A Beginner’s Guide to Insurance

Having the right kind of insurance is central to sound financial planning. Some of us may have some form of insurance but very few really understand what it is or why one must have it. For most Indians insurance is a form of investment or a superb tax saving avenue. Ask an average person about his/her investments and they will proudly mention an insurance product as part of their core investments. Of the approximately 5% of Indians that are insured the proportion of those adequately insured is much lower. Very few of the insured view insurance as purely that. There is perhaps no other financial product that has witnessed such rampant mis-selling at the hands of agents who are over enthusiastic in selling products linking insurance to investment earning them fat commissions.

What is Insurance?

Insurance is a way of spreading out significant financial risk of a person or business entity to a large group of individuals or business entities in the occurrence of an unfortunate event that is predefined. The cost of being insured is the monthly or annual compensation paid to the insurance company. In the purest form of insurance if the predefined event does not occur until the period specified the money paid as compensation is not retrieved. Insurance is effectively a means of spreading risk among a pool of people who are insured and lighten their financial burden in the event of a shock.

Insured and Insurer

When you seek protection against financial risk and make a contract with an insurance provider you become the insured and the insurance company becomes your insurer.

Sum assured

In Life Insurance this is the amount of money the insurer promises to pay when the insured dies before the predefined time. This does not include bonuses added in case of non-term insurance. In non-life insurance this guaranteed amount may be called as Insurance Cover.

Premium

For the protection against financial risk an insurer provides, the insured must pay compensation. This is known as premium. They may be paid annually, quarterly, monthly or as decided in the contract. Total amount of premiums paid is several times lesser than the insurance cover or it wouldn’t make much sense to seek insurance at all. Factors that determine premium are the cover, number of years for which insurance is sought, age of the insured (individual, vehicle, etc), to name a few.

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Nominee

The beneficiary who is specified by the insured to receive the sum assured and other benefits, if any is the nominee. In case of life insurance it must be another person apart from the insured.

Policy Term

The number of years you want protection for is the term of policy. Term is decided by the insured at the time of purchasing the insurance policy.

Rider

Certain insurance policies may offer additional features as add-ons apart from the actual cover. These can be availed by paying extra premiums. If those features were to be bought separately they would be more expensive. For instance you could add on a personal accident rider with your life insurance.

Surrender Value and Paid-up Value

If you want to exit a policy before its term ends you can discontinue it and take back your money. The amount the insurer will pay you in this instance is called the surrender value. The policy ceases to exist. Instead if you just stop paying the premiums mid way but do not withdraw money the amount is called as paid-up. At the term’s end the insurer pays you in proportion of the paid-up value.

Now that you know the terms this is how insurance works in plain words. An insurance company pools premiums from a large group of people who want to insure against a certain kind of loss. With the help of its actuaries the company comes up with statistical analysis of the probability of actual loss happening in a certain number of people and fixes premiums taking into account other factors as mentioned earlier. It works on the fact that not all insured will suffer loss at the same time and many may not suffer the loss at all within the time of contract.

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