Other Uses for Life Insurance You May Not Know About

Did you purchase a life insurance policy years ago to protect your loved ones? Just over half of adult Americans have a life insurance policy, and more say they’re interested in purchasing one. However, needs can change later in life when the kids are grown up and a retirement nest egg seems big enough to absorb financial shocks. Those nearing and in retirement may see less reason for their life insurance policy than when they first purchased it and may see the premiums they pay as burdensome.

But for many, there are potential benefits to continuing a life insurance policy or purchasing certain types in retirement, when it comes to taxes, estate planning and long-term care. Here are some ways to use a life insurance policy that you may not know about.

What Are the Tax Benefits of Life Insurance?

The tax benefits of a life insurance policy are potentially even more valuable now that the “stretch IRA” is no more. In 2019, the SECURE Act  (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) eliminated the option for most non-spouse beneficiaries to stretch out RMDs (required minimum distributions) over the course of their lifetime. Now, most non-spouse beneficiaries must drain tax-deferred retirement accounts within 10 years of the original owner’s death. Depending on how much is in the account and the beneficiary’s tax situation, this could mean an increased tax burden and a faster end to the tax benefits of the inherited account.

In contrast, life insurance proceeds paid to beneficiaries are generally income tax-free. In fact, some individuals should consider using life insurance to help transfer wealth to the next generation. Life insurance policies can provide business owners additional opportunities, such as paying off business debt, funding buy-sell agreements related to someone’s business or estate, or funding retirement plans. 

What Are the Long-Term Care Benefits of Life Insurance?

It’s estimated that 70% of Americans age 65 today will need long-term care at some point, and the costs can be staggering: The median annual cost for an assisted living facility is $51,600 and the median

annual cost for a private room in a nursing home is over $105,850. Yet, many Americans nearing and in retirement do not have long-term care insurance. Many people who do want to plan for long-term care costs may not want to invest in traditional long-term care insurance, because premiums can rise significantly, and there are typically no benefits if the owner ends up never needing long-term care.

As a result, traditional long-term care insurance has become less popular in the last decade. An alternative option is to use a life insurance policy with long term care benefits. These policies combine the benefits of long-term care insurance with those of permanent life insurance through the purchase of an optional rider. They can still provide a death benefit if the owner passes away without having needed long-term care. If the owner does need long-term care, a certain amount of money or time is allotted to cover costs. If this amount isn’t used up, some policies can offer a “return of premium” guarantee upon death or termination of the policy. If a remaining amount is passed on, beneficiaries may be able to enjoy it tax-free, depending on the policy.

Unlike traditional long-term care insurance, this type of life insurance policy’s premiums don’t rise. However, some require lump-sum payments at the start, which can make purchasing a policy difficult for some.

The Bottom Line

While your financial planning needs may change as you near and enter retirement, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your life insurance policy is obsolete. There are many potential benefits to life insurance beyond its traditional use to look into when creating a retirement or estate plan. A professional can help you understand how your particular policy works, and if any of these strategies could apply to your financial plan.

Harlow Wealth Management is an independent financial services firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of investment and insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. Harlow Wealth Management Inc. is an SEC Registered Investment Adviser and an insurance agency registered with the state of Washington and other states. They do not provide tax or legal advice. Legal and tax advice should come from qualified professionals who can provide advice on these topics.
Insurance guarantees are backed by the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing company. Life insurance riders may be available for an additional annual premium; riders may not be available in all states. Life insurance policies are subject to medical underwriting, and in some cases, financial underwriting. Optional LTC benefits are NOT a replacement for long term care (LTC) insurance. Living benefits and LTC riders are not available on all index universal life products. Accelerated death benefits and LTC riders are subject to eligibility requirements.

CEO, Harlow Wealth Management

Chris Harlow is a Certified Public Accountant and CEO of Harlow Wealth Management, serving metropolitan Portland and southwest Washington to help clients craft their financial strategies for retirement. Chris’ past experiences have instilled in him a dedication to guiding clients through tax and retirement strategies. He has passed the FINRA Series 65 securities exam; holds life insurance licenses in Washington, Oregon and Arizona; and has his CPA license.

Source: kiplinger.com

Is It Time to Let Your Life Insurance Policy Lapse?

Taking out a life insurance policy is a smart move if you have anyone who depends on you. It’s no wonder then, that an estimated 54% of Americans have some type of life insurance. This figure only increased in the wake of COVID-19, which caused the demand for life insurance policies to increase. If you’re young, recently married or looking to start a family, most agree that the right path is clear — you should take out a life insurance policy.

But what do you do when, 20 or 30 years down the line, if all goes well, your policy is close to expiring or the financial well-being of your loved ones has changed significantly? You might think that this is a no-brainer, and that simply buying a new policy is always the best call — but that isn’t quite so.

The fact of the matter is that in some cases, letting your policy lapse even before it is about to expire can be the wiser choice. The feeling of security that you get from holding such a policy is always comforting — but in some cases, that feeling could be misguided.

It’s difficult to find trustworthy sources of information that deal with this topic, as most will feature a financial incentive to get you to renew your policy or buy a new one. Here, we’ll cover the situations in which you should renew your policy, but we’re also going to illuminate an often overlooked topic: When does it make sense to let your policy lapse?

What is Life Insurance?

A life insurance policy is a contract that is signed between you, as the policyholder, and an insurer. It guarantees that the beneficiaries you name in the contract will receive a sum of money when you pass away. In exchange, you will have to pay premiums — usually as either a one-time payment or as regular monthly payments.

If the worst comes to pass, your beneficiaries will receive the death benefit or the face value of the policy. You get to choose what that amount will be, based on your approximation of how much money is necessary for your loved ones to be secure.

When applying for a policy, you will go through the process of underwriting — the insurance company will assess the level of risk that they’re exposed to, based on factors such as your age, gender, health, history and occupational hazards.

