How Much Life Insurance Should You Carry – Part I?

Very few people enjoy thinking about the inevitability of death. Fewer yet take pleasure in the possibility of an accidental death. If there are people who depend on you and your income, however, it is one of those unpleasant things that you have to consider. In this article, we’ll approach the topic of life insurance in two ways: first, we will point out some of the misconceptions and then we’ll look at how to evaluate how much and what type of life insurance you need.

Does Everyone Need Life Insurance?
Buying life insurance doesn’t make sense for everyone. If you have no dependents and enough assets to cover your debts and the cost of dying (funeral, estate lawyer’s fees, etc.), then insurance is an unnecessary cost for you. If you do have dependents and you have enough assets to provide for them after your death (investments, trusts, etc.), then you do not need life insurance.

However, if you have dependents (especially if you are the primary provider) or significant debts that outweigh your assets, then you likely will need insurance to ensure that your dependents are looked after if something happens to you.

Insurance and Age
One of the biggest myths that aggressive life insurance agents perpetuate is that “insurance is harder to qualify for as you age, so you better get it while you are young.” To put it bluntly, insurance companies make money by betting on how long you will live. When you are young, your premiums will be relatively cheap. If you die suddenly and the company has to pay out, you were a bad bet. Fortunately, many young people survive to old age, paying higher and higher premiums as they age (the increased risk of them dying makes the odds less attractive).

Insurance is cheaper when you are young, but it is no easier to qualify for. The simple fact is that insurance companies will want higher premiums to cover the odds on older people – it is a very rare that an insurance company will refuse coverage to someone who is willing to pay the premiums for their risk category. That said, get insurance if you need it and when you need it. Do not get insurance because you are scared of not qualifying later in life.

Is Life Insurance an Investment?
Many people see life insurance as an investment, but when compared to other investment vehicles, referring to insurance as an investment simply doesn’t make sense. Certain types of life insurance are touted as vehicles for saving or investing money for retirement, commonly called cash-value policies. These are insurance policies in which you build up a pool of capital that gains interest. This interest accrues because the insurance company is investing that money for their benefit, much like banks, and are paying you a percentage for the use of your money.

However, if you were to take the money from the forced savings program and invest it in an index fund, you would likely see much better returns. For people who lack the discipline to invest regularly, a cash-value insurance policy may be beneficial. A disciplined investor, on the other hand, has no need for scraps from an insurance company’s table.

Source: Investopedia – Andrew Beatty.