What Is Permanent Life Insurance?
Permanent life insurance policies provide coverage for your entire life — as opposed to term life policies that only cover you for a specific time period — offering a death benefit and often a cash value component. Regardless of when you die after purchasing the policy, whoever you appoint as a beneficiary will receive the death benefit as long as your policy is still active at the time of your passing.
Permanent life insurance policies often accrue cash value, which can be used to pay upcoming policy premiums or as an investment that you can borrow or withdraw from while still living. Some insurance carriers even pay annual dividends, which can be used to purchase additional coverage.
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How Does Permanent Life Insurance Work?
Permanent life insurance is designed to last the entire duration of your life. Whether you buy it now and live for 80 more years or pass away the day after your coverage begins, your death benefit will be paid out. Permanent life insurance also accrues cash value which can be used to keep costs low or to borrow against.
While the eligibility requirements for permanent life insurance will vary from company to company — most people can get permanent life insurance if they are willing to pay for it. There are no standard age limits, but some companies will not issue a life insurance policy to someone over the age of 85. Someone with a medical history or chronic illness may have a harder time obtaining a policy, which may be quite expensive.
Permanent life insurance policies generally come with two parts: a death benefit and cash value. When you purchase a permanent life insurance policy, you will choose a death benefit amount that will be paid to your designated beneficiary when you die.
As insurance costs tend to increase over time, many policyholders use their cash value to keep costs down on permanent life insurance. The cash value of permanent life insurance is one of the most valuable features because it can be used for various reasons, such as:
- Money used to pay insurance premiums to keep your coverage active
- A loan for emergencies that you pay back with interest
- A withdrawal if available as supplemental retirement income
- An investment tool to help round of your portfolio
In addition, the cash value you accrue is not taxed as income, though any withdrawals could be taxed. The death benefit received by your beneficiary is also typically not taxed, ensuring they receive the entire amount you intended.
Types Of Permanent Life Insurance
There are several types of permanent life insurance policies, each with their own benefits. Understanding the options will allow you to make the best choice for your situation.
Whole Life Insurance
Whole life insurance is the most commonly purchased permanent life insurance policy that offers a death benefit of your choosing, along with a dividend or cash value accumulation that you can utilize. These benefits are determined at the time of purchase and cannot be changed.
The cash value can be borrowed against, typically with low interest. Keep in mind, though, that if you do not repay it, the death benefit will be reduced. The premium you pay will stay the same since the cash value accrues and is used toward any background increase in premiums. Once you reach a certain age, you no longer pay premiums, though the age will vary by insurer and plan.
Universal Life Insurance
Universal life insurance is the second most common type of permanent life policy and has flexibility for adjustments if you want to increase or decrease the insurance limit. This is helpful for those who may be working to pay off debt and can have a lower death benefit, but who want to lock in the savings of purchasing a permanent life insurance policy while they are young and more likely to receive lower rates.
This policy will also grow in cash value, but this value is based on the current market and is not fixed like whole life. Additionally, you can choose to pay lower premiums and allow the accumulated cash value to pay for the policy, but that could result in a lower death benefit.
Variable Life Insurance
Some permanent life insurance policies can be purchased on a fixed or variable basis. Just like the name says, the components of variable life insurance can vary. With this type of policy, the death benefit and cash value are determined in units. Those units will then fluctuate depending on current market conditions. Then, the cash value and premiums can be used to invest in tools like mutual funds, stocks, bonds, real estate pools, and money market accounts if you are comfortable with investment risk for potential gains. This may be a good option for those willing to invest a little to get a return, but can also afford the risk of loss if the market warrants it.
Variable Universal Life Insurance
Combining the benefits and terms of universal life and variable life insurance policies gives you a variable universal life insurance policy. With this type of policy, you can invest in certain risks with the possibility of gains like a variable policy, and also increase or decrease both the death benefit and premiums you pay like a universal policy. It is critical to keep in mind that if you choose to use the investment options and take a loss, that may ultimately reduce the policy’s cash value and maybe even the death benefit.