What Happens When Your Life Insurance Policy Lapses?

If you have a term life insurance policy and it lapses while you are alive, your beneficiaries will not receive a payout. Your policy will lapse if you stop paying premiums — and you won’t receive anything in the way of a refund for premiums paid up to that point.

However, missing a single payment won’t automatically render your life insurance policy void. All life insurance policies in the United States must offer a grace period by law, usually 30 days — although with the advent of the Coronavirus, plenty of life insurance providers have extended that grace period to 60 or even 90 days.

Keep in mind, however, that grace period payments are usually substantially higher than regular payments. After the grace period expires, your policy is officially void in most cases. Nonetheless, some insurance companies offer a period, known as a reinstatement period, during which you can renew your policy.

You should always be aware of whether your insurance provider offers such an option. In the vast majority of cases, where applicable, you can reinstate your policy without underwriting within a month of your policy lapsing.

However, if you exceed your reinstatement period, the insurance company will most likely want to find out if your risk profile has changed. Thankfully, the underwriting process that is required with reinstating a policy is much less time-consuming and grueling than the initial process of taking out a life insurance policy.

Reinstating a policy always comes with fees. However, on the whole, reinstating a policy is much cheaper than taking out a new life insurance policy altogether. If you do not reinstate the policy, it will lapse.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you might decide to let that happen.

When Should You Let Your Life Insurance Policy Lapse?

The simplest way to find the answer to this question is to ask yourself: If I died tomorrow, would anyone who depends on me face significant financial challenges? 

If you’ve saved up enough for retirement, paid off the house and don’t have any major debts, letting your policy lapse can be the more cost-effective decision. Keep in mind that renewing your policy always comes with much higher premiums — and since the policy is renewed year after year, it is perfectly reasonable to explore whether paying for such coverage has continued value.

If your family is in a position to keep up with their regular payments (mortgages, auto loans, student debt, etc.) while still retaining their current standard of living, and if your financial obligations are settled, there is little reason to renew your policy. The purpose of life insurance is to keep our loved ones financially secure if we should pass — and if the criteria listed above have been met, your family is likely to already be in a secure position. Thus, renewing your policy could have the sole effect of putting undue strain on your finances.

When Should You Renew Your Life Insurance Policy?

Conversely, if you still carry a significant amount of debt that is yet to be settled, or you don’t have enough saved for retirement, renewing your policy is a good way to ensure that your beneficiaries will be safe in the years to come, no matter what happens.

Although premiums are higher when you renew a life insurance policy, you can still opt to sign up for a payout that is smaller, yet more affordable for your current needs. 

In your 20s or 30s, leaving a spouse or children without your financial support makes policies with $1 million or even more in payouts justified. However, if you’re close to retirement age, a couple hundred thousand dollars might be more than enough should the worst come to pass.

Keep in mind that some employer-sponsored policies can come with tax benefits. Group-term life insurance policies, for example, are not taxable for the first $50,000 worth of coverage, allowing you to reduce your taxable income by a sizable amount.

You should also keep in mind that plenty of life insurance policies also come with living benefits. If you run into long-term health complications, this can greatly reduce the financial burden that you and your family will be subject to.

Founder, Lakeview Capital

Tim Fries is co-founder of Protective Technologies Capital, an investment firm focused on helping owners of industrial technology businesses manage succession planning and ownership transitions. He is also co-founder of the financial education site The Tokenist. Previously, Tim was a member of the Global Industrial Solutions investment team at Baird Capital, a Chicago-based lower-middle market private equity firm.

Source: kiplinger.com

How to Budget for Insurance

The cost of insurance can be a big hit to your personal bottom line. That’s especially true when you consider all the types of coverage you may need to pay for, including auto, health, and life insurance plans. Here are some tips for how to budget for insurance without compromising your lifestyle.

A young Asian woman sits at a tabletop writing in a notebook about how to budget for insurance.

Steps for Budgeting for Insurance

In addition to being legally required in many instances, insurance is often a good investment for your wallet and your peace of mind. The expense of insurance can actually save you money in the long run.

Budgeting for insurance may seem complicated, but it really comes down to two simple actions: First, decide what type of insurance you need. Then, start budgeting for it. Here are five steps for incorporating insurance into your personal finances.

1. Decide how much insurance you need

For each type of insurance you decide to get, you’ll need to decide how much coverage to buy. When it comes to insurance, cost shouldn’t be the only factor in your purchase decision. Instead, think critically about how much coverage you need. If you’re not sure how much insurance or what type to get, consider talking with an insurance agent for advice.

Do you need your homeowner’s insurance to include liability in case someone else is injured on your property? Is term life or whole life insurance better for your situation? Who needs to be covered by your auto insurance?

2. Get quotes from agents or online

Once you know what type of insurance you want and how much coverage you need, get some quotes. Shop around and get quotes from multiple companies. Remember to compare the coverage and not just the premium price—you might find that you’re getting a much better value when paying only a little more a month with one company over another.

3. Find out what the payment schedule is

Discuss the payment schedule before you agree to an insurance policy. It’s common for auto insurance companies to offer a significant discount if you can pay for six months of insurance at a time, for example. Here are some common pay schedule options for various types of coverage.

  • Home Insurance: Paid annually or biannually, often out of escrow if you have a current mortgage
  • Car insurance: Paid every six months or monthly
  • Life insurance: Paid monthly
  • Health insurance: Paid monthly or via pretax deductions from your paycheck if the coverage is through your employer

Understanding the payment schedule will help you budget for insurance more effectively.

4. Set aside enough money monthly

However you plan to pay for insurance, break the amount down into a monthly budgeted amount. For example, if your home insurance is $900 every six months, set aside $150 every month. It’s much easier to budget for $150 than it is to come up with $900 all at once.

