Term life insurance is called “term” because it provides coverage for a specific period or term (most often 1, 5, 10, 15 or 20 years). For this reason, it is also called “temporary” insurance. If death occurs during the term, the policy pays cash benefits to the beneficiary. However, once the term is over, and if the policy is not renewed, the coverage ceases. If death occurs after the coverage ceases, no cash benefits are paid out.
Term life insurance is the most straightforward type of life insurance and the easiest to understand. Sometimes it is called “pure” insurance, since the policy has no financial investment value and most of your premium goes to pay for coverage, with only a small amount used to pay the insurance company’s costs. If you are looking for the maximum amount of coverage for your dollar, term life insurance will give you the most “bang for your buck”.
All term life insurance policies cover you for a specific amount of time – the term. The term that’s right for you depends on how old your children are, how many years before you retire, and other factors. Many people like to know they’re insured until they’re ready to retire, usually at age 65. Many just want to have insurance until their youngest child graduates from college, and so they make sure their life insurance coverage includes money to pay for all of the college tuition.
Most experts agree that you should carry insurance at least until your youngest child is 18. So if your child is 3 now, you would want to carry your insurance for at least 15 years. But that doesn’t mean you have to lock into a 15-year term – you could instead buy an annual renewable policy and renew it for 14 years in a row. You should compare the total 15-year cost of the annual renewable policy and the 15-year term policy, making adjustments for the time and value of money, to determine what the best value is for you.
Here’s an overview of the different types of term policies available and, most importantly, a look at what happens when the term is over.
- Annual renewable term insurance
- Renewable term insurance
- Level premium term insurance
- Decreasing term insurance
- Convertible term insurance
With this type of term life insurance, your policy is automatically renewable each year up to a specific age limit, often 65, but sometimes older. Since the chances of your dying increase statistically the older you get, your premiums go up each year as you renew. However, if you buy your policy when you are young and unlikely to die, you can obtain substantial coverage for an inexpensive premium.
With renewable term life insurance, the insurance company automatically allows you to renew your coverage after the term of the policy is over (generally 5 to 20 years), even if your health has deteriorated. This is the same way annual renewable works, but for a longer period of time. Since a lot can happen to your health in 5 or 20 years, renew ability can be a valuable feature. But since it involves a greater financial risk for the insurance company, renewable term coverage generally costs a bit more than annual renewable policies.
The conditions associated with renewable term may differ from company to company. For example, though you are guaranteed the right to renew at the end of your term, you may or may not be able to renew for the same amount of coverage or for the same term. Moreover, your premiums will almost definitely go up upon renewal.
Level premium term guarantees your premium will stay the same each year for the term of your policy, generally 5 to 20 years. Insurance companies keep your premiums the same by charging you an average of the premiums they would ordinarily charge you with an annual renewable policy. As a result, you will probably pay more in the early years and less in the later years than you would if you had an annual renewable policy. You will probably also encounter a big increase in premiums at the end of your term when you apply for a new insurance policy.
The big advantage of level term is that your premiums stay the same throughout your policy, even as you get older. However, if for some reason you change policies in the early years – when your level term policy is most expensive – you will end up paying more than you need to for coverage.
With decreasing term, your cash benefits decrease each year while your premiums remain level for the duration of the term. Decreasing term is typically used to cover an item whose costs decrease over time, such as your home’s mortgage. It isn’t a wise choice for your general life insurance needs which, due to the effects of inflation, tend to increase over time.
Convertible term insurance. Convertible term enables you to convert your term insurance into any of the other types of insurance policies offered by the issuing insurance company. Convertibility can be an advantage if your insurance needs change over time, as they are likely to do. And, since it involves greater risk for the insurance company, it generally costs more than annual renewable term.
It all depends on the type of term insurance you have. With renewable term, you are guaranteed the right to take out another term policy without the formality of a new application or medical examination. With standard term, your insurance coverage ceases, and you have to apply again, including taking a medical examination. With convertible term, you reserve the right to convert your term policy to another type of policy like Whole Life or Universal Life – or in some cases, another term policy – at any time during the term of your policy. You should, however, expect an increase in your premiums with your new policy.
A special limited type of term insurance. Accidental death term pays out a cash benefit if you die in an accident. Since the sudden loss of a loved one can impose extreme hardship on a family, this coverage can be thought of as “catastrophic protection.” It can also be thought of as “inexpensive term” since it only pays benefits for death resulting from accidents and, therefore, often costs less than other types of term insurance.
The best way to protect your family is with a life insurance policy that pays benefits if you die from any cause. But if you don’t feel you can afford regular term insurance, you should at least give your family the protection of a good, inexpensive Accidental Death policy.