When you’re looking into insurance coverage, some industry terms can leave you stumped…and frustrated. Bookmark this handy guide that will help you decipher common insurance industry words and phrases so that you can make informed buying decisions.
Accidental Death Benefit – In a life insurance policy, benefit in addition to the death benefit paid to the beneficiary, should death occur due to an accident. There can be certain exclusions as well as time and age limits.
Activities of Daily Living – Bathing, preparing and eating meals, moving from room to room, getting into and out of beds or chairs, dressing, using a toilet.
Actual Cash Value – Cost of replacing damaged or destroyed property with comparable new property, minus depreciation and obsolescence. For example, a 10-year-old sofa will not be replaced at current full value because of a decade of depreciation.
Actuary – A specialist in the mathematics of insurance who calculates rates, reserves, dividends and other statistics. (Americanism: In most other countries the individual is known as “mathematician.”)
Adjuster – A representative of the insurer who seeks to determine the extent of the insurer’s liability for loss when a claim is submitted.
Agent -individual who sells and services insurance policies in either of two classifications:
- Independent agent represents at least two insurance companies and (at least in theory) services clients by searching the market for the most advantageous price for the most coverage. The agent’s commission is a percentage of each premium paid and includes a fee for servicing the insured’s policy.
- Direct or career agent represents only one company and sells only its policies. This agent is paid on a commission basis in much the same manner as the independent agent.
Aggregate Limit – Usually refers to liability insurance and indicates the amount of coverage that the insured has under the contract for a specific period of time, usually the contract period, no matter how many separate accidents might occur.
Annual Administrative Fee – Charge for expenses associated with administering a group employee benefit plan.
Annual Crediting Cap– The maximum rate that the equity-indexed annuity can be credited in a year. If a contract has an upper limit, or cap, of 7 percent and the index linked to the annuity gained 7.2 percent, only 7 percent would be credited to the annuity.
Annuitization– Process by which you convert part or all of the money in a qualified retirement plan or nonqualified annuity contract into a stream of regular income payments, either for your lifetime or the lifetimes of you and your joint annuitant. Once you choose to annuitize, the payment schedule and the amount is generally fixed and can’t be altered.
Annuitization Options – Choices in the way to annuitize. For example, life with a 10-year period certain means payouts will last a lifetime, but should the annuitant die during the first 10 years, the payments will continue to beneficiaries through the 10th year. Selection of such an option reduces the amount of the periodic payment.
Annuity – An agreement by an insurer to make periodic payments that continue during the survival of the annuitant(s) or for a specified period.
Attained Age – Insured’s age at a particular time. For example, many term life insurance policies allow an insured to convert to permanent insurance without a physical examination at the insured’s then attained age. Upon conversion, the premium usually rises substantially to reflect the insured’s age and diminished life expectancy.
Automobile Liability Insurance – Coverage if an insured is legally liable for bodily injury or property damage caused by an automobile.
Benefit Period– In health insurance, the number of days for which benefits are paid to the named insured and his or her dependents. For example, the number of days that benefits are calculated for a calendar year consist of the days beginning on Jan. 1 and ending on Dec. 31 of each year.
Broker – Insurance salesperson that searches the marketplace in the interest of clients, not insurance companies.
Broker-Agent – Independent insurance salesperson who represents particular insurers but also might function as a broker by searching the entire insurance market to place an applicant’s coverage to maximize protection and minimize cost. This person is licensed as an agent and a broker.
Captive Agent – Representative of a single insurer or fleet of insurers who is obliged to submit business only to that company, or at the very minimum, give that company first refusal rights on a sale. In exchange, that insurer usually provides its captive agents with an allowance for office expenses as well as an extensive list of employee benefits such as pensions, life insurance, health insurance, and credit unions.
Casualty – Liability or loss resulting from an accident.
Casualty Insurance – That type of insurance that is primarily concerned with losses caused by injuries to persons and legal liability imposed upon the insured for such injury or for damage to property of others. It also includes such diverse forms as plate glass, insurance against crime, such as robbery, burglary and forgery, boiler and machinery insurance and Aviation insurance. Many casualty companies also write surety business.
Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) -Professional designation earned after the successful completion of 10 national examinations given by the American Institute for Property and Liability Underwriters. Covers such areas of expertise as insurance, risk management, economics, finance, management, accounting, and law. Three years of work experience also are required in the insurance business or a related area.
Claim – A demand made by the insured, or the insured’s beneficiary, for payment of the benefits as provided by the policy.
Coinsurance – In property insurance, requires the policyholder to carry insurance equal to a specified percentage of the value of property to receive full payment on a loss. For health insurance, it is a percentage of each claim above the deductible paid by the policyholder. For a 20% health insurance coinsurance clause, the policyholder pays for the deductible plus 20% of his covered losses. After paying 80% of losses up to a specified ceiling, the insurer starts paying 100% of losses.
Collision Insurance – Covers physical damage to the insured’s automobile (other than that covered under comprehensive insurance) resulting from contact with another inanimate object.
Commercial Lines – Refers to insurance for businesses, professionals and commercial establishments.
Commission – Fee paid to an agent or insurance salesperson as a percentage of the policy premium. The percentage varies widely depending on coverage, the insurer and the marketing methods.
Comprehensive Insurance – Auto insurance coverage providing protection in the event of physical damage (other than collision) or theft of the insured car. For example, fire damage or a cracked windshield would be covered under the comprehensive section.
Concurrent Periods – In hospital income protection, when a patient is confined to a hospital due to more than one injury and/or illness at the same time, benefits are paid as if the total disability resulted from only one cause.
Coverage – The scope of protection provided under an insurance policy. In property insurance, coverage lists perils insured against, properties covered, locations covered, individuals insured, and the limits of indemnification. In life insurance, living and death benefits are listed.
Convertible -Term life insurance coverage that can be converted into permanent insurance regardless of an insured’s physical condition and without a medical examination. The individual cannot be denied coverage or charged an additional premium for any health problems.
Copayment– A predetermined, flat fee an individual pays for health-care services, in addition to what insurance covers. For example, some HMOs require a $10 copayment for each office visit, regardless of the type or level of services provided during the visit. Copayments are not usually specified by percentages.
Coverage Area – The geographic region covered by travel insurance.
Creditable Coverage – Term means that benefits provided by other drug plans are at least as good as those provided by the new Medicare Part D program. This may be important to people eligible for Medicare Part D but who do not sign up at their first opportunity because if the other plans provide creditable coverage, plan members can later convert to Medicare Part D without paying higher premiums than those in effect during their open enrollment period.
Death Benefit – The limit of insurance or the amount of benefit that will be paid in the event of the death of a covered person.
Deductible – Amount of loss that the insured pays before the insurance kicks in.
Direct Writer – An insurer whose distribution mechanism is either the direct selling system or the exclusive agency system.
Dividend – The return of part of the policy’s premium for a policy issued on a participating basis by either a mutual or stock insurer. A portion of the surplus paid to the stockholders of a corporation.
Earned Premium – The amount of the premium that as been paid for in advance that has been “earned” by virtue of the fact that time has passed without claim. A three-year policy that has been paid in advance and is one year old would have only partly earned the premium.
Elimination Period – The time which must pass after filing a claim before policyholder can collect insurance benefits. Also known as “waiting period.”
Employers Liability Insurance – Coverage against common law liability of an employer for accidents to employees, as distinguished from liability imposed by a workers’ compensation law.
Exclusions – Items or conditions that are not covered by the general insurance contract.
Exposure – Measure of vulnerability to loss, usually expressed in dollars or units.
Extended Replacement Cost – This option extends replacement cost loss settlement to personal property and to outdoor antennas, carpeting, domestic appliances, cloth awnings, and outdoor equipment, subject to limitations on certain kinds of personal property; includes inflation protection coverage.
Floater – A separate policy available to cover the value of goods beyond the coverage of a standard renters insurance policy including movable property such as jewelry or sports equipment.
Future Purchase Option – Life and health insurance provisions that guarantee the insured the right to buy additional coverage without proving insurability. Also known as “guaranteed insurability option.”
General Liability Insurance – Insurance designed to protect business owners and operators from a wide variety of liability exposures. Exposures could include liability arising from accidents resulting from the insured’s premises or operations, products sold by the insured, operations completed by the insured, and contractual liability.
