Thursday, 17 September 2015

Life Insurance? A little vanilla please!

After my last posting, you should understand the basics of life insurance.  When you start talking about the different types and options though, it’s like walking into an ice store… so many flavours and toppings.  It’s hard to make a decision.  Let’s start with plain vanilla and talk about the other flavours and toppings later.

In the life insurance world, Term Life Insurance is vanilla.

With all types of insurance, you make a contract with the insurance company for a certain amount of coverage or the amount your beneficiaries would receive if you die.  Also called the Death Benefit.  With Term Life Insurance, you make the contract for a specific period of time or term and if you cancel the contract at any time, you don’t get any money back or there is no “Cash Value”.  The amount you pay or premiums is dependent on a number of factors such as age, sex, and health.

The shortest period of time would be a 1 year term but if you purchased it this way year after year, the premiums would go up every year.  To make it easier for consumers, insurance companies offer 5, 10, 20 or 30 year terms where they have calculated the average premium across the entire term so you pay the same amount every month for the full term.

So where do you get this type of insurance?

The first place you should look is your employer.  If you have a benefit plan, your employer will most likely offer coverage equal to two times your annual salary.  This is the average offered according to the Benefits Benchmarking 2012 study from the Conference Board of Canada with a minimum of one times.  Some employers also offer dependent (spouse, partner, dependent child) insurance where coverage is paid if you dependent dies.   Both of these, if offered, will be at no cost.

Optional life insurance, where the employee pays for the additional coverage for themselves, their spouse, partner or dependent children is also frequently offered.  The amount is typically a flat amount or could be a salary multiple as well.  If your free coverage isn’t enough, this optional coverage is normally much cheaper than if you bought insurance on your own.  It’s cheaper because it’s bought in bulk from an insurer so rates are averaged across all or a certain age group of your co-workers.  If you buy higher amounts, the insurer will ask you for some simple medical tests such blood pressure to determine if they will accept you for coverage.

Besides your employer, you can purchase life insurance directly from insurance companies or life insurance brokers representing multiple companies.

A few comments on some specialized Term Life Insurance products:

  • Mortgage Life Insurance can be purchased to cover your mortgage if you or your spouse or partner dies.  Not a great deal for most people.  First, the amount covered shrinks as your mortgage gets smaller so you end up with less coverage as time goes on and it’s limited to just this one expense.  Second, if you move, the policy is cancelled.   Better to get regular term life insurance to cover all your finances including your mortgage.
  • No Medical Exam Life Insurance.  You’ve probably seen or heard the commercials where you can apply and don’t need a medical.  There are reasons for people to get this type of insurance like having health problems, wanting coverage quickly or not liking medical tests but the tradeoff is higher premiums.  The reason is simple.  The life insurance company is willing to not get as much medical information about you but will charge you more to cover themselves for the unknowns.  Make sure to read the fine print and see if it’s worth it for you.  Take a look at this company’s site for some variations for this type of policy or the article Life insurance: On the edge from MoneySense for a dated but still good discussion on the topic.
  • Insurance for children. The article Does your child need life insurance? from the Globe and Mail discusses the pros and cons of this quite well.  I’m not a big fan.  The death of a child is a horrible thing for any parent but not a big financial burden to need insurance.  There are lots of other things to use your money for on your child’s behalf like RESPs before even considering insurance as a way to create wealth for them or as a “just in case” against future health issues.

Well, the second bite-size piece is done. Only a few more to go.  In the next postings, we’ll be talk about types other than vanilla and then on to when you should consider having insurance, how much, the different features, factors affecting its cost and contrast the pros and cons across the types.

If you want to do some further insurance reading before my next posting, here are a some links for you.

James Whelan

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