What troops need to know about life insurance in 2024

by Vern Evans

Inflation may not have increased the cost of life insurance across the board, but it has affected how people are thinking about those policies. Troops and civilians alike bought more life insurance during the coronavirus pandemic, and spent more on those policies to adjust for inflation.

For example, in 2018, Navy Mutual members bought more than $412,000 in term life insurance, on average; while whole life insurance policies averaged nearly $81,400. That’s increased to $528,181 for term insurance policies and $120,183 for whole life policies in 2024, said retired Rear Adm. Brian Luther, president and CEO of Navy Mutual, a nonprofit organization that sells life insurance to the military community.

Term life insurance policies, which provide coverage for a specific period of time, are generally much less expensive than whole life policies, which can last until someone dies.

But military customers have bucked one trend among the general population, Luther said.

“Larger companies are seeing a lot of people, no longer scared about COVID, surrendering their policy. … We’re not seeing that,” Luther said.

More than 99% of Navy Mutual policyholders keep their policies, he said.

“Our mission is to take care of our members and their families,” Luther said. “For us, it’s a mission fail if you sell a person a policy and they come back later and say they can’t afford it.”

Navy Mutual and other insurers also benefit from the financial education programs provided across the Defense Department, Luther said.

“Every service member is briefed on the benefit of Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI),” he said. “They educate the military member on the benefit of having life insurance that will take care of your family.”

Navy Mutual and other organizations provide extra life insurance on top of the government’s SGLI coverage, which increased by $100,000 in 2023 to a maximum of $500,000.

Troops pay a premium of $31 per month for $500,000 worth of SGLI coverage, which is deducted from their pay. The monthly SGLI premium is the same regardless of the service member’s age or other factors. The rate hasn’t changed, at 6 cents per $1,000 of insurance.

Some troops determine they need more insurance to cover the specific needs of their family, especially those with children. Adding a second policy can have other benefits: SGLI coverage ends when troops leave the military, and it’s less expensive to buy life insurance at a younger age from organizations outside the military and lock in those rates.

SGLI is widely recognized as a strong benefit at a reasonable cost for service members. It can be converted to the Veterans’ Group Life Insurance program within a year and 120 days after the service member leaves the military. The VGLI maximum was also increased to $500,000 in 2023.

VGLI is more expensive than many other insurance programs. Yet it’s important to remember that everyone leaving the military with SGLI coverage qualifies for VGLI, regardless of health. If you sign up for VGLI within 240 days of separation, you don’t need to prove you’re in good health to hold it.

Premiums for VGLI increase every five years. For those who are 29 and younger, the monthly premium is $35 for $500,000 of coverage. By age 60, that monthly premium increases to $495. By age 70, it’s $1,130 a month.

“VGLI will insure you if you’re uninsurable, and that’s what you’re paying for,” Luther said.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Mike Meese, president of AAFMAA, a nonprofit that sells life insurance to the military community, added that troops in “fair or better health” should try to find life insurance through another program before they leave the military to avoid VGLI’s higher cost.

People are paying more attention to life insurance coverage for their spouses, too, Meese said. The government’s Family SGLI program that offers coverage for military spouses has remained at a maximum of $100,000.

During COVID, with more people working from home and children learning remotely, people realized the value of spouse life insurance, Meese said.

“We’re seeing a lot more people getting $300,000 to $500,000 life insurance on their spouse, because it would be hard for anybody to continue to serve in the military if they lost their spouse and had young, school-age children,” Meese said.

Luther added that if spouses get life insurance through an employer, it’s generally a policy that ends when they leave that job.

Meese advises against having the “set it and forget it” mindset when it comes to life insurance. He notes that many people only buy life insurance once or twice in their lifetime, but “that might not be enough to keep up with your income growth, life changes, or the kind of inflation we’ve seen in recent years, and could leave military families insufficiently covered.”

He advises everyone to review their policies at least annually, as well as after any major life event that affects your ongoing finances, such as buying a home, adding a child or getting ready to leave the military.

Verify that your insurance provider and the military have your correct beneficiaries and next of kin on file to avoid confusion if you die unexpectedly, he said.

Life insurance calculators and professionals can help determine your needs for a policy. Financial counselors are available at military installations and through Military OneSource.

For more Insurance Guide coverage:

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families.” She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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