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February 3, 2023
Insurance

What Is Insurance?

  • March 11, 2022
  • 8 min read

Insurance is a contract, represented by a policy, in which an individual or entity receives financial protection or reimbursement against losses from an insurance company. The company pools clients’ risks to make payments more affordable for the insured.

Insurance policies are used to hedge against the risk of financial losses, both big and small, that may result from damage to the insured or her property, or from liability for damage or injury caused to a third party.

How Insurance Works?

There is a multitude of different types of insurance policies available, and virtually any individual or business can find an insurance company willing to insure them—for a price. The most common types of personal insurance policies are auto, health, homeowners, and life. Most individuals in the United States have at least one of these types of insurance, and car insurance is required by law.

Businesses require special types of insurance policies that insure against specific types of risks faced by a particular business. For example, a fast-food restaurant needs a policy that covers damage or injury that occurs as a result of cooking with a deep fryer. An auto dealer is not subject to this type of risk but does require coverage for damage or injury that could occur during test drives.

There are also insurance policies available for very specific needs, such as kidnap and ransom (K&R), medical malpractice, and professional liability insurance, also known as errors and omissions insurance.

Insurance Policy Components When choosing a policy, it is important to understand how insurance works.

A firm understanding of these concepts goes a long way in helping you choose the policy that best suits your needs. There are three components (premium, policy limit, and deductible) to most insurance policies that are crucial.

Premium A policy’s premium is its price, typically expressed as a monthly cost. The premium is determined by the insurer based on your or your business’s risk profile, which may include creditworthiness.

For example, if you own several expensive automobiles and have a history of reckless driving, you will likely pay more for an auto policy than someone with a single mid-range sedan and a perfect driving record. However, different insurers may charge different premiums for similar policies. So finding the price that is right for you requires some legwork.

Policy Limit The policy limit is the maximum amount an insurer will pay under a policy for a covered loss. Maximums may be set per period (e.g., annual or policy term), per loss or injury, or over the life of the policy, also known as the lifetime maximum.

Typically, higher limits carry higher premiums. For a general life insurance policy, the maximum amount the insurer will pay is referred to as the face value, which is the amount paid to a beneficiary upon the death of the insured.

Deductible The deductible is a specific amount the policy-holder must pay out-of-pocket before the insurer pays a claim. Deductibles serve as deterrents to large volumes of small and insignificant claims.

Deductibles can apply per-policy or per-claim depending on the insurer and the type of policy. Policies with very high deductibles are typically less expensive because the high out-of-pocket expense generally results in fewer small claims.

Special Considerations With regard to health insurance, people who have chronic health issues or need regular medical attention should look for policies with lower deductibles.

Though the annual premium is higher than a comparable policy with a higher deductible, less expensive access to medical care throughout the year may be worth the trade-off.

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What are the principal types of life insurance? There are two major types of life insurance—term and whole life. Whole life is sometimes called permanent life insurance, and it encompasses several subcategories, including traditional whole life, universal life, variable life, and variable universal life. In 2016, about 4.3 million individual life insurance policies bought were term and about 6.4 million were whole life, according to the American Council of Life Insurers.

Life insurance products for groups are different from life insurance sold to individuals. The information below focuses on life insurance sold to individuals.

Term Term Insurance is the simplest form of life insurance. It pays only if death occurs during the term of the policy, which is usually from one to 30 years. Most term policies have no other benefit provisions.

There are two basic types of term life insurance policies: level term and decreasing term.

Level term means that the death benefit stays the same throughout the duration of the policy. Decreasing term means that the death benefit drops, usually in one-year increments, over the course of the policy’s term. In 2003, virtually all (97 percent) of the term life insurance bought was level term.

For more on the different types of term life insurance, click here.

Whole life/permanent Whole life or permanent insurance pays a death benefit whenever you die—even if you live to 100! There are three major types of whole life or permanent life insurance—traditional whole life, universal life, and variable universal life, and there are variations within each type.

In the case of traditional whole life, both the death benefit and the premium are designed to stay the same (level) throughout the life of the policy. The cost per $1,000 of benefit increases as the insured person ages, and it obviously gets very high when the insured lives to 80 and beyond. The insurance company could charge a premium that increases each year, but that would make it very hard for most people to afford life insurance at advanced ages. So the company keeps the premium level by charging a premium that, in the early years, is higher than what’s needed to pay claims, investing that money, and then using it to supplement the level premium to help pay the cost of life insurance for older people.

By law, when these “overpayments” reach a certain amount, they must be available to the policyholder as a cash value if he or she decides not to continue with the original plan. The cash value is an alternative, not an additional, benefit under the policy.

In the 1970s and 1980s, life insurance companies introduced two variations on the traditional whole life product—universal life insurance and variable universal life insurance. For more on the different types of whole life/permanent insurance, click here.

How to choose the best life insurance company for you Though we have done thorough research for you, we recommend doing your own research to select a life insurance company that is best suited for your individual needs. Here are some things to look for when choosing the best life insurance company for you:

Ask for recommendations: Often, the best reference is word of mouth. Ask your friends and family for recommendations on the top life insurance companies they have had positive experiences with. Look at customer satisfaction ratings: You can visit the J.D. Power website to review its customer satisfaction ratings for life insurance companies. Companies will be ranked based on their overall score and then given a Power Circle Rating between 2 and 5 circles. We recommend looking at those who received Power Circle Ratings of 3-5. Look at financial stability: We recommend looking at a company’s financial stability. You can do this on the AM Best website. However, some companies, like MetLife, are not rated there. MetLife was rated by a different agency, Demotech, and received a great financial stability rating. A company with inferior financial stability may leave you high and dry when it comes time to pay out claims. It is important to have the assurance of strong financial stability. Look at customer reviews: We used Consumer Affairs and the Better Business Bureau, but there are other sites available that will include customer reviews. We recommend ignoring the outlier reviews and focusing on the average. What did the average person say about the company you’re considering? Are the things they complained about things that are important to you? For example, if someone made a complaint that the company does not offer a mobile app but a mobile app isn’t important to you, do not consider that review in your assessment. Get life insurance quotes: Always compare prices so you know if what you’ve found is the best life insurance policy at a competitive price. We recommend getting at least three quotes from different life insurance companies before making your final choice. Ask questions: When in doubt, ask the insurance agent. Do not hesitate to ask detailed questions about the coverage you’ve been quoted. It will be important to you and to your agent that you thoroughly understand your coverage and obligations.

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