Life Insurance: How Much and What Kind To Buy
How much life insurance do you need? What type is appropriate? You should review your life insurance needs each time you have a major life event. Here is what you need to know to properly plan for your life insurance needs-to buy enough and to get the most for your money.
The prospect of planning for your family's life insurance needs may seem daunting. The array of confusing products available, coupled with the calculations needed to find the right amount of insurance, would put anyone off.
Yet the hard fact is that life insurance is an essential part of your family's financial well-being. The more you know about it before you go to your agent, the better your coverage will be. If you don't plan for your life insurance needs, the result could be a waste of thousands of dollars on inappropriate or ineffective life insurance or, worse, financial hardship due to not having enough insurance.
We've tried to make the process of buying life insurance easier and more informed by providing you with objective, unbiased information and a plan of action. This Financial Guide gives you some basic guidelines about whether and when you should purchase life insurance, and provides you with a system for determining how much you need. It also discusses the types of insurance available, their suitability for various situations, and how to comparison shop for a policy.
The purpose of life insurance is to provide a source of income, in case of your death, for your children, dependents, or other beneficiaries. Life insurance can also serve other estate planning purposes, such as giving money to charity on your death, paying for estate taxes, or providing for a buy-out of a business interest. However we won't go into these other purposes in this guide.
Whether you need to buy life insurance depends on whether anyone is depending on your income. If you have a spouse, child, parent, or some other individual who depends on your income, you probably need life insurance. (You might also need life insurance for estate planning or business succession planning purposes.) Here are some typical insurance situations along with typical insurance needs:
Situation 1. Families or single parents with young children or other dependents. The younger your children, the more insurance you need. If both spouses earn income, then both spouses should be insured, with insurance amounts proportionate to salary amounts. If the family cannot afford to insure both wage earners, the primary wage earner should be insured first, and the secondary wage earner should be insured later on. A less expensive term policy might be used to fill an insurance gap. If one spouse does not work outside the home, insurance should be purchased to cover the absence of the services being provided by that spouse (child care, housekeeping, and bookkeeping). However, if funds are limited, insurance on the non-wage earner should be secondary to insurance on the life of the wage earner.
Situation 2. Adults with no children or other dependents. If your spouse could live comfortably without your income, then you will need less insurance than the people in situation (1). However, you will still need some life insurance. At a minimum, you will want to provide for burial expenses, for paying off whatever debts you have incurred, and for providing an orderly transition for the surviving spouse. If your spouse would undergo financial hardship without your income, or if you do not have adequate savings, you may need to purchase more insurance. The amount will depend on your salary level and that of your spouse, on the amount of savings you have, and on the amount of debt you both have.
Situation 3. Single adults with no dependents. You will need only enough insurance to cover burial expenses and debts, unless you want to use insurance for estate planning purposes.
Situation 4. Children. Children generally need only enough life insurance to pay burial expenses and medical debts. In some cases, a life insurance policy might be used as a long-term savings vehicle.
Situation 5. Retirees. There is less of a need for life insurance after retirement, unless it is to be used for other estate planning purposes. You may need to provide an income for the second spouse to die if your retirement assets are not large enough. Further, you will need some insurance to pay burial expenses, final medical costs, and debts.
Determining how much insurance to buy requires you to invest some time in calculating...
We've provided a work sheet, which we will refer to in our discussion.
The ideal amount of coverage is the amount that would allow your dependents to invest the insurance proceeds after your death and maintain their desired standard of living without touching the principal. Although the old rule of thumb-to buy five, six or seven times your annual salary-may serve as a starting point, it is no substitute for making the calculations to find out how much you really need.
By using the worksheet and our explanations, you will be able to make a fairly good estimate of your insurance coverage needs. You will need to make some assumptions about your family's future. It's important to be as accurate as possible in filling out the worksheet, since an underestimation could lead to your being underinsured, and an overestimation will lead to money wasted on unnecessary coverage.
