What is Term Life Insurance and How Does it Work?

Insurance Basics for Medical Professionals

By Jeffrey H. Rattiner, CPA, CFP®, MBA

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After determining the need for insurance and the amount to purchase, the doctor-client and financial planner’s next task is to match those needs to the client’s objectives to determine what type of policy the client should purchase. The life insurance industry features more products today than ever before. One reason for this change is that, clearly, the insurance industry has expanded its product base to become more competitive. Another reason is that clients’ needs are constantly changing and the insurance companies must keep up with those needs or run the risk of having funds withdrawn from their companies. New and different types of life insurance products are here to stay. Since life insurance represents a significant part of a client’s risk-management program, planners have to be versed in the specifics of the varied product base.

Term Insurance

Term insurance provides protection against financial loss resulting from death during a specified time. Term insurance is often characterized as providing “pure” protection because it pays only death benefits and does not contain any cash value features. Coverage stops at the end of the policy period. Term insurance comes in two forms: nonrenewable term and annual renewable term.

Nonrenewable Term Insurance

Nonrenewable term insurance offers the client the poorest quality because the insured has to requalify or prove evidence of insurability for coverage every year. As a result, its cost is the lowest since the insurance company annually re-underwrites the individual applying for coverage. This allows the insurance company to be selective and avoid adverse risks.

Risk Management, Liability Insurance, and Asset Protection Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™8

Annual Renewable Term Insurance

Annual renewable term insurance is a quality term product. Under this type of term insurance, the policyholder may continue coverage on an annual basis. The rates are higher than nonrenewable term since the insurance company must continue to renew the policy at the insured’s option. The premiums generally increase as the policy matures, and the policy offers no flexibility. Coverage automatically stops if the premiums are not paid.

Conversion Provisions

Term insurance may offer a conversion provision that allows the insured to convert the term policy into a cash value policy without evidence of insurability, providing the insured with a guaranteed hedge against future un-insurability. The insured can convert the policy to a whole life policy at a later date. This can be done in one of two ways:

1. The insured can go back to the original policy date of issue and pay premiums on the basis of the younger age. All back premiums, including interest, must be paid to date.

2. The insured can pay premiums at the attained age (or at the age of the insured at the time of conversion).

Advantages of term insurance policies include a lower initial cost, allowing dollars to be invested elsewhere, and pure death protection. Disadvantages include the lack of permanence, the absence of a savings element, the expiration of the policy after a specified period, and a periodic increase in cost. The increasing premium structure of term insurance results from the decreased life expectancies of an individual’s later years.

Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™

Assessment

Term insurance is most appropriate for young couples who have children or who otherwise may need a large amount of insurance. It is also appropriate for people who do not want to invest in a cash value insurance vehicle, who cannot afford the higher premiums of cash surrender policies, whose insurance needs will decrease over time, or who have temporary needs. Term insurance consists of mortality charges and policy expense. Because term insurance is quite expensive at the older ages, an alternative product was developed.

Conclusion

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