Comparatively speaking, of all the different types of life insurance available, term is usually the least expensive. Generally, term life insurance provides protection for a stated or defined period of time, usually from one year to 30 years. If you die during the coverage term, your beneficiary receives the death benefit from the policy. But what if you outlive the term? With return of premium (ROP) life insurance, you receive the return of all your premium payments at the end of the policy term if certain conditions are met.
What is ROP?
Variations may apply, but generally ROP is term life insurance coverage for a specific number of years (term). The face amount of the policy, or death benefit, is paid to your beneficiaries if you die during the term. But unlike straight term, if you live longer than the term, all of your premiums are returned to you with ROP as long as the policy was in good standing and in force at the end of the term. Some insurers even pay back a prorated portion of your premium if you cancel the ROP term insurance before the end of the term. Also, the premium returned generally is not considered ordinary income, so you won’t have to pay income taxes on the money you receive from the insurance company. (Please consult your tax adviser.)
Unlike permanent cash value life insurance, ROP premiums generally do not earn interest or appreciate in value. Also, the premium returned usually does not include the return of added premium charges for substandard coverage (extra premium charged for poor health) or costs for certain policy riders (extra premium you pay for benefits added to the basic term policy, such as a disability rider).
The cost of ROP can be significantly greater than straight term insurance, depending on the issuer, age of the insured, amount of coverage (death benefit), and length of the term. But ROP almost always costs less than permanent life insurance with the same death benefit. While straight term insurance can be purchased for terms as short as one year, most ROP insurance is sold for terms of 10 years or longer.
Is ROP right for you?
Before you buy life insurance, you should know how much insurance you need. Your need for insurance is based on numerous factors, some of which include your current age and income, your marital status, the number of incomes in your household, your number of dependents, your long-term financial goals, the amount of your outstanding debt, your existing life insurance, and your other assets. You should also consider your overall financial, estate, and tax planning goals as part of your insurance needs evaluation.
Term insurance is appropriate for situations when there is a high need for insurance but not much cash flow to pay for it. For example, a young family with limited cash resources may have a great need for survivor income to provide for living expenses and education needs. Also, term insurance may be appropriate to cover needs for a limited period of time, such as coverage during your working years, your children’s college years, or for the duration of a loan or mortgage.
Whether to consider ROP term insurance usually revolves around a few issues. Does the added cost of ROP fit into your budget? It’s great to know you can get your money back if you outlive the term of your life insurance coverage, but there is a cost for that benefit. Also, if you die during the term of insurance coverage, your beneficiaries will receive the same death benefit from the ROP policy as they will from the less-expensive straight term.
Some financial professionals recommend that the best way to provide for your life insurance needs is to “buy term and invest the difference.” This suggestion is based on the premise that you know how long you will need life insurance protection (until your mortgage is paid off, for example), and that you’ll be able to get a better return on your savings from other investments. The same rationale may apply to ROP term insurance. Since your premiums do not earn interest while with the issuer, they likely will not keep up with inflation. So you may want to consider paying the lower premiums for straight term insurance and investing the difference to potentially accumulate more savings.
When choosing between these two alternatives, you may want to think about the amount of coverage you need, the amount of money you can afford to spend, and the length of time you need the coverage to continue. Your insurance professional can help you by providing information on straight term and ROP term life insurance, including their respective premium costs.