How do Life Insurance Companies Make Money?

Life insurance seems like a pretty good deal. You pay $30 a month for 20 or 30 years and in the event of your death, your family gets a sizeable cash sum, often in excess of $250,000. Every 12 seconds someone dies in the United States and these deaths occur across all demographics (although the majority are over 70) and from a myriad of causes.

If a life insurance company can afford to pay a $500,000 sum on a policy that’s collected less than $20,000, how can it afford to stay in business when life is so fragile, death is always a certainty, and they’re in it for the profit?

Contrary to what you might think, insurance companies don’t rely entirely on luck or underhanded tactics to stay in the black. There are actually three ways that an insurance company makes money and ensures those profits remain stable.

Underwriting

Underwriting is the process of taking a calculated financial risk in exchange for a fee. The word was coined as the underwriter, the “risk-taker”, would sign their name underneath a detailed outline of all risks they were willing to take.

Underwriting is performed by all life insurance companies and it’s a careful, considered process through which they can balance their profit and loss. There is no guarantee with the underwriting process and it’s not uncommon for them to lose money over the course of a financial year. However, what they lose one year may be offset by what they earn in another year.

How Insurance Companies Profit from Underwriting

Insurance is based on statistical analysis and probability. If you’re a healthy 20-year old with no preexisting medical conditions and no genetic issues, you’re considered to be very low risk. 

An insurance company may offer you a $500,000 payout on a 30-year term in exchange for a policy that costs less than $1,000 a year. They’re only making $30,000 over the term, but they know there’s a good chance you’ll live well beyond your 50th year, which means all of that $30,000 is profit.

In fact, statistically speaking, a 20-year old has a less than 6% chance of dying within 30 years and this applies to the general population. Once you account for medical issues, family health problems, smoking, drug use, dangerous jobs, and a plethora of other high-risk conditions, that figure drops to an infinitesimal sum.

The insurance company knows that if they have 50 healthy 20-year-olds on 30-year $500,000 policies, there’s a good chance that between 0 and 2 will collect. This means they will collect $1.5 million and payout between $0 and $1 million. 

The odds of a 20-year-old dying within that term increase if they have abused drugs/alcohol in the past, have a preexisting medical condition or their parents died of genetic disorders before they turned 50. In such cases, the underwriters will calculate the risks and create a policy that allows them to cover their costs.

By the same token, a life insurance company may refuse to provide a 30-year term to a 52-year-old, because according to the statistics, one out of every two will die within that term and they simply couldn’t offer realistic premiums.

Of course, these are just rough estimates, but it gives you a general idea of how life insurance companies operate. It’s also the reason why your premiums increase significantly if you are a smoker (smokers live 10 years less on average) are obese (obesity is considered to be as much of a mortality risk as smoking) or have a problematic medical history.

Canceled and Lapsed Coverage

Your life insurance policy can stop or be canceled at any time. Let’s return to the example of the 20-year-old paying premiums worth $1,000 a year. They may have taken out the life insurance policy because they just got married or they experienced a bout of paranoia after learning about a friend who died young.

But what happens when that relationship ends and that paranoia fades away; what happens if they go from being comfortably employed, to unemployed and desperate? They’re not the ones who will benefit from that payout, so they may decide that they’re just wasting their money, in which case they stop making the payments and the policy lapses. If this happens, the life insurance company gets all of the premiums and none of the liability.

Whole life insurance policies can also be cashed out. They build money through dividends and this entices the owner to give it all up for a big payday. If they’re struggling financially and realize they have a big balance waiting for them on their life insurance policy, they may be tempted to cash the check, close the account, and walk away with the windfall, thus removing all liability from the insurance company.

Refusing to Pay Out

Life insurance companies can also make money by refusing to pay out and pointing to a discrepancy. This is not part of their business strategy, and they don’t actively seek to scam their customers because, quite simply, they don’t need to. Thanks to underwriting, cash outs, lapse policies and investing, life insurance is a profitable enterprise without needing to resort to underhanded tactics.

However, they can and will refuse payouts if they determine that the contract was somehow breached. This can happen in any number of ways and for a myriad of reasons:

The Cause of Death Wasn’t Covered

Most causes of death are covered by most life insurance policies. However, there are some exceptions, including suicide. Many policies refuse to cover suicide at all, while others refuse to cover it if it occurs within the first 2 years of the policy.

