What is Permanent Life Insurance?

What is Permanent life insurance? Discover the benefits and types of plans at Dundas Life. Browse and get your life insurance quote today.

July 2, 2021
min read

Permanent life insurance coverage is a contentious issue for some as the cost of insurance goes up if the policy has to inevitably pay out.

It also includes a cash accumulation component called the policy’s cash value. This policy acts both as an investment tool and a way to leave a financial lifeline for your family after you die.

Furthermore, permanent life insurance might not be a good fit for some, because of its high cost.  In this article you will find out if permanent life insurance is the best option for you.

What is permanent life insurance?

As the name suggests, permanent life insurance lasts for your entire life. Permanent insurance doesn’t have an expiry date, unlike term life insurance.

It has two important components — the death benefit and cash value. The death benefit is a fixed amount paid out to your beneficiaries when you pass.

Apart from the guaranteed death benefit, it accumulates cash value over time, which grows on a tax-deferred basis. You can withdraw from or borrow against your policy’s cash value anytime and for any reason.

How does permanent life insurance work?

A portion of your premiums goes toward paying the cost of insurance, while the other goes into a savings component (the cash value), which grows over time on a tax-deferred basis.

When you pass, your family receives the death benefit as a single payment or in installments. For instance, they could choose to receive the payout over a period of six or eight years. The death benefit is not taxable, but the interest earned on an unpaid death benefit is. Let's say the payout of an insurance policy is $100,000. The beneficiaries decide to receive the benefit in ten equal monthly installments. So, when the insurer pays the first installment of $10,000, the interest earned on the remaining $90,000 will be taxable.

If you cancel your life insurance policy, the insurer will pay out the cash surrender value to you. The cash surrender value is equal to the actual cash value minus any surrender fee.

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You can tap into this basket of tax-free income in the form of a policy loan and use the money as you see fit. Since you are borrowing your own money, the insurer doesn’t ask you any questions, nor runs a credit check. But if you don’t repay the loan, the insurance company will deduct the outstanding amount from the death benefit. As a result, your family will receive less income when you pass.

If a family is looking to maximize their net worth once their TFSA and RRSP are maxed out, a permanent policy can be a good compliment. A permanent policy's tax-free sheltered growth allows your contribution to grow every year tax free after the cost of the insurance.

One caution with this strategy however are the administrative fees associated, which makes a permanent policy less attractive in many cases compared to a TFSA or RRSP alternative. Planning a broader strategy with your advisor is important to realize effective ways to leverage insurance for your financial situation.

Who needs permanent life insurance?

Term life is cheaper and offers protection when you need it most. A term policy should be able to cover an asset, liability or both for a fixed period of time to protect your loved one from unfortunate, unexpected events. Permanent life insurance, however, provides additional benefits including:

  • High-income earners who have maxed out other investment vehicles and have a need for life insurance.
  • People with a special-needs child or lifelong dependents
  • Wealthy individuals who want to preserve the value of their estates for their heirs
  • People who want to leave a financial legacy to their loved ones
  • Seniors who don’t have enough savings to cover their end-of-life expenses, like medical care and funeral costs
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Types of Permanent Life Insurance

Permanent life insurance comes in four different options. Which one is right for you will depend on your level of risk tolerance and the kind of payment flexibility you want.

Whole life insurance

Whole life insurance is as predictable as it gets. It comes with a guaranteed level premium and guaranteed death benefit. That means both the premium and the death benefit stays the same for life. The rate of growth on the policy’s cash value is also guaranteed (set by the insurer). So whole life insurance may be perfect for people who like predictability.

Some whole life policies also give you the opportunity to earn dividends. These policies go by the name of participating whole life policies. They are called as such because they let you participate in the surplus earnings of your insurer.

You can receive dividends in cash or keep them with the insurer and earn interest on the amount. You can also use them to purchase additional coverage or reduce future premium payments.

Variable life insurance

Variable life insurance offers more investment options. It provides flexible premiums and a flexible death benefit. While the cash doesn’t grow at a guaranteed rate, you get to decide how the cash value is invested.

With a variable life insurance policy, you allocate your premium payments to a separate account. The money in this account gets invested in a menu of investment options — bonds, stocks, and money market instruments — that you choose.

The policy’s cash value will fluctuate according to the performance of these investment options. Every month, the insurer will debit the policy’s cash value to pay for the cost of maintaining the policy.

Your life policy will stay active for as long as there is enough cash value to pay for the policy’s monthly charges. If the funds are too low, the insurer will ask you to pay more in premiums, or else the policy will lapse.

Variable life insurance gives you an opportunity to earn more than you would with a whole life policy. However, if things don't go your way, you could lose money, including the initial investment.

Universal life insurance

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Universal life insurance offers a lot of flexibility. You can vary the frequency and amount of your premium payments (within certain limits). You can also adjust the death benefit according to your needs.

