Perhaps it's the wrong way to think about insurance, but it's really nothing more than a form of licensed gambling. You find this insurance company prepared to take you on and then place a bet on how long you are going to live. The insurance companies studies the form guide and decides how long people like you tend to live. It sets the premium and the jackpot number. If you die within the first few years, your family are big winners. They hit the jackpot for just a few premium instalments. But if you live far longer than expected, the insurance company wins big because it has the use of all your money during your lifetime and only pays back the sum agreed. That's one of the interesting things about inflation. What looks a big number now may be peanuts in fifty years time. That's why buying a policy with a fixed benefit is such an interesting bet.
Now to a simple distinction: a term policy buys you a fixed cash sum if you die within the period agreed. If you live past the due date, you lose, i.e. no benefit is payable and there is no refund of your premium instalments. The contract terminates. A permanent policy pays a benefit but there is an accumulating cash value, i.e. there is a form of savings account built into the plan. This appreciates in value during the term of the policy so, if the insurance company makes good investment decisions, the amount payable on death can be significantly more than the amount you paid in. This reflects and offsets the problem of inflation. Agreements to pay a fixed dollar amount usually represent very poor value over the long term. The further benefit of the investment element is that you can recover the cash value of the policy before you die. This is done either by surrendering the policy to the insurance company or by selling the policy on the open market. Sale of the policy realises more than the surrender value. Alternatively, most insurance companies allow you to borrow money from the investment account. This is good over the short term but never forget that interest is payable on the loan. If you are not careful, the continuing deduction of interest over time can wipe out the remaining cash value in the account. It is always worth paying back the loan or cutting your losses and surrendering the policy if repayment is unaffordable.
Because it has additional value, permanent life insurance policies are more expensive to buy than term policies. But, once the contract is in place, the amount of the instalments is fixed so, as inflation devalues the dollar, it becomes an increasingly affordable proportion of your monthly paycheck. If you renew successive term policies, the premium rises with each new policy. Some argue that the key advantage of term policies is you get cheap coverage and can invest the money saved on the premiums. If you make good investment decisions, you can emerge a winner. So, if you are only thinking short-term, i.e. up to ten years, go for term. If you are thinking strategically over your lifetime, go for a permanent policy. When buying the first policy or looking to top up your cover, always get the maximum number of life insurance quotes to ensure you find the best deal.