What Happens when my Term Life Insurance Policy Ends?

What happens when my term life insurance policy ends? It depends on whether you still need coverage. With most policies today, the end of your term life insurance policy doesn't mean you have to lose coverage. You have the option to renew or convert your term life insurance policy to a whole life insurance policy, but you will have to pay higher life insurance rates. Read more below to learn what to do when your term life insurance policy expires.

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Schimri Yoyo is a financial advisor with active life and health insurance licenses in seven states. Born in Haiti. Reared in Brockton, MA. Matured in Philadelphia. Schimri is a proud graduate of Arcadia University, having earned both a Masters in Special Education and an MFA in Creative Writing from the castle-riddled campus in Glenside, PA. By personality and by profession, Schimri is an educator...

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Benjamin Carr was a licensed insurance agent in Georgia and has two years' experience in life, health, property and casualty coverage. He has worked with State Farm and other risk management firms. He is also a strategic writer and editor with a background in branding, marketing, and quality assurance. He has been in military newsrooms — literally on the frontline of journalism.

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Reviewed by Benji Carr
Former Licensed Life Insurance Agent

UPDATED: Jul 19, 2021

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Quick Facts

  • It’s best to explore your options for renewing coverage before your term life insurance ends.
  • Some policies have the option to convert your term insurance policy to a permanent policy as soon as it ends.

There’s a bittersweet feeling accompanied by outliving your term life insurance policy. On one hand, you’re certainly happy to be alive, but on the other, you may not be sure about what happens when your term life insurance policy ends.

So, what happens when my term life insurance policy ends? Does life insurance expire?

In this article, we’ll cover what to do if your life insurance policy expires, how to renew your life insurance policy, and show you how to determine if you can get a refund on term life insurance. We’ll also discuss getting new term life insurance quotes.

Need to find an affordable term life insurance policy? Whether you’re at the end of your term life policy or you just need to buy term life insurance, we can help. Compare term life insurance quotes using our FREE quote tool. Just enter your ZIP code above.

How does term life insurance work and what are its benefits?

If you are shopping for term life insurance for the first time, you are probably collecting quotes for policies of different lengths with different premiums and different benefit amounts.

What is term life insurance? There are several types of term life insurance, and lots of people choose it because it is the most affordable life insurance option.

Term life insurance offers coverage for a distinct period of time. This means after the defined term length, your coverage will expire.

Term life coverage is a useful way to keep premium costs down while you are younger and healthier. Check out these sample rates from Allstate to get a sense of the cost for a 10-year term with $250,000 in benefit.

Allstate Average Monthly Term Life Rates Male vs Female
Life Insurance Policy Type30-Year-Old Male Average Monthly Term Life Insurance Rates30-Year-Old Female Average Monthly Term Life Insurance Rates
$250,000: 10-Year Term$17.00$16.00
$250,000: 30-Year Term$26.00$22.00
$500,000: 10-Year Term$25.00$22.00
$500,000: 30-Year Term$45.00$37.00
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These rates are much lower than permanent insurance rates which cover you for life, or at least until you reach age 120. This is because as you grow older, your risk of death increases. The riskier you are to an insurance company, the more your insurance will cost.

For term life insurance, you can keep your insurance coverage costs down, but when your insurance expires, you might have a tough time renewing your insurance or obtaining a new policy.

It’s best to consider your options when you first purchase a policy rather than waiting until the policy expires. What happens when term life insurance expires?

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What happens to term life insurance at the end of the term?

What happens at the end of a term life insurance policy? If you’ve recently come to the end of your term life insurance policy congratulations. You’ve outlived your policy. The best type of term life insurance is the kind you never end up using but is there if you and your family need it.

Not all life insurance policies expire, but term life insurance expires at a set date. What happens to term insurance when it expires?

The term period is set when you purchase the policy and typically lasts for 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, or even 40 years. After that, you can usually continue the policy on a year-to-year basis up to age 95, which is the term life insurance age limit, but at a much higher cost.

In general, term life insurance premiums increase as you grow older. To put it bluntly, the older you get, the more risk you have of dying, and so the cost of your insurance will be higher.