More than 40,000 people take their own lives every year in the United States and it’s a common issue across all demographics. It’s also on the increase and is now the 10th biggest killer in the United States. 

As heartless as it might seem for an insurance company to refuse a payout for someone who took their own life, it’s important to remember that their underwriting is based purely on probability, and because suicide is one of the biggest killers in young men, it’s something that has to be considered.

The policy should state clearly which causes of death are covered and which ones are not. It’s also something you can discuss with the insurance company when you take out your policy.

Important Information was Not Disclosed

This is the most common reason for a payout to be refused. In some cases, the applicant is looking for cheaper premiums and knows that a few seemingly innocent lies will shave tens of dollars off their premiums. 

The policyholder may also assume that certain information isn’t relevant or be too ashamed to disclose it. For instance, if they were cautioned for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol it may not seem relevant to the underwriting process, but if they die in a road traffic accident it could prevent a payout.

In the majority of cases, however, they simply forget. A life insurance policy is something you fill out in one sitting and something that requires you to list all previous medical conditions, hospital visits, and health complaints. It’s easy to forget a few things here and there.

There is No Beneficiary

A life insurance policy can only be paid directly to an heir when they are named as a beneficiary. If there is no beneficiary, it will be paid to the policyholder’s estate, from which their heirs can make their claim.

This becomes problematic if the policyholder has a lot of debt, as the debtors will then line up to take their share from the estate. It can also make life difficult for loved ones trying to make a claim on that estate. It’s always recommended, therefore, to name beneficiaries on the life insurance policy and to back this up by writing a will.

The Contestability Period

The above issues become more prevalent during something known as the contestability period. This begins as soon as the policy goes into effect and it can last for 1 or 2 years, depending on the policyholder’s state of residence.

If the policyholder dies during this period, the life insurance company will seek to contest it by looking at all of the details and ensuring they match. They will check the cause of death against previously filed medical reports and will make sure the correct information was supplied at the time the policy was filed and that there are no discrepancies.

Once this period passes, it’s unlikely there will be any issues, but they can still occur. The insurance company may, for instance, investigate the claim if they believe it was purchased for the sole benefit of the beneficiaries (for example, the policyholder purchases it knowing they were going to commit suicide or were about to die).

Summary: Payouts are Rare

Studies suggest that as few as 2% of all term policies pay out, and the most common reason for non-payment is that the policyholder survives the term. This is a statistic that detractors like to quote and it’s often followed by a claim that life insurance is just institutionalized gambling. 

To an extent, they’re right. You’re essentially gambling against a house that always wins and, like a casino, it always wins because, for every player that wins, 10 others will lose. The difference is that life insurance provides some much-needed peace of mind while you’re alive and ensures your loved ones are covered in the event that anything happens to you.

How do Life Insurance Companies Make Money? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Term Life vs. Whole Life Insurance: Which Is Best for You?

A smiling mother lays on her bed with two smiling young children. They are looking at a tablet together.

Taking out a life insurance policy is a great
way to protect your family’s financial future. A policy can also be a useful
financial planning tool. But life insurance is a notoriously tricky subject to
tackle.

One of the hardest challenges is deciding
whether term life or whole life insurance is a better fit for you.

Not sure what separates term life from whole
life in the first place? You’re not alone. Insurance industry jargon can be
thick, but we’re here to clear up the picture and make sure you have all the
information you need to make the best decision for you and your family.

Life Insurance = Financial
Protection for Your Family

Families have all sorts of expenses: mortgage payments, utility bills, school tuition, credit card payments and car loan payments, to name a few. If something were to happen and your household unexpectedly lost your income or your spouse’s income, your surviving family might have a difficult time meeting those costs. Funeral expenses and other final arrangements could further stress your family’s financial stability.

That’s where life insurance comes in. Essentially, a policy acts as a financial safety net for your family by providing a death benefit. Most forms of natural death are covered by life insurance, but many exceptions exist, so be sure to do your research. Death attributable to suicide, motor accidents while intoxicated and high-risk activity are often explicitly not covered by term or whole life policies.

