Universal Life Insurance
Universal life insurance (often shortened to UL) is a type of permanent life insurance, primarily in the United States of America. Under the terms of the policy, the excess of premium payments above the current cost of insurance are credited to the cash value of the policy. The cash value is credited each month with interest, and the policy is debited each month by a cost of insurance (COI) charge, as well as any other policy charges and fees which are drawn from the cash value, even if no premium payment is made that month. Interest credited to the account is determined by the insurer, but has a contractual minimum rate of between 2% and 4%. When an earnings rate is pegged to a financial index such as a stock, bond or other interest rate index, the policy is a "Equity Indexed Universal Life" contract.
Similar life insurance types
A similar type of policy that was developed from universal life insurance is the variable universal life insurance policy (VUL). VUL allows the cash value to be directed to a number of separate accounts that operate like mutual funds and can be invested in stock or bond investments with greater risk and potential growth. Additionally, there is the recent addition of index universal life contracts similar to equity-indexed annuities credit interest linked to the positive movement of an index, such as the S&P 500, Russell 2000, and the Dow Jones. Unlike VUL, the cash value of an Index UL policy generally has principal protection, less the costs of insurance and policy administrative fees. Index UL participation in the index may have a cap, margin, or other participation modifier, as well as a minimum guaranteed interest rate.
Universal life is similar in some ways to, and was developed from, whole life insurance, although the actual cost of insurance inside the UL policy is based on annually renewable term life insurance. The advantage of the universal life policy is its premium flexibility and adjustable death benefits. The death benefit can be increased (subject to insurability), or decreased at the policy owner's request.
The premiums are flexible, from a minimum amount specified in the policy, to the maximum amount allowed by the contract. The primary difference is that the universal life policy shifts some of the risk for maintaining the death benefit to the policy owner. In a whole life policy, as long as every premium payment is made, the death benefit is guaranteed to the maturity date in the policy, usually age 95, or to age 121. A UL policy will lapse when the cash values are no longer sufficient to cover the cost of insurance and policy administrative expense.
To make UL policies more attractive, insurers have added secondary guarantees, where if certain minimum premium payments are made for a given period, the policy will remain in force for the guarantee period even if the cash value drops to zero. These are commonly called "No Lapse Guarantee" riders, and the product is commonly called guaranteed universal life (GUL, not to be confused with group universal life insurance, which is also typically shortened to GUL).
The trend up until 2007–2008 was to reduce premiums on GUL to the point where there was virtually no cash surrender values at all, essentially creating a level term policy that could last to age 121. Since then, many companies have introduced either a second GUL policy that has a slightly higher premium, but in return the policy owner has cash surrender values that show a better internal rate of return on surrender than the additional premiums could earn in a risk-free investment outside of the policy.
With the requirement for all new policies to use the latest mortality table (CSO 2001) beginning January 1, 2004, many GUL policies have been repriced, and the general trend is toward slight premium increases compared to the policies from 2008.
Another major difference between universal life and whole life insurances: the administrative expenses and cost of insurance within a universal life contract are transparent to the policy owner, whereas the assumptions the insurance company uses to determine the premium for a whole life insurance policy are not transparent.
Uses of universal life insurance
- Final expenses, such as a funeral, burial, and unpaid medical bills
- Income replacement, to provide for surviving spouses and dependent children
- Debt coverage, to pay off personal and business debts, such as a home mortgage or business operating loan
- Estate liquidity, when an estate has an immediate need for cash to settle federal estate taxes, state inheritance taxes, or unpaid income in respect of decedent (IRD) taxes.
- Estate replacement, when an insured has donated assets to a charity and wants to replace the value with cash death benefits.
- Business succession & continuity, for example to fund a cross-purchase or stock redemption buy/sell agreement.
- Key person insurance, to protect a company from the economic loss incurred when a key employee or manager dies.
- Executive bonus, under IRC Sec. 162, where an employer pays the premium on a life insurance policy owned by a key person. The employer deducts the premium as an ordinary business expense, and the employee pays the income tax on the premium.
- Controlled executive bonus, just like above, but with an additional contract between an employee and employer that effectively limits the employees access to cash values for a period of time (golden handcuffs).
- Split dollar plans, where the death benefits, cash surrender values, and premium payments are split between an employer and employee, or between an individual and a non-natural person (e.g. trust).
- Non-qualified deferred compensation, as an informal funding vehicle where a corporation owns the policy, pays the premiums, receives the benefits, and then uses them to pay, in whole or in part, a contractual promise to pay retirement benefits to a key person, or survivor benefits to the deceased key person's beneficiaries.
- An alternative to long-term care insurance, where new policies have accelerated benefits for Long Term Care.
- Mortgage acceleration, where an over-funded UL policy is either surrendered or borrowed against to pay off a home mortgage.
- Charitable gift, where a UL policy is donated to a qualified charity, or the policy owner names a charity as the beneficiary.
- Charitable remainder trust replacement, where a policy owner wants to replace assets donated to a Charitable Remainder Trust.
- Estate equalization, where a business owner has more than one child, and at least one child wants to run the business, and at least one other wants cash.
- Life insurance retirement plan, or Roth IRA alternative. High income earners who want an additional tax shelter, with potential creditor/predator protection, who have maxed out their IRA, who are not eligible for a Roth IRA, and who have already maxed out their qualified plans.
- Term life insurance alternative, for example when a policy owner wants to use interest income from a lump sum of cash to pay a term life insurance premium. An alternative is to use the lump sum to pay premiums into a UL policy on a single premium or limited premium basis, creating tax arbitrage when the costs of insurance are paid from untaxed excess interest credits, which may be crediting at a higher rate than other guaranteed, no risk asset classes (e.g. U.S. Treasury Bonds or U.S. Savings Bonds).
- Whole life insurance alternative, where there is any need for permanent death benefits, but little or no need for cash surrender values, then a current assumption UL or GUL may be an appropriate alternative, with potentially lower net premiums.
- Annuity alternative, when a policy owner has a lump sum of cash that they intend to leave to the next generation, a single premium UL policy provides similar benefits during life, but has a stepped up death benefit that is income tax-free.
- Pension maximization, where permanent death benefits are needed so an employee can elect the highest retirement income option from a defined benefit pension.
- Annuity maximization, where a large non-qualified annuity with a low cost basis is no longer needed for retirement and the policy owner wants to maximize the value for the next generation. There is potential for arbitrage when the annuity is exchanged for a single premium immediate annuity (SPIA), and the proceeds of the SPIA are used to fund a permanent death benefit using Universal Life. This arbitrage is magnified at older ages, and when a medical impairment can produce substantially higher payments from a medically underwritten SPIA.
- RMD maximization, where an IRA owner is facing required minimum distributions (RMD), but has no need for current income, and desires to leave the IRA for heirs. The IRA is used to purchase a qualified SPIA that maximizes the current income from the IRA, and this income is used to purchase a UL policy.
- Creditor/predator protection. A person who earns a high income, or who has a high net worth, and who practices a profession that suffers a high risk from predation by litigation, may benefit from using UL as a warehouse for cash, because in some states the policies enjoy protection from the claims of creditors, including judgments from frivolous lawsuits.
- Cryonics funding, where a life insurance policy funds the costs associated with cryonic suspension.
Author: Wikipedia Contributors
Publisher: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
Date of last revision: 17 December 2012