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Take a load off.

Is low-load life insurance rigth for your client?

When CPAs help clients select life insurance, they should be aware that it's not always necessary to pay an agent's commission as part of the purchase. Just as no-load mutual funds have gained popularity in the securities arena, low-load life insurance is slowly emerging as an option in this market.

With many life insurance policies, the person selling the product takes a commission that is deducted from the policy's cash value; in a low-load policy, there is no commission, which offers buyers a number of clear advantages.

A HEAD START

In a low-load policy, "there is less overhead being taken out of your dollar," says Robert Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America. He notes that when a consumer gives an insurance company $100, $10 may go to marketing costs, $10 to expenses and $10 to commissions. "In a no- or low-load policy, you'd have a 10% advantage right off the bat." While commissions and expenses may eat up a significant portion of premiums in the first and even second years of a policy, low-load policy costs should take a smaller bite.

Preserving the buyer's investment can increase the policy's earning power. "A load can be a significant drain on the policy's cash value in the first years," says John Buckley, director of product management and sales support at USAA, one of the companies that offers these policies. "And with compound interest, more cash value up front affects the long-term value of the investment" Indeed, according to Hunter, in the first year of a policy, as much as 55% of a life insurance policy investment may go to commissions alone, not including other expenses. "After 20 or 30 years, having more of that early investment building tax-free can make a tremendous difference."

In addition, Hunter notes that "when you're working with a salaried representative, he or she can tell you what's best without that commission getting in the way" and affecting his or her guidance. That representative is more likely to recommend what you really need, agrees Buckley. "When choosing the low-load option, consider not only the lower cost of the policy but also the value of the advice you get," he says.

Low-load life insurance also can make it possible for consumers to avoid policy surrender charges. These charges, usually commissions and selling expenses, are built into policies' fee structures. Permanent life insurance--such as whole, universal or variable life--is a long-term commitment that assumes premium payments will be made over many years. If policyholders choose to cash in policies before they've made all payments, surrender charges can eat up much of what they have paid in. In fact, during the first years of a policy, those charges can equal the entire investment. The lack of surrender charges offers policyholders and their advisers greater flexibility, says Keith Maurer, president of Fee For Service, a low-load insurer owned by GE Capital. "Without surrender charges, you're better able to create insurance programs without worrying about what will happen if the policies must be cashed in later."

Flexibility is an advantage when a policy has not lived up to expectations, as well, Since insurance company projections and illustrations may not always accurately predict long-term investment performance, low-load policies offer buyers the chance to switch companies if a policy doesn't perform well without a loss of premiums paid due to surrender charges or other costs.

CAVEATS

Cutting costs may not always be the most important factor in a decision, however. Even if a client sidesteps the commission, he or she still will face other expenses that are folded into the policy price. Hunter cautions buyers and their advisers to evaluate all of the fees and expenses in any policy to ensure it really is al good deal. It's also important to examine the insurer's credentials and reliability. According to Hunter, an insurer should have the highest ratings given by companies such as A. M. Best, a leading industry rating service. Finally, avoiding a commission is less of a concern with term insurance, because the load on those policies is already so small that low-load policies offer little benefit (we've focused here on companies that offer term plus other kinds of policies). In fact, some companies outside the low-load market may charge less for term insurance if their sales volumes make lower prices possible.

THE CPA'S ROLE

Despite these drawbacks, this option is a good one for many clients. Why hasn't low-load insurance become more popular? Many consumers rely on their insurance agents to help them untangle the intricacies of insurance, so they are reluctant to strike out on their own, even if it means saving money. Remember that the commission is essentially a payment for the insurance professional's knowledge and service, and may well be worth paying if the CPA or the client lacks familiarity with insurance options. CPAs who do understand this investment option, however, are in an excellent position not only to advise clients about their life insurance needs but also to educate them about this cost-cutting option. The chart on page 28 lists some of the major players in the low-load market. The companies may sell the insurance directly, through salaried representatives or through fee-only advisers. Some other companies sell directly to the public, often over the Internet or through toll-free numbers, but they may levy a commission even though no local agent is involved, so be sure to examine fees before picking a company. Choosing the best life insurance product remains a complicated puzzle, but low-load policies are an interesting new element in the equation.

RELATED ARTICLE: Low-Load Life Insurers

These are some of the leading companies in the field of low-cost life insurance.
Name Life Insurance products

Ameritas Life Term, universal and variable universal
Low-Load Division life; minimum policy amount: $100,000.
 Survivorship life (also called second
 to die): $250,000 minimum. No-load
 annuity; minimum initial contribution,
 $2,000.

Charles Schwab & Co. Term and universal life, $100,000
 minimum; survivorship life,
 $250,000 minimum.

Fee For Service, Inc. Term, individual permanent,
(A GE Capital Financial survivorship, first to die. Minimum
company, Fee For Service policy amounts: $250,000 for most
markets the products of term policies; $100,000 for
a number of insurance individual policies.
carriers)

USAA Annual renewable term life, minimum
 policy amount: $50,000. ($25,000 in
 certain states). Level term, 10 years,
 $100,000 minimum; 15 to 20 years,
 $50,000 minimum. Whole life, $10,000
 minimum. Universal life $25,000 minimum.

Name How to Contact

Ameritas Life 5900 O Street
Low-Load Division Lincoln, Nebraska 68510
 Phone: 800-552-3553
 Fax: 713-621-8531
 Web site: www.veritas.ameritas.com

Charles Schwab & Co. Phone:800-542 LIFE (800-542-5433)
 Web site: www.schwab.com/insurance

Fee For Service, Inc. 5401 West Kennedy Boulevard, Suite 560
(A GE Capital Financial Tampa, Florida 33609
company, Fee For Service Phone: 800-874-5662, ext. 3201
markets the products of Fax: 813-288-0817
a number of insurance Web site: www.fee-for-service.com
carriers)

USAA 9800 Fredericksburg Road
 San Antonio, Texas 78288
 Phone: 800-531-4440
COPYRIGHT 1998 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:low-load life insurance
Author:Dennis, Anita
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Jul 1, 1998
Words:1175
Previous Article:Seven steps to judging life insurance.
Next Article:Postmortem estate planning for small business owners.
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