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The Basics of Life Insurance

Are you thinking about getting a life insurance policy? There are many options available. If you’re wondering which path is the right one, here are life insurance basics which can help you get started.

In simple terms, a life insurance policy is a contract between a policyholder and an insurance carrier. Most life insurance policies have four parts:

  • Premium payments – What the insured gives to the insurance carrier
  • Death benefit – A sum of money the insurance carrier pays to beneficiaries upon the insured’s death
  • Cash value – An interest-bearing savings or investment value that’s included in permanent life insurance policies
  • Term period – How long the policy provides coverage for

Most life insurance policies require medical underwriting, some policies require financial underwriting. On the medical underwriting side, the potential insured will have to undergo a medical checkup.

What Kinds of Life Insurance are Available?

There are many types of life insurance including whole life, term life, universal life, indexed universal life, and variable life.

Whole Life Insurance

You generally make level (equal) premium payments for life. The death benefit and cash value are predetermined and guaranteed (subject to claims paying ability of the issuing company). Whole life insurance can provide coverage for a set period as well as your lifetime. Your only action after purchase of the policy is to pay the fixed premium. The cash value may be accessible via policy loans or withdrawals. However, this can affect the cash value, death benefit, and even policy guarantees the insurance company gives.

Universal Life Insurance

You may pay premiums at any time, in any amount (subject to certain limits), as long as the policy expenses and the cost of insurance coverage are met. The amount of insurance coverage can be changed. In addition, the cash value will grow at a declared interest rate, which may vary over time. The cash value may be accessed via policy loans or withdrawals. But it can affect the cash value, death benefit, and policy guarantees.

Indexed Universal Life Insurance

Indexed universal life insurance is very similar to universal life insurance. It gives the policyholder a choice of allocating cash value amounts to a fixed account or a fixed-index account. You can pay premiums at any time, in almost any amount but subject to certain limits, so long as the policy expenses and insurance coverage cost are met.

The amount of insurance coverage can be changed. The cash value will grow at an interest rate declared annually and based on the performance of a stock index, which may vary over time. If there are any negative index changes, your cash value is protected. In these ways, it is similar to how a fixed index annuity functions: growth potential linked to rising index values and protection in the case of falling index values.

Indexed universal insurance policies typically guarantee the principal amount in the indexed portion, but cap the maximum return that a policyholder can receive. Since they’re seen as a “hybrid” universal life insurance policy, they tend to not be expensive (don’t have much management). They offer greater safety than an average variable universal life insurance policy, but their growth potential is limited compared to variable options.

Term Life Insurance

Term insurance will last a specified amount of time based on a set period. Time periods usually last for 10-30 years, with a 20-year period being the most common. If you were to purchase a 20-year term policy, it would last for 20 years.

If the policy owner passed away within the 20-year term, the death benefit would be paid to the beneficiary. If the policy owner was to decease after the 20-year term, there would be no death benefit.

The premium payments are at a very low cost and there is no cash value. You are purely purchasing for the death benefit only. There is also (ROP) Return of Premium Term Life Insurance which comes at a much higher cost.

Variable Life Insurance

As with whole life insurance, you pay a level premium for life. However, neither the death benefit nor cash value is predetermined or guaranteed. They fluctuate depending on the performance of investments in what are known as subaccounts. A subaccount is a pool of investor funds professionally managed to pursue a stated investment objective. You select the subaccounts in which the cash value should be allocated.


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