What is important is to have a plan to help you maintain coverage so that you don’t suddenly find yourself in a position where the cost of insurance becomes too high.

If you allow yourself to renew an existing policy annually, you may find that at some point your insurance costs are astronomical, and it would have been better to secure a new longer-term policy or permanent insurance somewhere along the way.

What do you do if your term life insurance is expiring?

Can you extend a term life insurance policy? Knowing your options when you purchase a policy will save you a lot of headaches later on. You can plan by having options to extend your term or convert your insurance to a permanent plan built into your existing policy.

If your term life insurance is ending, consult with your insurance agent to see what options you have. Most insurance companies will have a few options that we will discuss later on. However, do this before your policy has expired and you are no longer insured.

If you are at the beginning of your shopping process, look for policies that have built-in options to convert to permanent insurance or options that guarantee your qualification for a new policy at the end of the term.

What happens if you outlive your term life insurance policy?

What happens to life insurance if you don’t die before the end of the term? Can you extend a term life insurance policy?

Well, that depends on your life insurance needs. Even though your term period has expired, your policy may still have value to you.

If you find that you still need life insurance protection at this point, you do have options for extending, converting, or renewing the coverage.

In some cases, your policy will simply become void. You’ve paid a term life insurance company for years and won’t get anything out of it other than peace of mind.

If you’re lucky, your insurance policy will have certain clauses that help you to renew at a better rate, get a partial refund, or other benefits for outliving your policy.

In other instances, your life insurance might offer an annual renewable term. You should be aware that annual renewable term policy rates will increase. It would be cheaper to shop for a new longer-term policy instead.

When purchasing a term life policy, you may want to find a convertible term life policy. A convertible term life policy will allow you to purchase a permanent life insurance policy at the end of a term.

This is useful because it will allow you to pay a cheaper rate while you are younger and healthier. When you are older, the convertible term will ensure that you can qualify for a permanent policy even if you develop health issues or have family history concerns.

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Do you still need life insurance after your term policy expires?

Unless you are independently wealthy and have a good inheritance reserved for your children, you probably will continue to need coverage.

Even if you are independently wealthy, you may want to investigate permanent insurance for the tax benefits that apply to the cash value that is built through premium contributions.

How do you extend your term life insurance coverage?

If you’ve secured a renewable term life insurance policy, you might be wondering how long you can keep renewing your policy. Typically, policies will not retire at a specific age, but on a date.

If you have annual renewable term, you might be able to keep renewing the term for some time.

Although rare, some term policies are renewable until the insured reaches the maximum age for term life insurance of 95. However, beware, if you have term life insurance to age 95 and you allow it to expire you might be left out in the cold with no options to qualify for a new policy.

For term life insurance, depending on the terms of renewal, you can keep your existing policy in force by continuing to pay the premiums.

Pros — This option may be worthwhile if you find you need the coverage for a short period, say 2-3 years. Also, this may be a good choice (or your only choice) for a no medical exam life insurance policy if you cannot qualify for a new policy due to a change in health.

Cons — The cost to keep the policy in force will increase significantly. And it will continue to increase each year as you age. Check your policy for a page that shows the estimated annual premiums for the policy term and the years that follow.

How do you determine the amount of life insurance coverage you still need?

As you get older, your insurance needs will change. If you were younger and had kids, a mortgage, and a working salary to cover, you were likely paying a higher premium.

If you are now retired, downsized, and your kids are out of the house, you may not need as much coverage. You can use a life insurance calculator to help you determine your benefit amount.

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Should you buy a new term life policy?

Sometimes, the least expensive option for keeping your life insurance coverage in force is to apply for a new term life policy. You can either apply to the same company utilizing their Exchange or Re-entry provision, or you can choose a different company.

There are no clear advantages to staying with the same company, as both applications will likely require an in-home life insurance exam to show you are still in good health.

We always advise people to shop around for the best rate, just as you did 10, 15, or 20 years ago.

Pros — This is almost always the least expensive option, especially if you are under age 70.

