Life insurance dividends are paid out by mutual life insurance companies. The dividends represent a return of premium payments that you’ve been overcharged. Overcharged? Yes, life insurance companies overcharge you, then return the difference later at the end of the year – but you’re not being ripped off. In fact, that excess amount is used to ensure the long-term viability of your policy.
You see, at some point, your dividends will exceed the premium payments you make – that’s the result of the insurer investing most of your premium dollars. While dividends are not guaranteed, you should know what to do with them when you do get them since most mutual insurers have a consistent track record of paying them out every year.
Take as Cash
One option you have is to take your dividend as cash. This option treats the life insurance policy like an investment – you take the dividend as it’s paid out. It doesn’t help the cash value growth much, but the dividend tends to grow each year. Admittedly, this isn’t the most attractive option since dividends are taxable once you’ve recouped your cost basis (the sum total of your premium payments).
Buy More Insurance
The most popular option – the default option with most companies – is to buy additional paid up insurance. Why is this popular? Because additional paid up life insurance grows the death benefit, grows the cash value, grows the dividends exponentially, and defers tax on all of this growth as long as the policy remains in force. It’s also an excellent option if you want to supplement your future retirement income since the policy’s dividends, and the rest of the base cash value, may be accessed income tax-free as long as the policy remains in force (check with your tax adviser to make sure that your situation would not prevent tax-free access to cash values).
It’s also an ideal option if you just want to ensure a growing death benefit. While dividends are not guaranteed, most insurers have an excellent track record, so there’s a reasonable expectation of growing the benefit amount over the long-term.
Reduce The Premium
If you don’t want to be stuck paying a premium for the rest of your life, consider using the dividend to reduce the premium. Be careful of this option though. Back in the 1980s, something called “vanishing premiums” hit the market. This was a concept sold by many life insurance agents.
Basically, agents back then told customers that they could make a few years worth of premium payments, and their premiums would be covered by the dividends generated by the policy. In essence, the premiums would “vanish.” Well, as interest rates fell, customers realized that dividend rates were not guaranteed. Premiums never “vanish” unless you buy a limited pay policy – which means you must make all premium payments outlined in the policy.
If your dividend isn’t enough to cover the premium, you may have to resume payments later on in your life. If you’re fine with that, this is a decent option to lessen the burden of payments.
You can let the premiums sit in the insurer’s general investment account and accumulate interest at a fixed rate. You may also be able to invest them in the insurer’s separate account for a non-guaranteed return based on the performance of mutual funds. In both instances, you will pay income tax on the investment gain.
Pay Off Previous Loans
Sometimes, you need to borrow money against the value of your policy’s surrender value (the cash value). If you don’t want to repay the loan, or can’t make repayments, you can use the dividends to repay the loan. This way, the interest doesn’t accumulate and put your policy in danger of lapsing.