Grace Period – The length of time (usually 31 days) after a premium is due and unpaid during which the policy, including all riders, remains in force. If a premium is paid during the grace period, the premium is considered to have been paid on time. In Universal Life policies, it typically provides for coverage to remain in force for 60 days following the date cash value becomes insufficient to support the payment of monthly insurance costs.
Guaranteed Insurability Option – See “future purchase option.”
Guaranteed Issue Right – The right to purchase insurance without physical examination; the present and past physical condition of the applicant are not considered.
Guaranteed Renewable – A policy provision in many products which guarantees the policyowner the right to renew coverage at every policy anniversary date. The company does not have the right to cancel coverage except for nonpayment of premiums by the policyowner; however, the company can raise rates if they choose.
Guaranty Association – An organization of life insurance companies within a state responsible for covering the financial obligations of a member company that becomes insolvent.
Hazard – A circumstance that increases the likelihood or probable severity of a loss. For example, the storing of explosives in a home basement is a hazard that increases the probability of an explosion.
Hazardous Activity – Bungee jumping, scuba diving, horse riding and other activities not generally covered by standard insurance policies. For insurers that do provide cover for such activities, it is unlikely they will cover liability and personal accident, which should be provided by the company hosting the activity.
Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) – Prepaid group health insurance plan that entitles members to services of participating physicians, hospitals and clinics. Emphasis is on preventative medicine, and members must use contracted health-care providers.
Health Reimbursement Arrangement – Owners of high-deductible health plans who are not qualified for a health savings account can use an HRA.
Health Savings Account – Plan that allows you to contribute pre-tax money to be used for qualified medical expenses. HSAs, which are portable, must be linked to a high-deductible health insurance policy.
Indemnity – Restoration to the victim of a loss by payment, repair or replacement.
Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA) – Formerly the Independent Insurance Agents of America (IIAA), this is a member organization of independent agents and brokers monitoring and affecting industry issues. Numerous state associations are affiliated with the IIABA.
Inflation Protection – An optional property coverage endorsement offered by some insurers that increases the policy’s limits of insurance during the policy term to keep pace with inflation.
Insurable Interest – Interest in property such that loss or destruction of the property could cause a financial loss.
Insurance Adjuster – A representative of the insurer who seeks to determine the extent of the insurer’s liability for loss when a claim is submitted. Independent insurance adjusters are hired by insurance companies on an “as needed” basis and might work for several insurance companies at the same time. Independent adjusters charge insurance companies both by the hour and by miles traveled. Public adjusters work for the insured in the settlement of claims and receive a percentage of the claim as their fee. A.M. Best’s Directory of Recommended Insurance Attorneys and Adjusters lists independent adjusters only.
Insurance Attorneys – An attorney who practices the law as it relates to insurance matters. Attorneys might be solo practitioners or work as part of a law firm. Insurance companies who retain attorneys to defend them against law suits might hire staff attorneys to work for them in-house or they might retain attorneys on an as-needed basis. A.M. Best’s Directory of Recommended Attorneys and Adjusters lists insurance defense attorneys who concentrate their practice in insurance defense such as coverage issues, bad faith, malpractice, products liability, and workers’ compensation.
Insurance Institute of America (IIA) – An organization which develops programs and conducts national examinations in general insurance, risk management, management, adjusting, underwriting, auditing and loss control management.
Liability – Broadly, any legally enforceable obligation. The term is most commonly used in a pecuniary sense.
Liability Insurance – Insurance that pays and renders service on behalf of an insured for loss arising out of his responsibility, due to negligence, to others imposed by law or assumed by contract.
Licensed – Indicates the company is incorporated (or chartered) in another state but is a licensed (admitted) insurer for this state to write specific lines of business for which it qualifies.
Lifetime Reserve Days – Sixty additional days Medicare pays for when you are hospitalized for more than 90 days in a benefit period. These days can only be used once during your lifetime. For each lifetime reserve day, Medicare pays all covered costs except for a daily coinsurance amount.
Living Benefits – This feature allows you, under certain circumstances, to receive the proceeds of your life insurance policy before you die. Such circumstances include terminal or catastrophic illness, the need for long-term care, or confinement to a nursing home. Also known as “accelerated death benefits.”
