Many jobs come with a benefits package on top of paid wages or salary — things like, health insurance, dental insurance, and 401(k) retirement accounts. Employer life insurance may also be included in a benefits package to give an employee’s beneficiaries some added financial security in the event of their death.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 98% of workers with access to employer life insurance choose to participate. But is life insurance offered through your employer enough to take care of your loved ones if you pass away?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to financial planning and purchasing life insurance. Depending on an individual’s unique situation and financial goals (or obligations), the amount of life insurance coverage needed can vary from person to person.
To help determine how much life insurance is right for you, let’s break down the basics of employer life insurance and how different policies might work in practice.
What Is the Typical Coverage Offered?
Commonly, employers that provide life insurance purchase a group term policy for their employees. Term life insurance grants coverage for a specific time period, known as the term, in exchange for regular payments (called premiums) by an employer or the insured employee. Unlike individually purchased term insurance, the term for group insurance is typically the duration of the employ of the insured.
Group term life insurance can also vary by amount. An employer may offer a flat rate of coverage to their employees. Or, in some cases, an employer may calculate the total life insurance coverage according to an employee’s current salary. For example, an employer life insurance policy may pay out one, two, or three times the employee’s annual salary.
While the benefit coverage amount under employer life insurance may vary by salary, you may still qualify for a group policy even if you’re older or have pre-existing conditions and less-than-perfect health. However, note that coverage may lapse when employment ends or if an employee switches from full-time to part-time work. Some companies offer policies that are “portable,” meaning the employee can take the policy with them when/if they leave the employer.
Life insurance could reinforce a long-term financial plan.
If an insured employee dies during the policy’s term, the insurance company is then responsible for paying the coverage amount to the designated beneficiaries, barring a few exceptions, like suicide within two years of the policy start date or death from an exempt hazardous activity (e.g. piloting a plane).
This payment is called a “death benefit,” and can be paid as a lump sum or in installments depending on a policy’s conditions. On the other hand, if an insured employee dies after the insurance term ends, their beneficiaries do not receive a payout of death benefits.
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How Much Can Employer Life Insurance Cost?
For employers with many employees, obtaining a group life insurance policy parallels wholesale purchasing, meaning that the price per individual is generally less than if each employee paid for their own policy. Therefore, employment life insurance is usually very affordable for employees, if not free, for the most basic coverage.
However, this sort of baseline benefit does not account for additional coverage, which employers may also offer (on top of the standard group policy) at the partial or full expense of the employee.
Determining if extra coverage through an employer is cost effective may depend on several factors, including age, health, income, and number of dependents. For example, smokers can pay up to two or three times more on life insurance premiums than their non-smoking counterparts.
Keep in mind that employer life insurance may be subject to payroll taxes, such as Social Security and Medicare. For any benefits coverage greater than $50,000 that is paid or subsidized by an employer, the total amount exceeding $50,000 would be counted as employee income by the IRS.
The threshold for taxation on coverage for spouses and dependents is significantly lower, at just $2,000. Any employer life insurance plan with coverage above $2,000 would be liable for taxation in its entirety.
Is It Possible to Switch Coverage?
Employer life insurance can be affordable, but it may not be very customizable or flexible.
Since the employer holds the group policy with a specific insurance company, employees do not usually have the individual discretion to shop around for the coverage offered in a benefits package.
Opting for an alternative or supplemental life insurance policy may require undergoing a life insurance medical exam. This exam could consist of a verbal questionnaire with a medical professional and collecting blood and/or urine samples.
Together, medical history and personal information are some of the different factors used to decide whether an applicant is eligible for life insurance coverage.
Information from the medical exam can impact the cost of the eventual insurance premium as well, assuming the applicant is deemed eligible. In this scenario, younger, healthier employees may opt to switch to an individual life insurance policy, since they could obtain a lower rate that may last for decades of coverage.
Since employer life insurance coverage can lapse when employment ends, it may be useful to research various policy options (or speak with a benefits specialist at your job) to ensure coverage is not interrupted when jobs change.
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What Happens If I Change or Lose My Job?
For many working adults, changing jobs is necessary for career growth and achieving financial goals. But changing or leaving a job may come with some financial challenges beyond a disruption to income. Employer benefits, such as health insurance, 401(k) retirement account, and life insurance may be put on hold or not carry over to a new employer.