5. “Pay” the bill monthly

If you do pay monthly, go ahead and budget so that you can pay your insurance bill at least a week before it’s due. That leaves you plenty of wiggle room if something ever comes up.

If you don’t pay monthly, act like you do. Move the monthly budgeted amount into a savings account and don’t touch it. Act like it’s not there so you’re not tempted to use it on something else and risk not having the money when the bill comes due.

How to Budget for Different Types of Insurance

Trying to include a large insurance expense in an already tight budget can be difficult. Here are some tips for making various types of insurance potentially more affordable so they are easier to budget for.

Car Insurance

The average American pays around $2,388 per year on auto insurance. But your actual expense can vary widely depending on your age, state of residence, type of car, credit score, and many other factors. Here are some tips for saving money on car insurance.

  • Increase your deductible. You may need to shell out a bit more in the event of an accident, but you can save a lot of money on your premiums.
  • Ask about discounts if you’re married, have multiple cars, are buying different types of insurance from the same company, or are a good driver. Some insurance companies also offer discounts for students with good grades.
  • Lower your liability amounts. This can reduce premiums, but you should ensure that it’s a good move for you financially overall.

Health Insurance

According to numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2018, the average amount people were contributing to their employer-sponsored health care plans each year was $1,186 for single coverage. You don’t have to pay that much for health insurance, though. Some ways you can save on this expense, especially if you’re purchasing as an individual through the marketplace, include:

  • Buy a plan with a higher deductible.
  • Enter all your income data into the marketplace application form to see if you qualify for subsidies or credits.
  • Apply for Medicaid if you’re eligible.

Life Insurance

The cost of life insurance depends heavily on your age, the type of insurance, and how much you’re purchasing. If you’re young, you might want to buy a whole-life policy that you can pay for now and still have when you’re older. If you’re older, you may want to opt for term life insurance, which is cheaper than other types.

Homeowner’s or Renter’s Insurance

One of the reasons insurance costs might be lower is because the company sees you as less of a risk. Homeowner’s and renter’s insurance may be cheaper for those that invest in security measures such as home security systems.

The Bottom Line on How to Budget for Insurance

You can get discounts and great deals on insurance if you’re willing to do your research. But, in most cases, insurance may still be a sizeable expense. Planning ahead and budgeting every month for these expenses is one of the best ways to ensure you can afford the coverage you need.

And since your insurance costs are sometimes impacted by your credit score, make sure you’re keeping up on all your other bills and reviewing your credit reports regularly.

DISCLAIMER. The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to be,  legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. 

Source: credit.com

Contesting Life Insurance Beneficiary – A Guide

Contesting Life Insurance Beneficiary – A Guide – SmartAsset

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Life insurance beneficiary designations allow the policyholder to decide who should receive a death benefit when he or she passes away. That doesn’t prevent someone from contesting life insurance beneficiary payouts, however. There are different reasons why someone may choose to dispute the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. If you believe you have a valid claim to contest someone’s beneficiary status or your own position as a beneficiary is being challenged, it’s important to understand how disputes can affect life insurance payouts.

Life insurance is one part of a complete estate plan, which is something a financial advisor can help you create and update. 

Is Contesting a Life Insurance Beneficiary Legal?

Generally speaking, yes. If someone else believes that the policyholder’s choice of beneficiary should not be honored then they can raise a claim to dispute it. This, however, can be a lengthy and time-consuming process that involves hiring an attorney and contesting the beneficiary in court. Only a court decision can change who can benefit from a life insurance policy; the insurer is required to abide by the terms of the original contract.

So who can contest a life insurance beneficiary?

In simple terms, anyone who believes they have a valid claim to a life insurance policy can contest the original policyholder’s choice of beneficiary. Some examples of when a life insurance beneficiary may be contested include:

  • A current spouse who objects to a former spouse being named as the life insurance policy’s beneficiary
  • Adult children who believe they should be named beneficiaries to a parent’s policy
  • Anyone who believes the original beneficiary designation was made under duress or undue influence

It’s not uncommon for disputes over life insurance beneficiaries to arise after someone makes changes to their policy (or fails to) after a major life change. So for example, if you get divorced and remarry you’d have to update your policy to make your new spouse the beneficiary. Otherwise, your former spouse would still be entitled to the policy’s death benefit when you pass away.

Can a Life Insurance Beneficiary Be Removed?

As long as the policyholder is alive, they can remove or add beneficiaries to their policy. Doing so typically requires filling out the appropriate paperwork with the insurance company.

Again, the reasons for removing a beneficiary from a life insurance policy may tie in to life changes. A change in marital status, the birth or death of a child or a falling out with a family member could all prompt a change of life insurance beneficiary.

Before changing a beneficiary, it’s important to consider the financial and legal implications. If you’re divorced, for example, but you’re required to keep your former spouse as the beneficiary as part of your divorce decree attempting to make changes could be problematic. In that scenario, it could make more sense to simply purchase a new policy and name someone else as a beneficiary.

Once the policyholder passes away, no changes can be made to the policy or its beneficiaries by the insurance company. A court order would be necessary to remove a beneficiary and replace them with someone else.

How Contesting Life Insurance Beneficiary Works

Contesting life insurance beneficiaries is a legal process but whether your dispute is subject to state or federal law can depend on the policy. If, for example, the life insurance policy was issued by an employer and is covered by ERISA guidelines then federal law would apply when disputing a beneficiary. A lawsuit would need to be filed in the probate court that’s overseeing the disposition of the deceased person’s estate.

Once the lawsuit is filed, the insurance company may choose to hold off on distributing death benefits to the named beneficiary until the case is resolved.

The person bringing the lawsuit to contest a beneficiary would need to demonstrate to the court why their claim should be upheld. The type of proof or evidence required to do so may depend on the nature of the claim.

For example, say you have two siblings and all three of you were named as co-beneficiaries on your mother’s life insurance policy. But just before she passed away, she changed the designation to exclude you and one of your siblings, leaving the entire death benefit to the third sibling. If you believe this change was made under duress you’d need to be able to prove that your sibling coerced your mother into making the changes.

