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What does one need to note when purchasing an insurance policy?

Purchasing an Insurance Policy in India:

1. Buy insurance for risk cover

The purpose of an insurance policy is to protect the family members of a person from any financial complexities in case of his/her premature death. Such unfortunate eventuality to a breadwinner in the family can put the other family members in serious financial problems. Insurance seeks to offer financial help in such times.

This, therefore, must be the main objective for buying an insurance policy. Any other benefit such as tax advantage etc. must be of secondary consideration.

2. Do not consider insurance as an investment option

The primary aim of the insurance policy is to provide a risk cover. Therefore a part of the premium paid is first appropriated towards this purpose. The balance amount is invested in financial instruments, which are generally very safe ones. Also, the commissions and charges are substantially higher than other investment options.

Consequently the returns from an insurance policy are nothing much to talk about therefore it cannot be considered as a feasible investment option in comparison with other competing financial products.

3. Preferably buy only a term policy

Term policies are pure insurance products with no investment option. They are the cheapest and the simplest among the available plans. But cheapest does not mean they are inferior to other costlier insurance policies. As far as the basic purpose of risk cover is concerned, there is no difference. And usually for most of us this term policy must be more than sufficient.

In such policies the premium paid is foregone at the expiry of the policy and one does not get anything if one survives the policy term. This fact that one does not get anything back is possibly the most important psychological factor for the low popularity of a term policy.

4. Do not prefer savings-linked insurance policies

In contrast to the term policies, savings-linked insurance policies are such as money-back, endowment and whole-life provide the risk cover and also give back some returns to the insured at the end of the policy term, in case nothing happens to him/her in the interim. The premiums of such policies are much higher than the term policies. This assurance of getting some returns at the end of the policy term is why most people choose for such savings-linked policies in comparison with term policies.

They however fail to understand the fact that a part of the premium is anyway earmarked to provide for risk cover. Then a part of the premium goes towards paying commissions, administrative and other charges. And it is only the balance amount, which gets invested to provide some returns to the insured at the end of the day. These returns are normally very low as the investment is made in risk-free low-return options.

Therefore, a person may be wealthier if he were to buy the cheaper term policy and invest the balance amount, which would have otherwise gone towards high premiums of saving-linked policies, like MFs. In this way he would be risk-covered and also generate higher returns.

5. Remember not to be carried away by persuasive agents and publicity

From their business viewpoint the insurance companies and the agents may be keener to sell saving-linked policies in comparison with the term policies, as the premiums and commissions are much higher. And hence the advertisements and promotions may speak more about such policies. Therefore, it is for the insured to keep his interests & needs in mind and not be carried away by influential agents and publicity.

6. Buy ULIP only if your horizon is long term.

Unit Linked Insurance Policies (ULIPs) offer an alternative to traditional policies where the returns will be market-linked. Further, one can also choose one’s own investment objective amongst equity, debt and balanced funds. However, the charges in the first years are quite high. Thus the actual benefit of ULIP starts accruing only if one has a long-term investment horizon. The minimum lock-in period of 3-5 years may look attractive, but is too short a period to fully reimburse for the high charges in the first 2-3 years. ULIP can prove to be a good investment option (together with insurance) if one keeps paying premium for at least for 10 years.

7. Not insure yourself if you are a lone bird.

Insurance is for the benefit of the dependents. Thus, if you are single with no one being financially dependent on you, it is not necessary for you to buy an insurance policy.

8. Do not insure if you are wealthy

If you are a person of plentiful means, you have lots of wealth – properties, bank balances, investments, etc. in your absence; this may be more than enough for your family and dependents to continue living comfortably. A few lakhs of rupees from an insurance company may not make any material difference to their future financial security.

9. Do not insure the child

Any unfortunate eventuality involving a child is no doubt emotionally very shocking. But it usually does not hurt the family financially. Whereas, insurance cover is for justifying the financial difficulty, that may arise with the death of the insured. Therefore, taking a policy for a child is meaningless. It is a needless expense.

10. Read the fine print carefully

As they say ‘the devil is in the details’. Therefore, understand the characteristics of the policy, the charges etc., before you buy an insurance policy. Further, most insurance companies offer a 15-day look-in period after you have taken the policy. Go through the terms and conditions in the policy very carefully. And if you feel that it does not meet your necessity, you can cancel the policy. You may have to pay some administrative charges, but this would be much better than investing on to a bad policy for years to come.

Insurance is a long-term contract generally spanning over decades. Also, these contracts have very little flexibility. A wrong insurance product can financially injure for a very long time, unlike many other financial products. Therefore, one should be extra careful and cautious when deciding on how much to insure, how long to insure, which policy to buy, etc.

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