Life Insurance Glossary
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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021
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If you have any questions about a life insurance term, consult the Free Advice glossary for assistance. If you have any additional questions, ask a life insurance professional.
Accelerated Death Benefit: a provision or rider that allows you to receive all or part of the benefits of your policy before you die. These benefits are paid for terminal illnesses like AIDS, organ transplant, nursing home confinement, etc. The allowable reasons to receive such benefits varies from company to company. Also known as “living benefits”.
Accidental death benefit: a provision or rider that pays more (i.e., double) in case you die as a result of an accident. Also called “double indemnity”
Actuary: an expert trained in the mathematics of insurance who is responsible for the calculation of reserves, premiums, and other values.
Administrative expense charge: an amount deducted from the policy to pay the costs of administering the policy.
Amendment: an attachment to a policy that modifies certain policy benefits.
Annuitization: the process of paying the cash from a life insurance policy according to a schedule of monthly (or other) periodic payments for the lifetime of the payee or for joint lifetimes of two payees. Various guarantees of a minimum number of payment periods are also usually available. The option selected will affect the precise amount of each payment.
Application: a signed request for life insurance giving information about the prospective policyholder.
Assignment: giving rights and benefits under your insurance policy to someone else.
Assumed interest rate: the minimum interest rate on a variable life insurance policy.
Attained age: the age of the insured person at a particular time. Attained age often comes into play for convertible term policies which allow conversion to permanent insurance such as whole life with no medical examination or medical questions. The new permanent insurance policy will be issued at the age the policyholder has attained at the time of the conversion.
Automatic premium loan: if you cannot pay your premiums, the insurance company takes money from your policy’s cash value to pay the premiums, assuming there is sufficient cash value.
Beneficiary: the person, persons or entity designated to receive the death benefits from a life insurance policy when you die.
Broker: a licensed insurance individual representing the insured not a particular company.
Burial policy: a policy to cover funeral and burial costs.
Cash value: the money that accumulates in your life insurance policy while the policy is in force that the insured can borrow.
Certificate: the evidence of coverage received by persons insured under group life policy.
Churning: a fraudulent practice by insurance agents to repeatedly persuade their customers to replace existing policies with new ones. The agent may be tempted to churn because commissions are higher in the first year of the policy (makes more money for himself) or because the agent represents a different insurance company.
Commission: when a new life insurance policy is purchased, the agent or broker representing the insurance company in the transaction usually receives a fee which is computed as a percentage of the premium. The percentage for a specific transaction is determined by various factors such as the type of policy and marketing agreement between the company and representative.
Convertible term insurance: exchanging, at the option of the policyholder, a term life insurance policy for another plan of insurance without providing evidence of insurability (e.g., a current medical report).
Cost of insurance: see “mortality charge”
Cost-of-living rider: permits you to purchase increasing term insurance coverage, coinciding with an estimated rise in the cost of living.
Death benefit: amount paid to the beneficiary upon your death.
Declination: the rejection by a life insurance company of a life insurance application.
Decreasing term: a term life policy in which the death benefit goes down.
Direct writer: sell through their own exclusive agents or through some other selling systems such as direct mail or over the Internet that deal directly with the public.
Disability benefit: a feature of some policies for the waiver of premium if the policyholder becomes permanently and totally disabled.
Dividend: money paid annually to a policyholder as a partial return of the paid premium on participating insurance to reflect a company’s favorable operating experience. Dividends are not guaranteed.
Double indemnity: see accidental death
Effective date: the date the insurance policy begins.
Endorsement: an addition to a policy that modifies its benefits.
Endowment: a cash value policy payable to the policyholder on the maturity date, if living, or to a beneficiary at the time of the insured’s death.
Evidence of insurability: statement or proof of a person’s health, finances, lifestyle, habits, or job to the extent that they affect his or her acceptability for insurance.
Extended term insurance: allows for the continuation of the original amount of the insurance with no further premium payments during a limited period of time.