If you’re able to prove to the court that the change of beneficiaries shouldn’t have happened, then the court can order the life insurance company to uphold the original designations. But if you’re unable to show evidence that supports your claim, the court may rule in favor of your sibling and allow them to remain as the sole beneficiary.

Disputes over life insurance beneficiaries can be costly, as they typically require the expertise of one or more attorneys. They can also take time to process so it may be months or even years before a death benefit can be paid out, depending on the nature of the dispute claim.

Preventing a Contest of a Life Insurance Beneficiary

If you have a life insurance policy, there are some things you can do to minimize the possibility of someone challenging your choice of beneficiary.

First, consider carefully who you want to benefit from your policy. This is especially important if you have minor children. In that case, you could either name your children as beneficiaries along with a custodian who can manage the death benefit on their behalf until they reach adulthood or set up a trust. You could then name the trust as beneficiary to the policy, with your children serving as beneficiaries of the trust itself.

Next, consider reviewing your policy at least once a year to make sure your beneficiary designations still match up with your wishes. If not, you can get in touch with your insurance company to find out what you need to do to change your beneficiaries. Once you change them, let the old beneficiaries know that they’ve been removed from the policy.

When changing beneficiaries, consider talking to a financial advisor or an attorney first. If you’re divorced, for instance, it’s important to make sure changing beneficiaries won’t lead to any conflicts over your estate down the line if you decide to remarry or have more children. And a financial advisor can help you evaluate whether your current policy is sufficient in terms of what you’ll leave behind to your beneficiaries.

The Bottom Line

Contesting life insurance beneficiary designations can happen for a number of reasons. If you’re the beneficiary that’s being contested, you may need an estate planning attorney to help guide you through the legal process. And if you have a life insurance policy, it’s important to know what can trigger disputes over beneficiaries after you’re gone. Of course, there are alternatives to life insurance as ways to benefit a survivor. It might, for example, make sense for you to create a testamentary trust.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about purchasing life insurance if you don’t have a policy yet. And if you don’t have a financial advisor, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool makes it easy to connect with professional advisors in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized recommendations online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Knowing how much life insurance you need, or your beneficiary should have, is important. Use SmartAsset’s free life insurance calculator to get a good estimate of what the right amount for you is.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/kate_sept2004, ©iStock.com/Motortion, ©iStock.com/neicebird

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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Source: smartasset.com

7 Ways to Utilize Your Life Insurance Policy’s Cash Value

Permanent life insurance policies—like universal, variable and whole life—offer more than a death benefit. Some include cash value, which is a pool of money you can use while still alive. 

If you’ve had a policy for years, the cash value could be considerable. “The accumulation could be more than you put in, and this opens up all kinds of options,” says Jonathan Howard, a certified financial planner with SeaCure Advisors in Lexington, Ky. 

The cash value in permanent life insurance is your money, to be tapped as needed, but your options for doing so will depend on the type of policy and the carrier. Before doing anything, ask the insurer how much you can safely withdraw per year based on the cash value balance and policy terms. If you withdraw too much too early, the policy’s cash value could run out, forcing you to start paying more in premiums or have the coverage lapse.

If you no longer need coverage, it might be tempting to stop the policy and cash out all at once, but consider the tax ramifications, says Luke Chapman, a partner with Precision Wealth Partners in New Castle, Del. Any cash value growth above what you paid in premiums is taxed as ordinary income when withdrawn. For example, if you paid in $20,000, have $100,000 in cash value and withdraw the difference, the $80,000 of growth is taxable.

There are better ways to put that cash value to work that won’t ramp up your tax bill.

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Live Off of It

A man stacking coins.A man stacking coins.

A more tax-effective option is to withdraw only what you need each year. Howard recommends keeping some money for an emergency fund, perhaps 12 months of expenses, with the rest used to supplement your retirement income. Withdrawals draw down the tax-free premium payments first; taxes are owed only after you start withdrawing the gains.

2 of 7

Borrow Money

A person ready to sign some documents to take out a loan. A person ready to sign some documents to take out a loan.

You can also tap the cash value through a policy loan. You won’t owe taxes for withdrawing gains this way. Plus, you’ll have the option to repay the money, whereas you can’t reverse withdrawals. If the money is not repaid, the death benefit will cover the loan balance when you pass away.

The insurer will charge interest for the loan. “The interest rate is determined by the policy contract and is carrier specific,” says Howard. “It’s typically 4% to 8% a year.” Policy loan rates don’t usually change with market conditions, he says, so don’t expect a deal today just because overall interest rates are low. Your remaining cash value can be used to pay the interest.

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Exchange It for an Annuity

Concept art with several people looking at charts and graphs. Concept art with several people looking at charts and graphs.

The IRS lets you swap your permanent life insurance for an annuity through a 1035 exchange, which is a tax-free transfer of one contract for another. This move can generate more retirement income. “Let’s say the max payout stream from a cash value insurance policy is $10,000 a year. Converting to an annuity might generate $12,500,” Chapman says. An annuity could also guarantee the payments will last your entire life, but you will be canceling your life insurance policy, a move that can’t be reversed.

4 of 7

Convert to a New Policy to Pay for Long-Term Care

A nurse helps a woman at a nursing home.A nurse helps a woman at a nursing home.

If you’d like coverage for long-term care, consider converting your life insurance into another policy with a long-term care rider (if yours doesn’t have it already). You keep your life insurance, but part of the death benefit can be used to pay for long-term care expenses.

5 of 7

Use It as Collateral

A couple sitting in front of a house.A couple sitting in front of a house.

The cash value is an asset that increases your chances of qualifying for a loan or mortgage from a lender. It can even serve as the loan’s collateral, but Chapman warns to structure the deal carefully, as there can be tax consequences. Always ask an insurance expert before using cash value this way.

