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Life Insurance – How Much? How Long?

How Much Coverage Do You Need?

Some financial planners say you need enough life insurance to replace five to seven years of your salary. If you have young children or significant debt, you should bump up your coverage so you have enough to replace as much as 10 years of your salary, they say. That would mean a person making $50,000 a year should have anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000 worth of coverage or more.

Remember, the sole purpose of life insurance is to replace your income in case you die, so that your dependents can maintain their current lifestyle.

Factors to consider include whether the surviving partner will have child care expenses if one partner is out of the picture. Do you have other assets on which to draw? Will your children be out of the nest soon? These, and many other factors, influence the decision on how much coverage you need.

Buying a whole-life policy doesn’t necessarily mean you are fully insured. Because of the investment component of whole life, the policies are much more expensive than term. Don’t simply buy less coverage, as it defeats the purpose of buying insurance in the first place: to cover dependents.

How Long A Term?

Agents like to talk about policies you can keep throughout your life. What they sometimes won’t tell you is that you don’t need life insurance coverage throughout your life.

The secret to buying a policy with the right term is figuring out how long you need to be insured. You start by estimating when your children will be out on their own and no longer in need of your financial support.
So if your children are 3 and 5 now, you’d probably want a policy that covers you at least until the youngest is 22, so that’s about a 20-year term. But this depends somewhat on your age as well.  Say you also want to cover your spouse for your lost income until what would be your normal retirement age, 65, and you’re only 35 now. Then you would want a 30-year policy.  Keep in mind that insurance gets very expensive as you leave your 50s. So you may pay more to cover yourself until 65, even if you lock in a level-premium, 30-year policy when you are 35. Coverage past age 70 or so may be unattainable.

Life insurance is not a substitute for a retirement plan. You want to plan so that you’ll have enough to live on when you retire, and you won’t have to keep paying insurance premiums.  There are exceptions, however. People who start families late in life, or who have complex estate-planning issues, may well have a need for life insurance beyond the customary retirement age.

One more thing: Steer clear of so-called mortgage insurance policies, which pay off the balance on your mortgage if you die. The problem is that you are paying for a steadily declining amount of coverage, as you pay down your mortgage. It’s best to include the mortgage payments in your calculations when determining how much coverage you need.