Life Insurance 101

Life Insurance 101

December 29, 2021
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Life Insurance 101

Not everyone needs life insurance. If you are unsure if you need it, ask yourself if anyone relies on you financially or if you share debt with anyone. If you answer yes to either of these, you probably need life insurance. 

Let’s take a deeper look into life insurance – what it is, how it works, how much you need.  

Life insurance provides invaluable protection for your family in the event of your death. It ensures the ones you care about can support themselves financially when you are gone. Yet, a recent study by the Life Insurance and Market Research Association reveals more than half of Americans do not have an individual life insurance policy and 30% have no life insurance coverage at all. 

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WHAT IS LIFE INSURANCE? 

Life insurance is a benefit that pays a specific sum of money upon the death of the insured. The benefit is paid to the beneficiary, or beneficiaries, named by the policyholder. 

THERE ARE THREE BASIC TYPES OF LIFE INSURANCE: 

  • Term life insurance 
  • Whole life insurance 
  • Universal life insurance 

How you purchase life insurance coverage is up to you. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics states that 60% of US employers offer life insurance benefits for full-time employees. Employers that offer life insurance typically offer one times your salary. This may not be enough coverage for your loved ones.

You may also purchase individual life insurance coverage, as well as coverage for your dependents. 

Let’s look at each type of life insurance separately. 

LIFE INSURANCE CALCULATOR

Use our life insurance calculator powered by Life Happens to help you determine how much life insurance you may need.

Term life insurance 

Term life insurance is usually the simplest to understand and the most affordable. It provides individual coverage for a specific number of years. The most common terms are 10, 20 and 30 years. If you die within the term of the policy, your beneficiary will receive the full death benefit. 

For example, you purchase a $1 million term life insurance policy that provides coverage for 20 years. If you die during year 17 of the policy, your beneficiary receives $1 million. If you die after the 20-year term, your policy expires, and no benefit is paid. 

There are three types of term life insurance: 

  • Level term life insurance offers you a fixed premium and a fixed death benefit. Regardless of when you die, it will offer you the same amount the entire time you own the policy.  If you have a 20 year $1M level term life insurance policy, it would pay $1M regardless if you died the second year of the policy or the 19th year of the policy. You also pay the same amount every year.

  • Yearly renewable term life insurance offers you a premium for a year at a time. Your premium increases as you age, but you may renew your policy without evidence of insurability. Yearly renewable term life insurance, also known as Annual Renewable Term, is best for short-term insurance needs  
  • Decreasing term life insurance offers you a fixed premium with a death benefit that decreases over time. Since the payout declines, decreasing term life insurance typically offers lower rates than other types of term life insurance.  

Regardless of which type of term life policy, there is no savings component and benefits are paid upon your death. 

How much does term life insurance cost? 

Because you are only purchasing coverage for a specific time, term life insurance is the least expensive of all life insurance options. Premiums are based on the amount of death benefit you purchase and the term of your policy. The insurance company will also consider your age, sex, health and life expectancy. 

And, if you continue to pay the premiums on time, your policy will remain in force until the end of the term. 

What happens at the end of the term? 

If you outlive the term of your policy, you will have a few options. 

  • You may renew the policy for another specific term. 
  • You may convert the policy to a whole life benefit. 
  • You may terminate the policy. 

Group term life insurance 

As mentioned earlier, 60% of employers offer life insurance coverage to full-time employees (source: Bureau of Labor and Statistics). Most of this coverage is provided in the form of a term life policy. 

If you have coverage through your employer, your coverage will last as long as you are employed and pay the premium. The death benefit is either a specific dollar amount of coverage (e.g., $10,000) or a multiple of your salary (e.g., 2x base salary). And it is often a guaranteed issue. That means you cannot be denied coverage if you are not healthy. 

If you terminate your employment, you may be offered the option to convert your coverage to an individual policy. In most cases, you will not need to provide proof of good health, but your premiums may increase. 

Voluntary group supplemental term life insurance 

Your employer may offer supplemental term life insurance that goes beyond your group term life coverage. You pay the full cost of this insurance, which is often elected in increments of $5,000 or $10,000, or as a multiple of your salary. 

