Term life insurance or 'term assurance' provides for life insurance coverage for a specified term of years for a specified premium. The policy does not accumulate cash value. Term is generally considered "pure" insurance, where the premium buys protection in the event of death and nothing else.Term insurance premiums are typically low because both the insurer and the policy owner agree that the death of the insured is unlikely during the term of coverage.
The three key factors to be considered in term insurance are:
- Face Amount (protection or death benefit)
- Premium to be paid (cost to the insured)
- Length of coverage (term)
Permanent life insurance is life insurance that remains in force (in-line) until the policy matures (pays out), unless the owner fails to pay the premium when due (the policy expires). The policy cannot be canceled by the insurer for any reason except fraud in the application, and that cancellation must occur within a period of time defined by law (usually two years).
Permanent insurance builds a cash value that reduces the amount at risk to the insurance company and thus the insurance expense over time. This means that a policy with a million dollars face value can be relatively inexpensive to a 70 year old because the actual amount of insurance purchased is much less than one million dollars. The owner can access the money in the cash value by withdrawing money, borrowing the cash value, or surrendering the policy and receiving the surrender value.
The three basic types of permanent insurance are: Whole Life, Universal Life, and Endowment
Whole life coverage
Whole life insurance provides for a level premium, and a cash value table included in the policy guaranteed by the company. The primary advantages of whole life are guaranteed death benefits, guaranteed cash values, fixed and known annual premiums, and mortality and expense charges will not reduce the cash value shown in the policy. The primary disadvantages of whole life are premium inflexibility, and the internal rate of return in the policy may not be competitive with other savings alternatives. Riders are available that can allow one to increase the death benefit by paying additional premium. The death benefit can also be increased through the use of policy dividends. Dividends cannot be guaranteed and may be higher or lower than historical rates over time. Premiums are much higher than term insurance in the short-term, but cumulative premiums are roughly equal if policies are kept in force until average life expectancy.
Cash value can be accessed at any time through policy "loans". Since these loans decrease the death benefit if not paid back, payback is optional. Cash values are not paid to the beneficiary upon the death of the insured; the beneficiary receives the death benefit only.
Universal life coverage
Universal life insurance (UL) is a relatively new insurance product intended to provide permanent insurance coverage with greater flexibility in premium payment and the potential for a higher internal rate of return. A universal life policy includes a cash account. Premiums increase the cash account. Interest is paid within the policy (credited) on the account at a rate specified by the company. This rate has a guaranteed minimum but usually is higher than that minimum. Mortality charges and administrative costs are charged against (reduce) the cash account.