A column on personal finance prepared by the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants


(July 19, 2004) — Life insurance can be vital to protecting your family’s financial future and can also help you manage some immediate expenses. The most common goal for life insurance is to provide income replacement for a surviving spouse and dependents. However, life insurance can also be earmarked for paying estate tax settlement costs, shifting wealth to the next generation or benefiting favored charities. Whatever the ultimate purpose, life insurance can be a complex product. To get the best coverage, the Virginia Society of CPAs suggests you shop around and compare company quality, coverage and costs.

Finding a Reputable Company

A life insurance policy is only as good as the company behind it. That makes selecting the right company at least as important as choosing the right policy. Rating agencies, such as A.M. Best and Moody’s Investors Service, grade companies based on their financial stability, the timeliness with which claims are paid and the quality of customer service.

Choosing Term Insurance or Permanent Coverage

Life insurance policies generally fall into one of two broad categories: term insurance and permanent coverage. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

With "term insurance", if the insured dies during the policy’s term, the beneficiary receives the policy proceeds. No benefits are paid if the insured lives beyond the term of the policy, and there is no investment or cash value feature. Term policies from different companies can be compared relatively easily, since there are few variables from policy to policy. Term insurance is significantly less expensive than permanent coverage.

"Permanent insurance", often referred to as whole life, covers you for your entire life. This type of insurance offers a set death benefit for a specific premium, but the policy doesn’t have an ending date. You continue to pay the premium for the rest of your life, unless you decide to cash in the policy and receive, as a lump sum, the policy’s accumulated cash value. Basic types of permanent insurance policies include variable life and universal life, in addition to whole life. Unlike term policies, whole life policies differ in substantial ways, including surrender charges, cash value projections, terms for borrowing against the policy’s cash value and dividends paid by the company. Be sure to take these factors into account when comparing policies.

Selecting the Level of Coverage

It’s difficult to apply a rule of thumb for determining how much life insurance you should buy. The level of protection you need depends on factors such as your age, total assets, health, sources of income, number of dependents, extent of debt and lifestyle. If you have no dependents, or if you don’t generate a significant percentage of your family’s income, you may not need life insurance at all. On the other hand, if your salary is critical to supporting your family, paying the mortgage and sending your children to college, life insurance can help meet these financial obligations should you die prematurely.

Shopping for the Best-Priced Policy

When shopping for term insurance, you’re likely to find there are significant price differences for essentially the same coverage. The Internet offers a fast and easy way to compare. If you are interested in permanent life insurance, it’s generally a good idea to confer with your CPA and a life insurance agent. Independent agents work with many insurers and often find the best policy at the best price. If there is a particular insurer you have in mind, you can work with an exclusive agent who sells policies for just that company. In some cases, you can purchase a policy directly from the insurance carrier.

Consulting with a CPA

A CPA can help you review your financial situation and determine how much and what type of insurance is best for you. And remember, once you contract for a policy, there is typically a review period during which you can cancel coverage if you change your mind.

The Virginia Society of CPAs is the leading professional association dedicated to enhancing the success of all CPAs and their profession by communicating information and vision, promoting professionalism, and advocating members’ interests. Founded in 1909, the Society has nearly 8,000 members who work in public accounting, industry, government and education. This Money Management column and other financial news articles can be found in the Press Room on the VSCPA Web site at

Lifetime Financial Planning, Inc.

Dean Knepper, CPA, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional

2325 Dulles Corner Boulevard, Suite 500, Herndon, Virginia, 20171

208 South King Street, Suite 201, Leesburg, Virginia, 20175

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