There are two primary sorts of life insurance, term and permanent. Term life insurance is the most popular variety. It involves a fixed term – usually a maximum of about 30 years – during which the insured pays regular instalments. Instalments can be quarterly or annual, and in some cases more frequent. Annual instalments tend to be cheaper, and so should be considered if they are manageable.
Term life insurance covers the insured for the term or duration of the policy, with a death benefit paid to the beneficiary in the event of death. If the term is up then the term life insurance policy usually needs to be renewed or extended under new or updated conditions.
Permanent life insurance is available in a whole life format, which involves payment of a premium and instalments at a fixed rate over the entire life of the insured. There is no fixed term that lapses – just coverage until death with the death benefit paid to the beneficiary.
One potential disadvantage of term life insurance is that the policy costs often increase dramatically at the end of the term. If the insured is still alive at the end of the term, then extending the policy can be expensive. Permanent life insurance, on the other hand, tends to be more expensive.
Australian life insurance can be purchased direct from large insurers, most of which are owned by large banks, or can be included as part of the coverage provided by some superannuation funds. Life insurance coverage provided by superannuation funds is generally cheaper since it is established for large numbers of employees at a time. However, superannuation insurance is usually more limited in terms of potential payouts and can be costly if the policy lapses with a change in employer.
Factors to take into account when determining how much and what kind of life insurance is best include the age of the insured, the number of their dependents, the size of any estate and assets endowed to the dependents, and the general and overall health status of the insured. Insurers perform a process called underwriting, in which they assess the risks associated with a policy for a specific individual based on that person’s health, how many dependents they have, and many other details. Determining the right amount of coverage is important. Working with an insurer or financial advisor to determine the right amount of coverage is essential.
As with all products, the buyer should avoid purchasing what they cannot ultimately afford. With a policy that is too expensive, there is the risk that the insured will not be able to continue with life insurance cover, losing both their initial investment and their cover.
If already insured, buying the additional or new policy usually does not result in any net benefit to the insured. Policies are usually structured so that advantages accrue with time, and so starting over with a new policy or ‘churning’ as it is called, is usually not recommended.
Life insurance products should not be purchased without the buyer knowing as much as possible about the product. Research and asking questions of the insurer are essential. If the insurer or financial advisor does not provide adequate answers, it may well be an indication that they should be avoided.