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Different insurance companies charge different rates for their life insurance. Comparing costs can be very difficult. For example, one company might offer a competitively priced policy for 25-year-olds, but not for 40-year-olds.

There are some common factors that insurance companies use to decide how much to charge you for the kind and amount of insurance you want to buy. These include:  

  • your age and gender;  
  • your health and health habits (such as smoking);  
  • your family health history;  
  • whether you are engaged in a hazardous occupation, or have dangerous hobbies (such as auto racing or sky diving).  

The insurance company will get this information from your application, and may ask you to fill out a health questionnaire, or have a medical examination. Once they have the information, the insurance company will decide if your risk of death is average or greater than normal for your age and gender. If they believe the risk is greater, they will charge you more than normal. (This is called being rated.) Remember, a different company may not believe your risk is greater than normal, and may charge you their standard rates.

If you are "rated," you should be told the reason, such as poor health or a dangerous occupation. If the reasons for the original rating improve, tell your insurance company and ask them to review the situation. Your premiums might go down.

Another major difference in determining insurance costs will be the insurance company's
administrative fees and expenses, including overhead, agent commissions and other costs of doing business.  

What Other Benefits Are Available in Life Insurance? ("Riders")  

At the time you buy a life insurance policy, you may want to buy additional benefits. These benefits are called riders. If you buy riders, you can expect to pay more than if you bought simply the basic life insurance policy. Here are some common riders, but you should ask the insurance company what riders are available with the policy you are thinking of buying.  


Accelerated Death Benefits  

These are also known as "living benefits". You may receive all or a part of the benefits of your life insurance policy before you die. Living benefits are paid out for causes such as: terminal illnesses like AIDS, organ transplant, or permanent confinement to a nursing home. The allowable reasons to receive living benefits may be different for each company, and you should check before you buy the policy. Any benefit paid to you before you die will mean that your beneficiaries will get that much less when you die.  

Viatical Settlements  

A "viatical settlement" is not insurance. It is a contract in which the terminally-ill owner of life insurance (the "viator") sells the death benefit to a third party in return for immediate cash. This cash will be a percentage of the expected death benefit. For example, the viatical settlement company buys a life insurance policy that will pay a $100,000 death benefit, for $80,000.

If you sell your life insurance to a viatical company in a viatical settlement, that company will pay future premiums and will be the owner and beneficiary of your life insurance. Once you die, your original beneficiaries will get nothing from that life insurance policy.

The viator may also contract for a "viatical loan" with a viatical loan company. In this instance, the loan is secured by the value of the life insurance policy. You will be expected to make regular payments on the loan and continue to pay your life insurance premiums, but you will retain ownership of the life insurance policy.

The percentage you can expect to receive from selling your policy, or the amount and terms of the loan may vary widely from one viatical company to another. You should seek offers from several companies in order to get the best result.

In determining the sales price or loan amount, the viatical settlement or loan company considers several factors, including the life expectancy of the person whose life is insured. The shorter the life expectancy, the higher the payment.

Payments generally vary between 50 to 90 percent of the policy's expected death benefit, but can be even less than 50 percent of the expected death benefit.

If you are considering a viatical contract you may want to consult with your lawyer, doctor, life insurance agent or company, and accountant or financial planner. These contracts are very complicated, and may affect other issues such as Medicaid eligibility. You may not be able to back out of a viatical contract once you have signed it, so you will need to be very certain of what you want to do before you sign.  

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