Skip to main content

What is a rider on a life insurance policy?

Allen Wastler

Posted on August 21, 2023

Allen Wastler is a former financial journalist with over 30-years of experience, including time at CNBC, CNN, and Knight-Ridder Newspapers.
Insurance riders
Magnifying Glass Icon 
This article will ...

Define what a rider in a life insurance policy is and the conditions affecting their availability.

Describe various riders — like the guaranteed insurability rider — that allow for more life insurance coverage.

Note other types of riders in life insurance that can address specific misfortunes or special circumstances.

Does “one size fits all” apply to life insurance? Oftentimes, the answer is “no.” That’s where “riders” come in.

Riders are essentially additional benefits added to an insurance policy that often require an additional premium payment. In this way, riders can customize a life insurance policy to address specific needs or concerns.

“Riders can offer great flexibility, but that flexibility comes at a cost,” said John Ocwieja of The Hoopis Financial Group in Chicago.

What riders are available? Depends on the policy

Typically, the best place to start before even considering riders is the life insurance policy itself. There are different types of life insurance, ranging from bare bones term life insurance, which offers a death benefit for a fixed period of time, to participating whole life insurance, which offers a death benefit for the insured’s lifetime, plus the accumulation of cash value and the opportunity for dividends (which are not guaranteed). (Related: Whole life insurance overview )

Generally, the kind of riders are available will depend on the kind of insurance policy involved. Also, some insurance companies may offer some types of riders while others do not. Some riders are only available in certain states and have rules about when and under what circumstances they can be added to a policy.

What follows is a general overview of the kinds of riders that are often available.

Riders for more insurance coverage

Many riders are aimed at allowing the insured to purchase more insurance or change the conditions of their purchases in the future. This can be advantageous for two reasons.

1. Life insurance is typically less expensive for the young and healthy. As you become older or if you become sick, life insurance will become more expensive and, in some cases, difficult to obtain. So, having the option to purchase more insurance without going through the typical underwriting process could become valuable, especially if there are changes in your health as you grow older. (Related: Seniors and health care costs)

2. Some insurance policies allow for the accumulation of cash value for the policy on a tax-deferred basis. The opportunity to make fuller use of that accumulation mechanism by adding to their life insurance can be advantageous.

Guaranteed insurability riders and more

There are a variety of riders that address these two areas in different ways.

  • Guaranteed insurability riders, also called guaranteed purchase riders, give policyowners the option to purchase additional life insurance coverage at certain times in the future. Parents and grandparents buying “starter” policies for their children and grandchildren typically add this rider to give their children the chance to increase their coverage when and if they start families of their own. (Related: Gifting life insurance for kids: 3 reasons)
  • The renewable term rider can be added when purchasing a whole life insurance policy to provide an additional level of coverage in the form of term insurance. The term insurance is renewable annually. Premiums for this added term insurance increase as the insured ages. But the insured has opportunities to convert this term insurance into permanent insurance for a period of time, like a whole life insurance policy, without a typical underwriting process.
  • A life insurance supplement rider uses a similar mechanism by providing a mix of whole life insurance and term life insurance that is paid for by rider premiums and policy dividends for people with tight budgets. It provides a lower-premium alternative when permanent coverage is desired but the cost of an all-whole-life policy is prohibitive.
  • Some permanent life insurance policies are eligible to receive dividends, which are not guaranteed. A yearly term purchase rider directs such dividend payments toward the purchase of one-year term insurance.
  • An additional life insurance rider allows the policyowner to purchase additional participating paid-up insurance for an additional premium (called paid-up additions) that increases the death benefit and accelerates the cash value growth, of an insurance policy. There are limits and terms for making payments under this kind of rider and many options to consider when making this choice.

Riders for unexpected misfortune

Other life insurance riders are aimed at giving policyowners the flexibility to adjust their life insurance policy if they encounter serious problems in the course of their life.

The waiver of premium rider is one of the more common. It allows for the premiums on a life insurance policy (including those associated with certain riders on the policy) to be waived if the insured becomes totally disabled, as described in the rider. Cash value growth and any dividends payable will continue as if the policyowner were still paying.

In a similar vein, some companies offer riders that provide some income in the event of disability. Using such riders could have negative consequences on the death benefit and cash value of a policy, however. Many insurance professionals suggest looking at other options, like disability income insurance, before adding such riders. (Related: Is disability income insurance worth it?)

Riders are also becoming more widely available to help people get through problems in later years, like the need for long-term care or facing a terminal illness. Generally, these riders allow policyowners to accelerate the payment of death benefits to help cover care or end-of-life costs. This option will reduce both the policy and any riders eligible to be accelerated in proportion to the amount of the accelerated death benefit; and typically, has an additional cost when exercised. (Related: Long term care and life insurance combination)

Also, important to note, while a life insurance policy that allows death benefits to be accelerated to help pay for long-term care may offer some flexibility, it should not be the primary concern. If the only purpose of buying this type of policy-rider combination is to pay for long-term care, there are other options that should be considered.

And, yes, there is also a rider that allows for a larger death benefit payout in case of accident, which was made famous in the Oscar-nominated 1944 movie “Double Indemnity.” While such riders exist, though, they tend not be used as much as you might think. The odds of dying in an accident are, for most people, much lower than dying of old age or illness.

Riders for special circumstances

A variety of more specialized life insurance riders also exist, again depending on the insurance company, region, and circumstances.

Businesses, for example, often need to insure key personnel where a loss may result in a disruption to operations. But a business likely wouldn’t want to keep that insurance in force if that person left the company. So, there is the transfer of insured rider, which allows the policyowner to substitute one insured person for another.

There are also riders that adjust potential death benefit payouts with the Consumer Price Index; or provide a benefit for the death of a child or spouse; or provide for the return of premiums paid should you live to the end of a term life insurance policy.

In the end, there are a great many riders available covering a wide extent of possibilities and circumstances. But they come at a cost and, depending on an individual’s situation, some may be worthwhile, some not. So, consider your own circumstances carefully and consider consulting a financial professional before adding any to a policy.

Discover more from MassMutual...

9 questions to ask about life insurance

3 tax advantages of life insurance

Need Advice? Contact us

This article was originally published in December 2017. It has been updated.


Need a financial professional? Let us know ...

* = required

By submitting this request, I agree to receive e-mails and phone calls using automated technology from MassMutual, its financial professionals, affiliates or vendors on its behalf regarding MassMutual products and services, at the e-mail address and phone number(s) above, even if it is for a wireless phone. I understand I can contact a local financial professional directly to make a purchase without consenting to receive calls from MassMutual.

The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of MassMutual.