Term vs Whole Life Insurance

If you’re shopping for life insurance, there are two main types you’ll likely encounter: term life insurance and whole life insurance.

Depending on who you talk to, you’ll hear different arguments for and against both types, which can make it difficult to figure out which type of life insurance will provide the right protection for you and your family.

This guide breaks it all down so that you can make the best decision for your specific situation.

What Is the Purpose of Life Insurance?

Before getting into the debate over term versus whole life insurance, let’s take a step back and remind ourselves why life insurance is important to begin with.

While there are some rare exceptions, life insurance primarily serves one main purpose: to provide financial protection to people who are financially dependent upon you.

In other words, life insurance makes sure that there will always be money available for the people who depend on you financially, even if you’re no longer there to provide for them.

A good example of this is a couple with young children. A toddler obviously cannot support herself financially, and life insurance makes sure that there would be financial resources to care for her no matter what happens to the parents.

Other examples of financial dependents might include a spouse who would struggle to handle all the bills on his or her own, or parents who have co-signed for your student loans.

So before you start thinking about which type of life insurance you need, ask yourself the following two questions to better understand why you’re getting life insurance at all:

  1. Is there anyone who would struggle financially without your support? If not, you probably don’t need life insurance.
  2. If so, for how long will they be dependent upon you? Is it a fixed time period or is it relatively permanent?

Your answers to those questions will help you sort through the term versus whole life insurance debate with a clearer, more personal viewpoint.

The Basics of Term Life Insurance

Term life insurance is coverage that lasts for a set amount of time, typically 5-30 years. Once that period is up, the policy expires and your coverage ends.

That expiration may sound like a problem, but it’s actually similar to most other types of insurance. Things like auto insurance and homeowners insurance are typically annual policies that have to be renewed each year, and you would cancel your coverage if you no longer had a need. Similarly, term life insurance is meant to provide coverage only for as long as you actually need it.

Let’s look at the pros and cons.

The Benefits of Term Life Insurance

It’s Inexpensive

Term life insurance is typically the most cost-effective way to get the protection you need. In fact, it’s often 10 times less expensive than whole life insurance for the same amount of coverage, especially if you’re relatively young and healthy.

The main reason for the price difference is that term life insurance eventually expires, meaning it has a smaller chance of paying out. And again, that may look like a downside, but…

The Coverage Period Lines Up with Your Need

Most people only have a temporary need for life insurance. Your kids will eventually grow up and be self-sufficient. Your spouse can eventually rely on retirement savings and Social Security income. Your joint debt will eventually be paid off.

Term life insurance provides financial protection for the amount of time that you need it and no more. You should hope it doesn’t pay out, because that just means that you didn’t die early. Like your car insurance, it’s good to have in case of an emergency, but the best case scenario is never having to file a claim.

In addition, if for some reason your situation changes and you no longer need life insurance, you can simply cancel your term life insurance policy and be done with it. Again, it’s coverage for as long as you need it and no more.

It’s Easy to Shop Around

Term life insurance policies are fairly simple and therefore pretty generic. As long as you’re looking at insurance companies with a strong financial rating, you can largely shop on price alone.

My two favorite sites for comparison shopping for term life insurance policies are PolicyGenius and Term4Sale, both of which only list policies from reputable companies.

For example, using the Term4Sale quote engine, a 34-year-old nonsmoking male in New York City with “Preferred” health status could get a $1 million 30-year term life insurance policy for as little as $939.98 per year or as much as $1,255.30 per year. And again, because term life insurance is fairly generic, you can compare those premiums with the confidence that your policy would be just as good either way.

You Can Typically Convert to Whole Life

What happens if you end up needing life insurance coverage longer than you originally thought? Since term life insurance eventually runs out, wouldn’t that be a problem?

It is a risk, but most term life insurance policies allow you to convert your policy to whole life insurance without medical underwriting as long as you do it before the policy expires. Your premium would increase significantly upon such a conversion, reflecting the increased liability the insurance company is taking on by providing permanent coverage. And if for some reason your policy did require medical underwriting at the time of conversion, there would be the risk of an even bigger premium increase if your health has declined since you originally got the policy.

