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As the name implies, term insurance provides protection for a specific period of time with various rate guarantees. Term and rate guarantee periods typically range from 10 to 30 years, with 20 years being the most common term.


One of the biggest advantages of term insurance is its lower initial cost in comparison to permanent insurance. With term insurance, you're generally just paying for the death benefit, the lump sum payment your beneficiaries will receive if you die while the policy is in force. With most permanent policies, your premiums may accumulate cash value in addition to paying for lifetime coverage. Term insurance is often a good choice for people in their family-formation years, especially if they're on a tight budget, because it allows them to buy high levels of coverage when the need for protection is often greatest. Term insurance is also a good option for covering needs that will disappear in time. For instance, if paying for college is a major financial concern but you're pretty sure that you won't need life insurance coverage after the kids graduate, then it might make sense to buy a term policy that'll get you through the college years


But what happens if you buy a term policy only to realize at the end of the guaranteed level term period that you still have a need for life insurance? Many policies will give you the option to re-enter your policy when you reach the end of the level premium period. You'll probably face a higher cost since age is one of key factors used to determine life insurance premiums. To renew the policy, you also may have to present evidence of insurability (that's insurance jargon meaning, "take another medical exam and answer a new round of questions about your lifestyle, health status and family health history"). If you're still a fine specimen with healthy living habits, you might re-qualify at a reasonable rate. But if your health has deteriorated, you may find that it's too expensive to renew your policy or you may not even re-qualify. Another option is to continue to pay premiums that will now increase on an annual basis. Most term policies will renew to age 90 or 95 as long as you pay the premiums.

So, when deciding what kind of life insurance policy you should buy, consider:

  • How much coverage will I need now and in the foreseeable future?
  • Which type, term or permanent best fits my needs and my budget?
  • How long do I want to lock in guaranteed premiums?
  • What options are available to me in each type of coverage and what are the costs and benefits of each?

Remember, the best life insurance policy to have is the one that is in force when it’s needed.


When considering a life insurance purchase, one thing to keep in mind is that not all policies are the same. Some may include certain provisions as standard features, while others may require you to pay extra to add these features as "riders" to your policy. So, remember that price is not the only factor to consider. Ask your agent about provisions such as:

  • Disability waiver of premium - waives premiums when a policy owner suffers a long-term disability, typically one lasting six months or longer.
  • Accidental death benefits - doubles or triples the benefit in the case of death by accidental means.


Another provision that is very important when considering term insurance is something called convertibility. Some insurance contracts only allow "conversion" in the first few years of the policy, while others allow it at any point during the term. This valuable feature allows you to convert your term policy to a permanent policy (e.g., universal life insurance) without submitting evidence of insurability. Being able to convert to a permanent policy is a great option to have in the event that circumstances in your life change such as failing health or maybe just the realization that coverage is needed for a longer period of time than you originally anticipated. That's why, when purchasing a term policy, it's never a bad idea to find out what kind of permanent policies are offered by the company you are considering. Some companies may only have strong term insurance offerings, while others may have very competitive products in both categories.


Permanent insurance provides lifelong protection, and the ability to accumulate cash value on a tax-deferred basis. Unlike term insurance, a permanent insurance policy will remain in force for as long as you continue to pay your premiums. Because these policies are designed and priced for you to keep over a long period of time, this may be the wrong type of insurance for you if you don't have a long-term need for life insurance coverage.

Why would someone need coverage for an extended period of time? Because contrary to what a lot of people think, the need for life insurance often persists long after the kids have graduated college or the mortgage has been paid off. If you died the day after your youngest child graduated from college, your spouse would still be faced with daily living expenses. And what if your spouse outlives you by 10, 20 or even 30 years, which is certainly possible today. Would your financial plan, without life insurance, enable your spouse to maintain the life style you worked so hard to achieve? And would you be able to pass on something to your children or grandchildren?


Another key characteristic of permanent insurance is a feature known as cash value or cash-surrender value. In fact, permanent insurance is often referred to as cash-value insurance because these types of policies can build cash value over time, as well as provide a death benefit to your beneficiaries.

