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Learn About Life Insurance

According to the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), if someone depends on you financially, the likelihood is that you need life insurance. Life insurance provides cash to your family after you die. The money your beneficiary receives (the death benefit) can be an important financial resource. It can help cover daily living expenses, pay the mortgage and other outstanding loans, fund tuition, and ensure that your family is not burdened with debt.

Having a life insurance policy could mean your spouse, children or other beneficiary would not have to sell assets to pay bills or taxes. Another advantage is that beneficiaries will not have to pay federal income taxes on the money they receive. Everyone's life insurance needs are different. A life insurance agent or financial advisor can help you determine what level of protection is right for you and your family based on your financial responsibilities and sources of income.

There are two basic types of life insurance:

  • Permanent insurance provides lifelong protection as long as premiums are paid. It may build up cash value over time and the cash value grows tax deferred. With all permanent policies, the cash value is different from the face amount. Cash value is the amount available if you surrender (cancel) your policy before death. The face amount is the money that will be paid to your beneficiary if you die. Your beneficiary does not receive the cash value of your policy.
  • Term insurance provides protection for a defined period of time-- from one to 10, 20, or even 30 years-- and pays benefits only if you die during that period. Term insurance is often used to cover financial obligations that will disappear over time, such as tuition or mortgage payments. Premiums for term insurance either can be fixed for the length of the term or can increase at a point specified in the policy. They also can be less expensive than for a cash value policy.

Make sure that you fully understand any policy you are considering and that you are comfortable with the company, agent, and product. Most states require insurers to provide a buyer's guide to explain life insurance terms, benefits, and costs. Ask your agent for a copy of the company's guide.

You may wish to visit the Consumer Action web site's life and disability insurance web page for more information.

Some states offer state-sponsored life insurance. Check with your state insurance regulator to find out what life insurance plans are offered in your state.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also offers life insurance programs for veterans and servicemembers. Visit the VA's life insurance web site for more information.

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