If you die while covered by your life
insurance policy, your family receives a payout, either a lump sum or in
installments. This is money that’s often tax-free and can be used to meet
things like funeral costs, financial obligations and other personal expenses.
You get coverage in exchange for paying a monthly premium, which is often
decided by your age, health status and the amount of coverage you purchase.

Don’t
know how much to buy? A good rule of thumb is to multiply your yearly income by
10-15, and that’s the number you should target. Companies may have different
minimum and maximum amounts of coverage, but you can generally find a
customized policy that meets your coverage needs.

In addition to the base death benefit, you can enhance your coverage through optional riders. These are additions or modifications that can be made to your policy—whether term or whole life—often for a fee. Riders can do things like:

  • Add coverage for disability or deaths not commonly
    covered in base policies, like those due to public transportation accidents.
  • Waive future premiums if you cannot earn an income.
  • Accelerate your death benefit to pay for medical bills
    your family incurs while you’re still alive.

Other
riders may offer access to membership perks. For a fee, you might be able to
get discounts on goods and services, such as financial planning or health and
wellness clubs.

One
final note before we get into the differences between term and life: We’re just
covering individual insurance here. Group insurance is another avenue for
getting life insurance, wherein one policy covers a group of people. But that’s
a complex story for a different day.

Term Life Policies Are Flexible

The “term” in “term life” refers to
the period of time during which your life insurance policy is active. Often,
term life policies are available for 10, 20, 25 or 30 years. If you die during
the term covered, your family will be paid a death benefit and not be charged any future
premiums, as your policy is no longer active. So, if you were to die in year 10
of a 30-year policy, your family would not be on the hook for paying for the
other 20 years.

Typically, your insurance cannot be canceled
as long as you pay your premium. Of course, if you don’t make payments, your coverage will lapse, which typically
will end your policy. If you want to exit a policy you can cancel during an
introductory period. Generally speaking, nonpayment of premiums will not affect your credit score, as
your insurance provider is not a creditor. Given that, making payments on your
life policy won’t raise your credit score either.

The major downside of term life is that your
coverage ceases once the term expires. Ultimately, once your term expires, you need to reassess
your options for renewing, buying new coverage or upgrading. If you were to die
a month after your term expires, and you haven’t taken out a new policy, your
family won’t be covered. That’s why some people opt for another term policy to
cover changing needs. Others may choose to convert their term life into a
permanent life policy or go without coverage because the same financial
obligations—e.g., mortgage payments and college costs—no longer exist. This
might be the case in your retirement.

The Pros and Cons of Term Life

Even though term life insurance lasts for a
predetermined length of time, there are still advantages to taking out such a
policy:

  • Comparably lower cost: Term life is usually the more affordable type of life insurance, making it the easiest way to get budget-friendly protection for your family. A woman who’s 34 years old can buy $1 million in coverage through a 10-year term life policy for less than $50 a month, according to U.S. News and World Report. A man who’s 42 can purchase $1 million in coverage through a 30-year term for just over $126 a month.
  • Good choice for mid-term financial planning: Lots of families take out a term life policy to coincide with major financial responsibilities or until their children are financially independent. For example, if you have 20 years left on your mortgage, a term policy of the same length could provide extra financial protection for your family.
  • Upgrade if you want to: If you take out a term life policy, you’ll likely also get the option to convert to a permanent form of life insurance once the term ends if your needs change. Just remember to weigh your options, as your rates will increase the older you get. Buying another term life policy at 50 years old may not represent the same value as a whole life policy at 30.

There are some drawbacks to term life:

  • Coverage is temporary: The biggest downside to
    term life insurance is that policies are active for only so long. That means
    your family won’t be covered if something unexpected happens after your insurance
    expires.
  • Rising premiums: Premiums for term life
    policies are often fixed, meaning they stay constant over the duration of the
    policy. However, some
    policies may be structured in a way that seems less costly upfront but feature
    steadily increasing premiums as your term progresses.

Young Families Often Opt for Term Life

The rate you pay for term life insurance is
largely determined by your age and health. Factors outside your control may influence the rates you
see, like demand for life insurance. During a pandemic, you might be paying
more if you take a policy out amid an outbreak.

