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Types Of Life Insurance Explained

Reviewed By: Rob Pinner

Rob PinnerRob Pinner is the founder and CEO of Pinner Financial Services servicing all 50 states. Rob started his insurance career in 2002. Full Bio >

Checked By: Holly Mitchell

Holly Mitchell’s background in life insurance insurance goes back to 1985 when she worked for her father who was a New York Life agent. Holly has a marketing degree from Auburn University and has had a life insurance license since 2008. In addition to advising life insurance for customers all around the country, Holly is our website fact checker.
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Last Updated: August 5th, 2023

The proceeds from life insurance – which are received by the beneficiary free of income tax – can be used for a wide variety of needs.

These can include the payoff of debt, the continuation of living expenses, and/or for paying the funeral and other final expenses of the decedent.

While there used to be just a limited number of policy options that were available, today, there are many different types of life insurance that can be purchased.

Yet, even though the variety of alternatives can help an individual to better customize the coverage for their needs, it can also be somewhat confusing when shopping for the best policy.

Therefore, having a good understanding of the different types of life insurance that are in the marketplace today can be helpful.

The Different Types of Life Insurance

Today, there are numerous types of life insurance to choose from:

But, when looking at the array of available options, there are just two key categories of life insurance coverage. These include term and permanent.

With term life insurance, the policyholder is covered by death benefit protection only.

Other components, like cash value or investments, are not affiliated with term life insurance – and because of this, these types of life insurance policies are often very affordable.

Term life insurance is typically purchased for a specific number of years that the policy will last. There are also 1-year renewable term life insurance policies that are available via many life insurance companies.

Typically, the amount of the coverage will be locked in – as is the premium amount – for the duration of the term insurance policy. It cannot be changed unless the insured chooses to modify it, or misses his/her payments and the policy lapses.

Permanent life insurance will offer both a death benefit and a cash value component. The death benefit amount will often be locked in, as well as the amount of the premium.

The cash value will be a common interest rate, plus, in some cases, dividends. Everything will accumulate just like a 401(k), where the taxes are deferred.

The policyholder is allowed to either withdraw or borrow from the cash value account. These funds can be used for paying off debt, or another other need that the individual sees fit to use it for.

While is it not required that these funds are paid back, it’s important to note any un-repaid balance in this account will count against the amount of the death benefit that is paid out to the named beneficiary at the time of the insured’s death.

When analyzing either term or permanent life insurance coverage, there can be many different policy options to choose from. Because of this, it can allow the type and the amount of protection to better match an insured’s specific needs.

For example, the graded death benefit is for those considered high risk and unable to obtain a traditional life policy.

Types of Term Life Insurance Coverage

Term life insurance is the simplest type to understand since it’s the most basic. It’s a direct exchange of a premium payment for the protection of a stated death benefit amount.

These can include the following.

Level Term Life Insurance

With a level term life insurance policy, the amount of the death benefit will remain the same over the entire lifetime of the policy.

The amount of the premium that is paid in will also typically be locked in.

Inside of term life insurance, you can have a private plan or a group life insurance policy offered through your workplace.

Renewable Term Life Insurance

A renewable term life insurance policy can be renewed by the policyholder after each “term,” or time period has gone by.

This can be accomplished without the need to fill out a brand new application for coverage.

It is also not required for the insured to undergo a new medical examination.

The premium amount, however, will usually go up at each renewal period. This is due in large part to the older age of the insured.

Convertible Term Life Insurance

Convertible term life insurance will allow the policyholder to “convert” the term policy over into a permanent form of life insurance protection.

Here, too, there is usually no need for the insured to prove evidence of insurability, or to go through a medical examination – provided that the premiums have continued to be paid and that the conditions of the policy have been met.

Decreasing Term Life Insurance

A decreasing term life insurance policy is a type of term life insurance coverage where the amount of the death benefit will decrease over time – until it eventually reaches zero. (The premium amount, will usually remain the same).

These policies can be used with those who are covering the payoff of a home mortgage, where the balance that is due decreases over time.

Increasing Term Life Insurance

As its name implies, an increasing term life insurance policy is one in which the amount of the death benefit will increase over time.

However, the amount of the premium will oftentimes remain the same, though.

Reentry Term Life Insurance

In most cases, an insurance company will usually charge a low amount of premium for term life insurance – especially during the first several years that the policy is in force.

Life insurers will often charge the policyholder somewhat low premiums at the beginning.

On average, insurers will be in above-average health at least the first several years after life insurance policies have been issued.

But, over time, healthy policyholders decide to abandon their plan while unhealthier clients keep their protection.