Cons — You have to prove you are still in good health (insurability). If your health has deteriorated, you may lose out on the cost savings or be denied coverage altogether.

So the three most likely options for you to continue coverage when your existing life insurance policy ends are:

  1. Extend term life insurance policy on a year-to-year basis Expensive, but a simple way to keep your coverage going.
  2. Convert the policy to a permanent policy Expensive, but you can get lifetime coverage even if you are in poor health.
  3. Start a new term policy Less expensive, but you must be in good health to qualify for a low rate.

Keep these options in mind as your term life insurance policy draws to a close. Remember to consult with your life insurance advisor at least a year in advance and together you can make an informed choice.

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How do you renew a term life policy?

Regardless of the term life insurance policy length selected, it is important to make sure it contains a guaranteed renewable provision. A term life insurance policy’s renewability provision is arguably its most important feature.

The provision allows the policy owner to renew the policy at the end of the policy term, without proving evidence of insurability again (i.e. no new medical exam). This can be done annually, typically up to age 95 or so (varies by company).

The obvious advantage of the renewability provision is the policy can be extended, even if the insured is in poor health. Suppose you, as the insured, have been diagnosed with a serious medical condition during the term of your policy.

When the policy expires, you may no longer be insurable; which is to say you could not be approved for a new policy. However, you may still need the coverage.

Perhaps you originally chose a 10-year term, but now you need a 20-year term due to the birth of another child. The renewability provision would allow you to extend the coverage despite your current medical condition.

The primary disadvantage of extending the policy beyond the original policy term is the cost. Once the policy term ends, the guaranteed or level premium rate you have been paying ends as well.

There is little doubt the insurance company will charge a higher premium each year you choose to renew the policy beyond the original policy term. Most term life policies list the current and maximum renewal premiums in the policy.

So let’s recap the renewability provision:

  • The insurance company guarantees they will renew the policy annually at the end of the original policy term.
  • No new evidence of insurability is required.
  • The policy automatically renews provided the renewal premium is paid on time.
  • This allows an otherwise uninsurable individual to keep their life insurance coverage in force.

Please do not confuse this provision with re-entry, which is entirely different.

What is the term life insurance renewal process?

Most modern term life insurance policies do not expire until you reach age 95. Even though you may have a 10-year term life policy, your coverage will not end after 10 years. What does end, however, is the “rate guarantee” on that policy.

The rate guarantee is what keeps your cost from increasing during the policy term. If you have a 10-year term policy, for example, the rate guarantee will expire in the eleventh year, and your cost will go up if you decide to keep the policy.

Not only will the cost go up, but it’s likely to increase dramatically. Here’s an example of what the scheduled premiums may look like for a 10-year term life policy. A similar table will be included in your policy.

10-Year Term Life Insurance Policy Annual Costs
Policy YearAnnual Cost Example
1- 10$500
11$2,500
12$2,800
13$3,400
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You can see how dramatic the increases can be. But remember, you’re not obligated to pay the higher rates.

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What are the life insurance renewal options?

When your policy term expires, you will get a renewal notice from the life insurance company that states the new premium for the policy. At that point, you’ll need to decide whether to keep the coverage or let it go.

Your decision will likely come down to two factors: (1) your health condition (aka insurability) at that time, and (2) whether or not you still need life insurance coverage.

First, we’ll assume you are in good health and can still get approved for life insurance. In this case, your options are:

Buy a new term life policy.

This is almost always (as in greater than 99 percent of the time) less expensive than keeping your existing policy.

  • Pros: Less expensive; you can lock in a new rate guarantee.
  • Cons: Requires a new application and exam; you must satisfy a new two-year contestability and suicide period.

Sometimes it’s better to move on. Search for a company that will let you know what happens to the money at the end of term life insurance.

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Can you renew life insurance in poor health?

Your options will be more limited, but you still have some. What happens when a term life insurance policy matures? This depends on your original agreement with the company, but there are options.

Keep your existing policy.

Remember, you’re no longer insurable due to changes in your health. If you decide you still need the coverage, you may have to endure the higher cost to get it.

