Life insurance guarantees payment of a given amount to the insured person’s beneficiaries when the policy owner dies. While many people, especially younger people, don’t necessarily want to take the time to think about something as abstract as dying, this form of insurance is particularly important for parents or other persons with dependents.
The basic structure of most life insurance policies is relatively straight-forward: the policy owner pays a premium every month; upon the owner’s death, the insurer issues payment for the policy amount to the spouse, children, or other beneficiary(-ies) named in the policy. In practice, as with most forms of insurance, specific policies can be much more complicated than this fairly simple model.
For example, the life insurance policy might have riders, or additional clauses, that pay off in the event of a terminal or critical illness or a permanent disability due to physical or mental causes. Also, there are different varieties of policies, including term life insurance, whole life coverage, universal coverage, and limited-pay policies. Understanding the difference between the different types of coverage and picking the appropriate one for your situation can be difficult, and professional advice may be necessary to ensure the correct policy is in place.
Term Life Insurance covers the insured for a certain number of years, after which the coverage typically expires. Because the policy does not build any cash value, and because it is typically based on a low likelihood of death for the covered person, term insurance premiums are usually relatively low. However, the length of the term, the amount of coverage (and whether it stays constant or decreases over time), and the premium amount (again, fixed or adjustable over time), will all affect the premium amount. The lower premium is a primary advantage of term life insurance; a drawback is that, at the end of the term, the still-living insured receives no benefit from the coverage.
Whole Life Insurance is permanent life insurance, which means the policy holder can withdraw money paid in or borrow against the cash value. Whole life has the advantage of a fixed annual premium and guaranteed death benefits. Premiums are much higher than term life policies at first, but over the life of the policy the two policy types roughly even out in terms of total cost. While whole life insurance does build value over time, it may not be as strong as other savings options in terms of the rate of returns. Also, dividends are not guaranteed with whole life.
Universal life insurance is similar to whole life, but it offers more flexibility in premiums and may offer stronger returns over time. It also has a cash account and accrues interest.
The variety of policies available is intimidating enough to many people. With dozens of optional riders available, and variations even within individual rider classes, competent professional help is definitely recommended when selecting life insurance. It should be noted that the life insurance policies offered by many employers, while an attractive benefit, are typically not adequate to meet the needs of the insured’s family in the event of an untimely death. The total amount of life insurance carried should be enough to pay off any mortgages, car payments, credit card debt, and any other major outstanding debt, leaving the survivors in a solid financial situation.