Note: Any reference to the word guarantee is based on the claims paying ability of the underlying insurance company.
Permanent insurance provides lifelong protection and is known by a variety of names. These policies are designed and priced for you to keep over a long period of time. If you don't intend to keep the policy for the long term, it could be the wrong type of insurance for you.
Most permanent policies including whole, ordinary, universal, adjustable and variable life have a feature known as "cash value" or "cash surrender value." This feature, which is not found in most term insurance policies, provides you with some options:
There are many different types of permanent insurance. The major ones are described below:
This was the most common type of permanent life insurance. It was sold by Mutual Life Insurance Companies, however, some stock life insurance companies do offer a derivative product they call Whole Life. It is life insurance that is kept in force for a person's whole life as long as the scheduled premiums are maintained. All Whole Life policies build up cash values. Most Whole Life policies are guaranteed* as long as the scheduled premiums are maintained. The variable in a whole life policy is the dividend which could vary depending on how well the investments and other business criteria of the insurance company are doing. If the company is doing well and the policies are not experiencing a higher mortality than projected, values are paid back to the policyholder in the form of dividends. Policyholders can use the cash from dividends in many ways. It can be used in three main areas: to lower premiums, to purchase more insurance or to pay for term insurance.
This variation of permanent insurance allows you, after your initial payment, to pay premiums at any time, in virtually any amount, subject to certain minimums and maximums. You also can reduce or increase the amount of the death benefit more easily than under a traditional whole life policy. (To increase your death benefit, you usually will be required to furnish the insurance company with satisfactory evidence of your continued good health.)(Decreasing does not lower premiums.)
This type of permanent policy provides death benefits and cash values that vary with the performance of an underlying portfolio of investments held in a separate account. You can choose to allocate your premiums among a variety of investments which offer varying degrees of risk and reward. You will receive a prospectus in conjunction with the sale of a variable product.
The cash value of a variable life policy is not guaranteed*, and the policyholder bears that risk. However, by choosing among the available fund options, the policyholder can create an asset allocation that meets his or her objectives and risk tolerance. Good investment performance will lead to higher cash values and death benefits. On the other hand, poor investment performance will lead to reduced cash values and death benefits.
Some policies guarantee* that death benefits cannot fall below a minimum level. There are both universal life and whole life versions of variable life.
An illustration shows policy premiums, death benefits, cash values and information about other items that can affect your cost of obtaining insurance. Your policy may provide for dividends to be paid to you as either cash or paid-up insurance. Or it could provide for interest credits that could increase your cash value and death benefit or reduce your premium. These items are not guaranteed*. Your costs or benefits could be higher or lower than those illustrated, because they depend on the future financial results of the insurance company. With variable life, your values will depend on the results of the underlying portfolio of investments.
Some figures are guaranteed* and some are not. Remember that the insurance company will honor the guaranteed* figures, subject to its financial strength.
If your policy is a variable life policy, be sure that the interest rate or rate of return assumed is reasonable for the underlying investment accounts to which you choose to allocate your premiums. It is important to keep in mind that an illustration is not a legal document. Legal obligations are spelled out in the policy itself.
Here are additional questions to ask about the policy illustration:
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when purchasing a life insurance policy:
Take your time. On the other hand, don't put off an important decision that would protect your family. Make sure you fully understand any policy you are considering and that you are comfortable with the company and product.
After you have purchased an insurance policy, keep in mind that you may have a "free-look" period usually 10 days after you receive the policy during which you can change your mind. During that period, read your policy carefully. If you decide not to keep the policy, the company will cancel the policy and give you an appropriate refund. Review the copy of your application contained in your policy. Promptly notify us or the company of any errors or missing information.
Review your policy periodically or when your situation changes to be sure your coverage is adequate.
What happens if I fail to make the required payments?
If you miss a premium payment, you typically have a 30- or 31-day grace period during which you can pay the premium with no interest charged. After that, the company can, with your authorization, draw from a permanent policy's cash surrender value to keep that policy in force as long as there is sufficient cash surrender value. In some flexible premium policies, premiums may be reduced or skipped as long as sufficient cash surrender values remain in the policy. However, this will result in lower cash surrender values.
What if I become disabled?
Provisions or riders that provide additional benefits can be added to a policy. One such rider is a waiver of premium for disability. With this rider, if you become totally disabled for a specified period of time, you do not have to pay premiums for the duration of the disability. This rider, if available, would require additional premium. Availability and specifics varies by carrier and state.
Are other riders available?
Another rider, called an "accidental death benefit", provides for an additional benefit in case of death by accidental means.
"Child Rider" This rider, if available, would require additional premium. Availability and specifics varies by carrier and state.
A relatively new rider offered by some companies provides "accelerated benefits," also known as "living benefits." This rider allows you, under certain circumstances, to receive the proceeds of your life insurance policy before you die. Such circumstances include terminal or catastrophic illness, the need for long-term care or confinement to a nursing home. This rider, if available, would require additional premium. Availability and specifics varies by carrier and state. This rider, if available, may require additional premium. Availability and specifics varies by carrier and state.
When will the policy be in effect?
If you decide to purchase the policy, find out when the insurance becomes effective. This could be different from the date the company issues the policy.
*Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company.