Universal Life is a type of permanent life insurance based on a cash value. That is, the policy is established with the insurer where premium payments above the cost of insurance are credited to the cash value. The cash value is credited each month with interest, and the policy is debited each month by a cost of insurance (COI) charge, and any other policy charges and fees which are drawn from the cash value if no premium payment is made that month. The interest credited to the account is determined by the insurer; sometimes it is pegged to a financial index such as a bond or other interest rate index.
A similar type of policy that was developed from universal life policies is the variable universal life insurance policy, or VUL. VUL's allow the cash value to be directed to a number of separate accounts that operate like mutual funds and can be invested in stock or bond investments with greater risk and potential reward. Additionally, there is the recent addition of Equity Indexed Universal Life contracts analogous to Equity Indexed Annuities that invest in Index Options on the movement of an Index such as the S&P 500, Russell 2000, and the Dow (to name a few). These types of contracts only participate in the movement of Index and not the actual purchase of stocks, bonds or mutual funds. They may have a cap (but not always) as to the maximum amount they will credit interest to and a minimum guarantee which keeps the principal of the contract from losing money in a down year. Typically each year the starting point is last year's ending point which means that: (1) the policy amount is locked in at the end of the year; and, (2) the beginning value from which the movement measured is reset.
Universal life is similar in some ways to, and was developed from whole life insurance. The advantage of the universal life policy is its premium flexibility and adjustable death benefits. The death benefit can be increased (subject to insurability), or decreased at the policy owner's request.
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