Term Life Insurance coverage for a specified term of years in exchange for a specified premium. The policy does not accumulate cash value. Term is generally considered “pure” insurance, where the premium buys protection in the event of death and nothing else. Level Term policy has the premium fixed for a period of time longer than a year. These terms are commonly 10, 20, and 30 years. Level term is often used for long term planning and asset management because premiums remain consistent year to year and can be budgeted long term. At the end of the term, some policies contain a renewal or conversion option. Guaranteed Renewal, the insurance company guarantees it will issue a policy of equal or lesser amount without regard to the insurability of the insured and with a premium set for the insured’s age at that time.
Whole life insurance provides for a level premium, and a cash value table included in the policy guaranteed by the company. The primary advantages of whole life are guaranteed death benefits, guaranteed cash values, fixed and known annual premiums, and mortality and expense charges will not reduce the cash value shown in the policy. The primary disadvantages of whole life are premium inflexibility, and the internal rate of return in the policy may not be competitive with other savings alternatives. Also, the cash values are generally kept by the insurance company at the time of death, the death benefit only to the beneficiaries. Riders are available that can allow one to increase the death benefit by paying additional premium. The death benefit can also be increased through the use of policy dividends. Dividends cannot be guaranteed and may be higher or lower than historical rates over time. Premiums are much higher than term insurance in the short term, but cumulative premiums are roughly equal if policies are kept in force until average life expectancy. Cash value can be accessed at any time through policy “loans” and are received “income-tax free”. Since these loans decrease the death benefit if not paid back, payback is optional. Cash values support the death benefit so only the death benefit is paid out. Dividends can be utilized in many ways. First, if Paid up additions is elected, dividend cash values will purchase additional death benefit which will increase the death benefit of the policy to the named beneficiary. Another alternative is to opt in for ‘reduced premiums’ on some policies. This reduces the owed premiums by the unguaranteed dividends amount. A third option allows the owner to take the dividends as they are paid out.
Universal Life Insurance (UL) is a relatively new insurance product intended to provide permanent insurance coverage with greater flexibility in premium payment and the potential for greater growth of cash values. There are several types of universal life insurance policies which include “interest sensitive” (also known as “traditional fixed universal life insurance”), variable universal life (VUL), guaranteed death benefit, and equity indexed universal life insurance. A universal life insurance policy includes a cash value. Premiums increase the cash values, but the cost of insurance (along with any other charges assessed by the insurance company) reduces cash values. However, with the exception of VUL, interest is credited on cash values at a rate specified by the company and may also increase cash values. With VUL, cash values will ebb and flow relative to the performance of the investment subaccounts the policy owner has chosen. The surrender value of the policy is the amount payable to the policyowner after applicable surrender charges, if any. Universal life insurance addresses the perceived disadvantages of whole life – namely that premiums and death benefit are fixed. With universal life, both the premiums and death benefit are flexible. Except with regards to guaranteed death benefit universal life, this flexibility comes at a price: reduced guarantees. Depending on how interest is credited, the internal rate of return can be higher because it moves with prevailing interest rates (interest-sensitive) or the financial markets (Equity Indexed Universal Life and Variable Universal Life). Mortality costs and administrative charges are known. And cash value may be considered more easily attainable because the owner can discontinue premiums if the cash value allows it. Flexible death benefit means the policy owner can choose to decrease the death benefit. The death benefit could also be increased by the policy owner but that would (typically) require that the insured go through new underwriting. Another example of flexible death benefit is the ability to choose option A or option B death benefits – and to be able to change those options during the life of the insured.
Option A is often referred to as a level death benefit. Generally speaking, the death benefit will remain level for the life of the insured and premiums are expected to be lower than policies with an Option B death benefit.
Option B pays the face amount plus the cash value. If cash values grow over time, so would the death benefit which is payable to the insured’s beneficiaries. If cash values decline, the death benefit would also decline. Presumably option B death benefit policies require greater premium than option A policies.