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Life Insurance: Who Needs It And How Much Do You Need?


Your friendly, neighborhood life insurance agent is most likely to answer this question with the word "everybody."

The fact is, not everybody does need life insurance. If you don't have a family, you probably don't need life insurance unless, of course, you're a really nice person and just want to leave some money to a friend or a charity.

If you do have a family, the question isn't do you need life insurance. The question is how much do you need?

A life insurance sales representative may want you to apply some kind of formula. In years gone by, he or she might have told you that you need to buy insurance equal to four times your annual salary. So, if your annual salary is $50,000, you might have been told you need at least a $200,000 policy. Today, the same agent might tell you that you need eight times your annual salary or a $400,000 policy.

In most cases, this is probably too simplistic an approach, as it tends to assume that you are your family's sole provider.

Today, there are a number of other factors that should be taken into consideration. Does your spouse work or is he/she a stay-at-home mom or dad? Are you a single mother or father? And where does that put you? How old are your children? Will your surviving spouse be raising kids for three years or 15? If your spouse works, how much does he or she earn? If something should happen to you, is there family nearby that could help raise your kids or is the nearest family 1,000 miles away?

Let's take a hypothetical example. Jim W. is 45 years old, earns $75,000 a year and has two kids age 15 and 17. Jim's wife, Martha is 43 and earns $50,000 a year. Jim and Martha believe their kids are college material. How much life insurance does Jim need? Let's assume $25,000 a year times the two boys, times four years. That's $200,000. Jim also wants to make sure Martha lives comfortably for the rest of her working life and figures she'll need an additional $25,000 a year to do this. Multiply this $25,000 by 22 and that's $550,000. Add this to the cost of the boys' college, and Jim needs at least a $750,000 life insurance policy ... and that doesn't include anything for Martha's retirement!

Now, compare this to Beth who is the single mother of a boy, Robbie, age eight and a girl, Kinsey, age 12. How much insurance does Beth need? There's no spouse but if anything happens to her, the kids will go to her sister, and the sister will need financial help. So, assume $10,000 a year to the sister for 16 years -- $160,000 ? plus college for the kids at $200,000. This adds up to a policy of maybe $360,000. See the difference that circumstances can make?

Before you purchase a policy, sit down and figure out who will need to be taken care of, for how long they will need the help and, realistically, what that help should consist of. If you die this should not be like winning the lottery for your survivors. Don't buy so much insurance that you will be really strapped for all those years before you pass on.

The next step is to do some comparison-shopping. Different insurance companies often quote different rates on just about the same coverage as they tend to rate risks differently. You should also look at the cost of term vs. cash value life insurance. Many experts believe that if you're young, with young kids, your best bet is a term policy as it costs less, yet can offer good coverage. For example, if you're 35 and in good health, you can probably buy a $500,000, 10-year level term polity for less than $300 a year. And a 20-year, level-term policy might cost you no more than $400 a year.

You might also save money on the term insurance by buying more than one policy. For example, if you have two children, one age 12 and one age eight, you might consider buying a 10-year, level term policy to take the 12-year old through college, and a 20-year term policy to cover the eight year old through college.

Finally, you can get quotes on term insurance and even buy it without ever seeing a life insurance agent. There are a number of web sites where you can do this, including, and

It is important to understand that the quotes available from these sites are just preliminary quotes. The insurance company you choose will not provide a firm quote until you have provided all requested information and, in most case, have taken a physical. The good news is that the physical will be done in your home and at your convenience.

Cash value life insurance is a much more complex issue. The best way to get information on it is to sit down with a good, experienced agent who can explain the alternatives available and the costs and benefits of each.

Douglas Hanna

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