Problem with a bad bank? The FDIC has your back!
Had a brokerage account with Bernie Madoff? SIPC has you covered!

Your life insurance company goes bankrupt. Uh oh … now what?!

In spite of the federal takeover of AIG in September 2008, most people are surprised by the fact that the role of consumer protection against insurance company failures actually falls into the hands of state governments. State insurance regulators are responsible for monitoring the financial health of the insurance companies that are licensed to do business in their respective states. After regulators step in and everything blows up, it's the job of the state's guarantee fund to step in and protect the policyholders.

SEE: Financial Regulators: Who They Are And What They Do

Insurance Company Failure 101
When an insurance company fails and goes into liquidation, the state's insurance guarantee fund will kick in to protect the state's policyholders. If possible, the guarantee fund will try to transfer policies to other stable insurance companies; if that fails, the policy will continue to be administered by the central guarantee fund. When a state guarantee fund takes over an insurance or annuity policy, it will be subject to the coverage limitations set by each state.

In Florida for example, the limits for life insurance and annuity benefits are as follows:

Life Insurance

  • Death Benefit: $300,000 per insured life
  • Cash Surrender: $100,000 per insured life


  • Cash Surrender: $250,000 for deferred annuity per contract owner
  • Annuity in Benefit: $300,000 per contract owner

When it comes to life insurance, determining whether you have coverage and how much coverage is provided by your state is pretty straightforward. On the other hand, if you have a variable annuity, you will need to review your annuity contract and read the fine print set forth by your state to know if you are protected. In the case of Florida, a variable annuity policy isn't covered unless some aspect of the policy is guaranteed by the insurer. That means the insurance company is being paid to cover some kind of liability associated with the policy. No liability to the insurer means no help for you.

If you want to get information about your state's coverage, you can go to the National Organization of Life and Health Insurance Guarantee Associations website. Once you are on that website, you can click onto the link for your state's association. If you don't fully understand what's covered, call your state's association directly for help regarding your situation.

Maximizing Your Coverage
If you want to increase the size of your state guarantee fund security blanket, then you need to work within the limits of your state's law. In the majority of states, you can increase coverage by doing business with multiple insurers. In most states, the individual coverage limit is doled out on a per-company basis, so if you have two policies with two different companies, you will get double the coverage.

This technique of layering coverage through multiple insurance companies is similar to how people maximize their FDIC coverage by opening bank accounts through multiple banks. Given the large face amounts involved with life insurance and the underwriting hassles that would be involved in getting multiple life insurance policies through different insurance companies, it isn't practical in the real world and it could end up costing you more money for the same amount of coverage.

On the flipside, doing business with multiple annuity companies to increase your state coverage limits can be a useful strategy. While it's not practical for life insurance, most states will give your spouse a duplicate level of coverage if he or she owns an annuity. For example, if you are looking to invest $200,000 into an annuity and your state's guarantee is $100,000 per individual, both you and your spouse could invest with the same company to get the $200,000 of cash-value coverage. Guarantees on variable annuities during the 2008-2009 market downturn have been a major source of financial pain for most insurance companies that deal in the variable annuity market, and it's no coincidence that major insurers with large variable annuity portfolios sought money from the government (Hartford $3.4 billion and Lincoln $950 million). As a result, anything to help shore up your exposure to any one annuity company is probably a good idea.

SEE: The Cost Of Variable Annuity Guarantees

A Flaw in the System
The problem with the guarantee system in most states is that it lacks a prefunded reserve, meaning there is no rainy day fund set aside if one of them fails. Instead of having insurance companies pay into a fund every year like banks do for the FDIC to cushion the blow, the state guarantee funds divvy up the losses and pass them on to the other state licensed insurance companies in the same line of business according to their in-state market share. If you assess fees after a catastrophic failure of a major player, that is like asking Bank of America and Citgroup to cover Lehman's losses. If a large scale disaster were to occur, it is unclear whether the structure funding the current safety net system would be able to succeed without some type of taxpayer intervention.

