All About Life Protection

While insurance isn’t an investment, it’s an important part of sound, savvy personal financial management. Insurance is protection. It protects everything you’ve worked so hard to earn. It protects your spouse in the event of premature death. It sends the kids to college. It holds together a family at a time when money shouldn’t be a concern.

You need insurance but shopping for the right coverage to protect your family and your assets is like learning a new language. Term life, whole life, universal life, actual cash value, dividends, loans against policy – it’s a maze of insurance products out there and finding the right coverage for your needs may take a little research.

Here’s a starter course on getting the most for the least in life insurance and still have the protection you and your family need.

Types of Life Insurance

There are two basic types of life insurance with numerous variations on a theme.

Term life insurance is the simplest to understand. It’s also the most economical protection you can buy.

Term life insurance is paid when the insured (you) pass on within a defined term – a defined length of time your life insurance coverage is in effect. Term life comes with a variety of time frames: five-, ten- even thirty-year terms are available.

The younger you are, the lower the cost of the monthly premium – the dollar amount you pay for protection each month. Premiums are calculated based on two factors – your age (and general health) and the dollar amount of protection you need. It’s simple. A $100,000 term life insurance policy won’t cost as much as a $500,000 policy because you’re buying less protection.

With term life, you keep things simple. The insurance company pays X amount of dollars to the beneficiaries when the insured individual passes on, as long as the policy is in effect, that is, the death occurs during the term of the policy, thus the name term life insurance.

Term life policies don’t accumulate value, you can’t borrow against them and, if you choose a short term and your health changes, you could end up paying more for your term life insurance than you would if you buy a long-term policy – one that covers you for the long term.

To determine how much term life you need, add up funeral costs, outstanding personal debt, mortgage debt, the prospect of paying tuition and other large expenses that would drain family resources. Figure what it would cost your family for a single year.

Then multiply by a factor between 5 and 10. Use the lower factor if you don’t have a lot of debt and the higher factor if you’re carrying a couple of mortgages and you have three kids to put through school. That’s how much term life you need to protect your family and all their expectations.

The other class of insurance is whole life insurance, also called permanent insurance, universal insurance, variable universal insurance and other product names, but all fall into the general class of coverage called whole life insurance.

The first difference between term and whole life is that whole life covers you from the day you buy the policy until you die. Of course, this assumes that you pay your whole life insurance premium each month. There is no term (length of time coverage is in effect) to whole life. Buy it when you’re young and your premiums will be low and you’ll start building cash value.

That’s the other main difference between term and whole life insurance coverage. Whole life pays dividends. Not a lot, but dividends that can be used to lower monthly premiums, or they can be allowed to accumulate earning interest.

Once the whole life policy has accumulated enough cash value you can borrow against that cash value to buy a house or cover some tuition bills. The downside to taking loans against the value of a whole life policy is that it lowers the payout to family in the event of the insured individual’s death.

However, a whole life policy does increase in value while providing protection for your family. The cost of coverage is also higher. Expect to pay more for $500K of whole life versus $500K of term life insurance, simply because the insurer is paying interest on your monthly premiums.

Calculate your coverage needs using the criteria listed above. Don’t think of whole life as a money-maker. It’s not intended to increase your wealth. That’s a side benefit. An important side benefit, but the primary reason for purchasing whole life is to protect your family in the event of your pre-mature death.

Life Insurance Sources

There are hundreds of insurance companies and even more life insurance products so talking to a knowledgeable professional is a good first step.

An insurance broker can advise you but, keep in mind, each insurance broker carries a “line” of products from a limited number of insurance providers so each broker will tell you her products are the best value.

If you do the math yourself, you know going in, how much coverage you want to buy, at which point, it’s just a matter of finding a reputable insurance company offering competitive rates and the benefits you’re looking for.

Another resource is your local bank – often the best place to start researching your life insurance needs. Banks sell a broad range of life insurance products and, because insurance isn’t the primary business of a bank, you’re more likely to get straightforward answers to your questions.

Another reason to visit your bank’s insurance rep is that your bank knows the financial you – how much you have in accounts, how much comes in and goes out on a month to month basis, your tax status and other personal finance information needed to get the right kind of life insurance at the right price.

