Choosing the Best Life Insurance Option for You

Life insurance in the UK is becoming more and more popular with many people now realizing the importance and the benefits of a good life insurance policy. There are two main types of popular life insurance, both of which offer a range of invaluable benefits to UK consumers.

Level Term Life Insurance

Level term life insurance is the most popular type of life insurance policy with UK consumers, and this may be because it is also the cheapest form of insurance. With level term insurance, you and your family can enjoy peace of mind at an affordable price. If you die during the term of this insurance policy, your family will receive a lump sum payment, which can help to cover a number of costs as well as provide some degree of financial security at what will inevitably be a difficult time. The money could assist with costs such as:

  • Mortgage repayments
  • Funeral costs
  • Education costs for the children
  • Day-to-day living

One of the reasons that level term life insurance is a fair bit cheaper than other life insurance is because the insurer only has to make a payment if the insured party passes away, and even then the insured party has to die during the term of the policy for the next of kin (or the named beneficiary) to be eligible for a payout. One of the great things about levels term insurance is that you can benefit from cover for just a few pounds each week, and because the payments remain the same throughout the term of the policy, you’ll never have to worry about rising payments.

The reason why a level term insurance policy is so called is because the repayment remain level throughout the term of the policy, so you will never have to worry about the cost of your policy rising. The policy is also taken over a fixed term, which is where the ‘term’ part of the policy comes in. This means that you can enjoy easy budgeting and low cost repayments, and you’ll know exactly how long you will be making payment for. On the downside, once the policy expires you will not be able to reclaim any money and the policy will be cancelled, so you will then need to look at taking out alternative life insurance cover.

The average term of a level term life insurance policy – unless otherwise specified – is fifteen years. There are a variety of factors that contribute to the cost of the policy such as whether you go for the most basic package or whether you include a bolt-on such as critical illness cover, whether you are a smoker, your general health, and the term over which you take the policy out.

Whole Life Insurance

Unlike level term life insurance, whole life cover offers a guaranteed payout, which to many people makes it better value for money in the long run. Although the repayments on this type of cover are more expensive than level term insurance, the insurer will make pay out whenever the insured party passes away, so the higher monthly payments will guarantee a payout at some point.

There are a number of different types of whole life insurance policies, and consumers can select the one that best fits their needs and their budget. As with other insurance policies, you can tailor-make your whole life insurance cover to include additional cover such as critical illness insurance. The variations on whole life insurance cover include:

Non-profit UK whole life insurance policies: This is the simplest form of whole life cover, and enables you to enjoy the convenience of level payments through the term of the policy until you die. Upon death, your family received a payout and the policy becomes null and void. If you want to pay a little extra, you can take out a policy that is fixed over a specified term, which means that you will only be making payments for a certain amount of time, but your family will still receive a payout when you die.

With-profit UK whole life insurance: This is a cover and investment type scheme, where your monthly payments are split between your cover premiums and the investment side of your policy. You will enjoy a guaranteed assured sum, and you may find that your insurer adds discretionary bonuses.

Low cost UK whole life insurance: One of the cheapest forms of whole life cover, this type of policy features a decreasing term plan, and the policy is combined with a profits fund. As bonuses are added to the profit side of the policy, the policy term decreases. This provides a cost effective solution for those that want to enjoy the benefits of whole life insurance cover without having to make high monthly payments.

Unitised UK whole life insurance policy: When you purchase this type of whole life cover, you will also be investing in with-profit units. This means that when the insurer makes a payout, the sum awarded will be dependent upon the value of the units in comparison to the value of the death benefit (the payout will be based upon whichever is the highest in value). Each month units are cancelled in order to increase levels of death benefit cover, with reviews carried out from time to time to ensure adequate levels of death benefit cover.

Summary

Both level term insurance policies and whole life policies offer valuable peace of mind to policyholders. The cost of this type of life cover is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes with being protected, and you can increase this peace of mind by adding extras such as critical illness to your policy for just a small extra fee.

