Many people own life insurance, but let’s face it. It’s probably not a purchase that most people brag about to their friends like they might if they had just purchased a new Corvette, but they made the purchase anyway because they love their families and want their family to carry on living their current lifestyle in the event of the primary breadwinner’s untimely death. While this article doesn’t apply to people who own term insurance, those who bought permanent life insurance, which is life insurance with an additional savings component, will find this information very important.
To understand the problem, I will first give you a brief primer on life insurance, and then explain how something that seems like a sure bet can go so wrong. Life insurance can be separated in to two basic types, term and permanent life insurance. With term insurance a person pays a certain amount of money, called a premium, for a period of time, from one year up to 30 years. During the specified period of time, as long as the insured person is paying the premium, the insurance company is obligated to pay a certain amount of money, called a death benefit, to the insured person’s beneficiary in the event the insured person dies during that time period. If the person does not die in that time period the insurance company keeps the money as well as the earnings on that money. While there are different types of term insurance nowadays, including “return of premium” term which returns the insureds premium dollars at the end of the term(but not the earnings on the money), the general jist of term insurance is that a person is covered during a certain period of time. If they want coverage beyond that time period they have to buy another policy. Term insurance is really not the focus of this article so if that’s what you have you can stop reading now if you wish, and rest assured that as long as you pay the premium, and the insurance company remains financially solvent, your family will be paid in the event of your untimely death.
The other type insurance is called permanent insurance. Permanent insurance is insurance that has a death benefit to it, similar to term, but also contains a savings “sidecar”, this gives the policy a value called cash value. The premiums are paid on the policy, a insurancegui com is pulled to pay for the insurance and the remainder goes into the savings sidecar. There are three primary types of permanent insurance that vary depending on what is done with the savings component. The first type of permanent insurance is Whole Life Insurance. The savings component of Whole Life Insurance is invested in the general fund of the insurance company where it earns interest. The amount of interest apportioned to a particular individual is depended on how much of the money in the general fund belongs to that individual. Some policies if they are are “participating” policies also earn dividends. Generally speaking whole life policies are not a lapse danger as the amounts that it earns are guaranteed by the insurance company. As long as the insurance company remains solvent it will pay out a death benefit. The only problems a person who owns a Whole Life policy typically runs into is overpaying for insurance, and the death benefit not keeping pace with inflation.
The second type of permanent insurance is called Universal Life Insurance. With Universal Life Insurance the savings sidecar is a separate account, as opposed to Whole Life where the savings sidecar is invested into the general fund of the insurance company. Universal Life Insurance’s main advantage is it’s flexibility. For example, if you are a landscaper in the northeastern part of the country and basically have your winter months off, you could buy a Universal Life policy, fund it heavily during the spring, summer, and fall when you’re raking in the big bucks, and then not pay anything during the winter months. As long as there is a certain amount of money in the savings sidecar (based on insurance company formulas), nothing needs to be done. Also, if you need additional insurance because you just had a child, you don’t need to buy another policy. As long as you are insurable you can increase the death benefit on your current Universal Life Insurance policy and pay the extra premium. The money in the savings sidecar of a Universal Life Insurance policy is typically invested in ten year bonds. The Universal Life policy has a guaranteed interest rate to it, as well as a current rate. The money in the sidecar typically earns the slightly higher current rate, but the policy owner is only guranateed the guaranteed amount. Keep this last thought in your mind because after I describe Variable Insurance in the next paragraph, I’m going to tie these two together in the following paragraph and that final concept is the thing that’s going wrong
The final type of permanent life insurance is Variable Life Insurance. It can be either straight Variable Life Insurance, or Variable Universal Life Insurance, which combines the versatility of Universal with Variable Life Insurance. Variable Insurance came about due to the awesome bull market in stocks that ran basically uninterrupted from 1982 through 2000. People wanted to invest as much as possible in the stock market and the thought of investing money in an insurance policy that invested in lower yielding bonds was quite distasteful to many. So the Variable Insurance Policy was built. With Variable Life the savings sidecar can be invested in insurance “sub-accounts” which are basically mutual funds within a Variable Life, or Variable Annuity. In fact, many sub-accounts exactly mirror a particular mutual fund, some mutual fund managers manage both their respective fund as well as its sub-account “sister.” So with the Variable Life policy buying insurance no longer meant leaving the high flying stock market, you could have the best of both worlds by protecting your family AND investing in the stock market. As long as the savings in the sidecar was at an adequate level things were fine. Again, remember this last line because I’m about to show you how the whole thing goes to pot.