While the state guarantee safety net has functioned successfully for many years, it does have potential flaws. In the end, people looking to purchase life insurance or an annuity should rely first on the insurer's ratings and their financial strength. However, spreading the risk and positioning yourself to be first in line if something goes wrong is always a good idea. This maxim holds especially true if you have a lot of money in variable annuities with guarantees on them.

SEE: Is Your Insurance Company Going Belly Up?

Related Articles
  1. Insurance

    Getting Life Insurance in Your 20s Pays Off

    Find out how Americans in their 20s can benefit from a well-thought-out life insurance policy, especially if they are able to build cash value for retirement.
  2. Insurance

    Using LinkedIn to Find Life Insurance Leads

    Learn how LinkedIn can help you generate leads as a life insurance agent, and understand the steps to turn your profile into a lead-generating machine.
  3. Retirement

    Why Are Annuities Important for Retirement?

    Understand how annuities work, and identify the benefits they provide for retirement, the most salient being a guaranteed income stream for life.
  4. Savings

    Become Your Own Financial Advisor

    If you have some financial know-how, you don’t have to hire someone to advise you on investments. This tutorial will help you set goals – and get started.
  5. Professionals

    How to Create a Retirement Co-Op in Your Community

    As the retirement boom continues, retirement co-ops are growing in popularity. Here's how to set one up in your community.
  6. Insurance

    The 4 Best Alternatives to Long-Term Care Insurance

    Understand what long-term care insurance is and the types of people who need this coverage. Learn about four alternatives to long-term care insurance.
  7. Insurance

    How Car Insurance Companies Value Cars

    Learn the methodology used by car insurance companies to value cars, and understand why the amount they give you may not cover the cost of a similar vehicle.
  8. Stock Analysis

    How Does Oscar Work and Make Money?

    Learn how startup Oscar is taking on the health insurance giants by offering customers free doctor's visits, generic drugs and 24-hour phone access to doctors.
  9. Retirement

    The Better Way to Save: Life Insurance or IRA?

    Sure, you can tap your permanent life insurance policy to help fund your retirement. But in most cases, an IRA is the better choice. Here's why.
  10. Insurance

    Life vs. Health Insurance: Choosing What to Buy

    When you only buy the coverage you truly need, the debate over medical insurance vs. life insurance might just be one you can avoid.
  1. Can I borrow from my annuity to put a down payment on a house?

    You can borrow from your annuity to put a down payment on a house, but be prepared to pay an assortment of fees and penalties. ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What are the main kinds of annuities?

    There are two broad categories of annuity: fixed and variable. These categories refer to the manner in which the investment ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What are the risks of rolling my 401(k) into an annuity?

    Though the appeal of having guaranteed income after retirement is undeniable, there are actually a number of risks to consider ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How do I get out of my annuity and transfer to a new one?

    If you decide your current annuity is not for you, there is nothing stopping you from transferring your investment to a new ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Are Cafeteria plans exempt from Social Security?

    Typically, qualified benefits offered through cafeteria plans are exempt from Social Security taxes. However, certain types ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What are the risks of annuities in a recession?

    Annuities come in several forms, the two most common being fixed annuities and variable annuities. During a recession, variable ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Section 1231 Property

    A tax term relating to depreciable business property that has been held for over a year. Section 1231 property includes buildings, ...
  2. Term Deposit

    A deposit held at a financial institution that has a fixed term, and guarantees return of principal.
  3. Zero-Sum Game

    A situation in which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss, so that the net change in wealth or benefit is zero. ...
  4. Capitalization Rate

    The rate of return on a real estate investment property based on the income that the property is expected to generate.
  5. Gross Profit

    A company's total revenue (equivalent to total sales) minus the cost of goods sold. Gross profit is the profit a company ...
  6. Revenue

    The amount of money that a company actually receives during a specific period, including discounts and deductions for returned ...
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!