6 of 7

Tap It to Pay for the Policy

Concept art showing a life insurance policy document and calculator.Concept art showing a life insurance policy document and calculator.

The cash value can also be used to cover your life insurance premiums.

7 of 7

Leave It Alone

A couple who are declining something while speaking with a man on a laptop. A couple who are declining something while speaking with a man on a laptop.

You aren’t forced to do anything with your cash value. Left alone, the cash value will continue to accumulate, leaving a larger inheritance for your heirs, as withdrawals and loans reduce the final death benefit.

Source: kiplinger.com

A Simple Financial Spring Cleaning Checklist

Spring is the perfect time to complete a financial clean-up. Here we share a few financial areas of your life that may need some sprucing up. No mop required!

1. Banking

The banking industry is quite competitive. If you’re not getting any perks from your credit card company or bank, it’s time to make a switch.

Credit Cards

Credit card companies today offer everything from travel rewards to gift cards to cash back. Many cards even offer perks without requiring an annual fee. If you pay your credit card balance faithfully each month and are only rewarded with a good credit score, it may be time to shop around for a new card. Keep in mind that when you apply for a new credit card, your credit report takes a hit, so take your time researching and don’t apply for multiple cards.

Bank Accounts

Are you still paying minimum balance fees, monthly checking, or savings account fees? How about ATM or overdraft fees? Don’t! There are too many bank options these days competing for your business to still be paying multiple fees.

What about interest rates? Is your money making money? The Federal Reserve recently raised interest rates, but the average savings account rate is still only 0.06%. If you’re not making at least that, it may be time to think about switching.

Do you bank with a brick-and-mortar bank? How often do you actually go into one of their branches? If you think you can go without having an actual bank to walk into, consider switching to an online bank. Not only do online banks have minimal fees, they boast some of the highest interest rates around.

E-Statements and Auto-Pay

Save a tree and lower your risk of identity theft by switching to receiving online statements only. If you prefer to have a paper copy, make sure you shred the statements before tossing them out.

Consider switching to auto-pay whenever the option is offered. American households tend to have many different bills to pay all due at different times; it’s easy to accidentally overlook one. If you switch to an auto-pay billing option, payments are deducted automatically when they are due, so it’s one less thing to worry about. Just be sure to occasionally review your statements to ensure the right amounts are being deducted.

2. Taxes

You most likely have already filed your taxes. Did you have to pay in or did you get a refund? If the outcome was not what you expected, it’s time to double-check your withholding allowance on your paychecks.

We all want to lower our tax bill. Deductions can help, however, unless you pay to work closely with an accountant, how do you know what qualifies as a deduction?

Some common tax deductions include:

  • Dependent child credits,
  • Mortgage interest and real estate taxes,
  • Health insurance premiums,
  • Student loan interest.

Take a look at this article for some perhaps surprising tax deductions you should consider for next year: 9 Things You Didn’t Know Were Tax Deductions.

3. Budget

When is the last time you sat down and wrote out a monthly budget? Do you know your debt-to-income ratio?

A few years ago when I was in the market to buy a house, I opened an Excel spreadsheet and calculated what I spent on average each month compared to the income I bring in. Thankfully, Intuit recently introduce a new app, Turbo, which does this for you with ease. Generally, you want to aim to keep your debt-to-income ratio below 36% and mine was 53%. I had to make some changes. I tightened my budget (mainly by canceling cable TV and renegotiating my Internet bill) and paid off my auto loan. My ratio today is still a bit high, but it’s getting better.

Going through the memberships and subscriptions you currently pay is a great way to quickly lower your debt-to-income ratio. Chances are you’ll find you are paying a monthly fee for something you seldom use, or at least can live without. Do you need both Netflix and Hulu? Both Spotify and iTunes Music? Both Blue Apron and Hello Fresh? Probably not.

Print off the last two to three months of your credit card and bank account statements and go line-by-line to figure out a way you can save some money. Additionally, if you have a Mint account, log in and check out the Trends tab. You can view your spending and see where the majority of your money is going. You may be shocked at how much you spend within a certain category. It’s easy to just hand over your credit card, but actually seeing a graph of how much you spend can be a much needed wake-up call.

Spending by Category _ Mint

4. Retirement

It doesn’t matter how old you are, you need to plan ahead for retirement.

If your employer offers a 401(k), take advantage of it. This is the easiest way to save for retirement (not to mention it lowers your taxable income.) If they offer to match a certain percentage, even better. Aim to increase your contributions each time you get a pay raise, this way you won’t even miss the money.

Do you have more than one 401(k) or IRA? Consider consolidating.

Consolidating retirement accounts that share the same tax treatment can be beneficial for two reasons:

1. Keeping all your money in one place makes it more simple and manageable.

2. Having only one account reduces the amount of fees you’re paying.

A retirement rollover is the best way to move money from one account to another. It’s important to do so correctly to avoid fees. Check out this article for more information: How to Handle Retirement Rollovers Correctly.

For those of you whom have established retirement accounts, when was the last time you rebalanced your investment portfolio? Never?

Typically, the younger you are, the more risk you can handle in your investments because you have more time to make up for any losses. The closer you get to retirement age, the more conservative you should be. Financial planning experts recommend that you rebalance your portfolio once or twice a year, but check up on it frequently to make sure you’re in line with your target.

As you’re thinking about your retirement planning, also think about your beneficiaries. How long ago did you open your retirement accounts? Are your parents still listed as your beneficiaries on your 401(k) from your first job? Or maybe an ex-spouse is still designated? Review your beneficiaries as it may be time for an update.

