It’s been said that buying life insurance can be an act of love. You cared enough about your loved ones to go through the process of getting quotes, making your selection after carefully reviewing your options, had a medical exam (if the face amount was large enough), and took out your checkbook to pay the initial premium.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How Long Do People Typically Keep Their Term Life Insurance Policies?
- How to Tell When You’re Ready to Cancel Your Term Life Insurance Policy
- What Happens After You Cancel a Term Life Insurance Policy?
If you bought a term life insurance policy, you probably didn’t just buy it because it was less expensive than a whole life policy - you most likely bought it because you needed it for a specific term, hence the name “term life.”
Should your term life insurance policy become less important over time, you may want to stop paying your insurance premium. But how do you go about terminating it? Let’s look at some of those and when to stop term life insurance.
How Long Do People Typically Keep Their Term Life Insurance Policies?
The answer might surprise you. Penn State University conducted a study that found that 99 percent of all term policies never pay out a claim. Proponents of term life insurance believe this is because most people let their policies lapse after serving their purpose.
Opponents of term life insurance believe that people who purchased term insurance made a poor buying decision because they paid thousands of dollars in premiums and never got a penny’s worth of benefit.
Regardless of where you stand on the value of term life insurance, you may need to cancel it at some point even before the term lapses.
How to Tell When You’re Ready to Cancel Your Term Life Insurance Policy
If you have people in your life that are financially dependent on you – like a spouse, children, siblings, parents, or business partners – then taking the time and finding the best life insurance policy for your particular situation can be a worthwhile endeavor.
If you take the time to talk with a life insurance agent and calculate how much life insurance you may need, you probably have a specific need in mind. In the event things work out in your favor and you no longer need your protection (meaning you’re still around), then it might be time to cancel your policy.
The best way to tell when you’re ready to cancel your term life insurance policy is to keep track of the financial need you have for buying the policy, and when you see that you no longer have that need, you’re probably ready to cancel.
Let’s look at some everyday needs people have for buying term life insurance and the signs when it’s time to terminate the policy.
1. Income replacement
If you’re like most families, you have a standard of living dependent on two incomes. As incomes grow, expenses tend to grow right along with them. Before we know it, a two-income family becomes one out of necessity, not by choice. For this reason, life insurance becomes a necessity to replace income in the event a spouse dies.
Often, policies are taken out on both spouse's lives at the same time, so each spouse is protected and the death benefit they receive can replace the deceased's income.
With this need, you’ll be able to tell it’s time to cancel your policy when you’ve either reduced your expenses to the point where only one income is needed to sustain the family’s lifestyle, or both incomes have continued to grow, but you’ve kept your expenses constant while growing your savings. In either case, the surviving spouse is able to live on one income.
2. Mortgage protection (or rent)
The thought of your family driving away from the family home for the last time after you died because they didn’t have enough money to continue to live there is heartbreaking. Nobody wants their children to have to leave their friends and their school during a traumatic and challenging time of their lives. They need familiar surroundings to help them get their bearings.
Term life insurance can be helpful for this kind of situation. If you have a standard 30-year mortgage, then you’ll want to take out a 30-year level term policy or a 20-year policy if you plan on paying the mortgage off early. The calculation can be trickier for renters, but a good financial calculator or an experienced agent can help you decide on the right amount of coverage.
When protecting your mortgage, it’s time to cancel your policy when your mortgage is either paid off, or you have enough money in the bank for your survivors to pay off the mortgage balance if you died. One other reason to cancel would be your spouse’s income has grown to the point where yours is no longer needed to cover the mortgage expense.
3. Debt elimination
The total amount of credit card debt in America is about $416 billion in 2020. If you’re like most people, you probably have a bit of plastic in your wallet as well. In fact, each of us averages about $5,300 in personal credit card debt.
If we take a close look at student loan debt, we’ll see over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt outstanding in the U.S., with the average amount per borrower exceeding $37,000.
When we assume any type of debt, our creditors expect to be paid when we pass away. Leaving that debt to family members isn’t a kind way to say goodbye to them. For this reason, many people will buy term life insurance. They want to take care of their financial obligations when they die and not let that burden fall on someone else’s shoulders.
It’s time to cancel your term life policy if you took it out for debt elimination when you either no longer have that debt outstanding, or you’re leaving enough cash for your survivors to be able to pay off your debts.
4. Fund college costs
A public four-year institution’s median tuition cost is over $10,000 per year, and it’s over three times that amount for private, nonprofit four-year schools. Some parents fund their children’s education with savings, some children acquire help with scholarship money, and others work their way through college.
However, many parents are unable to fund their children’s education because of income limitations or other extraneous reasons. Parents in this situation may consider purchasing term life insurance policies to rest assured that their children will still get to go to college if they die.
You’ll know to stop term life insurance coverage for education after your kids all have graduated, they’re assured of scholarships when they do go, or they have decided not to pursue higher education.
5. Final expenses
When we pass away, the need for liquidity doesn’t die with us. The funeral costs, burial expenses, outstanding debts, estate taxes, probate costs, and many other items all require payment. Term life insurance policies can provide the money for survivors to pay all of these final expenses.
If you’ve taken a term life insurance policy out for this reason, you can cancel it when you have enough money saved and stashed away to pay all of your final expenses.
6. Unpaid medical bills or taxes
Some people are fortunate enough to pass away quietly in their sleep at a ripe old age. However, some others have lengthy hospital stays and countless doctor’s visits while they fight off illness or disease in their final days. These medical bills are expected to be paid at death.
Likewise, an unpaid tax bill also needs to be settled at death. Some people take out term life insurance because they have a family history of certain illnesses, and they want to make sure their loved ones aren’t left with medical bills. Though there’s often Medicare or insurance to pay some of the costs, there can be deductibles and copays that need to be taken care of.
The right time to cancel a term policy when this need exists is after you’ve accumulated enough savings to cover unpaid medical bills and when your taxes are current.
What Happens After You Cancel a Term Life Insurance Policy?
After your financial needs have all been covered and you decide it’s time to cancel your term life insurance policy, you can be certain of two things:
- The insurance company will not pay any beneficiary you had previously named any type of death benefit when you die. The insurer is absolved of any financial obligations, and the contractual agreement is over.
- You won’t be receiving any cash back from the insurance company unless you had a specific rider stipulating that you would. Term policies don’t accumulate any cash value like whole life policies do, so the insurance company won’t owe you anything when you cancel your policy.
The good news is that you won’t be financially penalized for canceling.
Knowing When to Terminate Your Term Life Insurance Policy
As long as you’re in good health and can afford the premium, you can take out a term life policy pretty much any time you’d like. You also can cancel your policy whenever you deem it appropriate to do so.
Evaluating your entire financial situation at least once a year will help you determine if you still need to continue paying your monthly premiums. If in doubt, a financial planner can help you do your analysis and decide accordingly.