Indexed Universal Life Insurance
An even better chance to increase your policy’s cash value is one of the benefits of indexed universal life policies because the interest rate is not fixed. This means in a market where interest rates remain reasonable, you could gain substantial returns on your investment.
However, this also means you could lose your investments. However, most indexed universal life insurance policies do have a guaranteed specified minimum interest rate, so even if you do take a chance on investing in it, there is still a bare minimum amount of expected return.
Guaranteed Universal Life Insurance
Similar to universal life insurance, guaranteed universal life provides an alternative to those who do not need the investment option, but do want to ensure they will have a death benefit.
Guaranteed universal life includes a no-lapse guarantee, which means as long as your premiums are paid and current, the death benefit will be paid. While this policy does accrue cash value, it is minimal. A guaranteed universal life insurance policy may be a good fit for seniors or those looking for a more affordable option to whole life insurance and do not need investment options.
How Much Does Permanent Life Insurance Cost?
Permanent life insurance cost is determined by several factors, including the following:
- Health condition
- Smoking status
- The desired coverage amount
The type of permanent life insurance, such as whole life or universal life, can also affect the cost. Permanent life insurance policies that accrue cash value can be more expensive. For example, the average cost for a healthy 30-year-old male who wants $500,000 of coverage could be anywhere from $50 to $150 per month, depending on the underwriting information and rates for each insurance company.
Should You Get Permanent Life Insurance?
Permanent life insurance is not for everyone, but it can be beneficial to many policyholders. If you have maxed out all of your investment and retirement options and are looking for something a little extra, a permanent life insurance policy could be an option.
Those looking for a long-term life insurance solution and those with lifelong dependents could also find a permanent life insurance advantageous, as it guarantees a death benefit for beneficiaries as long as the policy remains active, and there is no need for costly policy renewals.
Finally, if you think you may want to accumulate cash value and use it in the future, consider a permanent life insurance policy.
You also do not have to enroll in a permanent life insurance policy outright to eventually have it. Since it is the more expensive option, many policyholders will start with a term life insurance policy and then convert it to a permanent life insurance policy once they are able to afford the change. However, check with your insurer and individual policy to see if this is a possibility because not all term policies can be converted to permanent policies.
There are several advantages to permanent life insurance that you can consider when deciding which type of policy will best suit your needs.
As mentioned above, the cash value is a benefit of permanent life insurance that you can utilize while still living. Insurance carriers do not require credit checks or any of the typical loan qualifications to lend you money if you borrow against your cash value, other than using the policy as collateral. As long as you pay it back, your death benefit stays intact.
Sometimes, you can use the cash value to help pay policy premiums. Be careful doing this, though, as your policy can lapse if you use all of the value, leaving the balance at $0.
Favorable Tax Treatment
While both term and permanent life insurance provide an income tax-free death benefit to your beneficiaries, permanent life has a few extra tax perks. Like a retirement investment option, the cash value grows tax-deferred. In addition, if a carrier pays dividends and you decide to surrender your policy, that amount will be tax-free as long as you do not receive an amount that is more than what you paid into the policy. There are also no taxes if you take out a loan as long as your policy does not lapse.
Unlike term insurance, permanent insurance offers lifelong coverage. That is to say, the policy remains in effect as long as premiums are paid, or until the policyholder turns 100 or 121 years old. The exact age depends on the specific policy. This means you won’t have to renew your policy and undergo any medical exams or underwriting questions associated with assessing policy rates.
In the rare cases where you are still alive at the maturity of your policy, the insurance company usually pays you a lump sum, which is sometimes the cash value, a specified amount that was predetermined, or the death benefit.
Steady Premiums With Whole Life
Whole life insurance comes with a predetermined premium depending on the underwriting factors and death benefit you choose. While it may be one of the more expensive options for life insurance, the premiums will never change. On the other hand, if you choose to purchase a term life insurance policy, the premiums will always be higher at the policy’s maturity because it will be rated on your age, and you will be older at each expiration.
While the advantages of permanent life insurance are abundant, it is also essential to understand the disadvantages before making your decision.
Because of the lifelong nature of permanent life insurance, the cash value and dividend benefits, and possible investment opportunities, it is the most expensive life insurance option available. If you are on a strict budget or only need additional life insurance coverage for a short amount of time — such as if you took out a business loan and need extra protection for the duration of that loan — a term policy may be a better choice.
