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What is Variable Life Insurance and How Does It Work?

Variable life insurance is a more complex but unique option for those interested in the opportunity to grow their wealth faster. Besides the added peace of mind you can receive with having lifelong coverage, this policy offers more flexibility with the premiums and death benefit. This article will explain variable life insurance in more detail to help you decide if it’s the right policy type for you.

What is a variable life insurance policy? 

Variable life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance policy that features a death benefit and a cash value growth component. The cash value lets you invest in various securities, such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. These investments can provide more upside potential, but also more risk.1

Variable life insurance features

Variable life insurance offers the following features:

Lifelong coverage

As long you remain current on premium payments, variable life insurance coverage lasts for life. Once you apply for and buy the policy, it will never expire.

Death benefit

The death benefit payout is the amount paid to beneficiaries if you pass away during the policy term. This allows beneficiaries to help replace your income, pay down debts, cover final expenses, and save for the future. Beneficiaries can opt to receive the death benefit as a lump sum or an annuity with various payout methods.

Cash value

Part of each premium you pay goes into a cash value growth component. Once your cash value grows enough, you can borrow from it at favorable terms, withdraw from it, use it to pay premiums, or increase your death benefit. You can also receive your cash value minus surrender charges if you surrender the policy.

Pros and cons of variable life insurance

Variable life insurance offers several benefits, but also some downsides to consider:1

Pro: Coverage for your whole life

Since variable life insurance lasts for life, you won’t have to worry about renewing coverage or getting a new policy. This can provide added peace of mind knowing that your loved ones will receive financial support no matter when you pass away.

Pro: Investment growth potential

The ability to select individual investments offers additional tax-deferred growth potential that is unavailable on policies with fixed interest rates, like whole life insurance. Choosing good investments can potentially help you accumulate more cash value.

Pro: Flexible premiums 

Variable life insurance lets you adjust your premiums in several ways. First, if you want lower premiums, you can pay less in exchange for a lower death benefit. You can also increase your death benefit by paying higher premiums.

Cash value also plays a role. Once you gain enough cash value, you can use it to pay some or all of your premiums. If your investments continue doing well, you could potentially earn sufficient returns to pay premiums with your cash value indefinitely.

Finally, you can overpay premiums to put more into your cash value. This could help you invest more funds early on, taking advantage of compounding returns and faster potential growth if your investments do well.

Con: More complex policy 

The extra choice and flexibility make variable life insurance a more complex policy type than other forms of life insurance. You must monitor and manage your investments and determine how you want to pay premiums. This can require additional time and may lead to stress if you become overwhelmed by investment selection and management.

Con: Your cash value could decrease

Access to investments offers more growth potential but also more risk. If your investments underperform, your cash value can decrease. This may leave you with less wealth to tap into. Significant underperformance could also result in a smaller death benefit.

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Who should get variable life insurance?

Variable life insurance’s extra reward potential, risk, and complexity can make it suited for specific types of policyholders. Here are some instances where this type of policy may make sense for you:1

You want to actively manage your life insurance investments 

If you enjoy managing your investments and are confident in doing so, a variable life insurance policy could be a good option. Good investment selection and management could help you build tax-deferred wealth faster. This could mean a potentially quicker route to paying premiums with cash value or using it to help cover other expenses.

You’re comfortable with the risks

Selecting securities that can fluctuate in value is inherently riskier than having a policy like whole life insurance, which has cash value that grows at a low but fixed and guaranteed rate. Therefore, variable life insurance may work for you if you have a higher risk tolerance for investments.

You’re willing to pay more in premiums for lifelong coverage 

Variable life insurance tends to cost more than other permanent life insurance policies. This is because the insurer may require more cash value to cushion against a potential market downturn. Plus, your investments may come with administrative and management fees, and offering the investment component itself is more expensive. That said, you could offset some of the higher expenses if your investments grow sufficiently. Later on, you can use your cash value to pay premiums if it’s large enough.

Alternatives to variable life insurance

If variable insurance isn’t right for you, here are several alternatives to suit various needs:

  • Term life insurance: Term life insurance typically lasts 10 to 30 years, meaning it can expire and has no cash value. However, premiums are much lower than permanent life insurance. Aflac offers term life insurance with reasonable premiums and customizable coverage.

  • Whole life insurance: Whole life insurance is another permanent life insurance policy with cash value. However, the cash value grows at a low, fixed, guaranteed rate. There is less reward potential, but also less risk. This type of policy can be suitable for policyholders who need a simpler form of lifelong coverage. Aflac whole life insurance can give you the lifelong coverage you want at premiums that fit many budgets.

  • Universal life insurance: Universal life insurance blends elements of whole life insurance’s stability and variable life insurance’s flexibility. It offers lifelong coverage and a fixed, guaranteed cash value interest rate. However, you can adjust your death benefit by raising or lowering your premiums. Aflac does not offer universal life insurance.

Learn more about life insurance

Variable life insurance requires more involvement on the policyholder’s part, given the additional flexibility and ability to select investments. Policyholders may enjoy faster potential growth but also bear the risk of losses if investments underperform. Therefore, variable insurance could be a good option if you have a higher risk tolerance and prefer a more active approach to your policy.

If you’re interested in getting a life insurance policy, Aflac has you covered with a variety of options. Speak with an agent today to learn more and find the right policy type for you.

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