Lloyd’s – Generally refers to Lloyd’s of London, England, an institution within which individual underwriters accept or reject the risks offered to them. The Lloyd’s Corp. provides the support facility for their activities.
Lloyds Organizations – These organizations are voluntary unincorporated associations of individuals. Each individual assumes a specified portion of the liability under each policy issued. The underwriters operate through a common attorney-in-fact appointed for this purpose by the underwriters. The laws of most states contain some provisions governing the formation and operation of such organizations, but these laws don’t generally provide as strict a supervision and control as the laws dealing with incorporated stock and mutual insurance companies.
Loss Control – All methods taken to reduce the frequency and/or severity of losses including exposure avoidance, loss prevention, loss reduction, segregation of exposure units and noninsurance transfer of risk. A combination of risk control techniques with risk financing techniques forms the nucleus of a risk management program. The use of appropriate insurance, avoidance of risk, loss control, risk retention, self insuring, and other techniques that minimize the risks of a business, individual, or organization.
Loss Ratio – The ratio of incurred losses and loss-adjustment expenses to net premiums earned. This ratio measures the company’s underlying profitability, or loss experience, on its total book of business.
Loss Reserve – The estimated liability, as it would appear in an insurer’s financial statement, for unpaid insurance claims or losses that have occurred as of a given evaluation date. Usually includes losses incurred but not reported (IBNR), losses due but not yet paid, and amounts not yet due. For individual claims, the loss reserve is the estimate of what will ultimately be paid out on that claim.
Losses Incurred (Pure Losses) – Net paid losses during the current year plus the change in loss reserves since the prior year end.
Medical Loss Ratio – Total health benefits divided by total premium.
Member Month – Total number of health plan participants who are members for each month.
Mortality and Expense Risk Fee – A charge that covers such annuity contract guarantees as death benefits.
Mortgage Insurance Policy – In life and health insurance, a policy covering a mortgagor with benefits intended to pay off the balance due on a mortgage upon the insured’s death, or to meet the payments due on a mortgage in case of the insured’s death or disability.
Mutual Insurance Companies – Companies with no capital stock, and owned by policyholders. The earnings of the company–over and above the payments of the losses, operating expenses and reserves–are the property of the policyholders. There are two types of mutual insurance companies. A nonassessable mutual charges a fixed premium and the policyholders cannot be assessed further. Legal reserves and surplus are maintained to provide payment of all claims. Assessable mutuals are companies that charge an initial fixed premium and, if that isn’t sufficient, might assess policyholders to meet losses in excess of the premiums that have been charged.
Named Perils – Perils specifically covered on insured property.
National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) – Association of state insurance commissioners whose purpose is to promote uniformity of insurance regulation, monitor insurance solvency and develop model laws for passage by state legislatures.
Nonstandard Auto (High Risk Auto or Substandard Auto) – Insurance for motorists who have poor driving records or have been canceled or refused insurance. The premium is much higher than standard auto due to the additional risks.
Noncancellable – Contract terms, including costs that can never be changed.
Occurrence – An event that results in an insured loss. In some lines of business, such as liability, an occurrence is distinguished from accident in that the loss doesn’t have to be sudden and fortuitous and can result from continuous or repeated exposure which results in bodily injury or property damage neither expected not intended by the insured.
Out-of-Pocket Limit – A predetermined amount of money that an individual must pay before insurance will pay 100% for an individual’s health-care expenses.
Own Occupation– Insurance contract provision that allows policyholders to collect benefits if they can no longer work in their own occupation.
Paid-Up Additional Insurance – An option that allows the policyholder to use policy dividends and/or additional premiums to buy additional insurance on the same plan as the basic policy and at a face amount determined by the insured’s attained age.
Participation Rate – In equity-indexed annuities, a participation rate determines how much of the gain in the index will be credited to the annuity. For example, the insurance company may set the participation rate at 80%, which means the annuity would only be credited with 80% of the gain experienced by the index.
Peril – The cause of a possible loss.
Personal Injury Protection– Pays basic expenses for an insured and his or her family in states with no-fault auto insurance. No-fault laws generally require drivers to carry both liability insurance and personal injury protection coverage to pay for basic needs of the insured, such as medical expenses, in the event of an accident.
