2008 Insurance Guide
a brown sign reading "life" in grass with a blue sky background
insurance
Just the facts on life insurance

With universal life, the insurance company separates the investment and death benefit portions, socking your investment dollars into its choice of bonds, mortgages and money market funds. Then your investment fund pays for the cost of the set death benefit. And, according to LIFE, no matter how badly the investments pan out, the insurance company guarantees you a minimum return.

You, as the policyholder, can change the premiums and death benefits to suit your current budget, so this appeals to younger crowds.

Finally, if you buy variable life, the death benefit payoff depends on your success in picking investment opportunities with the money (although the insurance company does cough up a guaranteed minimum death benefit at your death if you screw up too badly). These policies must be registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

According to Wentz, most Americans need a combination of these products to adequately protect their assets.

Where?
Approximately 90 percent of life insurance is sold at the kitchen table; a growing 7 percent to 10 percent is sold over the Internet, according to AccuQuote's statistics. In either case, caution should prevail.

"This is not something you want to screw up and leave someone in the lurch," Evans says.

First, do you buy through an independent agent or company representative? Independents contend that company representatives find motivation in the month's sales contest to win a Caribbean cruise.

Calling the company directly also may add to your responsibilities, notes Cheryl Gentry, vice president of individual marketing support at American United Life Insurance Company in Indianapolis.

"You usually get a reduced cost in that product because you're asked to orchestrate the medical exam, follow up with filings and handle your own account," she says. AUL works through agents.

Agents, whether company-specific or lone rangers, should provide customer service that walks you through annual statements, untangles premium payment issues and interprets fine print. Good agents can find companies that do things like interpret high blood pressure or cholesterol history in laxer terms, or use unisex weight tables, which are kinder to heavier women.

Commodity-minded citizens -- usually the same crowd that prefers online discount stock brokerages -- tend to like the Internet's no-nonsense quoting capability.

If you take this route, be careful. If you buy the wrong plan or choose the wrong company, you probably won't realize the mistake for 20 years.

"In the end, consumers should buy their insurance from whomever gives the best advice," says Byron Udell, founder and CEO of AccuQuote.

When?
If you buy a term policy, there's no penalty to committing today. Just as homeowners refinance mortgages at lower interest rates, life insurance policyholders can cancel a policy at any time to replace it with a less expensive equivalent -- providing their health remains stable, of course.

Why?
Life insurance provides instant liquidity to meet the obligations that become due upon your death. It's a pool of money to complete what you can't finish. It's also not taxable income, Evans notes.

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