This whole insurance thing really does take a while to wrap your head around. The words “whole life insurance” and “term insurance” don’t really mean or explain very much to the average person. The typical Singaporean is also trained from a young age to run away from people who want to have such conversations with you, as if they were infected zombies. Still, at some point in your adulting, you come to the dreadful realisation that insurance is not avoidable for ever and that there is value to getting at least some life insurance policy.
Whole life insurance versus term insurance, and which is right for you will be one of the first few debates you have to deal with. We’re here to arm you with some basic knowledge before you face an insurance agent, so you know what you’re getting into.
While most people may feel that getting an insurance plan is necessary, some do not understand the real purpose of getting whole life or term insurance.
An insurance policy provides protection for financial losses suffered from an insurable event. For instance, a delayed flight during travel, a car accident or for life insurance, in the event of death. These are insurable events. To put it even more simply, the payout from a life insurance policy is designed to give your dependents enough money to live on when you are gone.
- Whole life vs term insurance
- Endowment policy and investment-linked policy
- Premium comparison – Whole life and Term
- Who should buy Whole life insurance?
- How does Limited Pay work?
- What is Surrender Value?
What’s the difference between whole life and term insurance?
Both term and life insurance provide protection in the event of total permanent disability (TPD) and death. There are 2 main differences though:
- The coverage period – How long this policy will protect you
- The cash value – How much money you get back if nothing happens to you
Term insurance provides you with protection only for a fixed period of time, say 20 or 30 years, after which the plan expires. If nothing happens to you and you don’t make a claim, you get nothing but a letter that thanks you for giving you money for the last 30 years. This type of coverage does make sense if you plan to provide for your dependants for a limited time, say until your youngest child finishes tertiary education.
On the other hand, whole life insurance covers you till the end of your life, as long as you continue to pay the premiums. Also, with whole life insurance, even if you terminate and surrender the policy, you can get back some of the monetary value, but not all.
A comparison of Term and Life insurance
|Term Insurance||Whole life endowment||Whole Life ILP|
|Main Objective||Protection||Protection + potential to grow savings||Protection + potential to reap investment returns|
|Coverage||Most plans cover death and total, permanent disability (TPD)|
|Coverage Period||A specific term period or up to a specific age||Usually up to end of life||Usually up to end of life|
|What is paid upon death of insured?||Sum assured||Sum assured + accumulated bonuses, if any.||Sum assured + value of units in fund|
|What is paid if policy is surrendered early?||Nothing, since there is no cash value||Cash value comprising guaranteed and non-guaranteed bonuses, if any.||Value of units in investment sub-fund|
Components of Whole Life insurance – Endowment Policy and Investment-linked Policy
Ok so, it gets slightly more complicated here as whole life insurance comes with different features.
In Singapore, whole life insurance usually includes a savings or investment component, named endowment and investment-linked policy (ILP) respectively. Due to these features, some people see their whole life policies as an investment/savings plan instead of just being a plain old protection plan. These added features make whole life insurance more expensive than term insurance. Quite a bit more expensive but we’ll show you that in abit.
Endowment policies are often seen as a way to help you build up financial discipline since the savings component is built into the monthly insurance premiums. For instance, if you pay a monthly insurance premium of $250 for your endowment policy:
- $100 might go into the insurance protection component and
- $150 will go into the savings component.
After a fixed period of say 20 years, you will be able to get back some of the cash value accumulated, depending on the guaranteed and non-guaranteed benefit of your policy.
Investment Linked Policies (ILP)
For an ILP, the savings component will be replaced with an investment component where part of the premiums go into buying units in investment funds. Unlike endowment insurance policies, ILPs usually do not come with guaranteed values. The value of the ILP depends on the performance of the fund you’ve bought into. So yeah, you could get zilch if things don’t go well and this represents a potential opportunity cost as you could have made that money work somewhere else for you.
Some consumers like ILPs because they like the idea that they can invest and have financial protection through a single financial product. There is also have a range of funds to choose from that suits different investment objectives and risk appetite.
Whether you choose to buy a term insurance, endowment plan or ILP, the main thing is to decide if your choice fulfils your financial objective and takes into consideration the long-term costs involved.
Comparing premiums for Whole Life and Term Insurance
While life insurance used to be the “go-to” insurance for most people, with increased financial literacy, more people are open to getting a term insurance instead. One of the greatest advantages of choosing a term insurance instead of a life plan is the substantial savings you get from lower premiums. So if you know you need insurance protection but are in a phase of life where you can’t afford setting aside very much every month, this becomes the best choice for now.
