What is life insurance? A quick and simple guide

Get answers to common questions about life insurance and learn key terms

With a variety of types and plans, life insurance may seem confusing. Whole life insurance, term insurance, permanent life insurance, burial insurance — knowing the difference among these options can help you make informed purchasing and planning decisions. One way to get started is to break down commonly asked questions and define important terms. Then you can understand what life insurance is and choose which option is best for you and your family.

Life insurance FAQ

What is life insurance?

Life insurance is a legally binding contract that guarantees a benefit upon your death to named beneficiaries in exchange for premiums you pay. Types of life insurance include term and whole life insurance.

Which is better: Term or whole life insurance?

The better option between term or whole life insurance depends on what stage of life you’re in.

As you age, your needs for life insurance change. If you’re older, a whole life policy may be right for you. Whole life insurance is easier to obtain than term life insurance because you aren’t required to take a health exam. The premiums for whole life insurance are often higher than term policies, but whole life policies hold cash value that you have access to while you’re living.
 
Term life insurance offers lower premiums and a greater death benefit, but it holds no cash value, and your policy expires if you haven’t passed away before a given time. You may be able to renew your term insurance policy, but premiums typically increase to reflect your current age.

Is life insurance taxable?

Life insurance premiums are considered personal expenses, which are not tax deductible. This means the money you pay into your life insurance policy may be taxable income subject to standard tax rates.
 
According to the Internal Revenue Service, if someone else names you a beneficiary, the proceeds you receive from his or her life insurance are not taxable income.

Is burial insurance the same as life insurance?

Burial insurance is just one type of permanent life insurance, and it’s intended to cover funeral or cremation costs. Burial insurance can be purchased as a term or whole life policy, with benefits paid to your beneficiary. Since your beneficiary can use the benefit funds in any way, you could name a funeral home as your beneficiary to ensure the funds are used for death-related expenses.
 
Life insurance is a broader term that encompasses the total policy you pay into in exchange for a death benefit, not just funeral expense coverage.

Key life insurance terms

What is permanent life insurance?

Permanent life insurance often is called whole life insurance and refers to coverage that’s active for the duration of your life, with a benefit to be paid to your beneficiary after your passing. Different types of permanent life insurance include traditional, universal, and final expense.
 
These types of life insurance allow you to set aside money for any of your final expenses, from medical bills to your funeral, and your beneficiary decides how to allocate it.

What’s the difference between guaranteed assurance and guaranteed funeral plans?

Guaranteed assurance is the life insurance plan you qualify for without having to undergo a health assessment.
 
A guaranteed funeral plan refers to the cost of funeral services determined in a contract for permanent life insurance, which cannot increase due to inflation.

What’s a rider?

A rider is an addendum to a life insurance policy that either extends or limits its benefits.

What’s the difference between a death benefit and an accelerated death benefit?

A death benefit is awarded to a beneficiary after you, the policyholder, pass away.
 
An accelerated benefit can be paid out while you’re still living, but this will decrease the benefit paid to your beneficiary after your death.

Retirement planning for seniors: 10 mistakes to avoid

Retirement financial planning the smart way

Retirement financial planning is about more than electing to put part of your paycheck into a 401(k) account. Effective retirement planning for seniors requires a multi-pronged approach that is as focused on what you should do as what you shouldn’t. To be successful in your retirement planning, you should avoid these 10 mistakes:

1. Waiting to plan for retirement

Just because you aren’t making a salary that aligns with your ultimate earning goal, that doesn’t mean you should put off retirement planning. When it comes to investing for your retirement, it makes sense to start earlier rather than later.

2. Saving too much too soon

Planning for the future is never a bad idea, but don’t forget to plan for today. Unexpected big expenses, like home repairs and medical bills, will come up between now and the time you retire. You need to keep enough fluid funds to build up a savings account while also covering regular expenses, like your mortgage and car payments. Also, don’t make the mistake of focusing so much on pinching pennies for when you stop working that you regret not enjoying the journey along the way.

3. Forgetting 401(k)s and IRAs are tax-deferred, not tax-free

It can be a big wake-up call if you don’t plan for taxes in retirement. Just because you’re not paying taxes on your accounts now, doesn’t mean you never will. To fully understand the tax implications of your retirement savings accounts, consult a tax professional.

4. Not buying the right insurance at the right time

Some seniors may not know that Medicare doesn’t cover everything. For instance, dental care and long-term care are not covered. According to a Fidelity retiree health care cost estimate, a 65-year-old couple who retires in 2022 needs $315,000 (after tax) to cover health care costs in retirement.