As a nation, we like to insure just about everything we can…our cars, our homes, our belongings, our pets, and even our credit repayments. It therefore makes sense that we should insure the most important thing of all – our lives.

Life Insurance Myths and Facts

Life insurance as part of an overall financial portfolio is rife with mythology and misinformation. In this article, I will address some of the myths that continue to circulate and provide useful information to help consumers make some rational decisions on the purchase of this important personal asset.

In an earlier article (“Why Buying Term and Investing the Difference is One Big FAIL!”), I discussed why buying term insurance and investing the difference is generally inferior to simply buying a cash value life insurance product. For the vast majority of people, buying term and spending the difference is the default, meaning that the theory of building greater wealth through a systematic investment program rarely materializes. Further, term policies can get painfully expensive in middle age, resulting in people dropping their policies, or, if they purchased a level term product for a long period, say 10 to 20 years, they may find their health will make them uninsurable or the cost beyond their means when the time comes to replace the expired policy. And they often find that the returns on the investment portion of their portfolio do not come close to equaling the life insurance coverage they need.

The second issue deals with taxes: the “invest the difference” part of the equation will almost invariably have tax consequences: unrealized capital gains and dividends for non-retirement investment accounts will result in a tax bill. What that means is that, as the fund manager buys and sells stocks for the portfolio, the capital gains on those transactions result in a tax liability. Similarly, dividends that are reinvested are also taxable. In both cases, you will be getting IRS Form 1099s in the mail around January of each year, which will show the gains and dividends and must be accounted for at tax time. In both cases, you will have no money in your pocket but you will have more in taxes to pay. This effectively lowers your rate of return.

Whole life insurance products don’t have either tax problem: the dividends grow tax-free and the cash value can be paid out later in life on a tax-free basis. And, of course, the death benefit is not subject to income tax if paid out (although it could be subject to estate tax).

I now continue with others myths concerning life insurance. Probably the biggest one is that young, single people don’t need to buy life insurance. This myth developed and has been promulgated by the popular financial services publications because life insurance is supposed to protect survivors’ ability to remain financially solvent in the event a breadwinner dies prematurely. Therefore, according to this myth, young people, who are typically single, don’t need life insurance.

The fact is, that young, single people will almost invariably get the most preferred premiums: even substantial whole life policies are relatively inexpensive. And because young people are typically in the best health of their lives, they are unwritten at the best rates. As one gets older, the risk of having a rated policy due to health issues increases, which can dramatically increase the cost. In addition the cash value of these policies not have a far larger time horizon to accumulate.

For example, using the projections of a top-rated mutual insurance company, a $500,000 policy at age 21 will have a monthly premium of approximately $320 per month; waiting until age 31, the monthly premium increases to approximately $470 per month, and waiting until age 41 increases the monthly premium to approximately $730 per month, or more than double the premium at age 21.

What is more interesting is the cash accumulation for each example: starting the policy at age 21 provides over $600,000 in cash value at age 65 and over $1,175,000 in death benefit; at age 31 the cash value is a little over $454,000 at age 65 with a death benefit of approximately $931,000, and starting the policy at age 41 provides a little over $322,000 in cash value and a $754,000 death benefit.

Now, keep in mind, the amount of death benefit needed to maintain a lifestyle for a family will typically increase as both responsibilities and income increase. However, the earlier you start the life insurance component of your financial portfolio, the less expensive it will be and the more you will have accumulated for yourself or your heirs later in life. And a guaranteed insurability rider will allow a person to purchase additional coverage at specified times without having to prove insurability.

The next myth is that employer provided life insurance is sufficient to provide the necessary income for a family if the employee dies. Typically, most companies that offer life insurance as a benefit will provide coverage equal to one year’s salary, with the employee given the option to purchase additional coverage up to around five times their salary. These are always term policies, and generally only remain in force only during the time of employment.