Talk to your employer. Life insurance may be a benefit along with health care and two weeks vacation, but you may also be able to increase the dollar amount of coverage with money deducted from your paycheck painlessly.

Unions, associations, your local Chamber of Commerce and other organizations are also sources for low-cost term or whole life coverage. Purchasing life insurance coverage through an industry association, for example, gets you group rates that translate into more coverage at a lower monthly premium. On the other hand, when you purchase term or whole life through your union you usually don’t have a choice of insurers and that’s an important point to consider.

Go with an insurance company that’s ranked highly by Standard and Poor or some other rating organization. Your broker or banker will steer you toward quality of coverage so you get more for your money.

Life insurance sounds complicated but, when you break it down into simple terms, it’s something you can do with a trusted advisor to point you down the right path.

Get life insurance. Get term life if you want lower premiums; get whole life if you want your insurance to build cash value against which you can take loans.

It’s your choice. Making the right one saves money and delivers the peace of mind that only quality life insurance protection delivers.

No one likes to think about buying life insurance. It’s depressing. It’s also essential to protect your family and your assets. What kind of life insurance is right for you? Here’s what you need to know before talking to an insurance agent or company.

 

Things You Should Prepare Before Buying Life Insurance

Secret #1: Don’t spend too much time on a life insurance quote.

Do not be fooled by the low price quotes you get online – they don’t apply to you unless you are extremely healthy. Statistically only 10% of people who apply actually get the lowest priced policy. The premium you end up paying has nothing to do with the initial quote you get online or from an agent. It is amazing to me how often I see people getting duped by an agent who quotes company X at a lower price than another agent.

Life insurance policies are the same price no matter who you buy from! One agent or website quoting a lower premium means nothing. Prices for any given policy is based on your age and health. There are a few exceptions to this but that is beyond the breadth of this article.

Most life insurance companies have 10-20 different health/price ratings and no agent or website can assure you the quote they give you is accurate. You have to apply, do a health check, and then go through underwriting (meaning you complete a mini-exam with a nurse in your home and then the company checks you doctor records and reviews and ‘rates’ your health) to get the real price of the policy. Remember that a health rating also factors in your family history, driving record, and the type of occupation you have. Only use quotes to help narrow down your choices to the top companies. You may want to consider a no load or low policy. The more that you save on commissions the more money builds up in your policy. You can even buy term insurance no load, and save a lot on premiums. You will not get the help of an agent, which may be worth something if they are very good.

The most important factor determining price is matching your particular health history with the company best suited for that niche. For instance company X might be best for smokers, company Y for cancer survivors, Company Z for people with high blood pressure, etc.

Secret #2: Ignore the hype on term versus cash value permanent insurance.

You can go crazy reading what everyone has to say on buying term insurance versus a whole or universal life policy. Big name websites give advice that I think borders on fraudulent. Simply put there is NO simple answer on whether you should buy permanent cash value policies or term insurance.

But I do think there is a simple rule of thumb – buy term for your temporary insurance needs and cash value insurance for your permanent needs. I have read in various journals and run mathematical equations myself which basically show that if you have a need for insurance beyond 20 years that you should consider some amount of permanent insurance. This is due to the tax advantage of the growth of the cash value within in a permanent policy. I am divorced and have taken care of my children should I die. I probably no longer need as much insurance as I now have. I have earned a great return on my policies and have paid no taxes. I no longer pay the premiums, because there is so much cash in the policies. I let the policies pay themselves. I would not call most life insurance a good investment. Because I bought my policies correctly, and paid almost no sales commissions my policies are probably my best investments. I no longer own them, so when I die my beneficiaries will get the money both tax free, and estate tax free.

Since most people have short term needs like a mortgage or kids at home they should get some term. Additionally most people want some life insurance in place for their whole life to pay for burial, help with unpaid medical bills and estate taxes and so a permanent policy should be purchased along with the term policy.

Secret #3: Consider applying with two companies at once.

Life insurance companies really don’t like this “trick” because it gives them competition and increases their underwriting costs.

Secret #4: Avoid captive life insurance agents.

Look for a life insurance agent who represents at least fifty life insurance companies and ask them for a multi company quote showing the best prices side by side. Some people try to cut the agent out and just apply online. Just remember that you don’t save any money that way because the commissions normally earned by the agent are just kept by the insurance company or the website insurance company without having your premium lowered.