Face value: the dollar amount on the face of the policy that will be paid by the company at death or at the maturity of the policy. The actual sum may be higher or lower depending on the options selected, outstanding policy loans or premium owed.
Family policy: a life insurance policy providing insurance on all or several family members under one contract.
Flexible premium policy: a life insurance policy where the policyholder can vary the time or amounts of the premiums.
Fraternal life insurance: life insurance provided by fraternal societies to its membership.
Free examination period: also known as “10-day free-look period,” it is the time period after a life insurance policy is delivered during which you can decide whether to keep it or return it to the company for a full refund of the initial premium.
Future purchase option: gives the right to purchase additional life insurance in the future without having to prove insurability at that time. It is also called a “guaranteed insurability option.”
Grace period: the time, usually 30-31 days, following the premium date, during which you can pay an overdue premium while keeping your insurance policy in force throughout this period.
Group life: life insurance plans provided often through one’s job, association, or other organization where the individual members of the group receive certificates rather than policies as evidence of their insurance.
Guaranteed insurability: an option that allows the policyholder the right to buy additional life insurance at specific times in the future, without having to answer questions about his or her health.
Guaranteed rate: the minimum interest rate that the insurance company promises to pay to a policyholder’s cash value.
Guaranteed renewable: applicable to some term life insurance policies and guarantees the policy holder the right to continue the policy at specified dates. The insurance company cannot cancel the policy if the policy holder pays the applicable rate ”” which may be higher at the renewal date.
Hazardous activity: when applying for a life insurance policy some activities ”” sky diving, auto racing, etc. — may be considered too dangerous to qualify for coverage at a standard or may cause the company to deny coverage all together. Different insurance companies have different standards.
Illustration: a computer-generated printout of an insurance company’s explanation of how the life insurance policy will work for a prospective policyholder. It may project each year’s premium payment, cost index, dividends, and death benefit as well as guaranteed interest payments (if any). Sometimes called a “ledger statement”.
Impaired insurance company: refers to an insurance company that has been deemed to have financial difficulties that call into question its ability to continue to meet its obligations to customers and regulators.
Incontestable clause: an optional provision that places a time limit up to two years on a company’s right to deny payment of a claim because of suicide or a material misrepresentation on your application.
Indeterminate premium: premium for a life insurance policy that may change over the policy’s life, depending on the company’s operating experience, but not higher than the maximum amount as stated in the policy.
Insurance attorney – life: attorneys who deal with matters of life insurance law. They could be life insurance company lawyers or outside practitioners who handle complex life insurance and tax issues or engage in litigation concerning such matters.
Insured: a person on whose life an insurance policy is issued.
Irrevocable assignment: under such an agreement you transfer all of your rights to a third party and this agreement can never be changed.
Lapsed policy: a policy terminated because of failure to pay the premium(s).
Level premium insurance: a policy in which the payments remain the same over the life of the policy.
Limited payment life insurance: whole life insurance where the policyholder pays premiums for a specified number of years, or until death.
Living benefits: proceeds of a life insurance policy that may be paid out before death in the event of terminal illness or need for long term care. This is also called “accelerated death benefits.”
Loading: administration costs you pay when buying life insurance.
Loan: borrowing against your policy’s accumulated cash value. The borrowed amount is deducted from the death benefit until you have repaid it.
Low value policy: a life insurance policy with a high premium and small death benefit.
Material misrepresentation: a significant misstatement in an application form. For example, you did not tell the truth about a situation or medical condition at the time of applying for coverage which would have caused the company to deny you insurance if they had known the truth.
Maturity: the time at which the insurance contract is paid to the policyholder, if still alive.
Mortality charge: the charges a company makes against the policy to cover the policy’s share of the cost of death claims, based upon a mortality table used by the insurance company. Also called the “cost of insurance”.
Mortality table: a statistical table that shows how long people are expected to live under various situations.
Mortgage life policy: a life insurance policy that is intended to pay off the mortgage balance if the insured dies during the mortgage term. Frequently, a decreasing term insurance policy is used for this situation.
