Understanding Life Insurance Premiums

Understanding Life Insurance Premiums

Once you’ve decided to buy permanent insurance, the next step is to determine what kind of policy you want to purchase and what premium you can afford to pay. Unlike term life insurance, which has a set premium dollar amount based on the extent of and the duration of the coverage, the premium for a permanent policy depends on how the coverage is designed and what assumptions are used to prepare the hypothetical illustration.

Premiums also differ depending on the kind of permanent coverage. For example, whole life insurance has less flexibility than universal life insurance. Additionally, the premium can change over the time period that you own the coverage. 

Key Takeaways

  • If you want to buy permanent life insurance, you should figure out how much of a premium you can afford to pay.
  • The premium for a permanent policy depends on the type of life insurance.
  • A hypothetical illustration helps show what kind of premiums will be included: planned, or target, premium, no-lapse guarantee premium, or modified endowment premium.
  • Universal life insurance provides the most flexibility of permanent life insurance premiums.
  • Term life usually provides the least expensive premium but it is not a permanent policy.

How the Premium for Permanent Insurance Is Calculated

The premium for a life insurance policy is calculated using illustration software provided by the insurance company. The premium amount is determined by several variables, including your age, sex, health rating, the assumed rate of return, payment mode, additional riders, and whether the death benefit is level or increasing. How long the policy is designed to last and the assumed non-guaranteed rate of return can significantly affect the premium. 

When you receive a hypothetical illustration, all of the following premiums will be included, along with some explanations. You will have to read through the illustration to locate them (since the ledgers in the illustration will be based on the planned premium).

Planned, or Target Premium

The Planned (or Target) premium is the amount modeled by the software. It is based on the variables the insurance broker enters into the program, including an assumed rate of return. The assumed rate of return is important since a higher non-guaranteed return results in a lower premium (and vice versa).

Some policies are calculated to last to expected mortality or age 90, while others may be modeled to last until age 121.

No-Lapse Guarantee Premium

The No-Lapse Guarantee premium is the amount that must be paid to ensure that the policy will stay in force for a set number of years, regardless of actual policy performance. During the no-lapse period, the insurer guarantees the coverage will continue, even if the cash value drops to zero. However, once the guarantee period ends, the policy could lapse unless a significantly higher premium is paid. The no-lapse period can be as few as five years or up to age 121. In exchange for the guarantee, contracts with longer guarantee periods tend to build significantly less cash value than does the same contract using the target or another non-guaranteed premium.

The Guideline Premium and the Cash Value Accumulation tests were devised to provide an IRS-approved way to determine the tax treatment of a life insurance policy. The guideline premium test requires a policy to have at least a minimum amount of at-risk death benefit (insurance that exceeds the cash value).

The corridor amount is greater when the policyholder is young; it decreases as a percentage of the total death benefit as an individual age, until it eventually drops to zero by age 95. If the premium exceeds these guidelines, then the policy could be taxed as an investment rather than as insurance.

Modified Endowment Premium

The Modified Endowment premium is the amount that makes an insurance policy a Modified Endowment Contract (MEC). Under the Technical and Miscellaneous Revenue Act of 1988, distributions from a policy determined to be a MEC, such as loans or cash surrenders, are potentially taxable and could be subject to an IRS 10% penalty tax. However, the death benefit remains income-tax-free. A policy can become a MEC when the combined premiums paid during the first seven years that the policy is in force exceed the seven pay test premium. The illustration software automatically calculates the seven pay premium amounts.

The IRS has established these measures to help curb abuses that occur when insurers sell policies with a nominal amount of insurance designed to build a large amount of tax-free cash value. The seven pay amount varies by age and the type of policy.

The minimum premium is the amount that must be paid to put the policy in force. This amount is usually insufficient to keep the coverage in force for life (unless the insured person is very young). This premium may be used, for example, when a 1035 exchange from another policy is pending or if the policy is owned in a trust when issued, gifts will be made to provide additional funding.

Which Premium Amount Should You Pay?

The amount of premium you should pay depends on how you design the coverage.

Whole life policies build a large cash value and have a higher set premium. The current assumption universal life policies have flexible premiums and assume fixed interest rates of return. Variable universal life policies, in contrast, offer the greatest risk-reward potential, allowing the cash value to be invested in mutual fund sub-accounts. 

To build the most cash value in a policy, you want to pay the maximum allowed premium and select a level death benefit that helps minimize the amount of insurance you are buying. If you want to leverage (death benefit), universal and variable policies illustrated with a high rate of return, increasing death benefit, and low premium provides the highest payout at death. A policy with a level death benefit, for example, $500,000, includes your cash value as part of the death benefit. A policy with increasing death benefits would pay $500,000, plus any cash value. 

What Is an Insurance Premium?

An insurance premium is what you pay monthly for your policy, some have higher premiums than others, and some policies, like universal life, have flexible premiums.

How Is Life Insurance Premium Determined?

Your insurance company will set your premium based on your age, health, the type of policy purchased, your death benefit amount, and if you have any riders.

How Do Premiums Work?

Life insurance premiums pay for your life insurance policy on a monthly basis. Premiums keep your policy active, and if you skip payments, your insurance company may cancel your policy. Some permanent policies have high premiums, which are used to pay for the policy and are invested in a cash-value account.

The Bottom Line

When designing permanent life insurance coverage, the right premium really comes down to why you are buying the coverage. Is it for protection, cash value accumulation, or both?  Whole life and no-lapse universal policies offer guaranteed death benefits. However, the policies will have a higher premium offering less leverage.

This content was originally published here.

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