5. Legacy Planning

Just because Spring is all about rebirth, doesn’t mean we should avoid the subject of death. There are three important aspects of legacy planning that should be dealt with sooner rather than later:

1. Writing a will

2. Authorizing power of attorney

3. Buying life insurance


If you don’t want the state to decide where your assets go when you die or, more importantly, who will be in charge of your children and funds owed to them, then you better draw up a will. Another, often forgotten, reason to have a will is to ensure no tension occurs within your family after you are gone. Without a will, you may have relatives arguing over your possessions and everyone may want input on what should happen to your assets.

If you have a complicated estate, such as business interests, trusts, multiple investment properties, etc., then you should probably hire a lawyer to help with your will. However, if your estate is a bit more simple (e.g.: married with kids and you own a house) you can draw up your will right online, if you’d like. You’ll need to print it off and get it witnessed and notarized, but it’ll be much cheaper than hiring a lawyer.

Power of Attorney

There are two kinds of power of attorney: financial and medical.

A financial power of attorney is most often just simply referred to as a power of attorney (POA) and this is a document that states a person or organization you name to act on your behalf in regards to handling financial and business transactions.

A medical power of attorney is a document that states a person you name who has the authority to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so, for example if you’re unconscious or mentally incapable.

Most people assume only elderly individuals need to have these POA documents in place, but you don’t need to be 80 years old to get into a car accident and become unconscious. If you become mentally or physically incompetent, your designated POA agents can make decisions on your behalf instead of it being left up to strangers who wouldn’t know your wishes, such as doctors and judges.

If you’re over 18 and considered of sound mind, you can draw up both types of POA documents. Hiring a lawyer is an option, but, like wills, you can create these documents online for a fee. Be sure to discuss with your agents of choice before drawing up the documents and make sure they understand your wishes and their responsibilities.

Life Insurance

Life insurance isn’t the happiest financial product to think about. However, while many Americans admit life insurance is important, many households are underinsured. People are telling themselves “It won’t happen to me,” meanwhile they really should be asking “What if?”

If you have young children, life insurance is a must. How would your loved ones be affected if your income were to suddenly disappear? Stop postponing and get a term life insurance quote today. Life insurance is more affordable than you think and because the process is mainly digital, it’s also become much more convenient to buy.

If you already have life insurance, good for you! But don’t forget to review your policies periodically after life changes such as a new baby, marriage or divorce, or changing jobs. Your coverage needs may have changed, not to mention beneficiaries may need updating.

Although many of these financial spring cleaning to-dos may take a bit of time to complete, you’ll feel accomplished and will ultimately be in a better financial place. Do you have any financial spring cleaning tips to share? Leave a message in the comments section.

Natasha Cornelius is a content manager and editor for Quotacy. She has worked in the life insurance industry since 2010, and has been making life insurance easier to understand with her writing since 2014. A long-time Mint user, Natasha loves making frugal fun by creating new DIY projects. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

From the Mint team:

What’s Turbo and why are we talking about it?

Turbo is part of the Intuit family of products, just like us. We work with Turbo, TurboTax and Quickbooks to get all our customers on the right track financially. While Mint provides free credit scores to our customers, Turbo combines the same score, plus other information like verified IRS filed income and debt to income ratio to create a broader financial health profile. Try out our sister app to see where you truly stand financially – beyond the credit score.

Mint may be compensated by some of the links that appear in this article. Our partners do not endorse, review or approve the content. Any links to Mint Partners were added after the creation of the posting.  Mint Partners had no influence on the creation, direction or focus of this article unless otherwise specifically stated.

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Part 1 of 3: Life Insurance Buyers’ Common Q&As

Understanding your policy’s death benefit.

Q: How long does it take my beneficiaries to get my life insurance death benefit?

Once the death benefit claim form and a copy of the death certificate have been received by the carrier, beneficiaries typically receive the death benefit check in two weeks.

However, if the insured dies within the contest-ability period (which is typically two years) the death benefit may take longer because the life insurance company has the option to investigate the claim if they choose do to so.

Q: How do I know my beneficiaries will get paid the death benefit?

Life insurance companies are not in the business to rip people off.  As long as your policy is inforce at the time of your death (in other words, the premiums were paid up-to-date) your beneficiaries will receive the death benefit payout.  There are only a few exceptions to this, which we discuss in detail below.

Q: Are there any situations in which my life insurance policy won’t pay out?

There are three instances in which a life insurance company can choose to deny or reduce a term life insurance policy’s death benefit.

One: Contest-ability Period

Life insurance policies include what is called an Incontestability Clause.  This clause states that the life insurance company has a specific period of time (typically two years) to dispute the validity of the insured’s statements made on an application.  So, if you die within the contest-ability period, the life insurance company has the right to investigate the details of your medical history to ensure you did not misrepresent yourself on the application.

For example, stating that you did not smoke cigarettes when, in fact, you did up until the day you died.  In a situation like this, insurance companies have the right to withhold some of the death benefit from your beneficiaries or even deny the claim altogether.

Two: Suicide Clause

Another situation in which the life insurance company has the right to deny a death benefit is if the insured commits suicide within a certain period of time, again typically within two years.  In this situation, however, the life insurance company will return all premiums that have been paid to date to the family.

Three: Homicide

The last situation in which an insurance company may not pay a death benefit is if the insured was murdered.  If the insured was murdered, the life insurance company will typically call the police department involved and inquire as to whether or not the beneficiary of the policy is a suspect.

If the beneficiary is a suspect, the life insurance company will hold payment until the charges are dropped or the beneficiary is deemed not guilty of the crime.

Q: Will my term life insurance death benefit payout be taxed?

Term life insurance is the least complicated type of life insurance and in most cases your beneficiaries will not have to pay federal or state income taxes on the death benefit they receive.  Since the policy premiums are paid using after-tax dollars, Uncle Sam already got his cut.

There are two main exceptions to this rule:

  • Estate taxes
  • Gift taxes

If you own your own policy, the death benefit proceeds become part of your taxable estate.  If your estate exceeds the exclusion amount, which is over $5 million dollars, it can get taxed.  For most people, this isn’t an issue.

