Planning for the financial security of your loved ones after you’re gone is a crucial yet often neglected aspect of financial planning. Imagining our loved ones without us can be overwhelming, and considering the possibility of an untimely death is something none of us want to do. However, it is essential to take proactive steps to ensure your loved ones are protected. One of the most effective ways to do that is through life insurance. Unfortunately, with so many different options available, making a decision can seem daunting. When considering what type of life insurance fits your needs, ask yourself these questions:
- How long will my loved ones rely on my income?
- How much am I willing to invest to secure adequate coverage?
- Do I want to use life insurance as a form of “forced savings”?
Keep your answers to these three questions in mind as we delve into the three primary types of life insurance: Term, Whole, and Universal.
Term Life Insurance:
Term life insurance provides coverage for a specified period (known as the “term”) at an affordable cost relative to the benefits provided. If you pass away during the term, your beneficiary will receive the predetermined death benefit. On the other hand, if you outlive the policy, it simply expires, and you have essentially paid for peace of mind over that period.
- Affordability: Many who hold term insurance outlive the term, making it incredibly affordable insurance and an appealing choice for those with short-term financial obligations.
- Simplicity: Term life insurance is straightforward. You pay a premium for a specific term, and if an unfortunate event occurs during that period, the death benefit is paid to your beneficiary.
- Flexibility: Different term lengths, typically 10, 20, and 30 years, allow you to tailor the policy to suit your needs, ensuring you don’t pay for unnecessary coverage.
- Limited Coverage: Once the term expires, the coverage ends. Renewing or converting the policy will likely mean significant premium increases due to increased age and potential changes in health.
- No Cash Value: Unlike permanent life insurance, term policies do not accumulate cash value. The premiums you pay strictly cover the potential benefit payout and do not provide any savings or investment opportunities.
- Outliving the Policy: If you outlive the term, there are no additional benefits received beyond the peace of mind you felt knowing you had a plan for your loved ones’ financial security.
Who is Term Life Insurance Best Suited For?
Term life insurance is an excellent option for individuals with short-term financial obligations who wish to provide for their surviving loved ones at a low cost. These obligations could include providing income replacement to a surviving spouse until retirement, covering children’s college education, or paying off mortgage debt.
Whole Life Insurance
While term life insurance offers coverage for a specified period, whole life insurance provides lifelong coverage provided premiums continue to be paid. When you pass away, your beneficiary receives a predefined death benefit. Additionally, a key feature of whole life is the ability to accumulate cash value which many individuals use as a form of “forced savings”.
- Guaranteed Lifelong Coverage: Your beneficiaries will receive the death benefit regardless of when you pass away, provided you pay the fixed premiums as agreed.
- Cash Value Accumulation: Part of the premiums paid go toward building cash value, which grows tax deferred. This feature allows you to access funds through policy loans, withdrawals, or surrenders which in some cases can be tax-free.
- Dividend Potential: Some policies provide the potential to earn dividends which can be used to increase the cash value, purchase additional coverage, or receive cash payments.
- Higher Premiums: Whole life insurance typically requires significantly higher premiums than term life insurance due to its lifelong coverage and cash value accumulation.
- Inflexibility: To ensure that your loved ones receive the death benefit, you must continue to pay premiums for your entire life.
Who is Whole Life Insurance Best Suited For?
While whole life insurance is more expensive compared to term insurance, it can be a good fit for individuals who desire the flexibility to access cash value during their lifetime or wish to incorporate it into their estate and legacy planning. Some business owners will also use permanent life insurance policies to fund buy/sell agreements or provide executive benefits.
Universal Life Insurance
Universal life insurance is a type of quasi-permanent life insurance. Built on a chassis of annual renewable term life insurance, the cost of coverage goes up every year, but the policyholder has the flexibility to pay these increases out of policy cash value and interest or to simply increase their premium payments.
- Flexible Premiums: Universal life allows policyholders to adjust their premium payments, within certain limits, to accommodate changing financial circumstances.
- Cash Value Accumulation: Like whole life, part of the premiums paid go toward building cash value, which grows tax deferred. The cash value can be used to pay future premiums, access funds through policy loans or withdrawals, or may be received if the policy is surrendered.
- Death Benefit Flexibility: Universal life insurance allows you to modify the death benefit amount, subject to certain policy provisions, providing the flexibility to adapt to changing needs.
- Higher Premiums: Universal life insurance typically carries significantly higher premiums than term life insurance due to its lifelong coverage and cash value accumulation.
- Potential for Insufficient Benefits: Adjusting premium payments or the death benefit amount may have consequences, such as reducing cash value, requiring underwriting approval, or a policy lapse.
- Complexity: Given the additional features and flexibility, universal life insurance policies can be more intricate and challenging to understand compared to term or whole life policies.
Who is Universal Life Insurance Best Suited For?
Universal life insurance, although relatively expensive compared to term insurance, may be a suitable choice for those with a higher risk tolerance and the need for permanent protection with flexible premium payments.
It’s important to note that whole life and universal policies come in both fixed and variable forms, meaning that cash values may either earn a guaranteed minimum interest rate (fixed) or be invested by the policyholder in mutual-fund-like investments with greater potential for growth but also a greater risk of loss (variable). Your time horizon and risk tolerance need to be considered before choosing the appropriate sub-type of insurance.
Life insurance is a critical component of holistic financial planning that safeguards the well-being of your loved ones. For most families, term insurance provides affordable coverage that meets their needs. For those with succession planning needs or more complex estate planning strategies, a form of permanent life insurance may be appropriate. However, as with any financial decision, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and it is essential to consider your unique circumstances and goals. Seeking guidance from a financial advisor can provide invaluable insights tailored to your specific situation. It’s always wise to visit with someone who will act as a fiduciary and provide an objective opinion such as a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional. By doing this prior to meeting with an insurance agent, you’ll reduce the odds of having to rely on advice from someone who may have a conflict of interest.