Introduction to Life Settlements
Life insurance is an asset owned by the majority of American adults (61%). Note that this 61% penetration rate is essentially at parity with home ownership (64%), and higher than that of 401(k) retirement account ownership (53%). Life settlements, or life insurance settlements, allow individuals to sell their life insurance policy in a secondary market. A life insurance policy is a tradable asset, for many individuals possibly the most valuable one in their portfolio after real estate and perhaps a retirement account. The fact that the policy is tradable, however, is hardly known to the general public. When surrendering a policy to the insurance carrier, the policyholder often incurs a substantial discount on its economic value. At the same time, the insurer keeps the difference between the policy's economic value and its surrender value. By selling a policy in the secondary market, in contrast, it is common to achieve a price markedly above the surrender value. Hence, life settlements allow policyholders to capture a much larger, if not full, share of their contracts' economic value. In this Industry Note, we lay out the basic structure of the market, the important players, and the basic economics. We also go into the potential ways to maximize returns in this market for both investors and policy holders.