Life Insurance Policies: Term vs Permanent

When it comes to purchasing life insurance, deciding which kind of policy to buy can be a challenge. But by learning about the characteristics of available life insurance policies and working together with an experienced life insurance agent, you’ll be able to choose the right policy to protect your loved ones.

Term Life Insurance

As the name suggests, term life insurance provides coverage for a certain period of time, as specified in your policy. This means that a death benefit will only be paid out if you die within your policy’s term. Because of this central characteristic, term life insurance policies tend to be much cheaper than permanent life insurance policies–making it a very appealing option to young adults or families who can’t spend a lot on life insurance.

Though term life insurance comes in two forms–level term (pays the same death benefit no matter when you die during the term) and decreasing term (the death benefit decreases throughout the duration of the policy)–level term policies are by far the most popular.

According to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) common types of level term policies are:

  • Annual (least popular)
  • 5 year
  • 10 year
  • 15 year
  • 20 year (most popular)
  • 25 year
  • 30 year

Many term life insurance policies are renewable, which means that you may be able to reinstate your policy after the term ends, although reinstatement may be contingent on passing a medical exam and will likely involve an increased premium. Additionally, the I.I.I. reports that most insurers will not renew a policy ending after 80 years of age.

Premiums for term life insurance are typically based on your age and health status at the time the policy is written. Some insurers guarantee your premiums to stay the same throughout the length of the term, but others may not make that guarantee (and increase your premiums throughout the term)–so be sure you’re aware of premium provisions before signing a policy.

Life insurance tip: Buying life insurance when you’re young and healthy will help you secure low premiums. Not a spring chicken? Take care of your health–stop smoking and exercise regularly to get the lowest insurance premium.

Permanent Life Insurance

Unlike term life insurance, permanent life insurance pays a death benefit whether you die they day after you sign the policy or 50 years later. Permanent life insurance policies are also appealing because of their ability to grow tax-deferred over a certain length of time–which can result in a large chunk of change. This cash value can be used in a variety of ways, providing additional benefits to policyholders and their families.

Because of these characteristics, permanent life insurance policies tend to be more expensive than term policies, which may not be conducive for young adults or families with income limitations.

Life insurance tip: Some term life policies can be converted to permanent life insurance policies, so if you’re interested in a permanent policy but can’t afford the premiums, ask your agent about term policies with this feature.

Permanent life insurance policyholders also have a wide array of policy options to choose from. The four common types of permanent life insurance are whole, universal, variable and variable-universal.

Whole life policies are the most common form of permanent life insurance and offer both a death benefit and the additional benefit of a savings account. If you buy a whole life policy, you agree to pay a certain amount for a predetermined death benefit. And, unlike a term life policy, whole life policies have the potential to earn annual dividends–which will earn interest if you let them accrue.

Universal life policies offer more flexibility, allowing you to vary how much you pay and when you make premium payments (with some limitations, of course). You may also be able to obtain a larger death benefit, provided you pass a medical exam, and like whole life policies, your universal policy may earn cash value over time.

Variable life policies incorporate a death benefit with a savings account that you can invest in stocks, bonds or mutual funds. While this may increase the value of your policy, it’s important to remember that if your investments don’t perform well, your death benefit will decrease. To avoid this, the I.I.I. says you can ask about variable policies that guarantee that the death benefit will not fall below a certain amount.

Variable-universal policies combine the features of variable and universal life policies, meaning that you have the investment options of a variable policy and the flexibility of premium payments of a universal policy.

Which Policy is Right for You?

Now that you have some idea of what policy options appeal to you, take the time to speak with a licensed life insurance professional that can answer questions and help you come closer to your life insurance decision. Because when you have all the facts, it makes finding affordable life insurance that much easier!