Some insurance companies may let you transfer to a new employer’s policy, especially if they are the new employer’s insurance provider. In some cases, it may be possible to convert a former employer’s group term policy to individual term or whole insurance with the same insurance company.
When life insurance had previously been paid for or subsidized by an employer, taking out an individual policy could translate into an increased individual monthly expense. That’s because the policyholder, not the employer, would now be paying the life insurance premiums.
Whole life insurance, sometimes called permanent life insurance, is generally more expensive than term policies, since it can cover an insured individual for life.
What About an Additional Policy?
Employer life insurance could provide at little to no cost basic coverage for a family in the event of an unexpected death. But many people decide to take out additional insurance or expand their coverage through a rider, which is an add-on that allows insured individuals to customize their policy to their needs.
Cost and conditions for riders can vary between insurance providers. The following are some common types of riders that might supplement an existing life insurance policy:
• Accidental Death Rider: If the insured individual dies from an accident, a greater death benefit is paid out to beneficiaries. This could be advantageous for a working parent to take care of surviving family’s future expenses if the unexpected were to happen.
• Accelerated Death Benefit Rider: An insured individual could receive a portion of their death benefits while they’re alive if a diagnosed terminal illness is expected to significantly reduce their lifespan. This could help pay for the sudden cost of care and treatment, but might be subtracted from the amount family and beneficiaries receive upon the insured person’s death.
• Spouse Insurance Rider: This rider can add a spouse to an insured person’s policy instead of taking out separate life insurance for them.
• Waiver of Premium Rider: This rider can waive the need to pay insurance premiums while maintaining coverage, if an insured person becomes permanently disabled or can no longer work due to an injury or illness. Policyholders who are at risk due to dangerous jobs or family history may find this sort of policy worthwhile.
In addition to considering the perks and costs of riders, comparing term and whole life insurance is helpful for finding the right policy for you.
Determining How Much Coverage You Need
Everyone’s situation is different. And, securing life insurance may provide confidence and reinforce a long term financial plan. To figure out how much life insurance coverage may be needed, it can be helpful to first get an accurate picture of your finances and likely future expenses.
For people with children and dependent family members, a breadwinner’s death could result in lost income that supported essential spending, such as groceries, rent or mortgage payments, and utilities. It could also create additional expenses for childcare or a home health aide, if a surviving parent or caregiver then needs to work.
There are also down-the-road expenses, like retirement and college tuition for children, that could be impacted by the loss of a spouse, partner or parent.
Unpaid debt — such as, a mortgage loan, credit card balances, and student loans — are some long-term payments to factor in — since cosigners or the estate could still be left with the burden of making payments on certain debts. (Note that estate and debt laws vary from state to state).
Death can be accompanied by notable end-of-life expenses, too. On average, funerals cost between $7,000 and $12,000 depending on location and whether the deceased is buried or cremated.
In addition to savings and investments, life insurance can offer a financial safety net and support the future of those left behind.
Employer life insurance can be an asset to a family’s financial security, as typically it grants coverage for a specific time period. The benefit coverage amount may vary by salary, and older employees or those with pre-existing conditions may still qualify for a group policy. Coverage could expire when your employment ends or if you move from full-time to part-time work. If you need more coverage, you may decide to take out additional insurance on top of your employer life insurance.
If you’re thinking about getting life insurance, SoFi has partnered with Ladder to offer competitive life insurance policies that are quick to set up and easy to understand. You can apply in just minutes and get an instant decision. As your circumstances change, you can easily change or cancel your policy with no fees and no hassles.
Coverage and pricing is subject to eligibility and underwriting criteria.
Ladder Insurance Services, LLC (CA license # OK22568; AR license # 3000140372) distributes term life insurance products issued by multiple insurers- for further details see ladderlife.com. All insurance products are governed by the terms set forth in the applicable insurance policy. Each insurer has financial responsibility for its own products.
Ladder, SoFi and SoFi Agency are separate, independent entities and are not responsible for the financial condition, business, or legal obligations of the other, Social Finance. Inc. (SoFi) and Social Finance Life Insurance Agency, LLC (SoFi Agency) do not issue, underwrite insurance or pay claims under Ladder Life™ policies. SoFi is compensated by Ladder for each issued term life policy.
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