  • Pros: You do not need to prove insurability again; you can keep coverage going.
  • Cons: Expensive; no rate guarantee means the cost will continue to increase each year.

In many cases, it’s not worthwhile to change your policy. In the event that it seems beneficial, consider another policy type.

Convert your policy to a permanent one.

Your policy “may” be convertible to a universal life or whole life policy. Make sure you contact your agent or the life insurance company before the term expires.

Often these conversion privileges expire at some point, but almost always before the end of the term. What happens if I outlive my whole life insurance policy? Thankfully, you can’t outlive those!

  • Pros: Conversion does not require you to be in good health; you don’t need to complete an exam; you can secure lifetime coverage with a permanent policy.
  • Cons: Conversion is expensive; expect to pay much more than you were paying for your term policy, but possibly less than the renewal rates to keep it.

Maybe you’ll get lucky and meet a new insurance agent who can help you more. Can you get out of a term life insurance policy? In some cases, yes. It may be best to wait until the end of a term, though.

How does QuickQuote help with term life insurance renewal?

When your policy reaches the end of the term period, we’ll be here to help. Here’s what we do for you at renewal time:

  • We send you rates for a new term life policy so you can compare them to your renewal rates.
  • We can also show you how conversions work and what it would cost for you to convert your policy.
  • We can help you with a smaller term policy (amount or length), help to convert a portion of your existing policy, or a combination of both.

Whether you choose to renew or not should partially depend on your company’s ratings. We recommend viewing ratings by A.M. Best to see how your company is standing financially.

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How long should your term life insurance policy last?

How long is term life insurance? Term life insurance policies eventually end. Though they technically don’t end until age 95, by the end of the term period, the price increases so much that most people let it expire.

That’s why it’s imperative to get this part right. If you race past this question without much thought, you’re likely to regret it 10 or 15 years from now.

Go too long, and you’ll pay for more than you need. Fall short and, well, you could be left with no coverage when you need it.

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What are the available term periods (lengths)?

How long does term life insurance last? You can buy term life insurance for term periods of 10, 15, 20, 25, or 30 years. As I mentioned earlier, most modern term life policies do not technically expire until age 95, regardless of the term period.

The term period simply locks in the policy cost for that specific time. Do life insurance policies expire after death? Essentially, yes. They are paid out to the beneficiaries and are no longer expected to be paid for, so choose as long a term as necessary.

If you buy a 10-year term policy, your rate will not increase for 10 years. However, once the term period expires in the eleventh year, the rate guarantee is gone, and the cost will go up significantly.

The longer the term period, the higher the cost. So, 30-year is more expensive than 20-year, which is more expensive than 10-year. The reason is simple: You’re paying for a longer rate guarantee. Naturally, that is going to cost more.

What is the relationship between term life insurance, increasing premiums, and ART?

A term life policy provides the most affordable coverage for a limited length of time. After that period of time, insurance companies might offer you an option to continue coverage with yearly increasing premiums or an annual renewable term.

Some life insurance companies offer a term period as short as one year, sometimes called an Annually Renewable Term (ART). These policies can be renewed for one-year intervals, hence the name.

However, these policies are not always the cheaper option, because the life insurance company has to recover all of its costs right upfront. Longer policies allow them to spread these costs out over many years.

Similarly, an increasing premium option will outline preset premium increases but will provide coverage for a longer duration, or for as long as you continue to pay the premiums.

However, before you go with the increasing premium option, you may want to investigate actual permanent insurance policy options.

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How do I choose a life insurance term length?

It shouldn’t take an advanced math degree to solve this problem. You don’t need an abacus, compass, or fancy calculator. All you need is a simple formula. Grab a pen and write down the answers to these questions:

  • How many years until my youngest child is no longer dependent?
  • How many years until my mortgage is paid off?
  • How many years until my spouse and I retire?
  • How many years until my other long-term obligations are gone?

Your answers might look something like this:

8 years, 14 years, 18 years, and 10.