Line 1: Calculate The "Annual Income Needed"
Line 1 of the worksheet, "Annual Income Needed," is the amount that your survivors would need to live comfortably. It is important not to underestimate this amount. If there are recurring expenses that your family incurs but that are not shown on the list below, do not neglect to include these.
To arrive at the "Annual Income Needed," find the following amounts paid monthly. Then multiply the figure you arrive at by 12 to arrive at an annual amount. Add the following amounts:
Line 2: Subtract "Other Sources"
The next item on the worksheet represents the income that your survivors will have. If there are sources of income other than the ones listed, do not neglect to include them.
Do not include other insurance proceeds here; this will be accounted for later.
Line 3: Determine The "Shortfall"
Line 3 represents the shortfall, i.e., the amount you need your insurance proceeds to replace. This is determined by subtracting the "Annual Income From Other Sources" amount from the "Annual Income Needed."
Line 4: Determine the "Amount Of Proceeds Needed"
Line 4 is the amount that will generate the investment income needed to make up the annual "Shortfall" in Line 3.
The amount by which you should divide line represents the after-tax rate of return you can expect on the invested life insurance proceeds. The amount you choose to divide by depends on how conservative you want to be. It is reasonable for most people to expect an after-tax rate of return of at least 6%. But if you want to ensure that you are protected from inflation risk and interest rate risk, use the lower divisor of 4%. The middle divisor of 5% represents a "middle of the road" approach.
The amount you arrive at is the amount of death benefit (proceeds) you will need. The amount will be further adjusted as you work through the worksheet.
Line 5: Add the "Lump-Sum Expenses"
These are the items your family will have to pay for at the time of death. They differ from the "annual income needs" amounts in that they are not part of the family's everyday living expenses. Further, unlike the annual income amounts, they represent pure guesswork. If you wish to strive for a higher rate of accuracy, you can try to adjust these items for inflation, but this is not strictly necessary.
The estimate for funeral expenses should be at least $5,000. Depending on your desires and those of your family, you can adjust this figure upward.
The final medical expenses will be minimal if you have adequate health insurance. You can estimate this amount by finding out how much your policy requires you to contribute per illness.
The estate administration and probate costs can be estimated at 5% of your estate for the sake of simplicity. Your estate is the total value of your assets at death.
You will only owe federal estate taxes if your taxable estate exceeds the amount of the unified credit exemption equivalent. Your state inheritance taxes will depend on the laws in your state.
The "emergency living expenses" amount can range from three to six months' worth of family living expenses.
The "debts" amount represents debts that your family desires to pay off at your death. Normally, it does not include items that make up the "annual living expenses"-e.g., mortgage payments, car payments. However, if you decide that you wish to use insurance proceeds to pay off such expenses, then add in the amounts you estimate will be needed to pay off such debts.
As for future education expenses, it is suggested that you use an annual cost of $20,000 per child, per year, for the sake of simplicity.
Line 6: Determine the "Interim Insurance Proceeds Amount"
Subtract the "future expenses" on line 5 from the "proceeds needed" amount on line 4. This is the amount of insurance you will need to buy on your life. The amount will be further adjusted.
Line 7: Subtract the "Assets That Can Be Sold and Other Insurance"
For line 7, determine the amounts that represent assets that your survivors could liquidate to pay future expenses. Do not include any assets your survivors will be using to produce income that you included in "other sources." Also, note that you should include insurance payments and pension death benefits here, and not on the line for "other sources." This is because such proceeds will represent one-time payments, and not sources of annual income.
Line 8: Determine the "Total Insurance Needed"
Subtract the "assets that can be sold and other insurance" on line 7 from the interim insurance proceeds amount" on line 6. This is an estimate of the amount of insurance coverage you need.
Life Insurance Worksheet
For individuals age 40 or less, a term policy will almost always be less costly than a whole life policy. Although term policies do not build cash values, many are convertible to whole life policies without a physical exam. Thus, a term convertible policy may be a good option for someone who is under 40. There are various types of term insurance, which we will discuss briefly here.