Slow Cash Accrual
Cash value is a benefit, but one disadvantage is that it can take an extremely long time to accrue. It can take up to 5 years for you to see any cash value on your policy, and even then, it may not be enough to withdraw or take out a loan. Also, keep in mind that the cash value is not paid out with the death benefit when you do pass away.
Permanent life insurance can be complex. The cash value component can be confusing and time-consuming for someone who may be looking to use it as an investment tool. Using cash value to pay premiums sounds excellent, but it does require monitoring to ensure the balance does not run out and cause your policy to lapse. In addition, if you take a loan out against the cash value and cannot pay it back, your death benefit could be decreased.
How to Get Permanent Life Insurance
Obtaining a permanent life insurance policy is a rather simple process, but knowing the steps to take will help you along your journey.
- Research and Understand Your Options: There are several different types of permanent life insurance policies. It’s best to understand the various options and the specifics they offer before making a decision on the type of policy you want to purchase.
- Assess Your Financial Needs: Choosing the best policy for you often means finding the option that best aligns with your financial goals. Do you intend to provide for your family after your death? Do you want your money to go to charity? Do you have a significant amount of debt?
- Consider the Cost: Affordability is one of the most important things to consider. You want to be able to afford the premiums now and in the future.
- Evaluate the Investment Component: Many people may want to add another investment opportunity to their portfolio, so consider if this matters to you. The cash value portion of your policy can grow over time, providing potential for tax-deferred investment growth.
- Check the Policy’s Flexibility: Certain types of life insurance policies offer some flexibility in terms of premiums and death benefits. This might be a valuable feature if your financial situation is likely to change over time.
- Choose an Insurance Company: Be sure to check reviews and the insurance company’s financial stability before purchasing. You can do this by looking up their A.M. Best rating.
- Undergo Underwriting: You must complete an application, likely undergo a medical exam, and answer medical history questions to qualify for coverage. The overall evaluation of your health situation will determine the premiums you are charged.
- Policy Issuance and First Payment: After the underwriting process is complete and you are approved, coverage begins when you make your first payment.
Alternatives to Permanent Life Insurance
Permanent life insurance is not for everyone. If you would like something other than permanent life insurance, there are alternative options.
Term Life Insurance
A term life insurance policy covers a specific period, usually 10, 20, or 30 years. When you pass away during the term, your beneficiaries receive a death benefit that you choose when you purchase the policy. It is usually more affordable than permanent life insurance because it has an expiration date, which can be a better option for some. It does not accrue cash value.
Term life insurance may not be the best option for someone considering investment options, long-term financial peace of mind for beneficiaries, or estate planning. It may be a good option for someone seeking temporary coverage for a mortgage.
Group Life Insurance
An employer or organization typically provides group life insurance to employees. Beneficiaries will receive a death benefit if a covered member dies. Generally, group life insurance is less expensive than individual life insurance because the employer purchases it in bulk. If you want basic life insurance coverage without having to undergo underwriting or expensive premiums, this can be a good alternative. Group life policies are unsuitable for those who need customized coverage, want to take it with them should they get a new job, or wish to accumulate cash value.
Simplified Issue Life Insurance
A simplified issue life insurance policy has a more effortless and faster underwriting process. No medical exam or extensive health questions are required. You answer simple questions about your medical history and are approved or denied based on the responses.
If you have a pre-existing condition or want to get life insurance quickly, a simplified issue policy could be a great option. It can come at a higher cost than other life insurance policies, so be sure to consider this. Also, most of these policies have a smaller death benefit, so if you need a higher limit or are a healthy individual, it may not be the best option for your situation.
All in All
Permanent life insurance is a policy that lasts for your lifetime or until maturity is reached, which is usually 121 years old. Cash value is accumulated and can be used as a living benefit. While there are many benefits, permanent life insurance can be more expensive than some alternative options, like term.
There are many different kinds of permanent life insurance policies, each with pros and cons depending on your unique situation. If none of them meet your needs, consider some alternative life insurance options.