Last week I was approached by a colleague who was concerned that he was paying too much for his life insurance policy. Naturally I wanted to help, so I began by asking some questions to get a better grasp on his situation. As it turns out, he was sold a $500,000 whole life policy by his brother-in-law and was paying an annual premium of $6,100, which was completely unnecessary for a number of reasons.
Rather than get in the middle of a sticky family affair, I thought it would be best to step aside and offer some general guidance that can be used by anyone looking to purchase or reevaluate their life insurance needs.
Understand What You’re Buying
Many people like the idea of having life insurance because of the protection it provides their families. However, when it comes to determining how much coverage is needed or what type of policy to purchase, they often feel confused and overwhelmed. While there are many different types of life insurance, the two most common policies are whole life and term life.
Spend 30 minutes Googling the differences between the two types of policies so you know what you are buying before you buy it. Once you have figured out the type of policy that you’re interested in purchasing, you’ll want to determine how much coverage you need. This can be an arduous process when done manually; luckily there are numerous life insurance calculators available online. Try a few out so you have a ballpark figure in mind before talking to an insurance professional about your coverage needs.
Buy Term Insurance
Permanent life insurance policies such as whole life or universal inherently combine insurance with a savings or investment component. While purchasing a whole life policy with an accumulating cash value sounds good on paper, as they say on Wall Street, there is no such things as a free lunch. These policies are extremely expensive for the protection they afford you.
On the other hand, term life insurance has no residual cash value, but offers significantly lower premiums. A term life policy for the same amount of coverage might cost you one-tenth of the price of a whole life policy. To fill the void of the lost saving/investment component, take a portion of the reduced premiums, saved by switching from whole to term life, and increase your personal savings or 401(k) contribution amount. Separating the insurance and the investment component from one another will offer more transparency while saving you both commissions and fees.
Ladder Your Policies
It’s not uncommon for someone’s insurance needs to change during the life of their policy. For example, your oldest child is graduating college in 2025 and your last mortgage payment is scheduled for 2030. For people with needs that change over time, term layering may be the best option because it offers maximum protection when you need it most and can significantly reduce your premiums.
In the aforementioned scenario, the largest needs (education, mortgage debt) come up within the first 10-15 years. Rather than purchase a large, say $2 million 30-year term policy as many agents would suggest, consider buying three different term life policies. The first policy would be a $1 million 15-year term policy. The second policy would be a $500,000 20-year policy. The third policy would be a $500,000 30-year policy. You’ll notice in the table below that the coverage for the first 15 years ($2 million) remains the same and gradually decreases over time as your insurance needs subside.
Determining your insurance needs in not as simple as reading a couple of articles online and plugging numbers into a calculator. Ask your financial advisor if he/she can recommend a qualified licensed insurance professional to help you determine the type and level of coverage needed to protect you and your family. When meeting with an agent to purchase a life insurance policy, be sure to do your homework beforehand so you know exactly what you are getting and how much it’s costing you.