When people are younger and feeling the need to protect the long-term financial interests of their new families, they buy life insurance. Years then pass. Many policyholders remain financially secure and, when life finally ends, pass on significant benefits to their dependents. But a proportion of people find their financial position worsens when they retire. With no regular source of income, savings can run down and, if a family or health emergency strikes, the continued occupation of the home can come under threat.
When people look at the assets they hold, they see the life insurance policy. Does it hold any value? The answer you get depends on who you ask. The insurance company that sold the policy will discuss two possibilities. The first assumes the policy has a cash value. The company will allow you to draw down on that value or to use it as collateral for a loan. The second is the so-called “cash surrender value”. This terminates the contract you have with the insurer and, because it is no longer obliged to pay out, it returns some or all of the money you have paid as premiums over the years.
In reality, neither of these options is very attractive. The insurers usually push a loan with a rate of interest that eats up the rest of benefits over the years, i.e. if the loan does run for years, it effectively becomes the only cash ever paid out by the insurer. The CSV is also very poor value, paying out a pittance now rather than the full amount later. And because the insurance industry is powerful and has real influence over the news media and magazines, there is little coverage of the alternative. Or, if the alternative is mentioned, there are many horror stories to warn people away. The insurance industry wants to maximize its profit and does not want anything getting in the way.
The alternative has been standard in Europe for decades. Given the bad press Europe gets, this is probably the kiss of death, but you should understand this is a tried-and-tested program to realize the value in life insurance policies. In the US, if you are older and have a policy worth not less than $250,000, there are willing buyers who will pay significantly more than the CSV, albeit less than the face value of the policy. The right to transfer life settlements was established some ninety-nine years ago in Grigsby v. Russell, 222 US 149 (1911) but a formal secondary market is only now really growing. It works like a brokerage with agents introducing buyers to sellers. The cash prices paid are substantial. This is not a scam. It is not a new “sub-prime” disaster waiting to happen. This gives you cash in your hand for your old life policy. So never allow your policy to lapse, never surrender your old policy and, unless you are desperate, never borrow on the cash value. Selling on the secondary market releases far more value.
So, when you are getting life insurance quotes, prefer policies with a face value of not less than $250,000 and always make the extra effort to buy a policy with a cash value – if not as you first policy, then as soon as you can afford it. You need to allow time for the policy to build up value. So, when evaluating the life insurance quotes, look for premium rates you can afford. You will lose the chance on the secondary market if you cannot afford long-term payment.