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Many people may think of life insurance—in its simplest form—as a means of securing funds to cover financial obligations, such as a mortgage, or to replace income in the event of the death of a family breadwinner. It’s no wonder that the death benefit under a life insurance policy is often its most important and most well-understood feature.
However, not all policies are the same. With a permanent life insurance policy, there is typically a component that allows cash to accumulate, and it may be used to help supplement a number of financial objectives, such as a retirement plan or a child’s education. Because permanent life insurance may be used to supplement a savings program, it has a "living value" in addition to the traditional death benefit feature. Let’s take a closer look.
The cash value in this type of life insurance policy accumulates on a tax-deferred basis in the same way that money does in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Because of this tax-deferred accumulation, there may be some income taxes due upon withdrawal. However, you are generally only taxed on amounts that exceed the total amount of premium payments you’ve made over the course of the policy’s existence.
One of the key benefits of permanent life insurance is that you can access the accumulated cash values through policy loans without the worry of taxes or penalties. Generally, the loan interest rate is stated in the policy and is comparable to traditional lending rates. Bear in mind that access to cash values through borrowing or partial surrenders can reduce the policy’s cash value and death benefit, can increase the chance that the policy will lapse, and may result in a tax liability if the policy terminates before the death of the insured. Another interesting aspect of a permanent life insurance policy is that, unlike a traditional IRA or another qualified plan, you may make premium payments after age 70½, and there are no rules that stipulate you must begin mandatory withdrawals of cash values by age 70½. This feature may provide you with an opportunity to continue making premium payments and receiving the benefits of tax-deferred accumulation of cash values.
With a life insurance policy, there are few rules that limit the size of premium payments. Simply stated, the higher the death benefit, the higher the premium. Some forms of permanent life insurance allow you to make premium payments in addition to what was stipulated under the terms of the policy. Often, paying additional premiums may increase the cash value.
Care should be taken to avoid "overfunding" a life insurance policy, because that may lead to some adverse tax consequences. Generally speaking, however, policies are issued so they avoid this possibility altogether.
Life insurance serves many purposes. Through its death benefit, life insurance aims to help protect and secure your family’s future in the event you suffer an untimely death. At the same time, life insurance with a cash value component may provide you with the opportunity to use the benefits of your policy during your lifetime. In this respect, life insurance can be a ready source of cash to help supplement an array of financial needs. A review of your current coverage may help show you how cash value life insurance can fit into your overall financial plans.
*Guaranteed interest rates are based on the claims-paying ability of the underlying insurance company. Surrender penalties may apply. Additional benefits and riders may increase the cost of the premium or reduce the interest rate earned. Applicants are subject to underwriting, which may include medical history and current health.*