Plus a good agent can help you maneuver through some of the complexities of filling out the application, setting up your beneficiaries, avoiding mistakes on selecting who should be the owner, the best way to pay your premium, and also will be there to deliver the check and assist your loved ones if the life insurance is ever used.

Secret #5: Consider refinancing old life policies.

Most companies won’t tell you but the price you pay on your old policies has probably come down dramatically if you are in good health. In the last few years life insurance companies have updated their predictions on how long people will live. Since we are living longer they are reducing their rates rather dramatically. Beware the agent may be doing this to obtain a new commission, so make sure it really makes sense.

I really am amazed at how often we find that our client’s old policies are twice as expensive as a new one. If you need new life insurance consider “refinancing” your old policies and using the savings on the old policies to pay for the new policy – that way there is no extra out-of-pocket costs. We like to think of this process as “refinancing your life insurance” – just like you refinance your mortgage.

Secret #6: Realize life insurance companies have target niches that constantly change.

One day company ‘X’ is giving good rates to people who are a little overweight and the next month they are super strict. Company ‘Y’ might be lenient on people with diabetes because they don’t have many diabetics on the books – meaning they will give good rates to diabetics. At the same time company ‘W’ might be very strict on diabetics because they are insuring lots of diabetics and are afraid they have too big of a risk in that area – meaning they will give a bad rate to new diabetics who apply.

Unfortunately when you are applying a life insurance company will not tell you, “Hey, we just raised our rates in diabetics.” They will just happily take your money if you were not smart enough to shop around. This is the number one area a smart agent can come in handy. Since a good multi-company agent is constantly applying with multiple companies he or she will have a good handle on who is currently the most lenient on underwriting for you particular situation. The problem is that this is hard work and many agents are either too busy or not set up to efficiently shop around directly to different underwriters and see who would make you the best offer. This is a lot harder than just running you a quote online.

Secret #7: Don’t forget customer service.

Most people shopping for insurance focus on companies with the lowest price and the best financial rating. Unfortunately I know of some A+ rated companies with low rates who I would not touch with a ten foot pole simply because it’s easier to give birth to a porcupine backwards then it is to get customer service from them.

Before I understood this I used a life insurance company that gave a client a great rate but 2 years later the client called me and said, “I have mailed in all my payments on time but just got a notice saying my policy lapsed.” It turned out the company had been making lots of back office mistakes and had lost the premium payment!

We were able to fix it because we caught the problem so early. But if the client happened to have died during the short period the policy had lapsed, his family might have had a hard time proving that the premium had been paid on time and they might not have received the life insurance money – a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in that case.

Secret #8: Apply 3-6 months ahead of the time you need the insurance if possible.

Don’t be in a hurry to get a policy if you already have some coverage in force. But go ahead and apply right away knowing that you might need months to shop around if the first company does not give you a good rate. Even though the life insurance industry is getting more automated your application will still often be held up for weeks or months while the insurance company waits on your doctor’s office to mail them a copy of you medical records.

If you are in a hurry and buy a quickie ‘no-underwriting’ policy without going through the full health checks and underwriting that a mainstream life insurance company requires, you will end up paying 20%-50% more because the insurance company will automatically charge you higher rates because they don’t know whether you are healthy or about to die the next day.

Secret #9: Avoid buying extra life insurance through work if you are healthy.

I am sure there are exceptions to this “trick” but I have rarely found one. By all means keep the free life insurance your employer provides. But if you are healthy and you are paying for supplemental life insurance through payroll deduction you are almost certainly paying too much. What is happening is that your ‘overpayments’ ends up subsidizing the unhealthy people in your company who are buying life insurance through payroll deduction.

Usually the life insurance company has cut a deal with your employer and will waive the required health exam for all employees – instead they just average the price for all the employees and offer one or two rates for males or females at any given age. Life insurance companies know they will pick up lots of unhealthy clients this way so they jack up the price on everyone so that the healthy people end up overpaying so that the unhealthy employees get a cheaper policy. Also, unlike the guaranteed term policies which we recommend, most life insurance you buy through work will get more expensive as you get older.

