A Unit Linked Investment Plan (ULIP) is something that often shows up as an option when making a financial investment. But what is a ULIP? How is it different from other financial products? How does it work as insurance? Let’s find out.

In reality, a  ULIP is neither an insurance policy nor an investment plan, it is a combination of both. If we had to give you a more technical and organised definition of ULIP, it would be – A Unit-Linked Insurance Plan is a combination of insurance and investment where a small amount of the premium goes to secure life insurance. So where does the rest of the premium go? The aggregate premiums collected by the insurance company offering such plans are pooled and invested in varying proportions of debt and equity securities just like a mutual fund does. So ULIP provides you the dual benefits of protection and growth. In addition, it makes sure your financial goals are met.

So how does the other half of this plan work? Do ULIP holders have a say in the investment mix? Definitely yes! You have the option to customise your investment mix based on your investment needs and risk appetite.

Lock-in period

Initially, the lock-in period for ULIPs was 3 years. In the year 2010, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) increased the lock-in period from 3 years to 5 years. But you have to realise that though the lock-in period for ULIP is 5 years, it is a long-term investment and you will not reap rich benefits if you don’t show the patience to wait for at least 10-15 years.

Can you surrender your ULIP?

What if you face some kind of an emergency and wish to surrender your ULIP? Is there any provision to surrender a ULIP? Yes. Unit-linked insurance plans can be surrendered prematurely; however there could be cost implications On surrender, a percentage of the fund value is to be paid as surrender charges, depending on the scheme. In cases where the ULIP is surrendered in the first three years, the insurance cover would cease immediately. One more thing you need to consider is that though the policy acquires a surrender value before completion of 3 years, it is payable only after the completion of three policy years.  However, there might be a few insurance policy companies that allow part surrender or partial withdrawal after 3-5 years without any additional cost and reduction in the insurance coverage.

 Is a ULIP exactly like a mutual fund?

Many of us confuse ULIPs with mutual funds. You have to understand that though it is a bit like mutual funds, ULIP is a combination of insurance and investment, whereas mutual funds are purely for investment. However, there is one similarity you can find between ULIP and mutual funds. Like mutual funds, each policyholder’s Unit-Linked Insurance Plan holds a certain number of fund units, each of which has a net asset value (NAV) that is declared on a daily basis. The NAV is the value upon which net rates of return on ULIPs are determined. The NAV varies from one ULIP to another based on market conditions and fund performance.

So what’s the difference?

There are quite a few distinguishing factors between a ULIP and a mutual fund. One major difference between ULIP and mutual funds is that the potential returns on ULIP are low as risk exposure is low and there is a guaranteed sum value which will be paid in case of death of the insured, irrespective of funds making money or not. This is not the case with mutual funds.

Now that we know what ULIP is and how it is different from mutual funds, let’s take a look at which segment of investors is ULIP best suited for.

Difference between ULIP and Mutual Fund

Those who prefer flexibility

ULIP offers the flexibility to switch your capital between funds with varying risk-return profiles. In addition, if you like to monitor your investments, ULIP is for you. It allows policyholders to closely monitor their portfolios and hence maintains transparency.

Long-term investors

If you have the patience to invest for a longer duration and reap great returns, you should invest in ULIP.

Age doesn’t matter

The best thing about ULIP is that it offers an array of policy options, customised for every age group according to their needs and preferences. You can choose a policy accordingly, depending on what life stage you are in.

For the risk-takers

ULIP offers policies with varied risk factors. It offers a total of 7 funds in which the risk may vary a staggering 0% to 100%. If you have the strong appetite for risk, go for ULIP. After all, great ROI often comes with great risk.

BENEFITS

ULIPs also have benefits that not only secure your future and help your family with meeting its financial needs but can also help you reap rich dividends over a period of time. Let’s take a look at a few of the major advantages offered by ULIP.

  • Life cover
    Now, this is one basic benefit you expect from a life insurance policy. Unlike mutual funds, ULIP offers you a life cover that is usually the sum insured or the market value of the investment (fund value), whichever is higher. This ensures financial stability and security for your family and helps it achieve its goals.
  • Tax benefits
    One of the biggest benefits of ULIP is the tax exemption you can avail. Under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act, 1961, you can show the premiums paid for your ULIP and claim deductions of up to Rs. 1, 50,000 against your taxable income.
    In addition, the maturity benefit under ULIPs is exempt from taxation under Section 10(10D) of the Income Tax Act, 1961.
  • Switch
    Wish to move your money between equity and debt funds? ULIP offers you an option called switch. There is a specified number of switches you can use, after that additional charges are applied. Most insurance policies offer a number of free switches in a year.
  • Get more
    You can always opt for single premium additions. These additions allow you to invest additional sums of money (over and above the regular premium) as and when desired. However, it is subject to certain conditions and different insurance policy companies have different terms and conditions.
  • Partial Withdrawal
    In case you need to take care of immediate expenses such as your child’s 10th, 12th or graduation fees, or any other emergency, you can always use the partial withdrawal option provided by Unit Linked Insurance Policies. Partial withdrawals are usually free of cost. However, it is recommended to confirm this with the insurance provider.

