How Much Life Insurance Do I Need?

How Much Life Insurance Do I Need?

Welcome to your next lesson in the How to Become a Better Investor in 15 days series. In our previous course, we covered how you can build passive income with peer-to-peer lending.  Today we are going to include life insurance; it's not the most exciting topic when it comes to investing. However, life insurance does play a pivotal role in planning, and if used correctly, can even be an investment. 

In this lesson, we will cover how much insurance you need, the different types of insurance, and bust a few myths and misconceptions regarding insurance.

You've decided it's time to get life insurance. You know why you need it. There's just one other hurdle; you're asking yourself, “how much life insurance do I need?”

It can be more complicated than figuring out how much health insurance or car insurance coverage you need. You're required to have these, and each has a minimum amount of coverage needed.

It's a Choice

With life insurance, you do not have to have it, and there's no minimum required amount you should have. So, if you're confused about your life insurance needs, this guide will help you decide how much coverage you need and different ways to calculate your need without overpaying.

We want to help you save money while also ensuring your loved ones won't find themselves in a difficult financial situation.

“Death is one of the few things that can be done as easily lying down.” – Woody Allen

Let's assume you know the difference between term and whole life insurance. Don't worry; we're not going to get into anything related to a cash value or variable life insurance products.

Hopefully, by the time you're done reading this, you will have a clear idea of how much life insurance you need. Then you can get over this hurdle and find the most suitable policy for your needs.

Why Life Insurance?

First, why is it called life insurance? We probably can't describe it as death insurance because people don't like talking about death.

Plus, can you imagine if you were a life insurance agent trying to sell death insurance? Most people would avoid you even more. Calling it life insurance doesn't feel so dark and scary.

So, let's talk about your death!

Life insurance is essential. You need it if you love someone or owe someone.8784

Families that need life insurance do not own insufficient amounts. According to The Life Insurance and Market Research Association, “less than half of the middle market consumers ages 25 to 64 own individual life insurance policies.”

More staggering is those who own life insurance policies have an average of $167,000 of coverage. After subtracting burial expenses and medical bills, that would only replace about two to three years of disposable income for most families. Yikes!

So, How Much Life Insurance Do I Need?

Once you've decided that it's the right time to get life insurance, the next step is figuring out how much you will need.

Life insurance agents and financial planners have occasionally told their clients to own a multiple of their salary — for example, 5 or 10 times their earnings on an annual basis. You've probably even seen this recommendation online.

However, this approach doesn't take into consideration that life insurance needs vary widely among different families. That's like going to the doctor's office, and they prescribe everyone the same pill. It doesn't work.

When deciding how much life insurance to get, consider family size, career, assets, and liabilities, and your goals should all.

Here are two different ways to calculate how much life insurance you need:

  • The human life value approach
  • The needs approach

The Human Life Value Approach

You can't place a value on human life, but for insurance purposes, you can. We first look at what is the present value of all your future earnings. The goal here is to provide income to your family in the event you pass away unexpectedly. Here's how to do it:

  1. Take your average annual income
  2. Deduct taxes, health, and life insurance premiums and personal care to get to the number needed to support your family every year
  3. Figure out how many years until you retire
  4. And then let's use a pretty reasonable discount rate to arrive at a number

For example, let's say Scott (27) makes $50,000 a year and for simplicity's sake plans to earn that much on average annually until he retires at age 65. He's married and has one child. They deduct $10,000 for taxes, premiums, and personal care, which leaves $40,000 left to provide for his family. All of the future streams of Scott's income will be discounted back at 5% to the present value.

Running a quick calculation, we get a present value of $674,715. This dollar amount is what Scott's family would lose out on if he were to pass away. The great thing about this approach is it measures the human life value of an individual, not just a multiple of what they make.

You need $674,715 with the human life value approach.

Limitations of the Human Life Method

This method is a better way to measure how much life insurance you need but has a lot of limitations. It doesn't take into consideration other sources of income like Social Security survivor benefits, income from retirement accounts, or pensions.

Second, it doesn't take into consideration Scott's occupation, employee benefits, or future earnings potential.

Third, assume that expenses will remain the same and don't consider inflation.

Finally, probably the most important thing is the rate of return for over 38 years. That could have a significant impact as well as any unexpected life events like a divorce, new child, or death in the family.