Also group life insurance is generally not portable when you retire or change jobs meaning that when you retire or change jobs you might have to apply all over again even though you will be older and probably not as healthy and risk being turned down for a policy. If the group plan does allow portability they generally limit your conversion choices and force you to go into expensive cash value plans.

I remember helping someone evaluate his supplemental life insurance. He was sure it was a better deal than any policy I could find him. Little did he know that the price of his group plan would go up every year? By the time he retired his premium would have risen to over $10,000/year. I found him a policy for around $1000/year that would never go up. Also, unlike his old group life policy, he could take the individual policy with him when he changed jobs or retired.

Secret #10: Do a trial application on a COD payment basis.

Only send money with the application if you need the life insurance coverage right away. Sending a check with the application is a traditional practice agents used to do – I think mostly because it got them their commissions faster. If you send money with an application you usually get temporary coverage immediately but if you already have plenty of coverage and are just trying to get better rates ask your agent to do a trial application on a COD basis so you only pay once the policy is approved. If you do not send money, and you die before paying for the policy there is no coverage.

Secret #11: Wear your shoes when the nurse measures your height.

When the insurance company sends out the nurse to do your health check try to be as tall as possible if you are overweight? In most states you are allowed to wear shoes and if you are a little overweight your taller height/weight ratio will look a little better to the underwriter who is determining your health rating and policy price. Also do your exam early in the morning with no food in you – this will make your cholesterol count and various health ratios look the best.

Secret #12: Be careful with extra perks and riders.

Most policies come with options like accidental death benefit, child riders, disability riders, return of premium etc. If you do the math on most of these “extras” they usually don’t make smart financial sense. Life insurance companies are out to make money and these riders are usually profitable because they either cover something that rarely happens or they are so stringent that the benefit never gets paid out. Keep things simple and focus mainly on getting a life policy to cover your life without many strings attached. Again a good agent can help you weigh the benefits of the extra riders. But be wary of an agent who tries to tack on every possible extra rider.

Understanding Life Insurance

Life Insurance: A Slice of History

The modern insurance contracts that we have today such as life insurance, originated from the practice of merchants in the 14th century. It has also been acknowledged that different strains of security arrangements have already been in place since time immemorial and somehow, they are akin to insurance contracts in its embryonic form.

The phenomenal growth of life insurance from almost nothing a hundred years ago to its present gigantic proportion is not of the outstanding marvels of present-day business life. Essentially, life insurance became one of the felt necessities of human kind due to the unrelenting demand for economic security, the growing need for social stability, and the clamor for protection against the hazards of cruel-crippling calamities and sudden economic shocks. Insurance is no longer a rich man’s monopoly. Gone are the days when only the social elite are afforded its protection because in this modern era, insurance contracts are riddled with the assured hopes of many families of modest means. It is woven, as it were, into the very nook and cranny of national economy. It touches upon the holiest and most sacred ties in the life of man. The love of parents. The love of wives. The love of children. And even the love of business.

Life Insurance as Financial Protection

A life insurance policy pays out an agreed amount generally referred to as the sum assured under certain circumstances. The sum assured in a life insurance policy is intended to answer for your financial needs as well as your dependents in the event of your death or disability. Hence, life insurance offers financial coverage or protection against these risks.

Life Insurance: General Concepts

Insurance is a risk-spreading device. Basically, the insurer or the insurance company pools the premiums paid by all of its clients. Theoretically speaking, the pool of premiums answers for the losses of each insured.

Life insurance is a contract whereby one party insures a person against loss by the death of another. An insurance on life is a contract by which the insurer (the insurance company) for a stipulated sum, engages to pay a certain amount of money if another dies within the time limited by the policy. The payment of the insurance money hinges upon the loss of life and in its broader sense, life insurance includes accident insurance, since life is insured under either contract.

Therefore, the life insurance policy contract is between the policy holder (the assured) and the life insurance company (the insurer). In return for this protection or coverage, the policy holder pays a premium for an agreed period of time, dependent upon the type of policy purchased.

In the same vein, it is important to note that life insurance is a valued policy. This means that it is not a contract of indemnity. The interest of the person insured in hi or another person’s life is generally not susceptible of an exact pecuniary measurement. You simply cannot put a price tag on a person’s life. Thus, the measure of indemnity is whatever is fixed in the policy. However, the interest of a person insured becomes susceptible of exact pecuniary measurement if it is a case involving a creditor who insures the life of a debtor. In this particular scenario, the interest of the insured creditor is measurable because it is based on the value of the indebtedness.

