Further Thoughts on Life Insurance

This post discusses whole vs term life insurance.

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been discussing life insurance here on the blog. See Life Insurance Round-Up and a guest post titled Do You Need Term Life Insurance?. I thought I’d wrap it all up with my somewhat scattered thoughts on the issue and tell you what I plan to do.

If you’re in the market for some life insurance, I encourage you to do your own research or visit with a fee-only financial planner before making your own decision. Most of what I’ve learned on the topic recently has come from the round-up post and from Liz Weston’s book, Easy Money.

Who Needs Life Insurance?

The idea of life insurance never popped into my head until I had a kid. No one was solely dependent on my income until that point, nor did I have any debts jointly owned with Mrs. PT that she couldn’t handle on her own. That view was probably a bit short-sighted, but since I have a small policy with my current employer, I thought I was fine.

Mrs. PT even had a small policy of her own when I met her and I encouraged her to drop it, thinking that no single person should ever own life insurance. I mean, who’s going to benefit besides her creditors? Bob at Christian Personal Finance discussed life insurance for people with no kids in greater detail. I encourage you to check out his thoughts and the comments.

Anyway, the general rule of thumb here is that if you’re single or married with no kids and each spouse has their own solid income, it’s unlikely that you need life insurance. Everyone not in that group should seriously consider life insurance, to protect those dependent on their incomes.

How Much Life Insurance Should You Get?

The next logical question is “how much to get?” Again, I’m going to throw out another rule of thumb here:  8 to 10 times your current annual income. Your particular situation may warrant another number, but it’s best to be conservative and over insure.

Things to consider: ages of your kids, whether your spouse also brings in a equitable income, your level of dependence on both incomes, the amount of debt jointly owned by you and your spouse (the surviving spouse becomes solely responsible upon your death), and other factors. Do a search for “how much life insurance” calculators and work the numbers for yourself.

If you’re already getting life insurance from your employer, don’t heavily count on it. You’re likely to change jobs at some point and your coverage typically won’t follow you.

Can Insurance Be An Investment?

Something brought up in the comments of the guest post was the use of the term “investment” when discussing life insurance. Some find that offensive and label it a sales trick to convince you to move away from term life insurance products to the more involved (commission friendly) whole life insurance policies.

What’s the Deal with Whole Life Insurance and is it an Investment?

A friend recently contacted me through my Facebook profile saying that he had someone trying to sell him a whole life insurance policy. My friend is a single guy with no dependents. I immediately advised him that he doesn’t need life insurance at this point and that anyone suggesting he “invest” in a whole life policy is likely just wanting a commission. My friend, who’s in his 30’s with little or no debt, could do much better to invest his extra money in index funds and interest bearing savings accounts.

So are whole life policies inherently bad? I think they’re not. It could be said though that most people just don’t need them. Liz Weston points out a couple of situations where whole life might be a good choice:

  1. People with disabled and/or permanently dependent children
  2. People that are extremely wealthy that need insurance money to cover their estate taxes

Although there are many types of insurance products that fall under the “whole life” umbrella, it can generally be said that they are often more expensive, unnecessarily complex, and make poor use of your extra savings.

Still, insurance in whatever form, is simply a financial product that can be used for positive or negative results. A quick example:

Who’s the smarter investor:

  • the 60 year old widow who currently has her money “invested” in a whole life, cash-value insurance plan? Or,
  • the 60 year old widow who currently has her money invested in a diversified (defined prior to 2008) portfolio of stocks and bonds?

The former is likely retiring when she originally planned. Due to the downturn in the Market, the latter is potentially re-thinking her strategy and planning to retire later in life now that her investment has gone south.

Another type of insurance you might consider is return-on-premium term life insurance.

What We Plan to Do

We plan on purchasing a term life insurance policy (likely 20-25 yrs) on me, the primary earner, for 5 times my current income. We’ll shop around at the following providers to determine the best place to purchase the policy: Allstate (current home and auto insurer), Zander.com (Dave Ramsey recommendation), and through my professional organization discounts.

We’re also going to insist that the policy is convertible to a whole life policy (should we need it) and from a provider with a high rating.