Not all policies have this conversion feature, but those that do remove the risk that you wouldn’t be able to get permanent coverage later on if you need it.

The Downsides of Term Life Insurance

It’s More Expensive as You Get Older

Term life insurance is typically inexpensive if you’re relatively young, but it gets more expensive as you get older, especially if you’re looking at policies with longer terms. And the reason is simply that your odds of dying increase as you age, which means the insurance company faces a bigger risk.

For example, a 54-year-old male looking for the same $1 million, 30-year term life insurance policy we mentioned above is looking at an annual premium of $5,894 to $6,780 per year.

If you’re in your 50s or above and looking for life insurance, a term policy may or may not end up being a cost-effective way to get it.

It May Not Last as Long as You Need

Life is hard to predict, and it’s certainly possible that you end up needing life insurance for longer than you originally expected. If that happens, your term life insurance policy likely won’t have a lot of flexibility that allows you to extend it, beyond converting it to whole life.

There are also some insurance needs for which permanent protection is simply better. Those are rare, but we’ll talk about them below.

The Basics of Whole Life Insurance

Whole life insurance has two primary features:

  1. It provides permanent coverage, meaning that it will never expire as long as you continue to pay the premiums.
  2. It includes a savings component that builds up over time and can eventually be used for a variety of purposes.

There are several types of whole life insurance that have slightly different features and serve different purposes, like universal life insurance, variable life insurance, and equity-indexed life insurance. For the purposes of this article we’ll focus on the basic whole life insurance that most people will come across, and for the most part, all of the following pros and cons would apply no matter which type you’re talking about.

The Benefits of Whole Life Insurance

It Can Handle a Permanent Need

If you have a permanent or indefinite need for life insurance, whole life insurance is the way to get it.

For example, if you have a child with special needs who will likely be dependent upon others for his or her entire life, whole life insurance may make sense. Or if you will have multiple millions of dollars to pass on to your heirs, whole life insurance can help with estate taxes and preserve your family’s wealth.

Most people don’t have these kinds of permanent needs, but if you do, then whole life insurance can be valuable.

It Can Be a Form of Forced Savings

For people who struggle to consistently save money, whole life insurance can be a way to force yourself to build long-term savings while also providing financial protection.

It may not be the most efficient savings account, as we’ll talk about below, but having some savings is better than having none, and the savings you do accumulate can be withdrawn for any reason. Taxes are also deferred while the money is inside the account, which can be a benefit for high-income earners who have already maxed out their other tax-advantaged savings accounts.

It’s Can Be Structured to Meet Your Goals

If you work with a life insurance professional who really knows what they’re doing, you can specially structure a whole life insurance policy to serve specific purposes.

For example, if your main goal is permanent life insurance protection, you can structure it to minimize the savings component and make that protection as cheap as possible. If your main goal is to build savings, you can structure it to minimize other costs and front-load your contributions to grow your savings as quickly as possible.

If you can find a life insurance agent who’s willing to work with you in a fiduciary capacity, meaning they put your interests ahead of their own, you can get fairly creative and structure your whole life insurance policy to meet your specific needs.

The Downsides of Whole Life Insurance

It’s Expensive

Whole life insurance is an expensive way to get the financial protection you need. For example, remember the 34-year-old male who would pay $939.98 per year for a $1 million 30-year term life insurance policy? According to LLIS, a team of independent insurance advisers, a $1 million whole life insurance policy for the same individual would be $11,240 per year. That’s 12 times more expensive for the same amount of coverage. (Though, to be fair, for a longer coverage period.)

There are also a lot of hidden fees that add to the cost, from the sizable commission paid to the agent who sells you the policy to the management fees associated with the policy’s savings account.

Unless you truly have a permanent need for coverage, whole life insurance is probably not the most cost-effective way to get it.