Another myth is that only people with dependents need life insurance. People who are married and have no children still should begin a life insurance portfolio. Even if no children are planned, the surviving spouse will need a source of income to maintain a lifestyle and replace what the decedent generated while alive, even if the surviving spouse works. And if children are planned, then getting a life insurance plan in place while a person is young and healthy will make the costs more manageable as family expenses increase. And with the trend toward having children later in life, getting a permanent life insurance policy makes a lot of sense: the policy has grown in value, and the health problems that would preclude underwriting an older age are no longer an issue and the cost of maintaining a policy purchased at a young age is far more affordable.

A big myth perpetuated by the popular press is that life insurance brokers and agents are more interested in selling the product that makes them the most commission, not the one that provides the best coverage for the client. The vast majority of agents and brokers are highly ethical professionals. They are going to provide the best plan for their customers not only because of their ethics, but because it makes good business sense for them. A good agent is looking for a client for life, not a one-time transaction. And he or she is also wants to maintain an impeccable professional reputation: word that an agent is doing the wrong thing just to increase commissions will spread quickly and will destroy his or her reputation very quickly. It also can result in censure or loss of license by the state insurance commission.

This article discusses some of the key myths that agents deal with regularly as they deal with prospective clients. Unfortunately, journalists who lack training in the complexities of insurance, authors trying to sell books, or companies that peddle an “insurance solution” to demonize the rest of the industry and make themselves to be the only ethical players in the business, often perpetuate these myths (if you run into one of these agents, head in the other direction!). Life insurance may seem like a simple product to most people, which make them susceptible to the myths I discussed. In fact, building the right insurance portfolio is often a complex undertaking, that involves decisions about needs, affordability, and long term goals to find the right product mix that provides affordable and needed protection. That means working with a professional in the business who will provide the right solution for each client, not a “one size fits all” solution that likely will not meet the needs of the client.

Avoid These Six Common Life Insurance Mistakes

Life insurance is one of the most important components of any individual’s financial plan. However there is lot of misunderstanding about life insurance, mainly due to the way life insurance products have been sold over the years in India. We have discussed some common mistakes insurance buyers should avoid when buying insurance policies.

1. Underestimating insurance requirement: Many life insurance buyers choose their insurance covers or sum assured, based on the plans their agents want to sell and how much premium they can afford. This a wrong approach. Your insurance requirement is a function of your financial situation, and has nothing do with what products are available. Many insurance buyers use thumb rules like 10 times annual income for cover. Some financial advisers say that a cover of 10 times your annual income is adequate because it gives your family 10 years worth of income, when you are gone. But this is not always correct. Suppose, you have 20 year mortgage or home loan. How will your family pay the EMIs after 10 years, when most of the loan is still outstanding? Suppose you have very young children. Your family will run out of income, when your children need it the most, e.g. for their higher education. Insurance buyers need to consider several factors in deciding how much insurance cover is adequate for them.

· Repayment of the entire outstanding debt (e.g. home loan, car loan etc.) of the policy holder

· After debt repayment, the cover or sum assured should have surplus funds to generate enough monthly income to cover all the living expenses of the dependents of the policy holder, factoring in inflation

· After debt repayment and generating monthly income, the sum assured should also be adequate to meet future obligations of the policy holder, like children’s education, marriage etc.

2. Choosing the cheapest policy: Many insurance buyers like to buy policies that are cheaper. This is another serious mistake. A cheap policy is no good, if the insurance company for some reason or another cannot fulfil the claim in the event of an untimely death. Even if the insurer fulfils the claim, if it takes a very long time to fulfil the claim it is certainly not a desirable situation for family of the insured to be in. You should look at metrics like Claims Settlement Ratio and Duration wise settlement of death claims of different life insurance companies, to select an insurer, that will honour its obligation in fulfilling your claim in a timely manner, should such an unfortunate situation arise. Data on these metrics for all the insurance companies in India is available in the IRDA annual report (on the IRDA website). You should also check claim settlement reviews online and only then choose a company that has a good track record of settling claims.