Personal Lines – Insurance for individuals and families, such as private-passenger auto and homeowners insurance.
Point-of-Service Plan – Health insurance policy that allows the employee to choose between in-network and out-of-network care each time medical treatment is needed.
Policy -The written contract effecting insurance, or the certificate thereof, by whatever name called, and including all clause, riders, endorsements, and papers attached thereto and made a part thereof.
Policy or Sales Illustration – Material used by an agent and insurer to show how a policy may perform under a variety of conditions and over a number of years.
Pre-Existing Condition – A coverage limitation included in many health policies which states that certain physical or mental conditions, either previously diagnosed or which would normally be expected to require treatment prior to issue, will not be covered under the new policy for a specified period of time.
Preferred Auto – Auto coverage for drivers who have never had an accident and operates vehicles according to law. Drivers are not a risk for any insurance company that writes auto insurance, and no insurance company would be afraid to take them on as risk.
Preferred Provider Organization– Network of medical providers who charge on a fee-for-service basis, but are paid on a negotiated, discounted fee schedule.
Premium – The price of insurance protection for a specified risk for a specified period of time.
Premium Earned – The amount of the premium that as been paid for in advance that has been “earned” by virtue of the fact that time has passed without claim. A three-year policy that has been paid in advance and is one year old would have only partly earned the premium.
Premium Unearned – That part of the premium applicable to the unexpired part of the policy period.
Qualified High-Deductible Health Plan – A health plan with lower premiums that covers health-care expenses only after the insured has paid each year a large amount out of pocket or from another source. To qualify as a health plan coupled with a Health Savings Account, the Internal Revenue Code requires the deductible to be at least $1,000 for an individual and $2,000 for a family. High-deductible plans are also known as catastrophic plans.
Qualified Versus Non-Qualified Policies – Qualified plans are those employee benefit plans that meet Internal Revenue Service requirements as stated in IRS Code Section 401a. When a plan is approved, contributions made by the employer are tax deductible expenses.
Qualifying Event – An occurrence that triggers an insured’s protection.
Re-Entry – Re-entry, which is the allowance for level-premium term policyowners to qualify for another level-premium period, generally with new evidence of insurability.
Reinsurance – In effect, insurance that an insurance company buys for its own protection. The risk of loss is spread so a disproportionately large loss under a single policy doesn’t fall on one company. Reinsurance enables an insurance company to expand its capacity; stabilize its underwriting results; finance its expanding volume; secure catastrophe protection against shock losses; withdraw from a line of business or a geographical area within a specified time period.
Reinsurance Ceded – The unit of insurance transferred to a reinsurer by a ceding company.
Renewal – The automatic re-establishment of in-force status effected by the payment of another premium.
Replacement Cost – The dollar amount needed to replace damaged personal property or dwelling property without deducting for depreciation but limited by the maximum dollar amount shown on the declarations page of the policy.
Reserve – An amount representing actual or potential liabilities kept by an insurer to cover debts to policyholders. A reserve is usually treated as a liability.
Residual Benefit – In disability insurance, a benefit paid when you suffer a loss of income due to a covered disability or if loss of income persists. This benefit is based on a formula specified in your policy and it is generally a percentage of the full benefit. It may be paid up to the maximum benefit period.
Risk Class – Risk class, in insurance underwriting, is a grouping of insureds with a similar level of risk. Typical underwriting classifications are preferred, standard and substandard, smoking and nonsmoking, male and female.
Risk Management – Management of the pure risks to which a company might be subject. It involves analyzing all exposures to the possibility of loss and determining how to handle these exposures through practices such as avoiding the risk, retaining the risk, reducing the risk, or transferring the risk, usually by insurance.
Risk Retention Groups – Liability insurance companies owned by their policyholders. Membership is limited to people in the same business or activity, which exposes them to similar liability risks. The purpose is to assume and spread liability exposure to group members and to provide an alternative risk financing mechanism for liability. These entities are formed under the Liability Risk Retention Act of 1986. Under law, risk retention groups are precluded from writing certain coverages, most notably property lines and workers’ compensation. They predominately write medical malpractice, general liability, professional liability, products liability and excess liability coverages. They can be formed as a mutual or stock company, or a reciprocal.