Use the largest number of years and select a policy for that time frame. A 20-year policy works best in this example, as it provides coverage until all or most of your long-term obligations are met.

Keep in mind this is a starting point and not necessarily the final answer. Your situation may justify a shorter or longer policy. For example, you may have another policy or coverage through work that could cover some of these obligations.

Or you may have other needs not listed here that take you out longer than 20 years.

Can you layer life insurance policies?

Another option for selecting your policy’s term length is to layer multiple policies together to cover your needs.

Your needs are likely to change gradually over time as children grow up and move out and mortgages eventually get paid off. Retirement gets closer every day.

Layering allows you to systematically reduce your life insurance coverage over time as your needs change and your obligations start supporting themselves.

It can be a very effective strategy, saving you a lot of money over the years. Families have saved 25% or more on the cost of a single policy.

What happens if I pick the wrong term length?

If you choose too long of a term length, you can always simply cancel the policy when you realize you no longer need it. The biggest penalty for this is that you’ve paid more over the life of the policy than needed.

Ending up short, however, is a different story. Let’s say your 15-year term is nearing its end and you realize you need it for another six or seven years. You know the premium is going to skyrocket next year, and you won’t be able to afford it.

Here’s how it’s likely to play out:

Best Case Scenario

You’ve taken care of your health and danced a little with Lady Luck along the way. You can still qualify for coverage at a good rate. So you let the policy expire and you buy another one. It will cost more than the last, but not nearly as much as keeping the old one.

Worst Case Scenario

Time hasn’t been so good to you, or you haven’t been so good to you.

Either way, you can’t qualify for a new policy now because of health issues. This is where the rubber meets the road, and you have a tough decision to make. You can keep the old policy and pay the higher rate, or go without.

But wait there may be another way. You may be able to choose life insurance that does not expire.

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Can you convert a term life insurance policy?

Nearly all term life insurance policies issued today include a conversion option, aka an exchange option. If your policy was issued more than 10 years ago, be sure to check if it includes this option.

This option allows you to convert your term life policy to a permanent life insurance policy, typically a universal life insurance (UL) policy. Most companies have select UL policies available for conversion.

Be sure to check with your insurance company to see which policies are available for conversion. Conversions guidelines vary by the life insurance company. The most common are:

  • Entire Term — This allows you to convert your policy at any time during the policy term (BEFORE expiration).
  • Period — This allows you to convert your policy for a certain period, say, the first five years of the policy term.
  • Specific Age — This allows you to convert your policy up until a specific age, typically age 70.

One of the most important things to remember about conversion is you need to begin the process before your term expires. It’s best to start looking at policies and costs at least a year in advance. This will help you keep your options open as the policy ends and your term conversion expiration date draw near.

What are the pros and cons to converting your term life policy?

Pros — Clearly, the biggest benefit of conversion is that you do not have to provide evidence of insurability to convert to a permanent policy, provided the coverage amount remains the same or less.

In other words, you do not need to show good health as you did when you first bought your term life policy. So, no application and no exam.

Cons — Some life insurance companies limit the number of UL policies available for conversion. So you may not necessarily get the features you would like in a permanent policy or the best available policy. You may also have to pay more than you would for a non-eligible UL policy.

If you mess up and choose a term length that ends up being too short, you may be able to convert the policy to a permanent policy, even if you’re no longer the picture of good health that you were 10 years ago.

This is determined by the life insurance underwriting guidelines you got on the original policy, meaning you could keep your preferred rate even if you’re in bad shape.

A different option could be annuities, which, according to the Insurance Information Institute, are the largest life or health product line and help guard you in the event you outlive your assets.

Annuities are basically an agreement between one insurance provider and another entity to make payments, and there are multiple types.

Remember to consider the term length for your policy very carefully from the beginning, and if annuities are beneficial for you. We recommend discussing these options with your insurance agent.

How do you convert term life insurance?

Most term life insurance policies automatically include a conversion option, which is the option to convert your term policy to a permanent life insurance policy, within policy specifications.