Common Life Insurance Policies

Generally, life insurance policies are often marketed to cater to retirement planning, savings and investment purposes apart from the ones mentioned above. For instance, an annuity can very well provide an income during your retirement years.

Whole life and endowment participating policies or investment linked plans (ILPs) in life insurance policies bundle together a savings and investment aspect along with insurance protection. Hence, for the same amount of insurance coverage, the premiums will cost you more than purchasing a pure insurance product like term insurance.

The upside of these bundled products is that they tend to build up cash over time and they are eventually paid out once the policy matures. Thus, if your death benefit is coupled with cash values, the latter is paid out once the insured dies. With term insurance however, no cash value build up can be had.

The common practice in most countries is the marketing of bundled products as savings products. This is one unique facet of modern insurance practice whereby part of the premiums paid by the assured is invested to build up cash values. The drawback of this practice though is the premiums invested become subjected to investment risks and unlike savings deposits, the guaranteed cash value may be less than the total amount of premiums paid.

Essentially, as a future policy holder, you need to have a thorough assessment of your needs and goals. It is only after this step where you can carefully choose the life insurance product that best suits your needs and goals. If your target is to protect your family’s future, ensure that the product you have chosen meets your protection needs first.

Real World Application

It is imperative to make the most out of your money. Splitting your life insurance on multiple policies can save you more money. If you die while your kids are 3 & 5, you will need a lot more life insurance protection than if your kids are 35 & 40. Let’s say your kids are 3 & 5 now and if you die, they will need at least $2,000,000 to live, to go to college, etc. Instead of getting $2,000,000 in permanent life insurance, which will be outrageously expensive, just go for term life insurance: $100,000 for permanent life insurance, $1,000,000 for a 10-year term insurance, $500,000 for a 20-year term insurance, and $400,000 of 30 years term. Now this is very practical as it covers all that’s necessary. If you die and the kids are 13 & 15 or younger, they will get $2M; if the age is between 13-23, they get $1M; if between 23-33, they get $500,000; if after that, they still get $100,000 for final expenses and funeral costs. This is perfect for insurance needs that changes over time because as the children grow, your financial responsibility also lessens. As the 10, 20, and 30 years term expires, payment of premiums also expires thus you can choose to use that money to invest in stocks and take risks with it.

In a world run by the dictates of money, everyone wants financial freedom. Who doesn’t? But we all NEED financial SECURITY. Most people lose sight of this important facet of financial literacy. They invest everything and risk everything to make more and yet they end up losing most of it, if not all- this is a fatal formula. The best approach is to take a portion of your money and invest in financial security and then take the rest of it and invest in financial freedom.

 

Life Insurance As Investment Tool

A lot of people have been approached about using life insurance as an investment tool. Do you believe that life insurance is an asset or a liability? I will discuss life insurance which I think is one of the best ways to protect your family. Do you buy term insurance or permanent insurance is the main question that people should consider?

Many people choose term insurance because it is the cheapest and provides the most coverage for a stated period of time such as 5, 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. People are living longer so term insurance may not always be the best investment for everyone. If a person selects the 30 year term option they have the longest period of coverage but that would not be the best for a person in their 20’s because if a 25 year old selects the 30 year term policy then at age 55 the term would end. When the person who is 55 years old and is still in great health but still needs life insurance the cost of insurance for a 55 year old can get extremely expensive. Do you buy term and invest the difference? If you are a disciplined investor this could work for you but is it the best way to pass assets to your heirs tax free? If a person dies during the 30 year term period then the beneficiaries would get the face amount tax free. If your investments other than life insurance are passed to beneficiaries, in most cases, the investments will not pass tax free to the beneficiaries. Term insurance is considered temporary insurance and can be beneficial when a person is starting out life. Many term policies have a conversion to a permanent policy if the insured feels the need in the near future,

The next type of policy is whole life insurance. As the policy states it is good for your whole life usually until age 100. This type of policy is being phased out of many life insurance companies. The whole life insurance policy is called permanent life insurance because as long as the premiums are paid the insured will have life insurance until age 100. These policies are the highest priced life insurance policies but they have a guaranteed cash values. When the whole life policy accumulates over time it builds cash value that can be borrowed by the owner. The whole life policy can have substantial cash value after a period of 15 to 20 years and many investors have taken notice of this. After a period of time, (20 years usually), the life whole insurance policy can become paid up which means you now have insurance and don’t have to pay anymore and the cash value continues to build. This is a unique part of the whole life policy that other types of insurance cannot be designed to perform. Life insurance should not be sold because of the cash value accumulation but in periods of extreme monetary needs you don’t need to borrow from a third party because you can borrow from your life insurance policy in case of an emergency.

