Taken from the series 100 things you need to know about life insurance by Forbes Magazine 2016
Life insurance is one of the pillars of personal finance, deserving of consideration by every household. I’d even go so far as to say it’s vital for most. Yet, despite its nearly universal applicability, there remains a great deal of confusion, and even skepticism, regarding life insurance.
Perhaps this is due to life insurance’s complexity, the posture of those who sell it or merely our preference for avoiding the topic of our own demise. But armed with the proper information, you can simplify the decision-making process and arrive at the right choice for you and your family.
To help, here are 10 things you absolutely need to know about life insurance:
1. If anyone relies on you financially, you need life insurance. It’s virtually obligatory if you are a spouse or the parent of dependent children. But you may also require life insurance if you are someone’s ex-spouse, life partner, a child of dependent parents, the sibling of a dependent adult, an employee, an employer or a business partner. If you are stably retired or financially independent, and no one would suffer financially if you were to be no more, then you don’t need life insurance. You may, however, consider using life insurance as a strategic financial tool.
2. Life insurance does not simply apply a monetary value to someone’s life. Instead, it helps compensate for the inevitable financial consequences that accompany the loss of life. Strategically, it helps those left behind cover the costs of final expenses, outstanding debts and mortgages, planned educational expenses and lost income. But most importantly, in the aftermath of an unexpected death, life insurance can lessen financial burdens at a time when surviving family members are dealing with the loss of a loved one. In addition, life insurance can provide valuable peace of mind for the policy holder. That is why life insurance is vital for the bread winner of a single-income household, but still important for a stay-at-home spouse.
3. Life insurance is a contract (called a policy). A policy is a contract between a life insurance company and someone(or occasionally something, like a trust) who has a financial interest in the life and livelihood of someone else. The insurance company pools the premiums of policyholders and pays out claims—called a death benefit—in the event of a death. The difference between the premiums taken in and the claims paid out is the insurance company’s profit.
4. Life insurance is a risk management tool, not an investment. While some life insurance policies have an investment feature that can offer a degree of tax privilege, insurance is rarely an optimal investment. There’s usually a better, more efficient tool for the financial task you’re trying to accomplish. If you haven’t yet filled up your emergency cash reserves, paid off all non-mortgage debt, maxed out your 401(k) or Roth IRA, contributed to an education savings plan (where appropriate) and set money aside for large purchases you expect in the next decade, then you likely need not concern yourself with types of life insurance that contain an investment component.
5. There are two broad varieties of life insurance about which you should become aware—term and permanent. Term life is the simplest, the least expensive .With term life, a life insurance company bases the policy premium on the probability that the insured will die within a stated term—typically 10, 20 or 30 years. The premiums are guaranteed for the length of the term, after which the policy becomes cost-prohibitive to maintain or you decide to let it lapse. The problem is this means that you may very well pay premiums for decades and “get nothing out of it.”
6. Permanent life insurance This is whole life insurance and does not expire or go away. It accumulates cash value that allows the policy to exist into the extent of the insureds life. This is by far the most effective life insurance for those wanting a hassle free policy that they know will be around when they are gone.
7. Life insurance is more affordable than you think. If you apply for a bells-and whistles policy, the size of the premiums alone might cause you to need a life insurance benefit right then and there. But most people are pleasantly surprised when they see the relatively low premiums of a final expense or burial policy A healthy, non-smoking,60-something male, for example, might pay less than $500 per year for a policy.
8. Determining the optimal life insurance policy for you doesn’t have to be complicated. While we could get really granular with a detailed life insurance needs analysis, it’s more important to get set up with something you can comprehend than it is to push off an important decision due to life insurance’s intimidating complexity. In the vast majority of situations, a household would be well cared for simply by buying enough life insurance to replicate all or most of the insured’s income or monetary needs every month.
9. Consider using a live person to help in your death planning. There are many online tools that can help give you an idea of how much money you should pay for the policy you need. But once you get to that point, I would recommend contacting a real, live insurance agent who can walk you through the application and underwriting process. Underwriting, by the way, is the necessarily tedious process through which the insurance company classifies how much of a risk you are, based on your current health, past health, habits, and age. Answer truthfully—but succinctly.
10. Know your options when cancelling an existing life insurance policy. If you have a policy that isn’t appropriate for you—or you simply no longer need it—it’s important to proceed carefully. First, if you realize that you have overpaid for a policy that doesn’t meet your needs, but you still need life insurance, don’t cancel the wrong policy until the right policy is in place. If you have an existing term policy you no longer need, you can simply cease premium payments and it will go away.
I suspect we don’t love talking about life insurance because we don’t like talking about death. No shocker there. But open and honest discussions about planning for an unexpected death can be surprisingly life-giving. And even if you don’t buy that, the chances are good that purchasing life insurance is still an important part of your long-term and comprehensive financial plan.