If you’re considering purchasing life insurance, that means you’re thinking of the steps you should take in order to protect the people you love in the event something happens to you.

But the death benefit that life insurance is known for isn’t the only way a policy can help you and your family. Depending on the type of life insurance you get, it can also provide benefits that you can use throughout your life — becoming an asset to help you reach almost any goal.

That makes life insurance a critical part of a financial plan. But when you start researching life insurance, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Here, we explore the basics, including what life insurance is, how it works and the different types of policies that exist.


Life insurance is a contract between you and an insurance company. Under the contract, you will owe regular payments (known as premium payments) in exchange for coverage and, with some policies, additional benefits. If you die while covered by a life insurance policy, the life insurance company will pay a lump sum of money (called the death benefit) to your beneficiary or beneficiaries — usually family members.

In addition to paying out the death benefit in the event of your death, if you have a certain type of policy you may also accumulate cash value on a tax-advantaged basis. You’ll be able to access this cash value at any time for any purpose while you’re alive, although it will reduce your death benefit to do so.


As long as you pay your premium every year (or monthly, if you choose) you’ll maintain your coverage. However, exactly how your life insurance works depends on the type of policy you have. Let’s look at the differences below.


Term life insurance is a policy that covers you for a preset period of time (the term). If you die during that time frame, then your beneficiaries will receive your death benefit. If your term ends and you choose not to renew your policy, there is no payout for your beneficiaries.

There are two types of term life insurance: Level term life insurance and annually renewable term life insurance.

Annually renewable term life insurance typically offers the most death benefit at the lowest initial cost. However, the amount you pay for annually renewable term life insurance will increase in the future and can eventually become quite expensive. Annually renewable term typically lasts until you reach a certain age, like 80. However, most people cancel their policy before they actually reach that age.

Level term life insurance refers to a life insurance policy that lasts for a certain number of years. It is called “level” because your premium payments remain the same over the entire length of the policy. That means you’ll initially pay higher premiums than you would with an annually renewable policy, but you’ll pay less in later years.

The exact length of the term will depend on the specifics of your policy. Five-, 10- and 20-year terms are all common.


Whereas term life insurance only covers you for a certain period of time, permanent life insurance covers you for life. So long as you pay your premium on time, your beneficiaries will receive the death benefit — no matter when you die.

Compared to term life, permanent life insurance is more expensive for the same amount of death benefit. That’s because the policy will pay a death benefit and accumulate cash value that you can use throughout your entire life. Some permanent life insurance policies also pay a dividend, which you can choose to receive (and spend) or reinvest into your policy to help it grow even more over time.

There are three main types of permanent life insurance: whole, variable and universal.

Whole life insurance offers a number of guarantees including the amount you pay for premiums and the death benefit. In addition, because cash value in a whole life insurance policy is guaranteed to grow and never decline in value, it can play a unique role in your financial plan as an additional source of funding during your working years. In retirement it can help you weather down markets and be more tax efficient.

Universal life insurance offers some additional flexibility when it comes to the amount of premium you pay each year and the policy’s death benefit.

Variable life insurance is generally a form of universal life in that the premiums and death benefit are flexible. The primary difference lies in the cash value. With a variable life policy, you have the option of placing your cash value into various sub-accounts, which can be tied to market performance. When the market performs well, your cash value can grow faster. But if the market performs poorly, your policy may even lose value.


The death benefit of life insurance is critical to your financial plan because it helps protect your family. But when you add permanent life insurance to your financial plan, you’re also getting additional benefits that can help you reach other financial goals throughout your life.

Now that you know a little more about how life insurance works, get connected with one of our financial advisors, who can show you how life insurance can work within your financial plan.

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