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Permanent Life Insurance: Worth a Second Look?

| November 16, 2016
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Life insurance, first and foremost, helps loved ones cope with the adverse financial effects of someone dying too soon. Many of us likely have some type of life insurance in place, and I would venture to say most have “term” life insurance: a policy that lasts for a fixed length of time, and then expires.   But there’s a second type of life insurance available (known generically as “permanent” life insurance) that’s usually designed to last a lifetime, comes in many forms with varying features & benefits, and has the potential to meet more financial planning needs than just providing a death benefit.

Here are some not-so-well-known benefits:

Taxes – Death benefits paid to beneficiaries on all life insurance policies are generally not taxable income to them. In addition, permanent life insurance has a “cash value” component to it – like a savings account, which over time, usually grows tax-deferred. Why does that matter? Because the policy owner is able to access that cash value during his/her lifetime on a tax-advantaged basis, through withdrawals or policy loans.

Generally, cash value withdrawals are tax-free, up to the amount of premium paid into the policy, known as the “cost basis.” Loans made from policy cash value (beyond cost basis) to the policy owner are usually not taxed either. This assumes the policy remains in force until the insured’s death. Properly structured, these cash values can be accessed to provide a consistent stream of retirement cash flow – on a tax-advantaged basis.

However: tax results depend on each situation. For example, withdrawals over “cost basis” are taxable, so it’s important to work with a qualified professional to structure these cash flows to avoid any adverse tax consequences.

Inflation – For over 100 years, the average inflation rate in the U.S. was just over 3%. Some types of permanent life insurance offer non-guaranteed interest rates of 4 – 5% (or higher) on the cash value. Over time, the interest credited to these cash values could outpace inflation. Combined with tax benefits on that growth, a permanent life insurance policy can be an attractive supplemental retirement investment.

Mistakes – When financial mistakes in life happen, it may be good to know that the cash value inside a permanent life insurance policy can be accessed for any reason (not like hardship withdrawals from an IRA) – and likely on a tax-advantaged basis.

Emergencies – Similarly, if injury, disability or chronic illness happens over a person’s lifetime, the cash value inside a permanent life insurance policy is there to help. Furthermore, these days, many policies offer riders that provide additional benefits should a disability event or long-term care need occur. These riders may waive the policy premium, or advance a portion of the death benefit to cover expenses associated with a long-term care event – another great risk to manage against in retirement.

While permanent life insurance isn’t for everyone, for those that have more complex financial planning needs than just providing for loved ones, it certainly deserves a second look. A qualified financial planning professional should be able to help evaluate how the benefits of permanent life insurance may apply to you.

Karin Grablin, CPA, CFP®, MBA is with SRQ Wealth Management, 1819 Main Street, Suite 905 in Sarasota (941-556-9004) [email protected]  and is a registered representative & investment advisory representative with, and securities are offered through, LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC.  This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific, individualized tax, legal or investment planning advice.   Riders are additional guarantee options that are available to an annuity or life insurance contract holder. While some riders are part of an existing contract, many others may carry additional fees, charges and restrictions, and the policy holder should review their contract carefully before purchasing. Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

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