Life insurance is a contract between an insurance company and an individual, in which the insurance company agrees that if the individual ("the insured") should die during the term of the life insurance policy, the insurance company will pay the predetermined amount of money to the beneficiary chosen by the insured upon their death.
Life insurance may be purchased for a predetermined term, usually of 5-30 years, or on a permanent basis.
Reasons to Buy Life Insurance
People buy life insurance for many reasons. The most common reason is to leave some money to your family in the event that you die, so that they don't end up in financial crisis due to your lost income. However, there are a few other reasons to buy life insurance you may want to consider:
- To cover funeral costs
- To secure your mortgage instead of buying insurance through the bank
- To pay off credit debts or other loans so your estate or family do not get stuck with your debts
- To pay estate taxes
- To protect your spouse's lifestyle, even if you do not have children
- To protect your future lifestyle by locking in a lower life insurance rate while you are younger, healthier, and don't have any problem with a medical exam
- To build wealth as part of your financial strategy
Life Insurance Facts That May Surprise You
According to a 2016 Trends in Life Insurance Ownership study:
- 84 percent of Americans think most people need life insurance
- 70 percent said they needed life insurance, but 41 percent of Americans did not have it
- Millennials over-estimated the price of a $250,000 life insurance policy by 3 or 4 times the actual cost
- 83 percent of Americans felt they would consider life insurance if it was easier to understand
The data, then, suggests that there are some things about life insurance that are confusing to the average person. We'll clear up some of the misconceptions, explain some life insurance basics, and answer a few key questions like:
- Do you really need life insurance?
- When should you buy it?
- What kind of life insurance is best?
- How do I save money on life insurance?
What Are the Different Types of Life Insurance?
Let's start by walking through the different types of life insurance, and the pros and cons of each.
- Term Life Insurance: Term life insurance is an affordable option which allows you great flexibility in regard to how long you want the policy for, as well as to the limit of insurance. Because it is for a specified term, you may also ask for a fixed rate which allows you to budget your payments for the given term. Term insurance starts at 5 years and can go up to 30. This is the least expensive option.
- Whole Life Insurance: Whole life insurance is a permanent form of life insurance because it covers you for the term of your life. Unlike term insurance which expires after the selected amount of years you insured yourself for. The disadvantage for some people in a whole life policy is that the premiums are usually higher.
- Universal Life Insurance: Universal life is a type of whole life insurance policy. In the past the historic performance of universal life caused many people to be cautious due to the investment factor of a portion of the premiums. It can be an interesting option if you inform yourself about the benefits, such as the possibility of later borrowing money from your life insurance policy.
Converting Term Life to Whole Life Insurance
If you aren't sure what kind of policy will work best for you, you should also consider asking that if you purchase a cheaper, less expensive option like a term life insurance policy, if you will have the option to convert to a whole life policy later on.
Where Can You Get Life Insurance?
You can buy life insurance directly through an insurance company, through a life insurance broker or financial planner, or through group or membership associations. Increasingly more people are buying life insurance online or directly through insurance companies. Sometimes this seems like a fast and easy solution, but you may not be getting the best coverage for the price you are paying. Always check a few places or work with a financial planner or broker to get some advice for your circumstance.
4 Tips to Save Money on Life Insurance
Besides choosing a term policy, there are ways to save money on your life insurance.
- Shop around for your life insurance to find the best rates. Consider using a life insurance broker who can check many different life insurance companies and policies for you and offer you the various options. Using a broker or financial advisor will also give you the advantage of working with someone who will analyze your needs and come up with solutions that work for you. Find someone you can trust and enjoy working with who answers all your questions. Life insurance prices are regulated, so don’t feel like you need to call many brokers — just deal with the one you like best, you’ll get the same rates.
- Buy life insurance when you are younger and healthy. Life insurance prices are based on your age and your health condition. You don’t know what is coming in the future, so if you are healthy now, consider getting a policy where you can pass the medical exam and get the best rate locked in. Make sure to ask about guaranteed level premiums so that you can benefit from a consistent rate throughout the term of the policy you choose and don’t have any surprises. If you have health conditions, make sure and shop around, see the first point above about using a broker because some life insurance companies will give better rates for certain medical conditions, where others will charge more. A financial advisor will be able to help you.
- Don't smoke. Non-Smokers get lower life insurance rates than smokers. If you smoke, consider quitting. Even though you may buy a policy as a smoker, if you can quit for a period of 12 months, most life insurers will adjust the rates once you have been smoke-free. But don’t put off buying life insurance until you quit smoking, especially if you have it in the plans; just get your policy, and find out what the cost will be once you’re smoke-free. This may help motivate you in the long run, and your family will be protected while you work on it.
- Ask if there is a better rate for paying your premium annually instead of monthly. Some companies will offer better rates when you pay on an annual basis.
Life Insurance Through Your Work: Is It Enough?
According to the Best Life Rates 2017 study, one-third of Americans who have life insurance only have a group insurance life policy. Although it is better than nothing, there are a few reasons why you shouldn't rely on the life insurance you get through work:
- You may lose it when you change jobs
- You will have to take a new medical exam if you decide to get a new policy
- The limit of your group life insurance through work is limited — for example, it may only be twice your salary (or less). This will not be enough, in most circumstances, to help your family, or to cover your debts and financial responsibilities in the long term.
Misconceptions About Life Insurance, Debunked
Life insurance is often considered an unnecessary expense or one that gets put off. Here are some things you may want to think about before you decide life insurance is not for you right now.
"People Who Don’t Work Don't Need Life Insurance"
Even if you don’t work, your death would still have financial consequences if you perform caregiving or homemaking duties while a partner works. If something happened to you, there may be no loss of income, but there would be a drastic increase in expenses. Childcare costs and housekeeping costs, for instance, may become necessary if you were suddenly gone. If you would want your family to maintain their lifestyle and have things taken care of in a similar way that you do now, you would have to look at the cost of hiring people to take over those tasks to allow your partner to continue working and earning income.
"People Without Children or Spouses Don't Need Life Insurance"
If you have no dependents or children but plan to have a family later in life, you may want to consider purchasing life insurance earlier in life, while you are younger. Life insurance costs are based on a number of factors, including your age and health. When you are younger you will have significantly lower rates than when you finally get married and have that family.
"Life insurance Is Too Expensive"
Waiting to pay down debts before buying life insurance sounds like a good idea, but if something were to happen to you tomorrow, you’d leave your debt to your family. Would they be in a position to cover these debts and make up for the lost income due to your absence?
There are options for cheap life insurance that can be purchased for as little as a few dollars a day. Having a small amount of life insurance now can allow a good safety net for your family.
How Long Does It Take to Get Life Insurance?
In general, the life insurance process involves 3 steps and it normally can be completed in 4-6 weeks from the time of filling in the application:
- Discussing options and then filling in an application for life insurance
- Taking the medical exam
- Receiving the results of the medical exam and subsequent approval, rate adjustment, or denial of benefits
Will Life Insurance Pay Out Right Away After You Buy It?
Many companies will “hold you covered” for life insurance benefits from the moment you submit the application on the conditions that:
- Everything has been declared as per the application
- The medical exam comes through with no new information.
Ask your life insurance company about this at the time you decide to purchase the policy and sign the application. Find out if coverage starts right away or if there is a waiting period. Also, beware of exclusions in the policy such as the suicide clause and the contestability period.