Editor’s Note: At the author’s request, this article was updated on Aug. 18, 2016.
From 1940 to 1970, it was very common for people to purchase whole life insurance. A policy could secure income for their family in case of an untimely death and also help supplement their retirement planning. Term insurance wasn’t very prevalent in those days.
Then, in 1981, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) became law, and many insurance companies and banks became interest sensitive. People started questioning why they would put their money in permanent life insurance products when they could put it in the market and get rates of return at upwards of 10 to 12 percent.
Many started putting the bulk of their money in the market and then purchasing term life insurance for protection. The shift led many life insurance agents to focus on selling term insurance instead of solving the actual lifelong life insurance need.
What’s the difference between whole life and term?
Benefits: Whole life policies have living benefits, and a cash account that grows tax deferred.* Clients don’t pay taxes on the gain each year, and that money can be used in retirement to supplement retirement income. If structured properly no taxes will be paid on the supplemental income from the life insurance policy. No such benefits are available with term insurance. Term insurance only has the term period coverage (yearly renewable term or level premium term of 5, 10, 15, 20, or 30 years), and does not have any cash value. The cost for the term policy is the cost of insurance for the death benefit based on the health of the insured.
If you plan on selling life insurance, make sure you can communicate its value.
Longevity: Term life policies are sometimes referred to as temporary life. There is a fixed period of time when the premium is level, but after that time, either the premium increases yearly to the point where it becomes unaffordable or the policy terminates. The premium can eventually get so high that people have to terminate it, so the product may not be around at the very time it is needed — death.
Whole life also has a level premium. This policy can be around for the whole of your life because as long as the policy premiums are paid it will never lapse. If people can afford the first-year premium, they typically can afford it in the future. It’s similar to a mortgage payment — the first is always the worst, but people get used to it eventually.
Dividends: A whole life product pays dividends, which are not guaranteed. These dividends are declared annually by the company’s board of directors and paid out annually to the policyholders. Dividends are declared when the insurance company’s investments do well, it’s mortality experience improves (less people dying), and its expenses are properly managed. Dividends can be used to reduce the premium or build up the cash inside the policy and grow the death benefit. Term life insurance has little or no dividends.
Today, if a prospect is young and starting her career at 25 years old, the need for life insurance is typically high but the cash flow is usually low. A lot of times in the financial industry, people are trained to sell term life insurance because the cost is lower. The problem is, even though many term life insurance policies can be automatically converted to whole life without an exam, people almost never do it because they weren’t properly educated in the benefits of whole life insurance.
For example, in a 20 year level term policy, when the client’s term policy expires, the client will have to buy another term policy at a much greater expense with no cash value to show for it. However, if the policy has a conversion feature it can convert the term to whole life with the same underwriting class as when the original term policy was purchased, even if the insured becomes uninsurable. This can occur because the insured is older and could have developed major health conditions.