If you've noticed your life cover premiums have risen over time, you're not alone. However, many of the reasons for life insurance premium increases are avoidable — for example, you might be able to opt for a different premium structure or switch off inflation increases.
Most life insurance policies in Australia have stepped premiums, meaning how much you pay increases each year by a certain percentage. For example, if you're with NobleOak, your stepped premiums will go up about 2% per year if you're under 30 and between 5% and 7% in the years following that.
Premiums rise as you get older for that simple reason, you're not as young as you were when you took out cover. The older you are, the more risk you pose to the insurer and the more you'll pay for cover each year.
While it may seem like a scam, one of the major reasons your premiums go up every year is because of inflation. Your premiums need to keep pace with CPI so that your sum insured also increases. While you can ask your insurer to switch off this feature, it means your sum insured will remain the same over time.
Say you took out a policy for $250,000 in 1998, for example. If we use an annual inflation rate of 2.6%, you would need a policy worth $420,096.40 to provide you with the same dollar-for-dollar value cover by the year 2018. That's an increase of 68% over 20 years and highlights the importance of letting your premiums increase along with CPI.
If you want to avoid increasing costs each year, you can choose level rather than stepped premiums. Level policies work in the inverse of stepped, meaning they're more expensive in the beginning but wind up being cheaper than stepped over time. While level premiums ideally stay the same, they may still increase with CPI depending on your policy. This feature can be turned off.
If you want your premiums to reflect the changing risk you'll pose to your insurer, you can choose stepped premiums. This type of premium structure is the most common form of premiums in Australia. When you first take out a life insurance policy, stepped is the cheaper option but becomes more expensive than level premiums over time.
While the above are all normal reasons that you might have seen your premiums go up, there are other factors that can influence how much you're paying for life insurance and one of the biggest is your insurer's ability to turn a profit.
Increase in mental health claims
Insurers are businesses and in order for them to remain profitable, they need to be paying out fewer dollars for claims than they are taking in premiums for their customers. Obviously, right? But in recent years there has been a major upswing in the number of claims life insurers are paying out, especially income protection claims for mental health issues.
According to a study conducted by Rice Warner, which analysed claims from 16 large super funds from 2010 to 2013, mental/stress claims were the number 1 claim type for middle-aged Australians.
In 2018, the government proposed some reforms as part of its "Protecting your Super" bill. Basically, those earning under a certain amount or under the age of 25 would need to opt in to insurance provided by super funds. Losing all these young and healthy members could have a massive impact on the risk pool for everyone with group insurance, with some analysts predicting up to a 26% increase in insurance premiums.
The premiums themselves
Life insurance is caught in a catch-22 of sorts: the price of life insurance goes up, which forces people to drop their policies, which forces the price of insurance up again, which forces more people to drop their policies and so on. In fact, an estimated one-third of life insurance policies are cancelled after just one month, according to news.com.au.
Research conducted by Rice Warner showed that over a 4-year period, life and TPD premiums increased by 215% and income protection premiums went up by 82%. However, overall life and income retail policies lost $1.5 billion over 4 years, according to APRA.
A lot of what affects your premiums is out of your control, but there are some steps you can take to keep your costs down.
- Review your needs as you get older. While many people look at life insurance as a set-and-forget product, it's important to reassess your needs as you get older. Say you've paid down your mortgage and you no longer have kids in school, those are two pretty big expenses off your plate, which means you won't need as much coverage.
- Opting out of inflation increases. As mentioned earlier, you can opt out of automatic inflation increases for your premiums. The downside is your benefit won't be worth as much by tomorrow's dollar. However, the upside could be twofold: your premiums will be lower and you might not need to review your level of cover later in life.
- Don't double dip on insurance. If you have a standalone life insurance policy, make sure you're not also paying for one (or more) through your super fund.
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