Insurance - All The Basics

What is insurance?
Insurance is a means of providing protection against financial loss in a great variety of situations. It is a contract in which one party agrees to pay for another party's financial loss resulting from a specified event.
Insurance works on the principal of sharing losses. If you wish to be insured, against any type of loss, agree to make regular payments, called premiums, to an insurance company. In return, the company gives you a contract, the insurance policy. The company promises to pay a certain sum of money for the type of loss stated in the policy.

Insurance is thousands of years old. The Code of Hammurabi, a collection of Babylonian laws of 1700BC, is believed to be the first form of credit insurance. A borrower did not have to repay a loan if personal misfortune made it impossible to do so. Insurance as we know it today can be traced to the Great Fire of London in 1666, which devoured 13,200 houses. In the aftermath of this disaster, Nicholas Barbon opened an office to insure buildings.

Types of Insurance:
Insurance generally covers situations involving pure risk - that is, situations in which only losses can occur. Such situations include fire, floods and accidents. People also buy insurance to cover unusual types of financial losses like, a dancer might insure her legs against injury. There are mainly three types of insurance policies sold:
1. Life Insurance
A life insurance policy provides that the insurance company will pay a certain amount when the person dies. This may be paid in a lump sum or in installments to the beneficiary [people named by the policyholder to receive the death benefit]. Some types of life insurance policies also enable policyholders to save money. Such policies have a cash value. A policyholder may borrow money against the cash value or surrender the policy for its cash value.
These are savings plans sold by insurance companies to provide a fixed and regular retirement income. If the annuitant [owner of the annuity] dies before receiving the guaranteed number of payments, the insurance company must continue the payments to the beneficiary.
Some insurance policies refund part of the premiums in the form of dividends. Such policies are called participating policies. An insurance company pays dividends if the money it collected in premiums exceeds the amount needed to pay benefits and administrative costs. Dividends may also include a share of the profits the company earned on investments made with premium funds. Dividends are most commonly paid on life insurance.
2. Private Health Insurance
Health insurance pays all or part of the cost of hospitalization, surgery, laboratory tests, medicines, and other medical care. The rising cost of medical care has increased the need for adequate health insurance. You could suffer a major financial hardship without such coverage, especially in case of a serious illness or accident.
Dental insurance is one of the fastest-growing types of health insurance. It helps pay for a wide variety of dental services.
3. Property & Liability Insurance
Individuals and businesses buy property and liability insurance to protect their assets against financial loss. Property insurance provides direct compensation if a policyholder's possessions are damaged, destroyed, or lost as a result of perils. Liability insurance protects individuals and businesses against possible financial losses if their actions result in bodily injury to others or in harm to property owned by others.

The main types of individual coverage are:
o Homeowners Insurance
This provides protection against losses from damages to an owner's home and its contents.
o Automobile Insurance
This is the most widely purchased and most important kinds of insurance. Drivers are legally responsible for any costs arising from accidents they cause. This insurance protects a policyholder against financial losses from accidents.

Financial viability of Insurance Companies
Financial stability and strength of the insurance company should be a major consideration when purchasing an insurance contract. An insurance premium paid currently provides coverage for losses that might arise many years in the future. For that reason, the viability of the insurance carrier is very important. In recent years, a number of insurance companies have become insolvent, leaving their policyholders with no coverage (or coverage only from a government-backed insurance pool with less attractive payouts for losses).

How Insurance Is Sold?
Most insurance companies sell policies through agents. Exclusive agents are employees of an insurance company who sell only that company's policies. Independent agents sell policies for several companies.

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