What Is Collateral Assignment (of a Life Insurance Policy)?

Woman working on a laptop.
•••

Kilito Chan / Getty Images



If you assign your life insurance contract as collateral for a loan, you give the lender the right to collect from the policy’s cash value or death benefit in two circumstances. One is if you stop making payments; the other is if you die before the loan is repaid. Securing a loan with life insurance reduces the lender’s risk, which improves your chances of qualifying for the loan.

Before moving forward with a collateral assignment, learn how the process works, how it impacts your policy, and possible alternatives.

Definition and Examples of Collateral Assignment

Collateral assignment is the practice of using a life insurance policy as collateral for a loan. Collateral is any asset that your lender can take if you default on the loan.

For example, you might apply for a $25,000 loan to start a business. But your lender is unwilling to approve the loan without sufficient collateral. If you have a permanent life insurance policy with a cash value of $40,000 and a death benefit of $300,000, you could use that life insurance policy to collateralize the loan. Via collateral assignment of your policy, you authorize the insurance company to give the lender the amount you owe if you’re unable to keep up with payments (or if you die before repaying the loan).

Lenders have two ways to collect under a collateral assignment arrangement:

  1. If you die, the lender gets a portion of the death benefit—up to your remaining loan balance.
  2. With permanent insurance policies, the lender can surrender your life insurance policy in order to access the cash value if you stop making payments.

Lenders are only entitled to the amount you owe, and are not generally named as beneficiaries on the policy. If your cash value or the death benefit exceeds your outstanding loan balance, the remaining money belongs to you or your beneficiaries.

How Collateral Assignment Works

Whenever lenders approve a loan, they can’t be certain that you’ll repay. Your credit history is an indicator, but sometimes lenders want additional security. Plus, surprises happen, and even those with the strongest credit profiles can die unexpectedly.

Assigning a life insurance policy as collateral gives lenders yet another way to secure their interests and can make approval easier for borrowers.

Types of Life Insurance Collateral

Life insurance falls into two broad categories: permanent insurance and term insurance. You can use both types of insurance for a collateral assignment, but lenders may prefer that you use permanent insurance.

  • Permanent insurance: Permanent insurance, such as universal and whole life insurance, is lifelong insurance coverage that contains a cash value. If you default on the loan, lenders can surrender your policy and use that cash value to pay down the balance. If you die, the lender has a right to the death benefit, up to the amount you still owe.
  • Term insurance: Term insurance provides a death benefit, but coverage is limited to a certain number of years (20 or 30, for example). Since there’s no cash value in these policies, they only protect your lender if you die before the debt is repaid. The duration of a term policy used as collateral needs to be at least as long as your loan term.

A Note on Annuities

You may also be able to use an annuity as collateral for a bank loan. The process is similar to using a life insurance policy, but there is one key difference to be aware of. Any amount assigned as collateral in an annuity is treated as a distribution for tax purposes. In other words, the amount assigned will be taxed as income up to the amount of any gain in the contract, and may be subject to an additional 10% tax if you’re under 59 ½.

A collateral assignment is similar to a lien on your home. Somebody else has a financial interest in your property, but you keep ownership of it.

The Process

To use life insurance as collateral, the lender must be willing to accept a collateral assignment. When that’s the case, the policy owner, or “assignor,” submits a form to the insurance company to establish the arrangement. That form includes information about the lender, or “assignee,” and details about the lender’s and borrower’s rights.

Policy owners generally have control over policies. They may cancel or surrender coverage, change beneficiaries, or assign the contract as collateral. But if the policy has an irrevocable beneficiary, that beneficiary will need to approve any collateral assignment.

State laws typically require you to notify the insurer that you intend to pledge your insurance policy as collateral, and you must do so in writing. In practice, most insurers have specific forms that detail the terms of your assignment.

Some lenders might require you to get a new policy to secure a loan, but others allow you to add a collateral assignment to an existing policy. After submitting your form, it can take 24 to 48 hours for the assignment to go into effect.

Lenders Get Paid First

If you die and the policy pays a death benefit, the lender receives the amount you owe first. Your beneficiaries get any remaining funds once the lender is paid. In other words, your lender takes priority over your beneficiaries when you use this strategy. Be sure to consider the impact on your beneficiaries before you complete a collateral assignment.

After you repay your loan, your lender does not have any right to your life insurance policy, and you can request that the lender release the assignment. Your life insurance company should have a form for that. However, if a lender pays premiums to keep your policy in force, the lender may add those premium payments (plus interest) to your total debt—and collect that extra money.

Alternatives to Collateral Assignment

There may be several other ways for you to get approved for a loan—with or without life insurance:

  • Surrender a policy: If you have a cash value life insurance policy that you no longer need, you could potentially surrender the policy and use the cash value. Doing so might prevent the need to borrow, or you might borrow substantially less. However, surrendering a policy ends your coverage, meaning your beneficiaries will not get a death benefit. Also, you’ll likely owe taxes on any gains.
  • Borrow from your policy: You may be able to borrow against the cash value in your permanent life insurance policy to get the funds you need. This approach could eliminate the need to work with a traditional lender, and creditworthiness would not be an issue. But borrowing can be risky, as any unpaid loan balance reduces the amount your beneficiaries receive. Plus, over time, deductions for the cost of insurance and compounding loan interest may negate your cash value and the policy could lapse, so it’s critical to monitor.
  • Consider other solutions: You may have other options unrelated to a life insurance policy. For example, you could use the equity in your home as collateral for a loan, but you could lose your home in foreclosure if you can’t make the payments. A co-signer could also help you qualify, although the co-signer takes a significant risk by guaranteeing your loan.

Key Takeaways

  • Life insurance can help you get approved for a loan when you use a collateral assignment.
  • If you die, your lender receives the amount you owe, and your beneficiaries get any remaining death benefit.
  • With permanent insurance, your lender can cash out your policy to pay down your loan balance.
  • An annuity can be used as collateral for a loan but may not be a good idea because of tax consequences.
  • Other strategies can help you get approved without putting your life insurance coverage at risk.