Most People Don’t Have a Permanent Need

The simple fact is that most people don’t have a need for permanent life insurance coverage. As your children age and your savings grow, the financial impact of your death decreases until there’s little to no risk.

It might be nice to know that whole life insurance will eventually pay out, but is that something you need? And if not, is it worth paying those big premiums over all those years instead of putting that money elsewhere?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that your insurance has to pay out for it to be valuable. If you don’t have the need for permanent coverage, you shouldn’t pay for it.

It’s Not an Efficient Savings Vehicle

The savings component of whole life insurance might sound attractive, but the truth is that it’s not an especially efficient way to save money.

It takes a long time for the cash value to build up. It’s often 7-10 years just to break even, and even over long periods of time in the best of circumstances the return is likely to be low.

Not only that, but withdrawals from your account are actually loans, meaning you’re typically charged interest for the right to use your own money. Can you imagine if your savings account at the bank charged you interest each time you took money out?

Finally, unlike other savings accounts where you can simply decide to pause or decrease your contributions for a while if you hit a rough patch, your whole life insurance premiums are due like clockwork no matter what. Your policy can lapse if you fail to pay your premiums, losing you both the protection you need and the savings you’ve built up.

The truth is that unless you’ve already maxed out all your other tax-advantaged savings accounts — like your 401(k), IRAs, health savings accounts, and 529 accounts — the tax benefits of saving within a life insurance policy likely aren’t worth it. And even then you may be better off using a taxable brokerage account, depending on your specific goals and circumstances.

Which Type of Life Insurance Is Right for You?

If you’re purely looking for the financial protection that life insurance provides, and if your need is temporary, then term life insurance is likely the best option for you. It’s the cheapest way to get the protection you need, leaving more room in your budget for your other goals and obligations.

And for most people, quite honestly, that’s the end of the discussion. Most people don’t have a need for permanent coverage and will be better off putting their savings elsewhere, like regular savings accounts for short-term needs and dedicated retirement accounts for long-term investments.

But there are a few situations in which some kind of whole life insurance can make sense.

If you have a truly permanent need for life insurance, such as a child with long-term special needs, then a whole life insurance policy specially designed to provide the protection you need at the lowest cost possible may be well worth it.

And if your income is very high and you’re already maxing out all other tax-advantaged investment accounts, a whole life insurance policy can be a way to get some additional tax-deferred savings. Again, you’d ideally want it to be specially designed to minimize fees and maximize the amount that goes toward savings.

In any case, remember to focus on the reason why you’re getting life insurance in the first place and to make decisions around that need. The right type of life insurance will likely be pretty clear as long as you keep your personal goals at the forefront.

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4 Steps to Take Before You Buy Life Insurance

Here are four helpful tips for selecting the right life insurance policy.

Americans treat life insurance the same way they treat retirement. The vast majority know they’re not adequately prepared, yet don’t always take steps to change.

A 2015 study conducted by the nonprofit Life Happens and LIMRA (a life insurance market research firm) explains this phenomenon in vivid detail. The 2015 Life Insurance Barometer, which polled 2,032 adults, showed nearly one third of Americans believe they need more life insurance than they have. Further, 43% of Americans said they would feel the financial impact of losing their primary wage earner within six months of his or her death.

Astonishingly, 54% of those polled said it was unlikely they would buy more life insurance coverage within the next 12 months. The reason? According to LIMRA, many consumers tend to overestimate the price of life insurance, along with the difficulties of obtaining coverage.

“In addition to believing life insurance is too expensive, our research has shown that consumers are intimidated by the process of buying life insurance — 4 in 10 don’t know how much they need or what to buy,” said Todd A. Silverhart, corporate vice president and director of LIMRA Insurance Research. “Having a better understanding about the factors that influence pricing might help consumers feel more confident and encourage them to pursue getting coverage they believe they need.”

What You Can Do

Like anything else, the key to finding and obtaining the ideal life insurance policy (or policies) is educating yourself on the ins and outs of this coverage. Knowing how policies work and how much they cost is one of the first steps toward protecting your family in the event of your death.