The second exception is what is known as “The Goodman Triangle.”  If the policy owner, insured, and beneficiary are three different people, the death benefit could count as a taxable gift to the beneficiary.

Q: How can I be sure my policy’s life insurance carrier will still be around when I die?

All major life insurance companies have financial strength ratings.  There are multiple agencies each with their own rating scales and standards that assess the long-term financial stability of these insurance companies.  These ratings typically follow the school-like A through F scale.  The higher the rating, the more stable the company is and the more likely the company will be able to pay future claims.

When you are looking to purchase life insurance, whatever means you are using to buy it through should tell you the insurance company’s rating.  Any company with an A rating or better is considered financially stable and you should not worry about any future claims not being paid out.

Natasha Cornelius is the content manager and editor for Quotacy.  She has worked in the life insurance industry since 2010 and has been making life insurance easier to understand with her writing since 2014.  A long-time Mint user, Natasha lives in Bozeman, Montana where she loves to garden, DIY anything she can, and explore beautiful Big Sky country.  Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Do I Need Life Insurance?

Do you remember what it’s like being a kid with no financial responsibilities? Neither do I. It seems like we have been adulting forever. If life insurance isn’t quintessential adulthood, I don’t know what is. As you are reading and researching life insurance, one of the biggest questions you ask yourself is “Do I even need life insurance?”

Ask yourself this question: Does someone rely on me financially? If the answer is yes, then you likely need life insurance. Let’s discuss a few different types of people and their need for life insurance.

Single? You probably don’t need it.

If you are single and have no children, you probably don’t need life insurance. However, if you’re an ultra-planner or want to have a family sooner rather than later, locking in those low rates while you’re young and healthy can be a wise move.

Here are a few situations in which buying life insurance would be recommended even if you’re single:

  • Co-signed loans

Maybe your grandparents are co-signers on your private student loans or your parents co-signed on your mortgage. If you die before the balance is paid, the creditors can go after your co-signers. Life insurance can pay for these debts.

  • Caring for relatives

If you are caring for siblings or aging relatives you should consider life insurance to ensure that your loved ones are still provided for even if you are no longer around.

Have dependent children? You definitely need it.

Those with children have the greatest need for life insurance. Children rely on you for food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and everything else. If you die, life insurance can continue to fund these things, and it can also pay for hopes and dreams such as college tuition or a wedding.

Let’s take a closer look at specific parental situations:

  • Dual income families

If your household has two incomes contributing to standard of living, the sudden loss of a parent can cause financial upheaval if there is no life insurance to replace the lost income. One parent is now responsible to provide what two incomes previously did. For example, the proceeds from a life insurance policy can pay off the mortgage ensuring the children do not have to be uprooted from their home or school district.

  • Single parents

Let’s face it, the loss of a single parent to a child would be devastating. When married couples purchase life insurance, they often plan with the possibility that one spouse will remain to care for the children. Single parents do not have this luxury and absolutely need life insurance.

  • Stay-at-home parents

When you think of life insurance, you may only think a breadwinner needs coverage and not a stay-at-home parent – this could not be further from the truth. Imagine everything a stay-at-home parent does: babysits, cleans, cooks, transports, grocery shops… the list goes on. According to Salary.com, a stay-at-home mom is worth approximately $112,962. If the stay-at-home parent were to die unexpectedly, life insurance can pay for someone to help with these tasks.

Married? You most likely need it.

You don’t need to have children to rely on your significant other’s income. You’re building a life together and doing so requires money. You are likely both contributing to rent or a mortgage, car payments, utilities, and credit card bills. What happens if one of you were to die prematurely? The death benefit from a term life insurance policy can help pay for those expenses and cover the cost of a funeral.

It’s not uncommon today for couples to be in a committed relationship but postpone marriage. While it’s a little easier to own life insurance on your significant other if you are married, non-married couples can still purchase life insurance on one another as long as they can prove insurable interest.

Insurable interest is when a person can expect to suffer financial loss upon the death of another specific person. Having both names on a mortgage loan, both named on a lease, or owning a business together are just a few examples of how you can prove insurable interest.

The two types of life insurance

There are two main types of life insurance: term life insurance and permanent life insurance.

Term insurance:

  • Basic, inexpensive life insurance
  • Temporary – lasts a certain length of time (typically 10, 20, or 30 years)
  • Ideal for most people

Permanent insurance:

  •  Lasts a lifetime
  • Accumulates cash value
  • Much more costly than term insurance
  • Not necessary for most people

For most individuals, term life insurance is suitable coverage. It is designed to last only during the years in which you have the greatest need for it. Permanent life insurance can be beneficial for more complicated situations such as managing wealth for large estates.

The key benefits

Buying life insurance means you hand over some of your hard earned dollars to an insurance company – so what do you get in return?

  • Your life insurance policy will provide significant funds to your loved ones when they need it most, allowing them to grieve without the added financial stress.
  • The death benefit is typically considerably greater than the premiums you paid.
  • The proceeds are generally safe from creditors. Even if you die with debt, creditors cannot go after the life insurance proceeds paid.
  • Life insurance proceeds are typically not taxed by the federal government.
  • Peace of mind in knowing your loved ones will be financially protected if you are taken from them too soon.

Natasha Cornelius is the content manager and editor for Quotacy. She has worked in the life insurance industry since 2010 and has been making life insurance easier to understand with her writing since 2014. A long-time Mint user, Natasha lives in Bozeman, Montana where she loves to garden, DIY anything she can, and explore beautiful Big Sky country. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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How Do I Fit Life Insurance into My Budget?

Budgeting for life insurance might not be as exciting as budgeting for a new car or a fun trip, but it is much easier. Many people think about life insurance, but then decide to put it on the back burner because they think it’s expensive. Well guess what? Life insurance is actually very affordable.

