Saving for college tuition is no easy feat. Save too little and you saddle your child with loans. Save too much and you might not get as much financial aid as you need. Unless you’re planning to pay cash for the full sticker price of a college education, you’re a good candidate for specialized college savings vehicles. One of those is the endowment life insurance policy. We’ll explore how it works below but if you need help preparing financially for your child’s college, consider working with a financial advisor.
Endowment Insurance vs. Term Insurance
An endowment life insurance policy is a form of life insurance that comes with a guaranteed payout, or endowment, at the end of a set term. This is different from a regular-term life insurance policy. Ordinarily, when the “term” of a term life insurance policy ends, the policyholder doesn’t get money back. A term life insurance policy is meant to snag lower premiums for peace of mind during the length of the term (generally 10, 20 or 30 years).
An endowment policy takes that model and tweaks it, turning a term life insurance policy into a savings vehicle. Of course, all life insurance comes with a payout if the policyholder dies. But an endowment policy pays out at the end of the term even if the policyholder is still alive and kicking.
That pay-out can be used to pay for college – or anything else really. Because they come with a pay-out, endowment life insurance policies have higher monthly premiums than regular-term life insurance policies. Think of them as a cross between a term life insurance policy and a cash-value life insurance policy.
Is Endowment Insurance For You?
When looking at endowment life insurance, take a look at a few things. You’ll want to factor in the high premiums you pay each month, plus inflation over the term of the policy. Most of the time, you’ll find that payouts from endowment life insurance policies often don’t provide a particularly high return on investment.
They do, however, provide peace of mind and a form of forced savings, since you’ll make regular monthly payments over the life of the policy. And as we know from the dismal average savings rates for Americans, forced saving can be a good thing. Here are some benefits of this type of policy:
So is it worth it? When deciding how to save for college, consider the return on investment for your money. Also, look at how your savings will measure up against the actual cost of four years of college.
The first year you apply for financial aid (for your child’s freshman year of college), your endowment life insurance policy won’t count against you or decrease your aid eligibility. That’s an advantage that life insurance policies have over other savings vehicles.
Once you take the payout, though, that money counts as income. This matters once tax season comes around and when you apply for financial aid the following year. You can’t hide from the FAFSA forever.
Endowment Life Insurance vs 529 College Savings Plans
What are some alternatives to endowment life insurance policies? A popular one is the 529 College Savings Plan. 529 plans work differently from endowment life insurance. With a 529 plan, you make tax-deductible contributions based on today’s college prices in your state. Then later on down the road, you withdraw the money and spend it tax-free on your child’s college expenses.
Unlike an insurance policy, a 529 doesn’t lapse if you don’t make regular contributions. You can contribute as little or as much (up to a generous cap) as you can and want. Your 529 account savings do count against your family’s financial aid eligibility, though.
The Combo Plan
One solution favored by many parents and financial planners is to combine a term life insurance policy with a 529. That way, you pay low premiums for a big-pay out if something happens to you during the life insurance term. You also benefit from tax-advantaged college savings via the 529.
Taking this approach means splitting up the money you would spend on monthly payments for an endowment life insurance policy. With this strategy, you divide that money into two chunks, one to pay the premium on a generous term life insurance policy and the other to go into a 529 plan.
The Bottom Line
If you choose the “Combo Plan” (we made that term up, so don’t go requesting it at your next meeting with a financial planner) you’ll have a regular term life insurance policy, meaning you lose the money you pay in premiums if you outlive the term. If losing those premiums sounds too painful, endowment life insurance may be a better option for you. Endowment policies are safe – they’re low-risk and low-reward.
You don’t have to worry that fluctuations in the market or the interest rate will wipe out your college savings, and you don’t have to use the endowment for college expenses if you don’t want to. No matter what you’re using the money for, it’s a good idea to wait until the end of the term to claim your payout, though, or risk paying penalties and fees for early withdrawal.
Tips for Insurance Planning
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