In the late 80’s and 90’s insurance companies sold products called universal life insurance policies which were supposed to provide life insurance for your whole life. The reality is that these types of insurance policies were poorly designed and many lapsed because as interest rates lowered the policies didn’t perform well and clients were forced to send additional premiums or the policy lapsed. The universal life policies were a hybrid of term insurance and whole life insurance policies. Some of those policies were tied to the stock market and were called variable universal life insurance policies. My thoughts are variable policies should only be purchased by investors who have a high risk tolerance. When the stock market goes down the policy owner can lose big and be forced to send in additional premiums to cover the losses or your policy would lapse or terminate.

The design of the universal life policy has had a major change for the better in the current years. Universal life policies are permanent policy which range in ages as high as age 120. Many life insurance providers now sell mainly term and universal life policies. Universal life policies now have a target premium which has a guarantee as long as the premiums are paid the policy will not lapse. The newest form of universal life insurance is the indexed universal life policy which has performance tied to the S&P Index, Russell Index and the Dow Jones. In a down market you usually have no gain but you have no losses to the policy either. If the market is up you can have a gain but it is limited. If the index market takes a 30% loss then you have what we call the floor which is 0 which means you have no loss but there is no gain. Some insurers will still give as much as 3% gain added to you policy even in a down market. If the market goes up 30% then you can share in the gain but you are capped so you may only get 6% of the gain and this will depend on the cap rate and the participation rate. The cap rate helps the insurer because they are taking a risk that if the market goes down the insured will not suffer and if the market goes up the insured can share in a percentage of the gains. Indexed universal life policies also have cash values which can be borrowed. The best way to look at the difference in cash values is to have your insurance agent show you illustrations so you can see what fits you investment profile. The index universal life policy has a design which is beneficial to the consumer and the insurer and can be a viable tool in your total investments.

 

Common Mistake About Life Insurance

Life insurance is one of the most important components of any individual’s financial plan. However there is lot of misunderstanding about life insurance, mainly due to the way life insurance products have been sold over the years in India. We have discussed some common mistakes insurance buyers should avoid when buying insurance policies.

1. Underestimating insurance requirement: Many life insurance buyers choose their insurance covers or sum assured, based on the plans their agents want to sell and how much premium they can afford. This a wrong approach. Your insurance requirement is a function of your financial situation, and has nothing do with what products are available. Many insurance buyers use thumb rules like 10 times annual income for cover. Some financial advisers say that a cover of 10 times your annual income is adequate because it gives your family 10 years worth of income, when you are gone. But this is not always correct. Suppose, you have 20 year mortgage or home loan. How will your family pay the EMIs after 10 years, when most of the loan is still outstanding? Suppose you have very young children. Your family will run out of income, when your children need it the most, e.g. for their higher education. Insurance buyers need to consider several factors in deciding how much insurance cover is adequate for them.

· Repayment of the entire outstanding debt (e.g. home loan, car loan etc.) of the policy holder

· After debt repayment, the cover or sum assured should have surplus funds to generate enough monthly income to cover all the living expenses of the dependents of the policy holder, factoring in inflation

· After debt repayment and generating monthly income, the sum assured should also be adequate to meet future obligations of the policy holder, like children’s education, marriage etc.

2. Choosing the cheapest policy: Many insurance buyers like to buy policies that are cheaper. This is another serious mistake. A cheap policy is no good, if the insurance company for some reason or another cannot fulfil the claim in the event of an untimely death. Even if the insurer fulfils the claim, if it takes a very long time to fulfil the claim it is certainly not a desirable situation for family of the insured to be in. You should look at metrics like Claims Settlement Ratio and Duration wise settlement of death claims of different life insurance companies, to select an insurer, that will honour its obligation in fulfilling your claim in a timely manner, should such an unfortunate situation arise. Data on these metrics for all the insurance companies in India is available in the IRDA annual report (on the IRDA website). You should also check claim settlement reviews online and only then choose a company that has a good track record of settling claims.