Cash values, which accumulate on a tax-deferred basis just like assets in most retirement and tuition savings plans, can be used in the future for any purpose you wish. If you like, you can borrow cash value for a down payment on a home, to help pay for your children's education or to provide income for your retirement. When you borrow money from a permanent insurance policy, you're using the policy's cash value as collateral and the borrowing rates tend to be relatively low. And unlike loans from most financial institutions, the loan is not dependent on credit checks or other restrictions. You ultimately must repay any loan with interest or your beneficiaries will receive a reduced death benefit and cash-surrender value.

If you need or want to stop paying premiums, you can use the cash value to continue your current insurance protection for a specified time or to provide a lesser amount of death benefit protection covering you for your lifetime. If you decide to stop paying premiums and surrender your policy, the guaranteed policy values are yours. Just know that if you surrender your policy in the early years, there may be little or no cash value.


With all types of permanent policies, the cash value of a policy is different from the policy's face amount. The face amount is the money that will be paid at death or policy maturity (most permanent policies typically "mature" at age 120). Cash value is the amount available if you surrender a policy before its maturity or your death. Moreover, the cash value may be affected by your insurance company's financial results or experience, which can be influenced by mortality rates, expenses, and investment earnings.

"Permanent insurance" is really a catchall phrase for a wide variety of life insurance products that contain the cash-value feature. Within this class of life insurance, there are a multitude of different products. Here we list the most common ones.


If you are the kind of person who likes predictability over time, Whole Life insurance might be right for you. It provides you with the certainty of a guaranteed amount of death benefit and a guaranteed rate of return on your cash values. And you'll have a level premium that is guaranteed to never increase for life.

Another valuable benefit of a participating Whole Life policy is the opportunity to earn dividends. While your policy's guarantees provide you with a minimum death benefit and cash value, dividends give you the opportunity to receive an enhanced death benefit and cash value growth. Dividends are a way for the company to share part of its favorable results with policyholders. When you purchase a participating policy, it is expected that you will receive dividends after the second policy year - but they are not guaranteed. Dividends, if left in the policy, can provide an offset (and more) to the eroding effects of inflation on your coverage amount.


Unlike Whole Life where you pay fixed premiums, Universal Life offers adjustable premiums that give you the option to make higher premium payments when you have extra cash on hand or lower ones when money is tight.

Universal Life allows you, after your initial payment, to pay premiums at any time, in any amount, subject to certain minimums and maximums. You also can reduce or increase the death benefit more easily than under a traditional Whole Life policy.

Most Universal Life policies will also provide a guaranteed rate of return on your cash values, as long as minimum premiums are paid. It is also possible that you will not accumulate any cash value if any, or all, of the following circumstances occur: administrative expenses increase, mortality assumptions are changed, the insurance company's investment portfolio underperforms, premium payments are insufficient.

In recent years, there’s been considerable interest in what’s commonly referred to as Universal Life with Secondary Guarantees (also known as a “No-Lapse Guarantee”). With an ordinary Universal Life product, the policy could lapse under certain circumstances (e.g., interest rates fall below projections, insurance costs or administrative expenses rise, etc). When you buy a policy with a “secondary guarantee,” you’re guaranteed that the policy won’t lapse even if the above factors come to pass.

One of the most attractive things about Universal Life policies with Secondary Guarantees is that they provide lifelong coverage at rates that can be considerably lower than other forms of permanent insurance.


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A Tale Of Two Agents

Captive Agent

An agent working exclusively for a single firm. He or she is obliged to submit business only to that firm, or at least give that firm first rights of refusal on the case.

Captive agents that are non-established are usually paid on a combination of salary and commissions earned from selling the policy contract. Also, the firm usually provides its captive agents with an allowance for office expenses as well as employee benefits such as pensions, life insurance, and health insurance. 

The established captive agent is usually paid exclusively on a commission basis.  This type of agent will tend to have more in-depth knowledge of that firm's policies, however, he or she will hardly ever be equipped to offer the industries' best price on any particular product offering.

Independent Agent Broker

Simply said, independent agents are appointed to sell policies from many insurers. The agent is independent from all insurers thus, the independent agent's responsibility is solely focused on evaluating the client's needs and the pricing of the product chosen.

While searching for the brokerage market's best place for a client's business, independent agents pay all their own expenses and keep their own records and earn their income from brokerage commissions on the policies they sell.


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