Just like whole life insurance, it offers a guaranteed death benefit coupled with an investment feature. However, in its case, the interest rate on cash value may vary, although it won’t go below a set minimum. For example, your policy can set a minimum interest rate of 2% that is guaranteed for the life of your policy.

The cash value growth is tied to investment performance. So, the reward can be great, but if things don’t go as per the plan, you must pay higher premiums to keep the policy in force.

Another benefit is you can take money out of the policy’s cash value via a loan or withdrawal. You can even use it to pay premiums.

Variable universal life

Variable universal life combines the features of variable and universal life insurance. You decide how premium dollars get invested and can adjust premium payments and the death benefit.

You can diversify your investments through money market accounts to earn higher returns. But there’s an element of risk because it’s impossible to predict how the market will perform. Variable universal life insurance may be a good fit for people seeking maximum flexibility.

Permanent Life Insurance Quotes

Permanent life insurance is costlier than term life because it builds cash value. However, premium rates vary considerably among different permanent life policy types. In general, whole life premiums are higher than universal life for the same coverage amount.

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Permanent vs. Term Life Insurance

Both permanent and term life insurance provide financial protection to your family upon your passing. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Term life covers you for a limited period of time, while permanent life covers you until death. Also, permanent policies — unlike term life insurance — build cash value.

Furthermore, all term life insurance policies offer guaranteed death benefits, but the same can’t be said for permanent life. Some permanent life insurance policies let you increase or decrease the benefit amount as per your needs.

Finally, in the case of some permanent policies, you can vary the frequency and amount of your premium payments. This kind of flexibility is not available in term life insurance.

Due to the cash value component and lifelong coverage, permanent life insurance is costlier than term life.

Benefits of Permanent Life Insurance

A guaranteed payout

A permanent life insurance policy doesn’t end before you pass. Your policy remains in force for your entire life, as long as you make premium payments. When you buy permanent life insurance, you can rest assured knowing your loved ones will receive a payout no matter when you pass away.

Fill-it, shut-it insurance product

With term life, you have to renew the policy at the end of each term to keep the coverage going. At every policy renewal, you pay higher premiums and might even have to undergo medical testing to prove insurability.

You don’t have to worry about all this with permanent life insurance. You take a medical examination only once — as part of the approval process. Once the insurer issues the policy, it will cover for your entire life, regardless of any health issues that might develop later.

Builds cash value

Unlike term life, permanent life insurance policies accumulate cash value. Since a part of your premium payments goes into building the cash value, it is a sort of “forced” savings vehicle. You can withdraw from or borrow against the policy’s cash value at any time. You can even use it as collateral for a third-party loan.

Generally, the cash value builds up slowly at first but then picks up the pace after some years. If you don’t withdraw or take out a loan, eventually the cash value may have enough money to pay premiums for the rest of your life.

Tax Advantages

The death benefit of a permanent life insurance policy is typically tax-free, while the cash value grows at a tax-deferred basis. This means any money you withdraw from it won’t get taxed, as long as the withdrawn amount is not more than the amount you’ve already paid in.

Potential Dividends

Some permanent life insurance policies give you the opportunity to earn dividends. You can reinvest the dividends into your policy to:

  • build up the cash value more quickly
  • buy additional coverage
  • pay for future premiums, or
  • personal income or investments outside of your permanent life policy
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Disadvantages of Permanent Life Insurance

It’s costlier than term life

Without question, the single biggest drawback of permanent life insurance is cost. Generally speaking, permanent life insurance can cost at minimum a few hundred dollars per year. Expect to pay five to 15 times more for permanent life insurance than a comparable term life policy.

It’s not always a good investment

Cash value is part of the permanent life insurance appeal. A portion of your premium payments goes into a savings account which grows tax-free. So in a way, permanent life insurance acts as forced savings.

All the same, there are three main disadvantages to this savings feature.

  • You have little control over how the insurer invests your premiums.
  • The Rate of return tends to be lower than what you can get elsewhere. The average annual rate of return for whole life policies hovers around 3-6%. Most other dedicated investment options (like mutual funds) provide a better return.
  • Fees for permanent life investments are on the higher side (at times even exceed 3%).
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Is it a good option for you?

Permanent life insurance policies can be a smart option for someone who:

  • Wants their beneficiaries to receive a payout regardless of when they pass away
  • Wants to leave money to their loved ones or preserve the value of their estate for their heirs
  • Has already maxed out other investment options and is seeking a tax-deferred savings account

Permanent life insurance offers several benefits — lifelong coverage, cash value, and flexibility. However, these perks don’t come cheap. You are likely to pay five to 15 times more for permanent life insurance than term life. Also, keep in mind certain permanent policies and require close monitoring.

Get in touch with an independent broker, like Dundas Life, to understand if permanent life insurance is a better choice for you and find the best coverage at the best possible price.

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