It is hard to get to the exact amount of life insurance you need. If you want a more accurate number, has put together a human life value calculator that accounts for things like age, gender, occupation, increases in earned income, consumption needs, employee benefits, and wages earned by a working spouse. When you think of all these things, human life value becomes much higher!8784

The Needs Approach

The second way to decide how much life insurance you need is to use the needs approach. That takes into consideration all of the different family needs you may have and how it can change over time.

Start by adding up all of the current life insurance (if any), as well as all of your assets. Then subtract this number from the total amount of life insurance needed.

Some of the most common financial needs are:

  • Immediate needs: Cash to pay for burial expenses, funeral expenses, medical bills, estate expenses, and more.
  • Income needs: Initially, the beneficiaries will need income to support their current lifestyle and to support future income.
  • Retirement needs: This is when many people start looking at cash-value life insurance.
  • Other needs to consider: Consider when the mortgage gets paid off, if the children or spouse plan to attend college, major dental repairs, home repairs, and car repairs. All of this requires an added level of care in a family with a mentally, physically, or emotionally challenged family member.

Once you've determined the needs, the next part is running some calculations to get a number.

Example of the Needs Approach

First, let's look at an example; David and Kelly are married and have two children, ages 6 and 4. He (35) earns $60,000 a year as a marketer, and she (33) earns $35,000 as a teacher. David wants his family to be taken care of financially if he were to pass away.

He thinks he'll need $15,000 for funeral expenses, $5,000 for deductible and coinsurance on medical bills, $12,000 to pay off the car loan and credit card, and $3,000 for attorney fees.

David also wants to ensure his family has monthly income until his youngest child turns 18. Kelly thinks they could live on 75% of David's take-home pay pretty easily. That’s $45,000 or $3,750 per month. Kelly may work part-time as the kids get older, but she does not want to rely on that expectation.

Kelly and the kids will qualify for social security survivor benefits. Let's assume they receive $2,000 per month from this. That leaves a need of $1,750 per month. $294,000 in life insurance will cover that until the youngest child turns 18.

When you add it all up, David would need a minimum of $329,000 in life insurance coverage to cover the necessities of his wife and kids.

Kelly also wants the mortgage of $152,000 paid off, an emergency fund of $10,000, and an education fund of $80,000. That gives her a better quality of life and pay for things like sports, vacations, repairs, etc.

You will need $571,000 under the needs approach.

Guide to Understanding Life Insurance 

Life insurance can be a complicated topic, and it doesn't help that it's not fun to d

Today consumers can choose between not just term and whole life, but variable universal life (VUL), fixed universal life (UL) and even indexed universal life (IUL). Plus, there are various hybrid policies such as modified endowment contracts and return of premium term insurance.

Before you start determining what type of coverage you should purchase, you should decide how much insurance you need. Then use this guide to help navigate and understand all of the various options.

Online Insurance Marketplace

Quotacy is an online marketplace that focuses almost exclusively on life insurance. They are not trying to be all things to all people. Their site offers lots of resources to learn about life insurance. Once you've done that and decide what type of insurance is best for you, Quotacy will shop up to 25 companies to find the best rate.

What follows is an explanation of the different kinds of life insurance and some of the uses for each. If you want a more in-depth look, visit Quotacy.

Term Insurance

There are a few different types of term insurance. Think of term insurance as temporary insurance. Term coverage protects for some time (the term), and at the end of the term, the insured will need to renew the policy. Typically, the cost for coverage will increase each time the policy gets renewed. Eventually, the cost of the coverage will exceed the cost of permanent coverage.

Term insurance policies are comparably inexpensive to other forms of insurance. In part, that's because it is highly unlikely that the insured will pass away during the term. The exact statistics are hard to find. However, generally, the industry statistics show that less than 5% percent of term insurance policies will pay at out a death claim, and some experts think its less than 2%.

Term insurance is not without risks. Many insureds purchase a term insurance policy thinking that they will only have a temporary need for coverage, then when the term renews, they find for one reason or another they need for coverage persists. Maybe they had a child later in life than expected, or perhaps due to some unforeseen reason, they were not able to pay down debt or the mortgage as rapidly as they were expecting.

Should the insured develop a health concern over the term, they may find it difficult to renew the existing term at favorable rates then. I have seen cases where people go to therapy for depression, and then find it challenging to purchase inexpensive insurance afterwords.

Note: You can mitigate this risk, to some extent, by purchasing a guaranteed renewable term or purchasing term coverage that can you can convert to permanent coverage.