Here are a few keys to successfully converting your term life insurance policy:

  • Conversion rules and options differ from company to company.
  • Permanent life insurance is very different from term life, so make sure you fully understand it before making a conversion.
  • Often conversions are not reversible, so once done you can not convert back to your term policy.
  • Find an experienced agent who is willing to go over all aspects of your new policy before conversion.

Your agent should be able to help point you in the right direction, but it is always helpful to have some information beforehand to protect you. If you switch life insurance policies, you will automatically still be insurable so don’t worry about that.

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Are there more term life insurance conversion options?

Insurance companies that provide the conversion option with their term policies will provide at least one permanent product to convert to. Usually, it will be universal life or whole life.

Some companies allow conversion to any of their permanent coverages. Have your agent compile a list of options for you when you are considering making the switch.

It is important to note that insurance companies may change products over time, so a product that is available for conversion today may be discontinued in the future.

The conversion deadline will be listed in your policy, and this is the absolute deadline for converting your policy to a permanent plan. Most insurance companies do not offer a grace period on this time limit.

If you intend to convert your term policy, allow plenty of time for the conversion paperwork and processing.

How does pricing work for converting term life insurance policies?

The price that you will pay for your newly converted policy depends on the age at which you decide to make the conversion and the amount of your death benefits. The younger you are, the less expensive it will be.

Your agent will only be able to give you a rough estimate of conversion prices because insurance companies are constantly changing their rates.

This does not necessarily mean that you should jump the gun and convert to a different type of life policy too soon. Talk to your insurance agent and a financial advisor to be sure that a permanent policy is right for you before converting your policy.

However, if you’re not quite ready to part with your term policy, but want to take advantage of your conversion option, most insurance companies will allow you to convert only a portion of your term coverage to permanent life insurance.

Real Life Example

Bradley applied for a term life insurance policy at age 62. He was approved at the preferred plus rating class for a $250,000, 10-year term life policy for which he paid $500 per year.

Two years later, Bradley was diagnosed with major heart issues for which he needed surgery. During this time, he realized that his 10-year term policy (now two years old) was no longer sufficient to protect his loved ones.

Bradley applied to countless different insurance companies trying to get a new term policy but was unable to be approved due to his recent heart problems.

He was ready to give up but then remembered that his current term policy had a conversion option, which meant that he could convert all or part of his existing policy to a permanent plan with no evidence of insurability and without losing any of his death benefits.

At age 64 he was still within his policy’s conversion period, so he set out exploring the products available by his company for conversion. After much deliberation, he settled on a partial conversion to a cash value universal life policy.

He converted $100,000 worth of death benefits coverage and was able to maintain his preferred plus rating class. The pricing on his new policy was $2,400 per year.

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What is a return of premium term life insurance policy?

Before you agree to your term life insurance policy, you’ll want to ask about a return of premium rider.

This rider is basically designed to give you a partial refund of your term life insurance policy if you outlive that policy. In this case, you haven’t spent 30 years paying your insurance company with nothing in return.

Return of premium life insurance costs more than regular term life insurance, just like most of our other life insurance options. Rates will depend on which company you choose and variables like your age and health.

Generally, rates are about 30 percent9 higher for return of premium life insurance.

Return of Premium vs Term Life Insurance Rates
CoverageRate of Premium Life Insurance Average Monthly RatesTerm Life Insurance Average Monthly Rates
$100,000$13/month$10.45/month
$250,000$20/month$15.25/month
$500,000$34/month$23.48/month
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If you are in good health, it might be worthwhile to set up your term life insurance policy with a return of premium rider to treat your insurance more as an investment.

What’s the bottom line?

With life insurance becoming more important for young adults, outliving term life insurance policies is becoming increasingly common and many wonder when to drop term life insurance. You don’t want that investment to go to waste.

Whether it’s maintaining cheaper rates, getting a refund, or just keeping the same policy for comfort, the end of your term life insurance policy is important to consider.

If you have a policy that is at end of term, don’t wait till it expires. Enter your ZIP code below into out FREE quote tool to compare term life insurance rates today and lock in a new policy before your options are limited.

References:

  1. https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-annuities

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