Mutual Life Insurance Company: companies that are owned by the policyholders as opposed to stock holders.
Nonforfeiture options: choices available to a policyholder when he or she discontinues a cash value policy after several years but before maturity. It may be in a cash payment, extended term insurance, or as reduced paid-up term insurance.
Nonparticipating insurance: insurance that does not pay dividends. Also called nonpar policy.
Nonparticipating policy: a policy in which the company does not distribute any of its surplus to its policyholders.
Ordinary life insurance: usually applied to level premium whole life policies.
Outlay: same as premium
Paid-up additions: additional amounts of insurance protection purchased with the dividends from your policy.
Paid-up life insurance: insurance on which no further premiums are due.
Participating insurance: insurance that has the possibility of paying dividends to its policyholders. Also called a par policy.
Payout method: same as settlement option
Permanent life: a phrase that covers any form of life insurance with the exception of term.
Policy dividend: a partial premium refund on a participating life insurance policy
Policy loan: a loan made by a life insurance company to the policyholder on the cash value of the policy.
Policyholder: the person or party who owns an individual insurance policy. This person may be the insured, a relative, the beneficiary, a corporation, or another person.
Policy reserves: funds held by a life insurance company specifically to fulfill its policy obligations.
Premium: money paid by the policy owner for coverage.
Premium expense charges: an amount deducted from each premium payment that reduces the amount credited to the policy.
Premium waiver provision: an optional provision that takes effect if the policy owner becomes disabled. The disabled person will not have to pay premiums for the duration of the disability, including lifetime disability.
Pre-need contract: a contract with a funeral home that makes it possible to pay your funeral expenses in advance.
Rated policy: a policy issued at a higher than standard premium to cover a person classified as a greater than-average risk, usually due to impaired health or a hazardous occupation. Sometimes called an extra-risk policy.
Rating tables: tables that companies use to classify risks
Reinstatement: the resumption of coverage under a policy that has lapsed because of nonpayment of the premium after the grace period has ended.
Renewable term: a term policy that guarantees the policy owner the right to renew coverage at the end of the term, without presenting evidence of insurability. Premiums increase at each renewal since the insured’s age increases.
Rider: a written addition or amendment to an insurance policy that adds or limits the benefits payable under the policy. Common riders are accelerated death benefits, accidental death benefits, automatic premium loan, guaranteed insurability, and premium waivers.
Risk: the likelihood that you will die while insured.
Risk factor: things about you that affect your risk (e.g., older age, smoking, heart disease, occupation)
Settlement option: the several ways the insurance company can pay a policyholder or beneficiary.
Single premium whole life: type of whole life insurance where the policy owner pays one premium.
Stock Life Insurance Company: companies that are owned by stock holders with the goal of providing a profitable return on their investment.
Surrender: terminating or canceling a policy before its maturity date and cashing in its cash surrender value.
Surrender charges: fees that are deducted if your life insurance policy is cashed in prematurely.
Term life: life insurance that generally offers no cash value feature payable to a beneficiary when an insured dies within a specified period.
Underwriting: the insurance company’s process for determining whom it will insure.
Universal life: a flexible premium life insurance contract that permits policy owners to adjust their policy’s premiums, timing of payments, and face amount from time to time.
Vanishing premium: an option that allows a policy owner to stop paying premiums after a number of years.
Variable life: a type of whole life policy in which the death benefit and the cash value relate to the investment performance of a separate account fund that the policyholder selects. The separate account assets are invested in bonds, money market funds, stocks, and other instructions.
Underwriter: the person who decides if the applicant is an acceptable risk and at what premium rate.
Waiver of premium: a rider that suspends the payment of future premiums in the event you are disabled. What constitutes a disability varies.
Whole Life Insurance Policy: a form of cash value policy which is intended to be permanent as opposed to coverage for a specific number of years or term. Premiums are set at a level amount which will be continued for many years and maintain a continuing amount of life insurance coverage until the insured dies or discontinues the policy.