3. Treating life insurance as an investment and buying the wrong plan: The common misconception about life insurance is that, it is also as a good investment or retirement planning solution. This misconception is largely due to some insurance agents who like to sell expensive policies to earn high commissions. If you compare returns from life insurance to other investment options, it simply does not make sense as an investment. If you are a young investor with a long time horizon, equity is the best wealth creation instrument. Over a 20 year time horizon, investment in equity funds through SIP will result in a corpus that is at least three or four times the maturity amount of life insurance plan with a 20 year term, with the same investment. Life insurance should always been seen as protection for your family, in the event of an untimely death. Investment should be a completely separate consideration. Even though insurance companies sell Unit Linked Insurance Plans (ULIPs) as attractive investment products, for your own evaluation you should separate the insurance component and investment component and pay careful attention to what portion of your premium actually gets allocated to investments. In the early years of a ULIP policy, only a small amount goes to buying units.

A good financial planner will always advise you to buy term insurance plan. A term plan is the purest form of insurance and is a straightforward protection policy. The premium of term insurance plans is much less than other types of insurance plans, and it leaves the policy holders with a much larger investible surplus that they can invest in investment products like mutual funds that give much higher returns in the long term, compared to endowment or money back plans. If you are a term insurance policy holder, under some specific situations, you may opt for other types of insurance (e.g. ULIP, endowment or money back plans), in addition to your term policy, for your specific financial needs.

4. Buying insurance for the purpose of tax planning: For many years agents have inveigled their clients into buying insurance plans to save tax under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act. Investors should realize that insurance is probably the worst tax saving investment. Return from insurance plans is in the range of 5 – 6%, whereas Public Provident Fund, another 80C investment, gives close to 9% risk free and tax free returns. Equity Linked Saving Schemes, another 80C investment, gives much higher tax free returns over the long term. Further, returns from insurance plans may not be entirely tax free. If the premiums exceed 20% of sum assured, then to that extent the maturity proceeds are taxable. As discussed earlier, the most important thing to note about life insurance is that objective is to provide life cover, not to generate the best investment return.

5. Surrendering life insurance policy or withdrawing from it before maturity: This is a serious mistake and compromises the financial security of your family in the event of an unfortunate incident. Life Insurance should not be touched until the unfortunate death of the insured occurs. Some policy holders surrender their policy to meet an urgent financial need, with the hope of buying a new policy when their financial situation improves. Such policy holders need to remember two things. First, mortality is not in anyone’s control. That is why we buy life insurance in the first place. Second, life insurance gets very expensive as the insurance buyer gets older. Your financial plan should provide for contingency funds to meet any unexpected urgent expense or provide liquidity for a period of time in the event of a financial distress.

6. Insurance is a one-time exercise: I am reminded of an old motorcycle advertisement on television, which had the punch line, “Fill it, shut it, forget it”. Some insurance buyers have the same philosophy towards life insurance. Once they buy adequate cover in a good life insurance plan from a reputed company, they assume that their life insurance needs are taken care of forever. This is a mistake. Financial situation of insurance buyers change with time. Compare your current income with your income ten years back. Hasn’t your income grown several times? Your lifestyle would also have improved significantly. If you bought a life insurance plan ten years ago based on your income back then, the sum assured will not be enough to meet your family’s current lifestyle and needs, in the unfortunate event of your untimely death. Therefore you should buy an additional term plan to cover that risk. Life Insurance needs have to be re-evaluated at a regular frequency and any additional sum assured if required, should be bought.

Conclusion

Investors should avoid these common mistakes when buying insurance policies. Life insurance is one of the most important components of any individual’s financial plan. Therefore, thoughtful consideration must be devoted to life insurance. Insurance buyers should exercise prudence against questionable selling practised in the life insurance industry. It is always beneficial to engage a financial planner who looks at your entire portfolio of investments and insurance on a holistic basis, so that you can take the best decision with regards to both life insurance and investments.