Universal Life Insurance

Universal Life Insurance (UL) is a permanent form of insurance and is considered more flexible than whole life. A UL policy has a cost of insurance charge for the death benefit; when the insured pays into the policy more than the cost of insurance, the excess builds cash value in the policy. The cash value may earn a fixed interest rate, an indexed interest rate as in Indexed Universal Life, or can even get invested in various mutual funds as in a Variable Universal Life.

Once there is sufficient cash value in the policy, the earnings from the cash value could exceed the cost of insurance, and it may be possible to suspend or even discontinue making premium payments to the policies. Universal life policies are flexible because an insured could skip making payments as long as there is sufficient cash value to cover expenses. These policies work well for individuals whose cash flow may be unpredictable, but the insured still requires permanent coverage as a young family, a freelancer, or a small business owner.

The appeal to Universal Life Insurance is flexibility. You can design universal Life Insurance policies to do everything from providing relatively inexpensive permanent death benefits to producing retirement income. UL policies are routinely purchased for their ability to build cash value, as the cash value in the policy grows tax-deferred. Since the policy offers permanent coverage, these policies often get used for business planning and estate planning, where temporary coverage would not be suitable.

Disadvantages of Universal Life Insurance

These policies are not without drawbacks when compared to Whole Life policies. Universal Life policies typically have several “moving parts.” The policy may have a guaranteed cost of coverage and a guaranteed minimum interest rate. Don't make the mistake of assuming a policy will earn more than the minimum interest. Or you select it thinking you might pay for less than the maximum amount of coverage.  If the insurer decides to lower interest rates or increase charges, the insured may have to contribute more funds into the policy or risk the policy lapsing. To mitigate this, the insured can fund the policy assuming the worst-case scenario, or they can keep a keen eye on the policy and be prepared to contribute more money if necessary.

Some issuers offered a guarantee that if an insured makes a specific minimum payment each year, the death benefit will remain in force regardless of the interest rates or changes to the cost of insurance. Anyone considering purchasing a UAL policy should familiarize themselves with the terms of any such guarantees to make sure they understand what is required to keep the coverage in force.

Whole Life Insurance

Whole life can be thought of as permanent insurance without the moving parts. It will provide a guaranteed minimum death benefit, assuming the insured pays the premiums according to the terms of the policy. The minimum death benefit and the insurance premiums are fixed and will not change based on interest rates or the insurers' changes to the cost of insurance.

Some whole life insurance policies are “participating.” For example, the insurer participates in a portion of the insurer's profits. These policies earn a dividend based on the success of the company. You can use that can to offset some of the insurance premiums, purchase additional insurance, or accumulate in a separate savings account. It is possible that, over time, the dividend could grow to exceed the yearly premium.

Whole life does not offer the flexibility to skip payments the way universal life does. However, in exchange, an insured will always know what their minimum death benefit will be. They will also understand what the insurance company requires of them in the way of premiums. Depending on the policy, they may be able to pay less in future years if they receive dividends. Keep in mind, while most insurers have a strong history of paying dividends, the dividend is not guaranteed.

Permanent death benefit protection could provide liquidity to pay inheritance taxes on an illiquid family farm or business. The cost of term insurance will exceed permanent coverages over time.

Factors in Choosing the Right Insurance

Term Insurance is best for individuals with good health and a genuinely temporary need for coverage. For example, you have dependent children at home, and they will move out in a few years or cover a loan.

Universal Life has so many variations that it can cover almost every situation. The key is that the policy is funded and designed correctly, but using too optimistic of assumptions in the level of funding could lead to trouble down the road.

Whole life can be better than UL in a few different scenarios; for older ages, entire life policies can be less expensive over time than UL. Also, whole life policies can often beat UL if the insured possibly has a few health issues that may impact health underwriting.

Choosing the Right Company

Size and financial stability, insurance costs are determined mainly by the insurer's risk pool. The more people and the more diverse the people in the risk pool, the lower the insurer's costs will be. That is especially important if purchasing a participating policy where the insured may participate in some of the success of the company, or in policies where the company can adjust the cost.

Beyond the Basics

Life Insurance can be a valuable tool to enhance retirement income as long as the policy gets set up correctly. You can use life insurance to produce additional income or improve revenue in one or more ways.