If you’re one of the millions who know you don’t have enough life insurance coverage, here are some steps to take today:

1. Assess Your Risk and Be Specific

Bismarck, North Dakota, financial advisor Benjamin Brandt suggests taking a look at your lifestyle to see which risks you’re trying to hedge against. Do you have unfunded retirement needs? Young children? Mortgage debt? (You can see where your finances stand by viewing two of your free credit scores on Credit.com.)

“If your risks have a specific beginning and ending, consider term life insurance,” says Brandt. Because term life insurance offers coverage for a predetermined length of time, you can customize your policy so it covers a stretch of time when you need it the most. If you plan to retire in just 15 years, for example, you may be fine with a 15-year term life insurance policy that would replace your income if you died.

Whole life insurance provides lifelong life insurance coverage with cash value you can borrow against, but at a more significant cost. Before you buy any policy, you should make sure you understand the difference, how long your coverage will remain in place, and how each type of life insurance might work in your favor.

2. Determine How Much Income You Need to Replace

It’s tempting to try to use a simple formula to determine how much coverage you need. Although you might hear that four times your annual income is a good rule of thumb, this is not enough coverage for most people.

North Carolina financial advisor Peter Huminski of Thorium Wealth Management offers this trick to come up with a smarter amount.

“Multiply your annual income by seven to 10 years,” says Huminski. “The more debt you have or the more responsibilities you hope to cover (such as young children’s needs, for example), the more years you should use for this formula.”

If you earn $100,000 per year, for example, you could estimate you need $1 million in coverage as an absolute minimum.

3. Take a Close Look at Your Liabilities

“The number one reason that people give for purchasing life insurance is to provide income for their family in case of death of the primary income earner,” says financial advisor David G. Niggel of Key Wealth Partners in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

However, many people fail to look beyond what they earn to what they actually owe.
For example, you might think you need $50,000 in life insurance coverage to replace your salary for the next 20 years — or a $1 million dollar policy. But if you have a $200,000 mortgage, $100,000 in student loan debt, and kids nearing college themselves, you need a whole lot more.

“In order to calculate a minimum amount, you will need to know your income, mortgage balances, debts (such as credit card, auto loans, student loans) and future college tuition expenses,” says Niggel. “This calculation will give you a good starting number that you can discuss with your financial advisor and make any adjustments necessary to fulfill your goals and family wishes.”

4. Shop Around

Just because your college buddy sells life insurance doesn’t mean he should be your first and only contact. Because of the many ways life insurance firms price their individual policies, you could pay considerably more if you don’t shop around.

“Consider working with an independent insurance professional or finding a quote engine online,” says Minnesota financial advisor Jamie Pomeroy. “They will help you look at dozens of different insurance companies and help you determine which company offers the least expensive quote with the highest rated company — and one that has a clear underwriting process.”

This simple act of shopping the life insurance market can potentially save you lots of money in lower premiums over the long haul, says Pomeroy. And due to the wonders of the internet, you can conduct plenty of price comparisons without even leaving your home.

Final Thoughts

Buying life insurance isn’t rocket science, but it does require some work. Not only do you need to analyze your family’s needs, you must compare policies and shop around for the best deal.

Also know that certain factors such as your health and your credit may affect your premiums — and even prevent you from buying coverage. Just like you can’t buy homeowner’s insurance once your house is already on fire, you may not get the life insurance policy you want if you’re chronically ill or have lifestyle factors that might lead to early death.

Either way, the only way to know where you stand is to figure out what you need, shop around and fill out a life insurance application once you’re ready. With good health and credit, you may qualify for an inexpensive life insurance policy that could help you sleep better at night.

The author has an insurance license and has relationships with multiple insurance companies. However, these relationships do not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Image: eyetoeyePIX

The post 4 Steps to Take Before You Buy Life Insurance appeared first on Credit.com.

4 Reasons to Have Your Own Life Insurance, Even if it’s Already an Employee Benefit


If you work for a company that offers life insurance through a group policy, you may be surprised to find out that there are good reasons to consider getting additional coverage.

