Monday, October 08, 2001

Insurance inquiries rise


Attacks prompt Americans to get finances in order

By Eileen Alt Powell
The Associated Press

        NEW YORK — The attacks on the World Trade Center have prompted many Americans to review their own financial preparedness should anything happen to them, and central to that is life insurance.

        “Who hasn't watched that television footage and asked, "What if that were me?”' said Byron Udell, founder of the AccuQuote insurance company in Northbrook, Ill. “It really heightened the awareness of our mortality.”

ON THE WEB
  A Web site sponsored by MetLife, www.metlife.com, offers extensive information on how to select and buy insurance.
  Another educational site, sponsored by the Insurance Information Institute, is at www.iii.org.
        Insurance companies and Web sites specializing in insurance information and sales report a sharp rise in inquiries over the past several weeks as young couples consider buying their first policies and older couples look to supplement existing ones.

        Life insurance comes in two basic forms. Permanent life policies — also known as whole, universal or adjustable life policies — have a tax-deferred savings component and often are used for estate planning purposes. Term life, generally much lower in cost, provides protection for a specific period of time, generally 20 to 30 years.

        The American Council of Life Insurers, an industry trade group based in Washington, says most people need life insurance coverage equivalent to five to seven times their annual income.

        “The idea is to replace the income that's lost with the death of the breadwinner,” said ACLI spokesman Jack Dolan.

        He added that families also should consider some insurance for stay-at-home spouses, since they'd face increased costs for things like child care and household chores if that spouse dies.

        J. Robert Hunter, a former Texas insurance commissioner who directs insurance research for the Consumer Federation of America in Washington, points out that many people don't need life insurance.

        “If you're 30 and don't have any dependents, you don't need any,” Mr. Hunter said. “Most elderly people don't need it either. But if you're married with a baby, you need it a lot.”

        He suggests would-be buyers look at Web sites such as www.term4sale.com, which provides prices for thousands of term life policies.

        The premiums available to a 40-year-old male nonsmoker for $500,000 of coverage for 20 years range from $405 to $640 a year, according to the site. Premiums for women are lower and for smokers, higher.

        Many sites, including www.accuquote.com, have calculators that consumers can use to help determine how much coverage they need and to link them to agents who can advise on specific policies. AccuQuote's Mr. Udell argues that many people don't buy enough coverage.

        “If you've got a non-working wife and two kids, figure they need 80 percent of your salary every year to live on for a number of years,” he said. “Then factor in your mortgage and college educations and retirement and inflation and everything else.”

        He added: “What happens too often is that they buy $200,000 of whole life rather than $1.1 million of term, which is what they need.”

        David A. Smith, a management consultant in Baltimore, said he bought a new term life policy after the attacks in New York and Washington. Mr. Smith, 37, had purchased insurance when he was married in 1993 but hadn't updated it since his children were born.

        “I was always in fairly good health, and there wasn't an impetus to go out and do it,” Mr. Smith said. “But I travel a lot, and I was supposed to be on a flight to Boston the same day (as the attacks). That really brought home that your health is only one component of needing insurance and that there are factors outside your control.”



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