The two main categories of life insurance are term and permanent life insurance.
Term life insurance
policies are sold for a fixed number of years that matches your needs. Term life policies are often sold for terms of 10 or 20 years.
You may decide that you and your spouse will have enough income from Social Security
and retirement pensions
when you retire in 10 years. As a result, you decide you only need a policy in case you die in the next 10 years.
A term life insurance company underwrites
, using historical data on insurees with similar risk characteristics to calculate a premium
. (Relevant risk characteristics include your health history, age, and gender. You complete a health condition questionnaire and physical exam in order to obtain a certificate of insurability
Once you receive a quote for a term life policy, you make level premium payments
for the term of the policy. If you die before the end of the term, your beneficiary receives a death benefit
. With term life insurance, your policy lapses if you stop paying premiums.
When the policy term ends, you generally have the option to renew, but at a higher premium. A higher premium reflects a greater likelihood of your death during the renewal term. (You're older, after all.) Insurers like to say that your mortality risk
is higher, justifying the higher premiums.
Permanent life insurance
is different from term life insurance. For one, permanent life insurance provides coverage
until you, the policyholder, die. You may cancel, or surrender, a permanent life policy but will likely have to pay a surrender charge
. Surrender charges are like paying a back-end load
when you sell shares of a mutual fundit lowers the investment performance
of the policy.
A second major distinction of permanent life insurance is that your policy builds up a cash value
. Cash value is also called cash surrender value (CSV). This buildup in cash value occurs because you invest a part of your permanent life premiums.
How these premiums are invested is what determines what type of permanent life insurance you have. The most common types are whole life
, universal life
, and variable life insurance
For example, you may pay $1,000 in premiums over a 12-month period. If the premiums are invested and increase in value, the future premium necessary to keep your policy active may drop to, say, $500. As a result, your premiums accumulate a cash value of $500 after the first year.
Your cash value is the amount you are entitled to if you cancel your policy. With some types of permanent life insurance, you can use the cash value in your policy to adjust either your death benefit or premiums. Alternatively, if the cash value of your policy declines, your death benefit may also decline.
Cash value is a personal asset
. You should include this asset when you prepare a statement of your personal net worth
. When you apply for a loan, for example, you should disclose the cash value of an insurance policy as a personal asset. You can also use the cash value of an insurance policy as collateral
for a loan request.
The above information is educational and should not be interpreted as financial advice. For advice that is specific to your circumstances, you should consult a financial or tax adviser.