Here, we used Comparefirst.sg for a simulation of how much insurance premium a person will pay for life and term insurance based on the following criteria: 35-year-old man, non-smoker with sum assured of $500,000. Let’s call him Mr Siva.
|Policy||Policy features||Premium Term||Annual Premium||Total Premiums Paid|
|FWD Insurance Term life||Term insurance – Includes optional TPD coverage||30 years||$510||$15,300|
|Great Eastern Max Term Value||Term insurance – The plan includes cover for death, terminal illness and TPD during the coverage period. Offers maximum coverage till 85 years old.||30 years||$840||$25,200|
|NTUC Limited Pay Protection||Whole life coverage with 29 years premium payment. Covers death and TPD before 70 years old.||29 years||$10,038||$291,103|
|AXA Life MultiProtect||Whole Life coverage for 64 years with 30 years premium payment. Covers death, terminal illness and TPD before 80 years old.||30 years||$13,440||$403,200|
As you can see, the difference in the amount of premiums paid between term and whole life insurance is huge. This is why some financial advisors even advocate “buy term and invest the rest”. In other words, buy a term policy for the necessary protection, and then use the money you didn’t use to invest. This is a strategy that has the potential to grow your money if you make the right investment decisions.
On the other hand, some consumers like to get a whole life policy because it offers some cash value should you decide to surrender the policy. Based on the guaranteed surrender value (after 30 years) for the above whole life policies, one can expect to receive $246,000 and $307,000 for the NTUC and AXA plan respectively. Using these values, it means that the total premiums paid for your whole life policy will be reduced substantially this brings it more on-par to term plans in terms of cost.
One important consideration when choosing to take up a term plan is that the coverage term may expire at a time where you’ll continue to need protection (or need it most). For the above case, the term plan will expire when Mr Siva is 65 years old. Depending on his situation, Mr Siva may want to continue getting life insurance coverage for another 20 years. However, depending on his health at 65, some companies may consider him “uninsurable”. Even if he does qualify for a new insurance plan, premiums are going to be very expensive at that age, and he may not be able to afford them during his retirement years.
Who should buy Whole Life insurance?
While it may seem that the “buy term and invest the rest” mantra makes total economic sense, there are instances where buying whole life insurance can be a better choice.
Whether you need life insurance really depends on your stage in life. If you are a young 20-something with no dependents and limited obligations, you’ll likely not need a whole life insurance policy. But say you are 40-year old, and the sole breadwinner in a family with two young children and elderly parents. In such a case, whole life insurance can help to provide financial protection for your loved ones while simultaneously helping you build up some retirement funds for your golden years.
The other situation where whole life insurance can make sense is for your young child. You might think, “why would my 2-year old need whole life insurance?”
For one, it guarantees insurability and no-exclusions since most young children have a clean bill of health. Many parents also take up a whole life policy with endowment plan in order to start saving for their child’s future education. Also, your child is likely to enjoy lower premiums when getting insured from a younger age.
If you’re getting a whole life policy for a child, choosing a limited pay option can be a good idea. Your child can get a life-long coverage with premium payments for as short as 12 years. It can thus be a meaningful gift for a young child instead of saving money in a bank deposit account that cannot beat inflation.
How does Limited Pay work?
Getting a life insurance with limited pay period means you only need to pay premiums for a limited number of years in exchange for a lifetime’s coverage.
Say for instance, Andy (male, non-smoker), age 35, decides to make premium payments of S$250 per month for only 15 years for his whole of life plan up till age 50. For the next 15 years, Andy pays about S$45,000 for a sum assured of S$100,000. The insurance coverage will continue for rest of his life even after he ends his premium payment at age 50. Depending on his insurer and plan, he will likely also be entitled to some accumulated cash value if he surrenders his policy when he reaches 65 years old.
What is Surrender Value?
When you buy a life insurance, you have a surrender right – the opportunity to terminate your life insurance contract in exchange for its cash value. This is of course done when there are no claims made.
When you choose to surrender your policy, you will give up the remaining coverage while your insurer presents you with a cash surrender value, which is how much money you will receive in return.
Do note that the surrender value of your policy will be lower than the death benefit payout. This means that you will receive less money by surrendering your policy as compared to having the death benefit when you pass on. Thus, it is often not advisable to surrender your policy. Not only will you lose out in terms of monetary value, but taking up a new insurance policy at a later age will probably incur a higher premium payment.
Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong in choosing whether to get a term plan or whole life insurance – it all depends on what you need and how much you can afford. Whole life insurance costs more, but it can be a convenient option for those who want both financial protection as well as a savings/investment component. A term life insurance plan, on the other hand, offers a great cost-effective option for those who want pure protection.
What are your thoughts on buying life insurance? We want to hear from you.
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