Cash Value Insurance
There are four types of cash value life insurance: (1) whole life, (2) universal life, (3) variable universal life and (4) variable whole life. The first two types are the most common and have a guaranteed cash surrender value; in the last two types, the cash surrender value is not guaranteed.
Whole Life. This is the traditional life insurance policy. It provides a death benefit, has a cash value build-up, and sometimes pays dividends. You do not need to renew a whole life policy. As long as you pay your premiums, you will have coverage, usually until your death. The premium for a whole life policy remains the same for the amount of time you own the policy; the premium is "level" in insurance parlance. Thus, when you are younger, the premium you pay for whole life will be greater than what you would pay for term, but when you are older, the premium will be much less than a term premium. Part of each premium goes into the cash value of your policy. Your cash value, which is actually an investment, is guaranteed to grow at a fixed rate. You do not have to pay current income taxes on the growth in the cash value-it is tax-deferred.
Dividend-paying whole life policies-termed "participating" policies-are usually offered by mutual life insurance companies. Mutual life insurance companies are generally owned by policyholders, while other insurance companies are owned by shareholders. The dividends are refunds of insurance premiums that exceed a certain level. They are paid when the insurance company does well during a quarter or a year. Of course, premiums for participating policies are usually higher than those paid for non-participating policies.
Universal Life. Universal life, also known as "flexible premium adjustable life," is similar to whole life, but offers more flexibility in terms of payment of premiums and cash value growth. With a universal life policy, your monthly premium amount is first credited to your cash value. The company then deducts the cost of your death benefit and the expenses of the policy. These costs are about equal to what it would cost to buy term coverage. As with whole life, your cash value grows at a fixed minimum rate of interest. The growth of the cash value is tax-deferred, and you can borrow against it or make partial withdrawals.
Variable Universal Life. Variable universal life allows you to choose the investment for your cash value. You have a potentially greater cash value growth, but you also have added risk, depending on the type of investment you choose.
Variable Whole Life. With variable whole life, the death benefit and cash value will depend on the performance of an investment fund that you choose. Again, you have potentially greater reward, with its accompanying risks.
Here, in table form, is a summary of the different features of the various types of life insurance.
In order to be able to shop for the best premiums, it's a good idea to know how premiums are calculated by insurers. Bear in mind that premiums vary among insurance companies, and it is a good idea to ask several insurers for their rates.
Insurance companies place individuals into four risk groups: preferred, standard, substandard, or uninsurable. The premiums charged will be commensurate with the category you are placed in. Thus, a standard risk will pay an average premium for similarly situated insurers.
If you have a high risk job or hobby, you will be considered substandard, a high risk. A terminal illness at the time you apply for insurance will render you uninsurable. Having some type of chronic illness will place you in the substandard category. People with conditions such as diabetes or heart disease can be insured, but will pay higher premiums.
In most states, there are rules, set by a group of state insurance regulators, requiring the agent to calculate two types of cost indexes that can help you to shop for a policy. You can use the indexes to compare policy costs.
One type of index, the net payment index, gauges the cost of carrying your policy for the next ten or twenty years. The lower the number is the less expensive the policy will be. This index is useful if you are most interested in the death benefit aspect of a policy, as opposed to the investment aspect. The other type of index, the surrender cost index, is useful to those who have a high level of concern about the cash value. This index may be a negative number. The lower the number, the less expensive the policy.
These two indexes apply to term and whole life policies. With universal life policies, focus on the cash value growth and the cash surrender value to make comparisons. Cash surrender value is the amount you receive if you cancel the policy. It is not the same as cash accumulation value. If you are shown two universal life policies, and they have the same premium, death benefit, and interest rate, then the one with the higher cash surrender value is generally the better policy.
Here are some questions to ask about policies:
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