Life Insurance Options for Military Members
You most likely have insurance policies on your home, vehicles, personal property, and even your cell phone to protect yourself financially if damages or an accident were to occur. Do you have life insurance to protect your family?
If you don’t yet have a life insurance policy, now is the time to consider your options carefully and make sure that your family will be just as protected as your home or car in the event of a tragedy. A good life insurance policy can mean the difference between your loved ones struggling to make ends meet or being able to cope with your absence.
Deciding to purchase life insurance is one of the most important decisions your will ever make for your family. As such, it’s important to understand your options, because there are several different types of life insurance to choose from. You also need to decide which company or service to use for your coverage and how much insurance you should purchase.
You may want to start your search for a life insurance policy with a company that knows the ins and outs of the military lifestyle.
The following life insurance options are policies available only to service members and their eligible family members. They are broken down into life insurance options through the government (SGLI and VGLI) and life insurance options available through military organizations and military-related companies. If you are a service member or veteran and choose one of these programs, you can rest a little easier, knowing that your family will be covered.
Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI)
The Service Members Group Life Insurance (SGLI) is a low-cost benefits program that provides affordable life insurance options to eligible service members. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, you are an eligible member if you are:
- Active duty member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard
- Commissioned member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) or the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS)
- Cadet or midshipman of the U.S. military academies
- Member, cadet, or midshipman of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) engaged in authorized training and practice cruises
- Member of the Ready Reserve or National Guard and are scheduled to perform at least 12 periods of inactive training per year
- Service member who volunteers for a mobilization category in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR)
If you are eligible, you are automatically insured with maximum SGLI coverage; you don’t have to apply for the coverage. Also, even though you are issued maximum coverage, you don’t have to maintain the maximum (which is $400,000). You can make changes to your policy at any time, designate your beneficiaries, decline SGLI coverage altogether or simply opt for a lesser amount of coverage.
SGLI is very valuable for military members because it is a guaranteed life insurance policy at a flat rate. Members do not need to go through underwriting when applying for SGLI (underwriting is an application process that assesses your specific risks to the insurer and determines whether you are insurable, and the premiums you will need to pay). Almost all other life insurance policies require an underwriting process that can make it more costly or more difficult to obtain life insurance. In some cases, military members or veterans find that obtaining life insurance outside of SGLI or VGLI is impossible.
Veterans Group Life Insurance
Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) is another government backed life insurance policy available only to service members. However, it is different from SGLI coverage since it only becomes available upon a service member’s release from the service. VGLI allows service members to convert their full-time SGLI coverage to a renewable term life insurance policy once they are no longer active duty.
With VGLI, a veteran can receive coverage in increments of $10,000 up to the maximum of $400,000. However, a veteran’s VGLI benefits cannot be more than the amount of coverage they had in their SGLI at the time of their separation from the service.
VGLI rates are based on your age, and they change with time. It’s also important to note you can convert your SGLI policy to a VGLI policy upon leaving the military without going through an underwriting process. However, if you do not convert your SGLI policy to a VGLI policy immediately after leaving the service, you may have to go through an underwriting process if you later decide you wish to apply for VGLI. This can make VGLI difficult to obtain. So please do you research before you separate so you know whether or not to convert your policy.
Other Life Insurance Options
SGLI is an excellent benefit since it is a guaranteed life insurance policy with flat premiums, regardless of your age, health, or other factors. You don’t need to go through any underwriting process. You also don’t need to go through an underwriting process if you convert your SGLI policy to a VGLI policy upon separating from the military. But sometimes you may wish to purchase additional life insurance, you may wish for a life insurance policy you can take with you after leaving the military, or you may find better rates elsewhere. So it’s good to assess your needs and shop around.
There are many pros and cons to purchasing life insurance through a private organization or company, including the ability to buy larger policies, portability, and more. It’s a good idea to get quotes through several companies, as rates may be higher or lower than what you can find through a military organization. You should also read the fine print, because many private life insurance companies may not cover a death that occurs in a war zone, or during certain “dangerous” activities.
Be sure to get quotes from several life insurance companies so you can compare the premiums and details of the life insurance plan. Do keep in mind that life insurance purchased from other organizations will go through an underwriting process and the insurance company will assess your health, age, and other factors before finalizing your premiums.
The following options are available only to military members and their families. This list isn’t meant to be all-inclusive, but to give you a starting point for your comparison shopping. You may also find it good to shop around through non-military organizations or through a life insurance agent.
Armed Forces Insurance
Armed Forces Insurance offers both term and permanent life insurance coverage for eligible members. Eligible members include current and former military members (including Guard and Reserves), surviving spouses, active and retired DoD civilian employees, current and former commissioned officers in the NOAA nad PHS, service academy and ROTC members, and more (full list).
USAA Life Insurance
USAA is a well-known financial services and insurance company that is open to all military members and their family members. USAA life insurance policies can be a great compliment to an SGLI or VGLI policy.
The USAA website also features interactive tools that explain the various types of life insurance and tools to help you determine how much life insurance you need to protect your family. USAA’s customer service department can also help you determine your needs over the phone. You can get a Free Life Insurance Quote from USAA in just a few minutes.
Choosing the Right Life Insurance Coverage
There are several factors to consider before buying your life insurance policy. How much life insurance will you need? Should you only buy a life insurance policy through the government (SGLI or VGLI)? Which type of life insurance is best – term life insurance, or whole life insurance?
How much life insurance do you need? Life insurance is designed to replace your income and earning potential if you die. So consider how much money your family will need if you are no longer there to provide for them. Consider things such as your mortgage, any debt you may have, whether you need to pay for your children’s college, and other factors.
One estimate is to purchase a plan worth ten times your annual salary. So, if you make $35,000 a year, your coverage should be at least $350,000. But you may find this to be inadequate if you have a mortgage and other debt, and you anticipate your family needing more money than that to cover major future expenses such as college.
If you are not the primary breadwinner in the family, however, you may be able to make do with a lesser policy. If you aren’t sure how much you should purchase, consider plugging your numbers into a life insurance coverage calculator. It will help you to make a more informed decision based on the numbers.
Whether you choose to take advantage of SGLI coverage or go with a private company, make sure to purchase a policy that will, at least, cover burial costs as well as one or two years’ worth of living expenses. You wouldn’t want to leave your family struggling financially if you were no longer there to support them.
Is SGLI or VGLI enough? Many servicemembers find they need more than a $400,000 life insurance policy. If you determine you need more than a $400,000 policy, then consider buying another life insurance policy from a non-military or non-government source. This will allow you to keep your life insurance when you leave the military. Also note that VGLI can become very expensive as you age. a 30-year term life insurance policy purchased at a young age may be much less expensive than VGLI in the long run.
Which type of life insurance should you buy—term life insurance, or whole life insurance? Most experts (that is, non-life insurance salesmen) recommend purchasing a term life insurance policy. Term life has much lower annual premiums and pays out the full amount immediately upon the death of the insured individual. Many people will tout whole life insurance as an investment, but the premiums are substantially more expensive for the same coverage, it can takes years of premium payments before you are eligible for he full payout, management fees can be high (and difficult to understand), and many outside investments in retirement accounts perform better than life insurance. Most people are better off keeping their life insurance and investments separate. In this case, it usually makes more sense to purchase a term life insurance policy and invest the difference in an IRA or in your Thrift Savings Plan. Here is a more in-depth comparison of term life and whole life insurance.
Do you have life insurance coverage for yourself or your family? What factored into your decision when you chose your coverage?
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