Secondary Market – The secondary market is populated by buyers willing to pay what they determine to be fair market value.
Section 1035 Exchange – This refers to a part of the Internal Revenue Code that allows owners to replace a life insurance or annuity policy without creating a taxable event.
Section 7702 – Part of the Internal Revenue Code that defines the conditions a life policy must satisfy to qualify as a life insurance contract, which has tax advantages.
Standard Auto – Auto insurance for average drivers with relatively few accidents during lifetime.
State of Domicile – The state in which the company is incorporated or chartered. The company also is licensed (admitted) under the state’s insurance statutes for those lines of business for which it qualifies.
Stock Insurance Company – An incorporated insurer with capital contributed by stockholders, to whom earnings are distributed as dividends on their shares.
Stop Loss – Any provision in a policy designed to cut off an insurer’s losses at a given point.
Subrogation – The right of an insurer who has taken over another’s loss also to take over the other person’s right to pursue remedies against a third party.
Successive Periods – In hospital income protection, when confinements in a hospital are due to the same or related causes and are separated by less than a contractually stipulated period of time, they are considered part of the same period of confinement.
Surrender Charge – Fee charged to a policyholder when a life insurance policy or annuity is surrendered for its cash value. This fee reflects expenses the insurance company incurs by placing the policy on its books, and subsequent administrative expenses.
Surrender Period – A set amount of time during which you have to keep the majority of your money in an annuity contract. Most surrender periods last from five to 10 years. Most contracts will allow you to take out at least 10% a year of the accumulated value of the account, even during the surrender period. If you take out more than that 10%, you will have to pay a surrender charge on the amount that you have withdrawn above that 10%.
Term Life Insurance – Life insurance that provides protection for a specified period of time. Common policy periods are one year, five years, 10 years or until the insured reaches age 65 or 70. The policy doesn’t build up any of the nonforfeiture values associated with whole life policies.
Total Loss – A loss of sufficient size that it can be said no value is left. The complete destruction of the property. The term also is used to mean a loss requiring the maximum amount a policy will pay.
Umbrella Policy – Coverage for losses above the limit of an underlying policy or policies such as homeowners and auto insurance. While it applies to losses over the dollar amount in the underlying policies, terms of coverage are sometimes broader than those of underlying policies.
Underwriter – The individual trained in evaluating risks and determining rates and coverages for them. Also, an insurer.
Underwriting – The process of selecting risks for insurance and classifying them according to their degrees of insurability so that the appropriate rates may be assigned. The process also includes rejection of those risks that do not qualify.
Unearned Premiums – That part of the premium applicable to the unexpired part of the policy period.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage – Endorsement to a personal automobile policy that covers an insured collision with a driver who does not have liability insurance.
Universal Life Insurance – A combination flexible premium, adjustable life insurance policy.
Usual, Customary and Reasonable Fees – An amount customarily charged for or covered for similar services and supplies which are medically necessary, recommended by a doctor or required for treatment.
Utilization – How much a covered group uses a particular health plan or program.
Valuation – A calculation of the policy reserve in life insurance. Also, a mathematical analysis of the financial condition of a pension plan. Variable Annuitization- The act of converting a variable annuity from the accumulation phase to the payout phase.
Variable Life Insurance – A form of life insurance whose face value fluctuates depending upon the value of the dollar, securities or other equity products supporting the policy at the time payment is due.
Variable Universal Life Insurance – A combination of the features of variable life insurance and universal life insurance under the same contract. Benefits are variable based on the value of underlying equity investments, and premiums and benefits are adjustable at the option of the policyholder.
Viatical Settlement Provider – Someone who serves as a sales agent, but does not actually purchase policies. Viator – The terminally ill person who sells his or her life insurance policy.
Waiting Period – See “elimination period.”
Waiver of Premium – A provision in some insurance contracts which enables an insurance company to waive the collection of premiums while keeping the policy in force if the policyholder becomes unable to work because of an accident or injury. The waiver of premium for disability remains in effect as long as the ensured is disabled.
Whole Life Insurance – Life insurance which might be kept in force for a person’s whole life and which pays a benefit upon the person’s death, whenever that might be.