Life insurance is really about protecting your loved ones from financial disaster if you should pass away. Think of it as income replacement.

Plan for what you need

Most people overestimate the cost of life insurance by 3-4 times. Life insurance is less expensive than you think. On average, you can get a $500,000 policy for $50 per month! We recommend getting coverage that is at least 5-10 times your income, but most importantly you should buy what you can comfortably afford. Having $100,000 in coverage is a million times better than having nothing at all.

Here’s what you need to cover:

  • Personal debt (car, student loans, credit cards)
  • Mortgage
  • Funeral expenses
  • Monthly income your family will need (future college tuition for children, groceries, monthly bills)

How to save money on life insurance

There is no such thing as a coupon for discounts on life insurance, but there are other ways you can save money.

  • Buy term. Term life insurance is the most affordable coverage you can own. Permanent insurance can cost 10 times more than term life insurance.
  • Pay annually. Insurance companies add fees for the extra administrative work needed to provide you that convenience of paying monthly or quarterly. Paying annually typically saves you around 5%.
  • Compare quotes. Life insurance pricing isn’t the same across the board with insurance companies. Different carriers evaluate your application on their specific guidelines, so you may save money by choosing a company that is more lenient toward your health situation. When you compare quotes using a tool like Quotacy, you are provided with competitive prices from all the top life insurance carriers.
  • Take another look. You may be overpaying especially if you purchased life insurance directly through an agent that only represents one insurance company. Chances are you may be able to get a lower rate just by comparison shopping different companies.
  • Unbundle your coverage. Bundling your life insurance with home and auto insurance is typically more expensive.

Put the cost of life insurance into perspective

We insure our health, cars, home, valuables, and even our phones, but most of us don’t realize that life insurance is cheaper to insure than most of these. In life we face financial challenges. We budget for daycare, student loans, phone bills, car payments and much more. Life insurance may not feel like a necessity when we are on a tight budget, but when you realize that you can get your family covered for pennies on the dollar, it’s easy to make that decision. If you feel the financial struggle now, what happens to your family if you die? Make sure your family is protected.

Fitting life insurance into a budget

Let’s look at three easy changes that you can make to fit life insurance into your budget. I’ve even made them myself!

1: Practice BYO (Bring Your Own)

Do you go through the Starbucks drive-thru or out to lunch on a daily basis? What about those happy hours and brunching on the weekend? I get it. It may take baby steps to start making your own coffee, packing your own lunch, and cutting back on eating out in general. But you’ll be surprised at how quickly the savings adds up.

My girlfriends and I alternate between throwing our own happy hours or brunches on the weekends. There’s no pressure to get all dolled up, and we make it easy by having everyone pitch in and bring their favorite drink or dish. Sure, I still go out and have fun, I just do it a little less often.

2: Conduct a subscription audit

These days with all the apps we have our fingertips and that fine line between need and want, it’s easy to let the number of subscriptions we have get out of hand. So many of these subscriptions are auto withdrawn, so when you look at your bank account it’s hard to decipher what you are even paying for anymore. Chances are you don’t need to pay for Hulu, cable, and Netflix, or Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes Radio. Give up a few and your bank account will thank you.

I’m the queen of subscriptions. But after my budget boyfriend became my budget husband, I was encouraged to give up a few subscriptions in order to save for our future. I thought $10 per month was no big deal, but when I added everything up, it became a real chunk of change. I encourage you to go through your subscriptions and decide what you really need.

3: Get creative with date nights

Going out for a date night gets expensive. Even if you just go out for dinner and a movie, that night adds up quickly. A dinner for two can quickly reach $50 or more, especially when you add in drinks. Have you been to a movie lately? Evening tickets are averaging $12-$14 each! And of course you want that delicious, buttery popcorn to go along with that show. It’s easy to spend $100 for a simple night out.

I’m a lover of date nights, but when my husband and I made it a weekly thing, it became a large monthly expense. While we enjoy a dinner and a movie, sometimes we make it a daytime activity. A lunch and a matinee can cost almost half the price of an evening out. Or, we choose a movie on Netflix and make a dinner at home.

We also decided to spice things up by finding activities we both enjoy and took up tennis lessons. Now we love taking our dates to the tennis court and loser has to make dinner at home. Fortunately my game is better than his, so I rarely have to cook. Not only do we save money by not going out, we also get a good sweat session in.

How to shop around for life insurance coverage

Admittedly, you’ll be shopping for the lowest price. Make sure the prices you see are from well-known brands with high financial strength ratings (A rated or better). These companies have been around a century or more and will be here for a long time to come.

Let’s say you’re looking for a $500,000, 20 year term policy. To stay competitive, insurance companies all have around the same price for the same policy, maybe just within a few cents of each other, so at first look they all appear to be about the same. Starting prices are based on your gender, your age, what state you live in, and whether or not you smoke cigarettes.

From there, pricing starts to change based on specific niches that insurance carriers have created for certain medical conditions and lifestyle habits. For instance, if you enjoy an occasional cigar during your monthly golf game, many carriers will consider you to be a smoker at a higher price, while a few companies see that as less of a big deal and will classify you a non-smoker at lower prices.

Here’s another example. Even if you are the epitome of health, but one of your parents wasn’t, prices can be higher because of the genetic risk they passed onto you. Let’s say your father died of cancer before we was 50. Your low rate won’t be affected with one or two carriers, but with all the rest your price will be higher.

A good place to start your shopping is at Quotacy. When you use Quotacy’s life insurance quoting tool you’ll see how easy it is to find and compare prices between the top carriers. You’ll be able to find the right price for you.

Jeanna Simonson is a writer and the Ambassador of Buzz at Quotacy. She has been researching and writing educational articles on the importance of life insurance since 2015. When not writing for Quotacy, you can find her scoping out the newest fitness and beauty trends for her own personal blog, traveling and spending time with her husband and fur babies. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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