“Do I need life insurance?” “Is whole life insurance a good investment?” “Is term life insurance risky?” Questions like these are posted in online communities on a daily basis. The answers vary widely, with the term life and whole life camps polarized. The tone of the debate is surprisingly strident. After all, the topic is insurance–not a something expected to inspire strong opinions, let alone strong language. But words like “rip-off,” “scam,” and “waste of money” fly back and forth, sometimes accompanied by rows of exclamation marks or worse. What is behind the brouhaha? And which camp -if either – is right?
The two sides do not even agree about whether a person needs life insurance. Whole lifers say, yes. You do not want the death of a family member to disrupt your family’s finances or jeopardize its future. It is hard enough to adjust to the loss of a loved one. Adding financial difficulties exacerbates the problem. With the skyrocketing costs of funerals, even children and seniors should have at least a small life insurance policy.
Not so fast, say the term lifers. The only reason to have life insurance is to replace the lost income of a family member who dies, and then only when the spouse or family is dependent on that income. If you are single with no dependents and no debts that might be transferred to your family in the event you die, then you do not need life insurance. If you are married and your spouse works, you probably do not need life insurance, either, assuming your spouse makes enough to support himself or herself.
The time for life insurance, term lifers say, is when the policyholder’s income is vital to the financial security of the family. If, for example, you have purchased a home together and your spouse could not pay the mortgage and other bills by himself or herself, then life insurance is in order. If you have children, you will want to have enough life insurance to allow your family to maintain its lifestyle after you are gone. This includes not only meeting day-to-day expenses, but also being able to follow through with plans for higher education. Insurance professionals recommend buying a policy with a face value 5-10 times the breadwinner’s annual salary to help family meet expenses for a period of years.
Whole lifers see problems with the term-life scenario. The view it as overly optimistic, even naive. Many things can happen during the 20- to 30-year period covered by term life insurance policy that could extend the need for coverage beyond the policy’s end date. For example, children may be born mentally retarded, with severe autism, or with another serious condition that could prevent them from becoming independent when they reach adulthood. Children also can develop a disease or suffer an accident that disables them. A spouse, too, can become disabled. In these situations, the family will remain dependent on the breadwinner’s income long after the term life policy expires.
Term life insurance advocates point out that in such cases, the breadwinner can renew the term life insurance policy, or take out a new one. Now it’s the whole lifers’ turn to say, “Not so fast.” By the time the second term life insurance policy is needed, the breadwinner will likely be in his or her fifties or even sixties. Due to the age of the insured, the cost of a second term life insurance policy will be much higher than the cost of the first was.