Friday, April 15, 2011

Whole Life Insurance Basics

If you're shopping around for life insurance, you start with two big questions: How much insurance do I need? And what type of policy should I buy? When you've calculated your short- and long-term obligations, it's time to decide what type of policy is right for you: term life or whole life insurance.
Term life insurance provides coverage for a specified period of time, such as 10, 15 or 20 years; premiums go up over time unless you buy a "level term" policy, which guarantees that premiums stay the same. It's possible that you could outlive the term of your policy, in which case your policy expires and you'd have to shop for another policy if you wish to still have coverage.

With a whole life policy (also called permanent insurance), you don't have to worry about possibly outliving your policy term because your contract gives you coverage for your entire life, as long as the premiums are paid. With a whole life policy, unlike term life, you also build up "cash value" in the policy that you can tap in the future.

Premiums are significantly higher for permanent insurance than term life due to charges and fees (see sidebar) that you don't pay with term life.

Cash value is a crucial selling point for whole life: It's an account within your policy that builds up over time, tax-deferred, fueled by a portion of your premiums and interest paid by the insurance company. In fact, the whole life contract is designed for you to take advantage of that money in the future. When you die, your beneficiaries receive the death benefit, not the cash value, with the exception of some universal life policies.

Whole life insurance policies build up cash value slowly at first but then pick up the pace after several years, when your earnings start to grow faster than your "mortality" cost (the cost of insuring you). If you would like whole life insurance explained in more detail, your life insurance agent should be able to show you a few types of policy illustrations.

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