Most consumers seeking term life fall into
younger and healthier demographics, making term life rates among the most
affordable. This is because
such populations present less risk than a 70-year-old with multiple chronic
conditions. In the end, your rate depends on individual factors. So if
you’re looking for affordable protection for your family, term life might be
the best choice for you.

Term life is also a great option if you want a
policy that:

  • Grants you some flexibility for
    future planning, as you’re
    not locked into a lifetime policy.
  • Can replace your or your spouse’s
    income on a temporary basis.
  • Will cover your children until
    they are financially stable on their own.
  • Is active for the same length as
    certain financial responsibilities—e.g., a car loan or remaining years on a
    mortgage.

Whole Life Insurance Offers
Lifetime Coverage

Like with term life policies, whole life
policies award a death benefit when you pass. This benefit is decided by the
amount of coverage you purchase, but you can also add riders that accelerate
your benefit or expand coverage for covered types of death.

The biggest difference between term life and
whole life insurance is that the latter is a type of permanent life insurance.
Your policy has no expiration date. That means you and your family benefit from
a lifetime of protection without having to worry about an unexpected event
occurring after your term has ended.

The Pros and Cons of Whole Life

As if a lifetime of coverage wasn’t enough of
advantage, whole life insurance can also be a highly useful financial planning
tool:

  • Cash value: When you make a premium payment on
    your whole life policy, a portion of that goes toward an account that builds
    cash up over time. Your
    family gets this amount in addition to the death benefit when their claim is
    approved, or you can access it while living. You pay taxes only when the money
    is withdrawn, allowing for tax-deferred growth of cash value. You can
    often access it at any time, invest it, or take a loan out against it. However, be aware that anything
    you take out and don’t repay will eventually be subtracted from what your
    family receives in the end.
  • Dividend payments: Many life insurance
    companies offer whole life policyholders the opportunity to accrue dividends
    through a whole life policy. This works much like how stocks make dividend
    payments to shareholders from corporate profits. The amount you see through a dividend payment is
    determined by company earnings and your provider’s target payout ratio—which is
    the percentage of earnings paid to policyholders. Some life insurance
    companies will make an annual dividend payment to whole life policyholders that
    adds to their cash value.

Some potential downsides to consider include:

  • Higher cost: Whole life is more expensive than
    term life, largely because of the lifetime of coverage. This means monthly
    premiums that might not fit every household budget.
  • Interest rates on cash value loans: If you need emergency extra
    money, a cash value loan may be more appealing than a standard bank loan, as
    you don’t have to go through the typical application process. You can also get
    lower interest rates on cash value loans than you would with private loans or
    credit cards. Plus, you don’t have to pay the balance back, as you’re basically
    borrowing from your own stash. But if you don’t pay the loan back, it will be
    money lost to your family.

Whole Life Is Great for Estate Planning

Who stands to benefit most from a whole life
policy?

  • Young adults and families who can
    net big savings by buying a whole life policy earlier.
  • Older families looking to lock in
    coverage for life.
  • Those who want to use their policy
    as a tool for savings or estate planning.

To that last point, whole life policies are particularly advantageous in overall financial and estate planning compared to term life. Cash value is the biggest and clearest benefit, as it can allow you to build savings to access at any time and with little red tape.

Also,
you can gift a whole life policy to a grandchild, niece or nephew to help
provide for them. This works by you opening the policy and paying premiums for
a set number of years—like until the child turns 18. Upon that time, ownership
of the policy is transferred to them and they can access the cash value that’s
been built up over time.

If you’re looking for another low-touch way to leave a legacy, consider opening a high-yield savings account that doesn’t come with monthly premium payments, or a normal investment account.

What to Do Before You Buy a
Policy

Make sure you take the right steps to finding
the best policy for you. That means:

  • Researching different life insurance companies and their policies, cost and riders. (You can start by reading our review of Bestow.)
  • Balancing your current and long-term needs to best protect your family.
  • Buying the right amount of coverage.

If you’re interested in taking next steps, talk to your financial advisor about your specific financial situation and personal needs.

Infographic explaining the difference between term and whole life insurance policies.

The post Term Life vs. Whole Life Insurance: Which Is Best for You? appeared first on Credit.com.

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