When you’re a military member, many of your needs are provided for, including inexpensive life insurance for you and your family. But, addressing your life insurance needs when you transition to civilian life can be challenging.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Options Do Veterans Have for Life Insurance?
- Should a Veteran Buy a Policy Through the VA, a Private Company, Neither, or Both?
- How to Shop for a Life Insurance Policy If You’re a Veteran
- Frequently Asked Questions: Buying Life Insurance for Veterans
Should you convert your Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) to Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI), or should you buy an individual policy from a private life insurance company? What if you’re a service-disabled veteran? Can you even get life insurance? These are essential questions for you and your family.
This article will answer these questions and help you find the best life insurance policy from the right company or organization. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to life insurance, especially for veterans.
What Options Do Veterans Have for Life Insurance?
To begin, let’s look at the four options veterans have for life insurance after leaving active duty:
Convert SGLI to VGLI
Many active-duty military personnel have an SGLI policy in place when they leave the armed forces. They often choose to convert that policy to a VGLI policy because the conversion process is relatively simple.
VGLI guarantees your application to convert will be approved for up to 240 days after you leave active duty status, but be aware that it has limitations. For example, the maximum death benefit you can get with VGLI is $400,000, which may not be enough as your family grows and your financial obligations increase.
Also, premiums for VGLI don’t remain level. They increase as you get older. This can become an issue if the premiums rise to the point where you can no longer afford to keep your coverage in force, which could leave your family at risk financially.
Your SGLI coverage only stays in force for 120 days after you leave active duty, and your opportunity to convert from SGLI to VGLI only lasts for 485 days. However, if you have a pre-existing medical condition when you leave active duty, consider applying within 240 days because of the coverage guarantee mentioned earlier.
Convert SGLI to private life insurance
Some life insurance companies partner with the military and offer civilian life insurance policies to veterans. Service members with SGLI coverage have up to 120 days after leaving active duty to convert their policy to a private policy with a participating company.
If you convert your policy within the designated time frame, the insurer won’t require you to have a medical exam, making this an excellent option for veterans with pre-existing conditions who want a private insurance policy.
This option does have one major drawback: the face amount of the policy will be limited to the same amount of SGLI coverage you had previously. And, be aware that you have a smaller window of time to compare quotes if you want to convert to a private insurance policy than what you have when converting to VGLI.
Convert SGLI to VGLI, then convert VGLI into private insurance
Participating life insurance companies will also let you convert your VGLI coverage to an individual life insurance policy. There is no time limit for converting VGLI coverage, and you won’t be required to provide medical information to insurers. However, they may ask you health questions to see if you qualify for a lower rate.
Companies that participate in the conversion process include:
- American Fidelity Life Insurance Co.
- Bankers Life and Casualty Co.
- EMC National Life Co.
- Guardian Life Insurance Co.
- Life Insurance Co. of Alabama
- Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.
- Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.
- New York Life Insurance Co.
- Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.
- Prudential Insurance Co. of America
- SBLI USA Mutual Life Insurance Co.
- Trans World Assurance Co.
Let SGLI expire and buy private life insurance
This is the preferred option for many veterans without severe health conditions who will qualify for a less expensive civilian life insurance policy. Though you may be a veteran leaving active duty in good health, start the application process early - illness strikes and accidents happen without warning.
Some private insurers cater to veterans, such as the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association or USAA. These companies offer term life insurance and permanent life insurance, like whole life or universal life, specifically for active and former military members and their families.
Should a Veteran Buy a Policy Through the VA, a Private Company, Neither, or Both?
Veterans should buy as much insurance as they need at the best rate they can find, whether from the VA or a highly-rated private life insurance company. When you pass away, your family isn’t going to care who wrote them the check; they’re going to care that it’s large enough to meet their current needs and secure their future.
Whether or not you buy a policy through the VA or a private company is a matter of personal preference. Your decision may be influenced by the condition of your health when you leave the service, how much life insurance you need, and other personal factors.
How to Shop for a Life Insurance Policy If You’re a Veteran
Shopping for a life insurance policy as a veteran is similar in many ways to shopping for coverage as a civilian. Following this four-step process will help you get the best coverage for the best price.
Step 1. Know your options
When evaluating coverage, there are two main types of life insurance policies you need to consider: term and permanent. Term life insurance offers protection for a predetermined period, such as 5,10, 20, or 30 years, and is the most affordable coverage you can buy. It provides a death benefit to your beneficiary if you pass away during the period specified in the policy.
