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Life Insurance Definitions & Terminology, Explained

By Diana Kelly Levey · June 02, 2021 · 3 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Life Insurance Definitions & Terminology, Explained

Life insurance terms can be confusing when you first come across them, so learning the language of life insurance can help when you’re thinking about or shopping for life insurance.

You may know that for many people, life insurance is important to have, and perhaps you’ve started some initial research into life insurance policies.

Learn common life insurance definitions that can help you make an informed decision when looking into the two general types of life insurance.

Life Insurance Terms

Discover life insurance definitions, simplified.

Accidental Death Benefit

If a life insurance policy includes an accidental death benefit, the cause of death will be examined to determine whether the insured’s death meets the policy´s definition of accidental. This is often a rider, or additional benefit for an additional fee, attached to the policy. An example of an accidental death could be one caused by a car crash, slip, or machinery.

Annuity

This is a contract in which the buyer deposits money with a life insurance company for investment on a tax-deferred basis. Annuities are designed to help protect the contract holder from the risk of outliving their income.

An annuity may include a death benefit that will pay the beneficiary a specified minimum amount.

Beneficiary

This is the person or entity designated to receive the death benefit from a life insurance policy or annuity contract.

Contestable Period

For up to two years, a life insurance company may deny payment of a claim to beneficiaries because of suicide or misrepresentation on an application—for example, if the insured was listed as a nonsmoker but smoked often and died of complications related to that.

Death Benefit

The amount that will be paid to the beneficiary upon the death of the insured. This is common life insurance terminology you’ll see in a life insurance policy.

Evidence of Insurability

In order for you to qualify for a particular policy at a particular price, companies have the right to ask for information about your health and lifestyle. An insurance company will use this information when deciding on approval and rate. If you are overweight, a smoker, or have a history of health problems, your policy will likely cost more than someone without those issues.

Free Examination Period

Also known as the “free look period,” this is a 10- to 30-day window during which you can cancel your new policy without penalty and get a refund of premiums.

Group Life Insurance

This provides coverage to a group of people under one contract. Group contracts are often sold to businesses that want to provide life insurance for their employees. It can also be sold to associations to cover their members.

Insured

This is the person whose life is insured by the policy. The insured may also be the policyholder.

Permanent Life Insurance

These kinds of policies can provide lifelong coverage and the opportunity to build cash value, which accumulates tax-deferred. Whole life and universal life insurance policies fall under this umbrella term. Permanent life insurance is more expensive and complicated than term life insurance.

Policy

This is the official, legal document that includes the terms of the policy owner’s insurance. The policy will name the insured, the policy owner, the death benefit, and the beneficiary.

Policyholder

The person who owns the life insurance policy. It can be the person who is insured by the policy.

Premium

The payment the customer makes to the insurance company to pay for the policy. It may be paid annually, semiannually, quarterly, or monthly.

Term Life Insurance

This type of life insurance offers coverage for a set number of years, or “term,” of the insured’s life, commonly 20 or 30 years. If the insured individual dies during the years of coverage, a death benefit will be paid to the beneficiaries. Term life insurance costs less than permanent life insurance.

Underwriting

Often viewed as a mysterious process, underwriting is simply when factors are evaluated relating to the applicant’s current health, medical history, lifestyle habits, hobbies, occupation, and financial profile to determine eligibility for coverage as well as what the appropriate premiums should be.

Universal Life Insurance

With this kind of permanent life insurance, policyholders may be able to adjust their premium payments and death benefits. The cash value gains vary depending on the type of universal life insurance policy purchased.

Variable Life Insurance

With variable life, another type of permanent life insurance, the death benefit and the cash value fluctuate according to the investment performance of a separate account fund.

Earnings accumulate tax-deferred. Fees and expenses can reduce the portion of premiums that go toward the cash value.

Whole Life Insurance

Whole life is another type of permanent cash value insurance. The premiums, rate of return on cash value, and death benefit are fixed and guaranteed. The cash value component grows tax-deferred. Whole life tends to be more expensive than other types of permanent insurance.

Recommended: Term vs. Whole Life Insurance

The Takeaway

Life insurance terms can be a mouthful, but they don’t have to be confusing. Understanding the definitions of life insurance can help you put a plan in place to protect your loved ones.

Interested in term life insurance? Get a quote for $100,000 to $8 million worth of coverage within minutes.

Photo credit: iStock/mapodile


Ladder policies are issued in New York by Allianz Life Insurance Company of New York, New York, NY (Policy form # MN-26) and in all other states and DC by Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, Minneapolis, MN (Policy form # ICC20P-AZ100 and # P-AZ100). Only Allianz Life Insurance Company of New York is authorized to offer life insurance in the state of New York. Coverage and pricing is subject to eligibility and underwriting criteria. SoFi Agency and its affiliates do not guarantee the services of any insurance company. The California license number for SoFi Agency is 0L13077 and for Ladder is OK22568. 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 LadderLifeTM policies. SoFi is compensated by Ladder for each issued term life policy. SoFi offers customers the opportunity to reach Ladder Insurance Services, LLC to obtain information about estate planning documents such as wills. Social Finance, Inc. (“SoFi”) will be paid a marketing fee by Ladder when customers make a purchase through this link. All services from Ladder Insurance Services, LLC are their own. Once you reach Ladder, SoFi is not involved and has no control over the products or services involved. The Ladder service is limited to documents and does not provide legal advice. Individual circumstances are unique and using documents provided is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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