Before discussing why you may need additional coverage it’s really important to understand why you need coverage at all. The purpose of life insurance is to protect people who depend on you financially when you die. With adequate coverage, when you die, you can be sure that the people who depend on you have enough money.

According to LIMRA, more than 70 million people know and admit they need more life insurance in the United States. Yet, they aren’t making it a priority.

The scariest part about this is that you jeopardize the financial lives of the people you love the most when you have inadequate coverage.

Consider life insurance planning as part of your overall financial plan and make it a priority. This includes know the reasons why your employer coverage may not be the only coverage you need.

Reason 1: Your Employer’s Coverage May Be Inadequate

Your group life insurance coverage may not provide a large enough death benefits for your dependents when you die.

For example, if your coverage pays out a $50,000 death benefit, and your family would need $1,000,000 to live off without you, then your employer plan would be inadequate and you would need additional coverage.

Understanding how much insurance you need is crucial to knowing how much additional coverage to purchase. There are several approaches to determining how much life insurance you need, so it’s important to talk with a professional to know what’s best for you given your specific family circumstances. Some professionals use an old school model where the rule of “10 times your income” is how much life insurance you should have. Beyond general rules that you can find online, a professional will be able to tell you how much life insurance you need, given your specific circumstances.

Your coverage may fall short in other areas in addition to the death benefit, too. For example, you may want riders on your life insurance plan that you can’t add with an employer plan.

The customization of an employer plan is limited compared to life insurance you can buy on the open market. For this reason, you may find your life insurance coverage through your employer inadequate.

Reason 2: You May be Able to Get a Better Deal Somewhere Else

Your employer provided life insurance coverage may not the best financial decision for you. You may be able to find a better deal by shopping for life insurance through an insurance broker. Not only can you price shop, but you can shop for insurance that fits your needs.

Shopping for a good deal on life insurance now is important. If you wait until you switch jobs, you are giving up time that could work in your favor. For example, if you change jobs in five years, you will likely pay a higher rate for life insurance (assuming you’re in the same health, which is also a risk) than if you got the life insurance policy earlier. Locking in a price now will help you get the best deal you can, regardless of your job status.

Reason 3: Your Insurance is Dependent on Your Job

With employer group life insurance, the coverage only exists so long as you are an employee. If you quit, are laid of, or are fired, you most likely lose your life insurance coverage.

The average employee works at his job for 4.6 years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that most people are changing jobs a lot. With each job change, benefits end – life insurance coverage included.

While you may think you can always get life insurance with your next employer, your next employer may not offer life insurance or some other turn of events may happen in your life where you don’t have access to employer life insurance coverage.

Reason 4: If Your Health Changes You Put Your Coverage at Risk

If you get sick or become disabled you put your life insurance coverage at risk. Getting an illness may cause you to have to leave your job, which means you may lose your benefits, including your life insurance coverage. In this case, as opposed to quitting or being fired, your ability to get life insurance somewhere else may be very difficult because it’s hard to get life insurance (if not impossible) in poor health. Life insurance is easiest and cheapest to get the younger and healthier you are.

For example, if you are the sole provider for your family, become disabled, have to leave your job, and die a few years later, you would leave your family without life insurance money after you passed away if you only had employer life insurance coverage because of the years where you lived disabled and unemployed. If you had additional life insurance coverage in place before you became disabled, your loved ones would receive a death benefit regardless of whether you worked in the last years of your life. This is a really important reason to consider shopping for life insurance above and beyond your employer group coverage.

Shopping Young Makes Sense

Life insurance is easiest and cheapest to obtain when you are your youngest and healthiest self. Therefore, it’s really important that you consider your health and your age when you decide how to meet your life insurance needs.

You need life insurance if you have people who would financially suffer if you died. The purpose of life insurance is to protect your loved ones financially when you’re no longer here. With adequate life insurance coverage you can have confidence that the people who depend on you will have enough money to live without your support.

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