance policy names to receive the policy benefit if the event insured against occurs.
CASH SURRENDER VALUE - The amount, before adjustments for factors such as policy loans, that the owner of a permanent life insurance policy is entitled to receive if the policy does not remain in force until the insured’s death.
TAX-DEFERRED BASIS - Accumulation of investment income on which income taxes are not payable until money is withdrawn from the investment vehicle.
DEATH BENEFIT - For a life insurance contract, the amount of money paid by an insurer to a beneficiary when a person insured under the life insurance policy dies.
DIVIDEND - Money returned to policyholders from an insurance company’s earnings. Considered a partial premium refund rather than a taxable distribution, reflecting the difference between the premium charged and actual losses. Many life insurance policies dividends to their owners. Life insurance policies that pay dividends are called participating policies.
EARNED PREMIUM - The portion of premium that applies to the expired part of the policy period. Insurance premiums are payable in advance but the insurance company does not fully earn them until the policy period expires.
FACE AMOUNT - For a fixed-amount whole life insurance policy, the amount of the death benefit payable if the insured person dies while the policy is in force.
LAPSE - The termination of an insurance policy because a renewal premium is not paid by the end of the grace period.
POLICY - A written contract for insurance between an insurance company and policyholder stating details of coverage.
PREMIUM - The price of an insurance policy, typically charged annually or semiannually
Types of Insurance:
UNIVERSAL LIFE INSURANCE - A flexible premium policy that combines protection against premature death with a type of savings vehicle, known as a cash value account, that typically earns a money market rate of interest. Death benefits can be changed during the life of the policy within limits, generally subject to a medical examination. Once funds accumulate in the cash value account, the premium can be paid at any time but the policy will lapse if there isn’t enough money to cover annual mortality charges and administrative costs.
WHOLE LIFE INSURANCE - The oldest kind of cash value life insurance that combines protection against premature death with a savings account. Premiums are fixed and guaranteed and remain level throughout the policy’s lifetime.
TERM LIFE INSURANCE - A form of life insurance that covers the insured person for a certain period of time, the “term” that is specified in the policy. It pays a benefit to a designated beneficiary only when the insured dies within that specified period which can be one, five, 10 or even 20 years. Term life policies are renewable but premiums increase with age.
GROUP INSURANCE - A single policy covering a group of individuals, usually employees of the same company or members of the same association and their dependents. Coverage occurs under a master policy issued to the employer or association.
Things to consider when buying Life Insurance:
How much life insurance do I need?
If you have a family or plan on having a family, buy enough life insurance so that, when combined with other sources of income, it will replace the income you now generate for them, plus enough to offset any additional expenses they will incur to replace services you provide (for a simple example, if you do your own taxes, the survivors might have to hire a professional tax preparer). Also, your family might need extra money to make some changes after you die. For example, they may want to relocate, or your spouse may need to go back to school to be in a better position to help support the family.
You should also plan to replace “hidden income” that would be lost at death. Hidden income is income that you receive through your employment but that isn’t part of your gross wages. It includes things like your employer’s subsidy of your health insurance premium, the matching contribution to your 401(k) plan, and many other “perks,” large and small. This is an often-overlooked insurance need: the cost of replacing just your health insurance and retirement contributions could be the equivalent of $2,000 per month or more.
If you want to create an inheritance or make a charitable contribution, buy enough life insurance to achieve those goals.
Of course, you should also plan for expenses that arise at death. These include the funeral costs, taxes and administrative costs associated with “winding up” an estate and passing property to heirs. At a minimum, plan for $15,000.
How should I choose what type of life insurance to buy?
You should consider term life insurance if:
- You need life insurance for a specific period of time. Term life insurance enables you to match the length of the term policy to the length of the need. For example, if you have young children and want to ensure that there will be funds to pay for their college education, you might buy 20-year term life insurance. Or if you want the insurance to repay a debt that will be paid off in a specified time period, buy a term policy for that period.
- You need a large amount of life insurance, but have a limited budget. In general, this type of insurance pays only if you die during the term of the policy, so the rate per thousand of death benefit is lower than for permanent forms of life insurance. If you are still alive at the end of the term, coverage stops unless the policy is renewed. Unlike permanent insurance, you will not build equity in the form of cash savings.
Keep in mind that premiums are lowest when you are young and increase upon renewal as you age. Some term insurance policies can be renewed when the policy ends, but the premium will generally increase. Some policies require a medical examination at renewal to qualify for the lowest rates.
You should consider permanent life insurance if:
- You need life insurance for as long as you live. A permanent policy pays a death benefit whether you die tomorrow or live to be 100.
- You want to accumulate a savings element that will grow on a tax-deferred basis and could be a source of borrowed funds for a variety of purposes. The savings element can be used to pay premiums to keep the life insurance in force if you can’t pay them otherwise, or it can be used for any other purpose you choose. You can borrow these funds even if your credit is shaky. The death benefit is collateral for the loan, and if you die before it’s repaid, the insurance company collects what is due the company before determining what’s goes to your beneficiary.
Keep in mind that premiums for permanent policies are generally higher than for term insurance. However, the premium in a permanent policy remains the same no matter how old you are, while term can go up substantially every time you renew it.
There are a number of different types of permanent insurance policies, such as whole (ordinary) life, universal life, variable life, and variable/universal life.