This creates an unbalance, and the insurance carrier has to keep making money, and they will have to raise the price of their plans.

If you’re in this situation, you can always apply for a different plan.

If you are concerned about your age and want to know if you qualify for life insurance for seniors, we can answer your questions and help you get the coverage you deserve.

With these plans, as long as the health stays the same, the premiums will remain relatively stable as well.

On the other hand, if the health starts declining, the premiums will go up as well. Just about every company has maximum limits on how high the premiums can go.

Final Expense/Burial Life Insurance

Final expense insurance is going to do exactly what it sounds like. Pay for the basic expenses of burial.

Often called “funeral insurance” or “burial insurance,” final expense can offer up to $50,000 in life insurance.

These policies are frequently purchased by those who are age 50 and over.

Learn More About Term Life Insurance:

Types of Permanent Life Insurance Coverage

As with term life insurance, there are also many different types of permanent life insurance coverage.

This can also help with better fitting insurance protection with the specific needs of the insured.

Whole Life Insurance

Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance that is intended to stay in force throughout the “whole” life of the insured, or until the policy pays out. It is the simplest form of permanent life insurance.

This type of policy has a death benefit that will usually remain the same over time. It also has a cash value component that will grow by a set percentage over time. The interest rate is set by the insurance carrier.

In some cases, whole life insurance policies may also offer a non-guaranteed cash value element that is made up of policy dividends or excess interest. The combination of the general cash value portion with the non-guaranteed cash value build-up can enhance the value of the policy over time.

Universal Life Insurance

A sort of “in-between” policy is called universal – aptly named since it can be used for a very wide range of scenarios.

In a nutshell, it’s a level premium but can last much longer than term.

While it does have cash components like whole life, it builds up slowly over time, only to pay the difference in premiums in later years; in other words, the cash will deplete itself to keep your premiums the same.

Variable Life Insurance

Variable life insurance is a form of a permanent life insurance policy. These policies offer a component with permanent death benefit proceeds to the insured’s beneficiary upon death.

With variable life insurance, the death benefit may increase or decrease – however, it will not go below the guaranteed minimum amount – which is typically the original amount of death benefit that is purchased.

However, in addition to this permanent protection, variable life policies also feature an investment component.

In fact, these policies are referred to as “variable” because when premiums are paid into the plan, the portion that is allocated to the investment account will be subject to the fluctuations of the market.

Variable Universal Life Insurance

Variable universal life insurance is similar to traditional universal life, except that the policyholder is allowed to invest the cash portion of their policy into different types of investments such as mutual funds.

There is no guaranteed minimum cash value in a variable universal life insurance policy.

Indexed Universal Life Insurance

With indexed universal life insurance, the growth of the cash value component is based on an underlying index, such as the S&P 500 or the DJIA.

In this case, however, while the principal can increase during up periods of the index if the index suffers a loss in any given year, the cash value component will just simply be credited with a 0%.

Therefore, the funds that are in the account will be protected and not subject to market loss.

Joint and Survivor Coverage (Last to Die)

Joint and survivor life insurance policies also cover two lives. In many cases, these policies are used to ensure two spouses.

With a joint and survivor policy, benefits are not paid until the survivor – or the second person to die, passes away. These policies are oftentimes referred to as “last to die” coverage. A joint and survivor policy can be either term or permanent coverage.

Often, this type of policy works well for couples who possess sizeable assets, allowing them to ensure that the largest part of the estate is left to heirs by helping to pay for estate taxes or pay off business-related debt.

Which Type of Life Insurance Is Best For You?

Still, have questions about a specific scenario or product type? Not sure which one is the best?

Contact us today and one of our representatives will be happy to walk you through all the different products to find the perfect match for you and your loved ones.

Doug Mitchell, CLU

Doug Mitchell, CLU

Doug Mitchell, CLU holds a BA degree in Finance from Auburn University as well as having obtained a Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) designation from The American College in Bryn Mahr, PA. Doug has spent close to 30 years in the life insurance and financial planning industry and has held licenses to sell securities, long-term care insurance, health. Some other notable items about Doug: Top of the Table Million Dollar Round Table member (MDRT). (MDRT is a global, independent association of the world’s leading life insurance advisors) | Premier Partner with Lincoln Financial and Cabinet Member | Served two years as President of the Auburn/Opelika Association of Financial Advisors | Life Millionaire status at Horace Mann Insurance Company and was awarded the Life Agent of the Year Award | New York Life, Executive Council Member | Currently serves as President of Ogletree Financial, a life insurance General Agency. | Doug is also a financial blogger addressing the topics of life insurance, annuities and retirement income planning.

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