Understanding Lapses in Insurance, Stocks, and More


Lapses, often associated with insurance policies and financial contracts, refer to the termination or expiration of a privilege, right, or policy due to various reasons such as inaction, non-compliance with contract terms, or the passage of time. In this detailed article, we explore the concept of lapses, their implications, and how they manifest in different financial contexts, from insurance policies to stock options. We also discuss the consequences of lapses, how to reinstate policies, and address frequently asked questions to provide a comprehensive understanding of this crucial financial term.

Understanding lapses

Lapses, in the realm of finance and contracts, signify the removal or expiration of a privilege, right, or policy. These occurrences typically result from inaction, non-compliance with contract conditions, or simply the passage of time.
Lapses can have significant consequences, affecting everything from insurance coverage to stock options and even car insurance rates.

Types of lapses

Lapses can be categorized into various types based on the context in which they occur:

Insurance policy lapses

One of the most common types of lapses occurs in insurance policies. When a policyholder fails to pay premiums or breaches the terms of the insurance agreement, the policy can lapse.

This lapse in insurance coverage can leave policyholders without the benefits and protection they had initially signed up for. It’s important to note that not every missed premium payment immediately leads to a lapse; insurers typically provide a grace period, often around 30 days, during which policyholders can make overdue payments to avoid a lapse.

The type of insurance policy also affects how lapses are handled. Whole life, variable universal life, and universal life insurance policies can often use the existing cash values to cover missed premiums. However, if the cash value isn’t sufficient, the policy may still lapse.

On the other hand, term life insurance, which lacks cash value, follows a different process. If premium payments are missed, the policy enters the grace period, and if payments aren’t made within that time, the policy lapses.

Lapses in car insurance

Lapses in car insurance coverage can occur when policyholders fail to pay their premiums or accumulate multiple driving infractions.

Driving without insurance can have significant consequences, even for those who can financially cover damages in case of an accident. Assets like personal finances and real estate can be at risk if a policyholder is involved in an accident without insurance.

Additionally, policyholders with lapsed car insurance are considered higher risks by insurers, leading to increased premium rates. The duration of the lapse directly affects the rate increase; the longer the lapse, the higher the rate.

Some states also impose penalties for lapsed coverage. For instance, Alabama may suspend a driver’s license and impose a $200 license reinstatement fee for driving without insurance. Those caught driving without insurance or below the state’s minimum coverage requirements may be required to obtain a court-ordered SR-22 certificate of financial responsibility, further increasing insurance costs.

Lapses in stock options

In the world of finance, stock options are often granted to employees as incentives. These options usually come with restrictions that prevent employees from selling or trading the shares until a specified period elapses.

If employees or grantees fail to exercise these stock options within the stipulated timeframe, the options lapse. In simple terms, the granted shares of stock return to the employer or grantor.

For example, consider an employer offering employees with ten years of service the option to purchase 100 shares of stock at $20 per share. However, this option must be executed within six months. If some employees fail to exercise their option within this timeframe, their opportunity to purchase shares lapses.

Consequences of lapses

Lapses in various financial contexts can have far-reaching consequences:

Loss of coverage

In the case of insurance policies, a lapse means the policyholder loses the benefits and protection provided by the policy. This can be especially concerning for life insurance, where the financial well-being of dependents may depend on the policy’s benefits.

Increased costs

For car insurance, lapses lead to higher premium rates. Policyholders with lapsed coverage are viewed as higher risks, and insurers adjust their rates accordingly. These increased costs can strain the finances of those with lapses.

Loss of financial opportunities

In the context of stock options, lapses mean employees miss out on potential financial gains. Stock options are often offered as incentives, and failing to exercise them within the specified timeframe can result in a missed opportunity for financial growth.

Reinstating lapsed policies

Fortunately, in many cases, policies can be reinstated during a grace period. The requirements for reinstating a policy vary depending on the duration of the lapse:

Short lapses (within 30 days)

If a policyholder wants to reinstate a lapsed policy within 30 days after it lapsed, insurers often do not require extensive documentation or proof of health. The process is relatively straightforward, and policyholders can resume coverage quickly.

Medium lapses (between 30 days and six months)

For lapses between 30 days and six months, insurers may require documentation regarding health and finances. The reinstatement process becomes more complex, and policyholders need to provide necessary information to regain coverage.

Longer lapses (over six months)

If the lapse extends beyond six months and up to five years, reinstatement requirements become even more stringent. Insurers may consider factors like health, financial stability, and other relevant information before reinstating the policy.

It’s crucial for policyholders facing a possible lapse in coverage to contact their insurer promptly to explore available options for reinstatement.


Lapses in financial contracts and policies can have significant consequences, including the loss of coverage, increased costs, and missed financial opportunities. Understanding the types of lapses, their implications, and how to reinstate policies is essential for individuals and businesses to safeguard their financial interests. By staying informed and proactive, you can navigate the complexities of lapses and make informed decisions to protect your financial well-being.

Frequently asked questions

What percentage of life insurance policies lapse?

As of 2018, the lapse rate for individual life insurance policies was 4.7%, while group policies had a lapse rate of 5%. These figures highlight the importance of understanding lapses and taking steps to avoid them.

How does a lapse in coverage affect my car insurance rates?

A lapse in auto coverage generally results in higher rates being applied. The longer the lapse, the higher the rate. For example, drivers with policies that have lapsed for up to 30 days see an 8% increase in auto insurance rates. For those with lapses greater than 30 days, the rate increase is about 35%. Maintaining continuous coverage is key to keeping insurance costs manageable.

Does an insurance lapse affect your credit score?

Most insurance policy lapses do not directly impact your credit score. However, if the policyholder owes the insurer for coverage, and that debt is sent to a collection agency, it can affect the credit score. A collection account on your credit report can lead to a decrease in your credit score, making it important to address any outstanding insurance-related debts promptly.

Key takeaways

  • A lapse refers to the termination or expiration of a privilege, right, or policy due to various factors such as inaction or non-compliance with contract terms.
  • Lapses can occur in insurance policies, car insurance, and stock options, each with its own set of consequences and reinstatement procedures.
  • Understanding lapses and taking proactive steps to prevent them is crucial for safeguarding financial interests and avoiding increased costs.
  • Reinstating lapsed policies is possible during grace periods, with requirements varying based on the duration of the lapse.
View article sources
  1. Lapse-Based Insurance – University of Pennsylvania
  2. Risk & Insurance Glossary – L – Harvard University
  3. Insurance lapses – Department of Motor Vehicles
  4. Unlocking the Power of Reinstatement: A Comprehensive Guide to Insurance Policy Restoration – SuperMoney
  5. Life Insurance Facts Companies Don’t Want You to Know – SuperMoney