About 20 years ago, Steven and Joanne Carfrae, then-owners of a meat-packing plant here, took out a “universal life” insurance policy, naming local charities to receive the future $2 million in proceeds.

To their dismay, the couple recently faced a stark choice: put up tens of thousands of dollars to keep the policy alive at its existing face value or reduce the death benefit sharply. They went the latter route and now have a $658,000 policy—meaning their favorite causes will receive $1.3 million less than planned.

Millions of Americans, who fueled a boom in such policies in the 1980s and 1990s, are in similar situations.

The culprit is years of low interest rates, though the cumulative effect is just now being felt for many policyholders and the charities, schools and other nonprofits that many buyers designated to receive the proceeds. The charitable focus of many buyers means the impact is being felt across entire communities, like here in Cedar Rapids, and not just within individual households.

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