3. Treating life insurance as an investment and buying the wrong plan: The common misconception about life insurance is that, it is also as a good investment or retirement planning solution. This misconception is largely due to some insurance agents who like to sell expensive policies to earn high commissions. If you compare returns from life insurance to other investment options, it simply does not make sense as an investment. If you are a young investor with a long time horizon, equity is the best wealth creation instrument. Over a 20 year time horizon, investment in equity funds through SIP will result in a corpus that is at least three or four times the maturity amount of life insurance plan with a 20 year term, with the same investment. Life insurance should always been seen as protection for your family, in the event of an untimely death. Investment should be a completely separate consideration. Even though insurance companies sell Unit Linked Insurance Plans (ULIPs) as attractive investment products, for your own evaluation you should separate the insurance component and investment component and pay careful attention to what portion of your premium actually gets allocated to investments. In the early years of a ULIP policy, only a small amount goes to buying units.

A good financial planner will always advise you to buy term insurance plan. A term plan is the purest form of insurance and is a straightforward protection policy. The premium of term insurance plans is much less than other types of insurance plans, and it leaves the policy holders with a much larger investible surplus that they can invest in investment products like mutual funds that give much higher returns in the long term, compared to endowment or money back plans. If you are a term insurance policy holder, under some specific situations, you may opt for other types of insurance (e.g. ULIP, endowment or money back plans), in addition to your term policy, for your specific financial needs.

4. Buying insurance for the purpose of tax planning: For many years agents have inveigled their clients into buying insurance plans to save tax under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act. Investors should realize that insurance is probably the worst tax saving investment. Return from insurance plans is in the range of 5 – 6%, whereas Public Provident Fund, another 80C investment, gives close to 9% risk free and tax free returns. Equity Linked Saving Schemes, another 80C investment, gives much higher tax free returns over the long term. Further, returns from insurance plans may not be entirely tax free. If the premiums exceed 20% of sum assured, then to that extent the maturity proceeds are taxable. As discussed earlier, the most important thing to note about life insurance is that objective is to provide life cover, not to generate the best investment return.

5. Surrendering life insurance policy or withdrawing from it before maturity: This is a serious mistake and compromises the financial security of your family in the event of an unfortunate incident. Life Insurance should not be touched until the unfortunate death of the insured occurs. Some policy holders surrender their policy to meet an urgent financial need, with the hope of buying a new policy when their financial situation improves. Such policy holders need to remember two things. First, mortality is not in anyone’s control. That is why we buy life insurance in the first place. Second, life insurance gets very expensive as the insurance buyer gets older. Your financial plan should provide for contingency funds to meet any unexpected urgent expense or provide liquidity for a period of time in the event of a financial distress.

6. Insurance is a one-time exercise: I am reminded of an old motorcycle advertisement on television, which had the punch line, “Fill it, shut it, forget it”. Some insurance buyers have the same philosophy towards life insurance. Once they buy adequate cover in a good life insurance plan from a reputed company, they assume that their life insurance needs are taken care of forever. This is a mistake. Financial situation of insurance buyers change with time. Compare your current income with your income ten years back. Hasn’t your income grown several times? Your lifestyle would also have improved significantly. If you bought a life insurance plan ten years ago based on your income back then, the sum assured will not be enough to meet your family’s current lifestyle and needs, in the unfortunate event of your untimely death. Therefore you should buy an additional term plan to cover that risk. Life Insurance needs have to be re-evaluated at a regular frequency and any additional sum assured if required, should be bought.

Conclusion

Investors should avoid these common mistakes when buying insurance policies. Life insurance is one of the most important components of any individual’s financial plan. Therefore, thoughtful consideration must be devoted to life insurance. Insurance buyers should exercise prudence against questionable selling practised in the life insurance industry. It is always beneficial to engage a financial planner who looks at your entire portfolio of investments and insurance on a holistic basis, so that you can take the best decision with regards to both life insurance and investments.