Policy of protection
In 1977, Lucia Taylor was 34, the mother of two and a widow.
Her husband, Robert, was killed in a freak kayaking accident on the Gauley River. Lucia, a stay-at-home mom, wondered whether she could keep her home and whether she would have to find a job.
“I thought, ‘What can I do?’” Taylor said. “I thought immediately that I would have to leave my children and go to work.”
But eight years earlier, the Taylors took out a $120,000 life insurance policy on Robert, then an executive with AT&T. The money went a long way, allowing Lucia to keep the family’s house in Elkview, start college funds for her sons and only work part-time, and, even then, not right away.
“We had been a young couple and we felt we didn’t need life insurance at first,” she said. “But we all need to see, especially women left alone with small children, that we should set up something like this.”
Lucia Taylor, now Lucia Taylor-McCoy, was insured through Woodmen of the World, an Omaha, Neb.-based company that issued $2.52 billion in life insurance last year.
“I would certainly advise people to start at least some type of life insurance program when they’re still healthy,” said David Williams, Woodmen of the World’s West Virginia manager. “Unfortunately, a lot of people are not disciplined enough to save themselves. Life insurance can be a forced type of savings.”
Consumers should base their life insurance purchases on three factors, according to www.lifein
s Choosing a beneficiary.
s Choosing a type of policy that best suits your needs.
s Selecting a level of coverage.
There are two basic types of life insurance policies: term and permanent.
“With term life insurance, it’s like renting a house. It starts cheap and the older you get, it gets more expensive. And when you’re finished, you don’t own the house,” said Scott Whorton, a State Farm agent in Charleston. “With permanent, or whole, life insurance, you start out paying higher premiums, but you build up dividends that make the policy worth much more.”
With a permanent policy, Whorton said, when you have paid $70,000 in premiums for a $100,000 policy, the total value could be worth more than double what you’ve paid.
“And with term, the only way you get something back is if you die,” he said.
But some customers might not be able to afford permanent life insurance, and others might not want to. Term life insurance can work well for the heads of a household who want to ensure their families’ future for a certain period.
“Let’s say you’re 24 years old, married and you have a couple of kids and you have a mortgage,” Whorton said. In that case, a 20-year policy might make sense because if you died, your beneficiaries would have money to live on, pay off mortgages or pay for children’s educations.
“People in their 30s usually buy term life insurance and mutual funds,” Williams said. “In their 20s and 30s, you’re just trying to get protection. You’re limited in money, but you’re just trying to make sure your needs are covered.”
To do that, customers should ask insurance agents for complete needs analyses before buying a policy. That requires providing the agent with personal information, such as future goals and current liabilities. If a customer doesn’t want to provide that information, “the rule of thumb is that seven times their annual income is a good place to start,” Williams said.
Thanks to low interest rates and competition in the industry, term rates have fallen for more than a decade. A $500,000 policy for a 40-year-old could probably be bought for less than half that today, according to Linda Stern, who covers finance issues for Reuters.
But that might change soon. Costs are up because of consolidation in the reinsurance market — where insurance companies insure their policies. That’s led some companies to raise rates 5 percent to 10 percent in recent months, according to CBS Marketwatch.
“Before those price hikes really kick in would be a good time to buy a new policy if you’re underinsured, or to reject an old, expensive one,” Stern wrote.
Customers can also convert to permanent coverage during the life of their term policy regardless of any health changes, Whorton said.
Williams also advises people to consider disability insurance policies.
“Certainly, the breadwinner or two breadwinners are the big risk for losing one of those incomes for a certain period of time,” he said. “We can protect them through a disability income plan.”
Williams said people ages 25 to 60 are three times more likely to miss up to six months of work because of injury than they are to die.
“I guess people look at it as more of a luxury than a necessity,” Williams said. But 44,000 of Kanawha County’s 411,000 residents — and 410,000 of the state’s 1.8 million residents — receive some type of disability payment, Williams said.
“That certainly proves that disability insurance is something everybody needs,” he said.
Since her first husband’s death, Taylor-McCoy became involved with Woodmen, a fraternal nonprofit organization that is owned and operated by its members. Members are connected by “a desire to better their lives, their families’ lives and their communities,” according to the company’s Web site.
Taylor-McCoy said her family and her church helped her deal with her husband’s death. But she also became so involved with Woodmen that in January, she was elected to the company’s board of directors.
“I’m just a little person from West Virginia and I’m on the board of directors for a national company,” she said. “I was determined to raise my children; I was a den mother. I couldn’t have done all that if I hadn’t had insurance.”
To contact staff writer Paul Wilson, use e-mail or call 348-5179.