ULIP - Insurance cum Investment Plan

  • Loyalty benefit
    If you stay invested for a longer time, there are high chances that your insurance provider will offer you loyalty benefits. This is a crucial aspect as it adds a good amount to your final savings.
  • Long-Term Goals
    ULIP is the best option to fulfil long-term goals. ULIP helps you finance your long-term goals such as buying a house, sending your children abroad for higher education, marriage, etc. In ULIP, the money is compounded over a long period of time and proves to be beneficial. However, it is necessary that you invest for a longer duration in order to get higher returns.
  • Riders
    Not satisfied with the returns or the benefits on offer? You can always opt for riders that support your plan and will help you meet your financial goals. You can customise your ULIP by adding riders and make it more beneficial for you. One of the commonly offered riders is the Unit Linked accident and disability benefit rider. It increases the Life Cover amount that the family receives in case of an accidental death. It also ensures that your Life Cover continues in case of disability caused by an accident. Check with your advisor.
  • Better returns
    If you want better returns as compared to other insurance policies, then ULIP is for you. ULIPs garner better returns than any other insurance product because of its equity advantage. ULIPs invest the premium paid by you in various asset classes through different funds. Though tax-saving funds have a proven track record of giving double-digit returns, one major advantage is that you have look for a new fund every year. This is not the case with ULIPs. In ULIPs, the renewals take care of tax savings.
  • Investor-friendly
    New Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India guidelines have made ULIPs much more investor-friendly than they were at the time they were first introduced. Costs like premium allocation charges, administration charges, fund management charges, and surrender charges have come down.

CHARGES:

Apart from surrender charges, there are a few more charges associated with ULIPs. The following charges are deducted from your policy towards the cost of benefits and administration services by insurance companies. These are a few basic charges that most of the insurance companies charge, however, a few might exempt you from some of these charges.

  • Administration charges
    Administration charges are deducted by cancelling units proportionately from each of the funds you have chosen. This charge is levied every month.
  • Fund management charges
    These charges are towards meeting expenses related to managing the fund. This is charged as a percentage of the fund’s value and is deducted before arriving at the net asset value of the fund.
  • Switch charges
    Though switching is one of the major advantages of ULIP, it doesn’t come for free. Most of the insurance companies will levy a switching charge if you choose to switch between the funds available to suit your changing needs and goals. However, not all switches are chargeable. In a policy year, a fixed number of such switches are available free of cost. Any additional switches will be charged as per the company policy. These charges are deducted by cancelling units proportionately from each of the funds you have chosen.
  • Mortality Charges
    Depending upon the age, and the amount of cover, these charges are levied towards providing a death cover to the insured.
  • Premium Allocation Charge
    This charge is deducted as a fixed percentage of the premium received and is usually charged at a higher rate in the initial years of a policy. This charge varies depending upon whether the policy is a single premium plan or regular premium policy, the size of the premium, premium frequency and payment mode.
  • Partial Withdrawal Charges
    Lump sum withdrawals are allowed from the fund after the lapse of three years of the policy term and subject to pre-specified conditions. However, such withdrawals are chargeable, and it is advisable to read more about it in the policy brochure before you buy ULIP.

Tips to choose the best ULIP Plan in India

 HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST ULIP

As ULIP is a long-term investment, it is recommended to judge ULIPs on a few parameters and then arrive at a decision accordingly. Here are a few tips that will help you in selecting the best ULIP plan:-

  • Prefer more choices
    A good ULIP usually offers at least 6-8 fund options to choose from. Always go for a ULIP that offers you a wide range of asset categories to invest in. This allows you to carefully examine the pros and cons of each fund and then choose the one that’s best suited for your needs and goals.
  • Premium payment options
    You must always go for a premium structure that offers you more convenience and suits your needs. The more the options, the more the freedom to choose. A good ULIP plan will offer you the options of single premium payments, limited premium payments, and regular premium payments.
  • Avoid paying more
    Choose a ULIP that levies the least charges. A good ULIP will invest your entire premium without deducting any premium allocation charge. In addition, check if any policy exempts you from other charges mentioned above as well.
  • The freedom to switch
    One of the major differentiating features of a ULIP is the fact that you can switch your funds between debt and equity markets. Make sure you benefit from this advantage and choose a plan that offers you a specified number of free switches. In addition, ensure that the switch charges post free switches isn’t much and is in sync with your financial planning.
  • Maturity benefits
    Maturity benefit is the end goal of a ULIP. Make sure the policy you choose offers you a better maturity benefit than the rest of the plans. Choose a ULIP that offers you a higher sum assured or higher fund value of your plan.
  • Compare
    Lastly, analyse all the plans based on the above parameters, and only then zero-in on a ULIP that suits your financial goals.