The plan typically offers a specific amount as a guaranteed issue (the amount you may purchase without proof of good health). Any amount above that will require evidence of insurability. 

Taxes on term life insurance 

If you purchase an individual term life insurance policy outside of work, you are paying the premium with money that has already been taxed. As a result, your beneficiaries generally will not have to pay taxes if they receive a death benefit payment. The same is true if you have a term life policy through your employer. 

However, the value of your group and supplemental life insurance may be considered part of your income. If you have less than $50,000 of coverage, you most likely do not have any tax liability. If your coverage is valued at more than $50,000, the IRS sets a fair market value and you may be required to pay taxes on the difference between that value and the premiums you pay for the coverage. 

In most cases, if you have less than $50,000 of group and supplemental term life insurance through your employer, you will not have any associated income taxes. The IRS assigns a fair market value to any group term coverage above $50,000. If you pay less in premiums than this fair market value is considered as part of your income, and you would pay taxes on it. Visit the IRS website if you have questions on how the fair market value is calculated. 

Whole life insurance 

Whole, or permanent, life insurance provides a guaranteed death benefit, covers you for your entire life and pays the face value up to the maximum age.  

What differentiates whole life insurance from term life insurance is whole life builds cash value over the life of the policy. A portion of your premium is invested and provides you with a minimum rate of return. The cash value grows tax-deferred; you pay taxes on the value only when you withdraw the funds. 

Some policies may even offer you the chance to earn dividends. These may be taken as cash or reinvested in your policy to help pay the premium, repay loans or increase the death benefit. 

How much does whole life insurance cost? 

Because whole life insurance has a cash value, it is more expensive than term life insurance. Your premium is determined by the amount of your death benefit, age, sex, health and life expectancy. As long as you continue to pay the premiums on time, your policy will remain in force. Your premium payment remains the same throughout the policy.  

Can you borrow money against your whole life policy? 

One of the benefits of a whole life insurance policy is your ability to borrow money against the cash value of your policy. Some policies allow you to withdraw this money with no limitation. All you have to do is repay the loan with interest. If you fail to repay the loan, the final payout of your policy is reduced by the outstanding amount. 

Taxes on whole life insurance 

Whole life insurance benefits are not usually taxable to the beneficiary. However, there are some instances where the benefit may be taxed. For example, if you:

  • take an early payout on the cash value of the policy, you may be taxed on the amount that exceeds what you have paid in premium. 
  • receive dividends, they may be taxed if they exceed the amount you have paid in premium. 
  • fail to pay back a loan, any outstanding amount may be considered a taxable gain. 

If you have questions on how your life insurance policy could be taxed, visit the IRS website

Universal Life Insurance 

Universal life insurance combines the benefits of term and whole life insurance. This hybrid policy enables you to build savings over time but offers the flexibility to invest your savings and earn cash value on the policy. Some people refer to universal life as a savings account with a life insurance policy attached. 

Policy flexibility 

  • You may choose to deposit more than the premium, ultimately increasing your savings. 
  • You decide how to manage your savings and earning with a universal life policy.
  • You can choose to use investment earnings to pay the premium and any administrative costs. 

  • You may add earnings to your death benefit. 
  • You may take a loan against the cash value of the policy. 
  • You may withdraw savings at any time to pay for larger expenses like a down payment on a home or college tuition. 

Ultimately, there just has to be enough in the account to pay the monthly premium. 

Indexed universal life insurance 

The value of your universal life depends on the stability of the stock market. Therefore, if the market is doing well, your account should reflect that. If the market takes a tumble, so may the value of your policy. Fluctuations are to be expected. 

As a result, you may want to consider indexed universal life insurance. It can provide safer investment options and is considered less risky than traditional universal life insurance. 

Taxes on universal life insurance 

Universal life insurance benefits are not usually taxable to the beneficiary. However, there are some instances where the benefit may be taxed. For example: 

  • If you take an early payout on the cash value of the policy, you may be taxed on the amount that exceeds what you have paid in premium. 