Whole Life Insurance

Whole life, if correctly set up, can produce tax-free dividends. Once the dividends for a whole life policy exceed the yearly premium, the company may return the excess each year to the insured income tax-free. The dividend yield at some mutual life insurance can be extremely competitive with other investment options.


Tax-free loans can be taken from the life insurance policy to supplement income. You may hear this strategy referred to as a “super Roth”; it can be beneficial. However, the insured must understand their policy and how to utilize this approach efficiently. Using this approach, the insured would borrow money from the insurance policy each year to augment their retirement income. The insured would not pay these loans during their lifetime. Instead, the loans would reduce the death benefit. Loans from the insurance policy grow each year according to the terms of the policy.

For this approach to be successful, the insured needs to be able to accurately anticipate the growth if the insurance policies cash value, project the loan interest, and take into account any changes in internal costs to the policy. Should the loan balance exceed the cash value of the policy, the policy will lapse if the insured is unable to pay back some of the loans or add a premium. If the policy lapses, not only will the income stops, it could trigger a taxable event as the gains in the policy would immediately become taxable.

The 1035 Exchange

You can exchange the cash value of a life insurance policy to an annuity via a one-time 1035 exchange. Also, many older insurance policies allow the insured to annuitize their cash value. Once the insurance policy annuitizes, the death benefit is lost, and the plan becomes a series of systematic payments paid throughout even a lifetime. The insured has multiple options for annutizing or transferring it to an annuity; however, going back to the life insurance can be difficult, if not impossible. I highly recommend that the insured does their research, speak with the insurer about their options, and consider discussing the options with a few different insurance professionals to get 2nd and 3rd opinions.

Reverse Mortgage

You have probably seen those commercials with Tom Selleck, claiming you can convert equity in your home into an income stream or even pay off particular debt. It's true; the reverse mortgage does provide those benefits at a cost. The cost of the loan gets negatively amortized. In other words, the loan balance grows. When you pass away, you will end up owing much more on the mortgage than you originally borrowed. You can use life insurance to cost-efficiently pay the loan off so that the home goes to the beneficiaries, or possibly the recipients may choose to take the insurance instead rather than try to sell the house.

Life insurance is almost the inverse of a reverse mortgage, so they make an excellent pairing together. However, this approach is not for a DIY-er. If set up improperly, many things can go wrong. The insurance policy could lapse, or the homeowner could get upside down (owe more than it's worth) in the home while alive. That makes it hard to sell the house or use the equity to move or downsize. Why? Because you committed the equity to the reverse mortgage.

Bonus tip: If you're using a life insurance policy for loan cancelation, income replacement or pension maximization, you should talk to an elder law attorney, They will help you get the documents you need to protect the insurance. You don't want it confiscated and used for nursing home spend-down, probate, and frivolous lawsuits, if possible. If you make significant decisions on the presumption that an insurance policy is in place, then the policy needs to be protected.

Busting The Myths

Myth: It seems that whole-life insurance is increasingly unpopular with financial advisors. When can permanent life insurance be a viable part of a financial plan?

Most financial experts assume that market returns on an annual basis will exceed the internal rate of return on the cash value inside of whole life and universal life. So, the assumption is that the insured would benefit financially by purchasing term life insurance and investing the difference. This approach may be viable if the insurance coverage is only necessary for a limited number of years. Should the insured need permanent coverage, the long term costs of term buying will exceed the costs of permanent coverage.

Myth: Should we buy term insurance and invest the difference in permanent coverage?

This debate has raged on for as long as I can remember, and everyone has a relatively strong feeling that their personal beliefs are correct. Agents show Illustrations and examples to show either method in a favorable light. The reality is that people buy life Insurance many times for noneconomic reasons. Its a precaution against the worst happening, death.

Financial planning would be pretty straightforward if we all knew what was going to happen. Don't let someone jeopardize you or your family's future by trying to trivialize non-economic decisions with math or questionable math.

The key to success is to find the tool and strategies that work for you and your family's situation.

The Bottom Line

By now you should have a good idea of how to arrive at the amount of life insurance you need.

It's time to get that policy in place. Don't let the topic of death keep you from getting life insurance. The most important thing has something in place.

Even if it's a $250,000 or $500,000 life insurance policy, it's better than nothing.

If you are worried about how much a life insurance policy may cost, you can request a free quote from Quotacy.  With Quotacy, you will get quotes from as many as. 25 companies to ensure you're getting the best rate from the best companies.

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