What happens if you skip a payment on a life, disability or severe illness policy?

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  • A life insurer must give you at least a month to pay your outstanding premiums if you default on your life, disability or severe illness policy after paying at least one premium.
  • If you still do not pay your policy will lapse. 
  • If you decide to restore your cover, the life insurer will treat it as a new application and reassess your risk. You may also face exclusions on cover or premium loadings if you have developed any health problems.

When you take out life and disability cover it should be to provide essential cover. It is therefore not an expense you should look to cut when your cash flow is tight. However, there may be times when a cash flow crisis is unavoidable, such as if you are retrenched. 

The Policyholder Protection Rules issued under the Long-term Insurance Act oblige life insurers to notify you within 15 days of you not paying a premium on the due date and to give you a further 15-day grace period before you lose the cover – known as lapsing your cover.  

If the premiums are paid more than once but at intervals of a month or more, the insurer must notify you within a month and give you a further month to pay the outstanding premium before the cover lapses. Some life insurers will suspend your cover after this grace period, but give you up to three months to catch up the missed premiums before your cover lapses. 

Avoid a lapse

You should do your utmost to avoid letting your policy lapse because if you want to reinstate it later, your life insurer will then reassess the risk you pose to it.

You will be older and possibly have some more health issues than you did when you first took out cover and this could result in an increase in your premiums or exclusions on cover. 

It may be possible to cut your life, disability and critical illness cover back to make premiums more affordable, rather than losing the cover altogether.  

Check whether you can increase your cover again back to what it was before you reduced it, without any medical underwriting — that is, no tests or medical questions. Alternatively, you may be able to suspend your premiums and your cover for up to three months.

Some companies limit the number of times you can suspend and restart your premiums – known as a revival of the policy. Some companies allow you to skip a number of premiums over a period – for example six premiums over three years, but they base your cover on the premiums paid over the past six months – so your cover reduces the more you fail to pay your premiums. 

This article was first published on SmartAboutMoney.co.za, an initiative by the Association for Savings and Investment South Africa (ASISA).

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