  • If you receive dividends, they may be taxed if they exceed the amount you have paid in premium. 
  • If you fail to pay back a loan, any outstanding amount may be considered a taxable gain. 

If you have questions on how your life insurance policy could be taxed, visit the IRS website

Dependent life insurance 

Dependent life insurance covers your spouse, domestic partner and children. Spousal coverage is often available in dollar increments of $5,000 or $10,000 and children are covered at a fixed amount. You are automatically designated as the beneficiary of these supplemental policies. 

Individual life insurance policy rider 

If you already have an individual life insurance policy, your insurance company may offer a rider that provides coverage for your dependents. Coverage may be purchased just for your spouse, just for your children, or both. 

Premiums for your spouse will be higher than those charged for your children. Some insurers may require evidence of insurability, which typically requires you to complete a form about the general health of your family so they can evaluate any medical risk. 

Supplemental group life insurance 

If you purchase dependent coverage through your employer, your spouse is usually eligible for coverage equal to 50-100% of your covered amount. Children are typically covered for a fixed dollar amount. Premiums for spouses depend on the face value of the policy and your spouse’s age. You may have to provide proof of good health. Premiums for your children usually cover all your children for one rate. 

Taxes on dependent life insurance 

Dependent life insurance benefits are generally not considered taxable income if you pay the full premium. If your employer pays any portion of the premium, dependent life benefits may not be considered taxable as long as the face value is below a certain amount. For more information, visit the IRS website

Evidence of insurability 

Some insurers ask for proof of good health, or evidence of insurability, before issuing a policy. This may be required if: 

  • You purchase a policy with a high death benefit 

  • Your medical history, or family medical history, shows a high level of risk 
  • You are planning to or often travel in certain areas of the world deemed risky 
  • You participate in dangerous hobbies such as skydiving, racecar driving, bungee jumping, etc. 
  • You have other high-risk factors such as a poor driving record 

The insurance company wants to get a clear picture of your physical condition before agreeing to sell you a policy. They may request medical records or send a nurse to your home to conduct an in-person health screening. These exams will include a measure of your cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, thyroid function, etc. 

The insurance company may also review your personal credit history, business credit reports (if you own a business), and criminal background. 

Coverage becomes effective once your evidence of insurability is approved. 

Beneficiaries 

One of the most important things you must do when purchasing a life insurance policy is to designate a beneficiary or beneficiaries. This is the individual or individuals who will receive the benefit in the event of your death. 

You may choose to leave the entire death benefit to one person, or you may designate several. If you name more than one beneficiary, you will need to determine the percentage of the death benefit everyone will receive. If you do not, the benefit is divided equally between them. 

You will also need to designate a secondary or contingent beneficiary. This is individual or individuals who will receive the benefit if your primary beneficiary is no longer living. Again, if you name more than one contingent beneficiary, you will need to determine the percentage of the death benefit each individual will receive. If you do not, the benefit is divided equally between them. 

Be sure to provide as much information as possible about the beneficiaries you name. Names, addresses and even Social Security numbers are typically required. This makes it easy for the administrator to locate the individuals. 

Limitations and exclusions 

There are some instances when life insurance benefits are not paid. Be sure to check your policy for the following exclusions: 

  • War or act of war 

  • Suicide or self-inflicted injury, including voluntary use of poison, chemical compound or drug unless used according to the direction of a physician 

Many policies will also include an aviation exclusion. This exclusion does not apply to commercial air travel, only to those individuals killed while flying in a privately owned aircraft. 

Other policies limit coverage if you partake in dangerous activities, such as auto racing, rock climbing, hang gliding, etc. If you do participate in these activities, you may be able to obtain coverage by paying a higher premium. 

Riders and modifications 

Some of the most common riders or modifications to life insurance policies include: 

  • Early access to death benefits if you are considered terminally ill 
  • Accidental death benefits (also called double indemnity) 
  • Coverage for dependents 

Your policy may also include a disability rider. This prevents you from having to pay the premium if you become totally disabled. 

How much life insurance do you need? 

Try our Life Insurance Calculator from Life Happens to help determine how much life insurance you need.