Having a dental insurance plan and Medicare Supplement insurance can help you cover costs, like copayments, deductibles, and home health care, so you don’t deplete your retirement savings. When you explore all insurance plans available to you to find a policy tailored to your specific needs, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing that no matter what health hurdles come your way, you’ll be prepared.

5. Not planning for the unexpected

Besides unforeseen health issues, big life events can drastically affect your retirement funds. Adult children may return home, an elderly parent could require care, or you and your spouse may decide to separate. It’s hard to plan when you don’t know what you don’t know, but that’s where an American Republic Insurance Services agent comes in handy. They’re used to planning for the unexpected and can help you prepare for life’s twists and turns.

6. Over-relying on Social Security

A Social Security income will help you in your retirement years, but don’t expect to live on it alone. According to the Social Security Administration, the average benefit for a retired worker in 2022 is $1,669. Ask yourself: Would that cover all your expenses — housing, food, health care, leisure activities, and unexpected costs? Probably not. Senior financial and retirement planning should be more robust than simply believing, “I will have my Social Security.”

Learn more about annuities

7. Forgetting about inflation and life expectancy

Even though 2022 was an outlier and had the largest annual inflation rate increase since the early 1980s, it still illustrates how vital it is to factor inflation into your retirement plan. Its relevance increases significantly when you also consider life expectancy is on the rise for both men and women. An American Republic Insurance Services agent knows how to calculate these two variables and suggest ways to properly plan for them.

8. Not paying down debt

With the average credit card interest rate at 15.13% APR, your nest egg will diminish rapidly if you’re still paying down debt when you retire. Even if your mortgage interest rate is low and you receive a considerable tax deduction, it doesn’t replace a healthy cash flow throughout the year. Retiring debt-free should be your goal to stretch your retirement account as far as possible.

9. Procrastinating on end-of-life planning

Even if you haven’t accumulated a great deal of wealth, you still need to have a plan for what you’ll leave behind. A life insurance plan ensures your loved ones aren’t left with a financial burden after you’re gone. An American Republic Insurance Services agent can help you determine which type of life insurance policy best fits your wishes. And an estate planning professional can help you gather necessary documents, such as a financial power of attorney, trust contracts, and tax documents, and craft a will that ensures your family will be taken care of when you pass away. Remember to discuss your plans with your spouse and children, so they know what your plans are, and update your plans about every five years.

Learn more about types of life insurance

10. Forgetting to make a retirement “life” plan

Senior retirement planning is more than matching dollars and cents with interest rates and statistics. You want to make sure you have enough money to enjoy your retirement to the fullest. Ask yourself how you plan to fill your days after you stop working. Will you travel? Try a new hobby? Volunteer? Big expenses like traveling are easy to plan your savings around, but what about the little costs that add up? A new hobby could require a lot of equipment purchases, or a rewarding volunteer opportunity may be located a few towns away, which could rack up gas costs. Don’t forget to list granular details and prepare how to cover them. An American Republic Insurance Services agent can help you decide whether an annuity could help fund the retirement of your dreams.

Why pairing Hospital Indemnity with Medicare Supplement makes sense

Cover even more gaps with Medicare Supplement and Hospital Indemnity in your insurance portfolio

Medicare Supplement insurance is a cost-share plan that may help you pay for expenses that Medicare does not cover. Also called Medigap — because it fills in the gaps of Medicare coverage — this type of insurance helps you cover potentially expensive medical out-of-pocket costs, like coinsurance, copayments, and deductibles. But when you pair it with Hospital Indemnity insurance, you can cover even more gaps.
 
It’s easy to overlook the additional costs you can incur while you’re hospitalized. A Hospital Indemnity insurance plan can provide you with supplemental cash benefits to use as needed, even for indirect non-medical costs.

What does Hospital Indemnity cover?

Hospital Indemnity differs from regular health insurance because it has no deductible, no coinsurance, and no network, and the benefit is paid out directly to you tax-free.
 
“Each person’s needs are going to be different. If a catastrophic event occurs, you might not be able to cover all the costs with your current income or savings,” explains Erin Bueltel, product specialist for supplemental health insurance. “If you’re on Medicare and are interested in additional insurance but don’t want to pay a high premium, a simple add-on of Hospital Indemnity at a lower premium might help provide relief.”

Hospital Indemnity policies generally have similar base benefits, such as:

Depending on the carrier and which state you live in, you may also have access to riders that you can add to your policy to cover even more gaps. They usually cover services, such as:

The benefits of pairing Hospital Indemnity and Medicare Supplement

Hospital Indemnity insurance can offer protection in a variety of ways for Medicare Supplement policyholders: