Expert shares four ways it’s becoming more relevant
The percentage of Americans who have life insurance has hit a 50-year low, despite the fact that more Americans than ever have grave concerns about their ability to financially weather a crisis or to someday retire, according to recent surveys.
That tells consumer advocate Ted Bernstein that people are unaware of recent changes that make life insurance more affordable, more accessible and more relevant to today’s needs.
“The fact is, more of us need life insurance. Nearly half of all couples are in dual-income households; if something happens to one spouse or partner, the survivor is likely to have trouble paying the bills,” says Bernstein, founder of Life Insurance Concepts, Inc., and a leading proponent of innovations that benefit consumers.
“Add to that, 38 percent of Americans believe they won’t have enough money to retire,” he says, citing a 2012 Pew Research survey. “Life insurance provides that retirement income.”
Finally, he notes, large numbers of people who had corporate life insurance lost it when they were laid off during the recession.
“While some of those people are back to work, they’re at lower paying jobs with fewer benefits. Now, they believe they can’t afford a new policy or they fear they may be rejected if they try to get an individual policy,” Bernstein says. “Most of those people are wrong. In fact, unless a person has serious health issues, buying an individual policy—not part of an employer program— will cost less and offer more benefits.”
Bernstein details four ways life insurance is becoming more accessible and relevant:
1. Don’t assume you’ll be rejected or pay more because you’re overweight, use tobacco infrequently, or have been treated for substance abuse. Underwriters are trying to determine whether lifestyle or medical issues affect your mortality today, Bernstein says. So if you’re 30 pounds overweight with no related medical issues, you have a good shot at standard coverage. As for tobacco use, a blood test determines the amount of cotinine—a byproduct of nicotine metabolism—in your system. A certain level is acceptable to some carriers. For those with a past history of drug addiction and successful treatment, standard coverage is possible. The key is disclosure.
2. Getting older does not mean you automatically pay more. The old rule was to buy young and lock in lower premiums, then hang on to your policy for dear life. Today, healthy buyers will get more insurance for the same or less premium by refinancing their existing coverage. “It’s a refi—use the built-up equity, the cash value of your policy, to neutralize your older age. Thanks to better mortality rates, healthy buyers always get better coverage today than the policy they bought 10, 20 or 30 years ago,” Bernstein says.
3. You can save on premiums and provide guaranteed income for your beneficiary by choosing the payout in installments. Traditionally, life insurance claims are paid in one lump sum. The new Installment Life Option is an innovation to meet the needs of people without sufficient retirement savings, and for those concerned their loved ones may lose the principal through mismanagement or a stock market correction. “When the policy owner chooses a deferred payout at the time of purchase, the insurance companies can reduce premiums by as much as 50 percent because they will have more time to pay the claim,” Bernstein says. “Plus, your beneficiary doesn’t have to worry about managing a very large sum of money.”
4. Purchasing no load insurance equals better value across the board. In the past, life insurance buyers had no option but to buy a policy from companies with built-in commissions. These are non-negotiable and not disclosed to the buyer. While Bernstein strongly recommends buying through a knowledgeable agent, he urges buyers to inquire about “no load” policies priced without the built-in commissions. “You pay a fee to the agent that is typically lower than built-in commissions, and it’s transparent; making comparison much easier,” Bernstein says.