Though term insurance is generally less expensive than other types of insurance, it does have one major drawback. If you outlive the policy’s term, you may not be able to qualify for another life insurance policy if you’ve experienced any health problems or have developed any other health conditions during the policy’s term.
Some term life insurance policies have a conversion option that will let you convert your policy when the term expires to a permanent type of life insurance regardless of your current medical condition and without providing evidence of insurability.
Permanent life insurance, such as whole life or universal life insurance, is more expensive than term life insurance, but it has several advantages. First, permanent life insurance accumulates builds “cash value.” Part of every dollar you pay in premiums goes into the cash value component of your permanent policy, which receives interest at a rate set by the life insurance company. Some types of permanent life insurance, like variable life insurance, will tie cash value growth to stock market performance.
Also, permanent insurance remains in force for as long as you pay the premiums, hence its name, unlike term life policies which will eventually expire
Since permanent life insurance is more expensive than term life protection, you may choose to buy more than one policy to cover both your permanent and temporary needs. For example, if you want to pay off your mortgage when you die, a 30-year term life policy would be perfect and could be combined with a small permanent whole life policy to pay for funeral and burial expenses later in life.
Step 2. Know your coverage needs
There are several ways to determine your coverage needs. One method is to multiply your income by ten and then add on college costs for your children. This is a quick and easy way to pick a coverage amount, though it isn’t the most accurate.
Another more accurate method is to use an online life insurance calculator. You’ll find these on many insurance and finance-related websites. They are generally simple to use – you simply answer some questions about your finances and family situation, and the site will recommend a face amount for you.
Many veterans prefer to find out their coverage needs by working directly with a professional life insurance agent. Agents who have experience helping veterans can walk you through your VA options and coverage provided by private companies. They can also help you learn how long it takes to get a life insurance payout from private life insurance companies.
Step 3. Compare quotes
Many websites that focus on life insurance will provide you with rate quotes. Online brokerages, rather than life insurance company sites, can provide you with quotes from many insurers at once, allowing you to find the most competitive rates for the face amount of coverage you’ve decided upon.
Independent life insurance agents can also help you compare rates. Unlike captive life insurance agents that represent only one company, independent agents work for you and can get you pricing from many different companies.
Step 4. Apply for coverage
If you’re applying for a policy directly from a private life insurance company and it’s not an SGLI or VGLI conversion, you may be required to take a paramedical examination to determine your eligibility, depending on the face amount of the policy you’re applying for.
The exam often involves having you provide blood and urine samples, and larger face amounts may even require an EKG and a stress test. Several major life insurance companies offer term life policies that don’t require you to submit to a medical exam. However, no-exam policies limit how much protection you can buy, and the premiums will be higher.
Frequently Asked Questions: Buying Life Insurance for Veterans
We’ve covered a lot of ground so far, but here are some of the most frequently asked questions about buying life insurance for veterans.
Is life insurance free for veterans?
Life insurance is only free for a veteran who has been classified as “totally disabled.” It is available from the VA, and the face amount is limited to $10,000. All other veterans must pay for their life insurance coverage, whether it be through the VA or a private insurance company.
VGLI is a permanent type of coverage for veterans (described above) available through the VA.
It never expires as long as you pay your premiums, which will increase over time and are based on your coverage amount and age. The monthly premiums on VGLIs vary by age, and they begin at $28 per month and go upwards of $400.
Can disabled veterans buy a life insurance policy?
Disabled veterans can buy life insurance, though it can be challenging to buy a private life insurance policy at an affordable rate.
If you leave active duty status with a disability, converting your SGLI coverage to VGLI may be your best option. Done properly, within the guidelines and required time frame, it can provide you with guaranteed coverage at a competitive rate.
If you’re a disabled veteran who has left the service and didn’t convert your SGLI to VGLI, you can still buy civilian life insurance, regardless of your disability. If you don’t qualify for a standard term or permanent policy, some companies sell “guaranteed issue” life insurance. Typically, you’ll need to be over 45 years of age, and face amounts are limited. Premiums for these policies are also very expensive.
Take Advantage of the Free Look Period
Veterans, like everyone else, have a “free look period” when they buy a life insurance policy from a private insurance company, which can last from 10 to 30 days, depending on the insurer.
This gives you time to look over the policy and make sure you’re satisfied. If you’re not, you can cancel coverage and get a full refund of any premiums you paid.