One last point: we plan on living well within our means throughout our lives. In fact, our goal is to be able to live within one of our incomes at all times. Even when Mrs. PT (who’s now in grad school) goes back to work full-time. That being the case, we hope that life insurance is never a big part of our overall risk reduction plan. We plan on “self-insuring” as much as possible by eliminating our debts and building solid savings and retirement accounts.

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Okay. This is topic is officially dead (pun intended). Mrs. PT said she is tired of this topic and wants to just buy it and move on. So that’s what we’ll do. As usual though, I welcome your comments below if you’d like to carry the conversation forward.



Last Edited: October 21, 2009 @ 10:54 pm The content of ptmoney.com is for general information purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Visitors to ptmoney.com should not act upon the content or information without first seeking appropriate professional advice. In accordance with the latest FTC guidelines, we declare that we have a financial relationship with every company mentioned on this site.
About Philip Taylor

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a CPA, financial writer, FinCon CEO, and husband and father of three. He created PT Money back in 2007 to share his thoughts on money and to meet others passionate about managing their finances. All the content on this blog is original, and created or edited by PT. Read more about Philip Taylor, and be sure to connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or view the Philip Taylor+ Google profile.

Comments

  1. I was personally doing some research on insurance last week.

    I am 24 and I thought I needed insurance because its cheap at my age, as I was told.

    While doing more research, i found the only insurance I could consider is disability insurance but looking at my health and hospital visits, I would think otherwise.

    Does it make sense for someone like my age or in their 20’s to have at least term insurance and say they have lots of debt, like 50K plus and maybe their health is not too great?

    I mean in general, does it make sense to have insurance when you have lots of debt and single?

  2. well the way I see it is you do need some money to take care of your body after you die and also if your with someone but without kids you want to leave something behind, even just a litte, becuase Death is so horrible your SO may need a little time off from work to recover, more then maybe the Breavement time covered by work, so it gives them a little cushion. Do you need $1 million in life insurance if your w/o kids, no but does it help to have some, heck yes, especially since its so cheap.

  3. @tom – I don’t have much experience with disability insurance, but I would think it would be more relevant for you than life.

    In my opinion, and from everything that I’ve read, you do NOT need term life insurance. Debts aren’t transferred to anyone else once you die, if you’re the sole borrower. Why take out insurance just so your creditors will be satisfied after death? They have their own insurance for that anyway.

    Brandy makes a good point though, if you think your burial would burden your parents/relatives financially, it might be wise to take out a very small policy, or simply rely on what your employer offers. There are funeral only policies out there, I’m sure.

  4. Oh I definitely agree with that. But then again having benefits from work is great to have.

    I would imagine having savings, and a will, even probably from a young age would definitely make sense.

    Your thoughts?

  5. There are many good reasons to begin building savings from the first moment of employment, not the least of which is “self insurance”.

    As for a Will, I don’t have much experience. I tend to think that like life insurance, it comes into play once you have dependants and assets.

  6. Bill McCollam says:

    On the point of employer provided group insurance… most of these policies are convertable (without evidence of insurability) when you leave your current employer. That can be very useful.

  7. I don’t agree that couples without children don’t need life insurance. What about a couple who both earn sizable incomes? Chances are their style of living needs both incomes. If one were to pass away, the single earnings might not be enough to continue the lifestyle the for the surviving spouse.

  8. @The Life Insurer

    That’s why I said it’s “unlikely” that you’d need it if you were a DINK, and not that you definitely wouldn’t need it. You’re addressing a specific scenario, in which case life insurance might be a more reasonable option. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Second, I contend that the surviving spouse would need to make some adjustments to a single person lifestyle. Just because you lived that way when you’re married, doesn’t mean you have to when you’re single.

  9. I would contend that the surviving spouse should be given the choice of continuing the lifestyle they have become accustomed to living, rather than needing to make some adjustments to a single person lifestyle, as you suggested. A life insurance policy would give one the choice.

  10. @The Life Insurer – I would say any thoughtful couple would make the “choice” now, and not spend years making payments into some blackhole.

  11. This is great information. I know that as a single adult I have disability insurance but have chosen not to get life insurance because what I have saved would cover my funeral costs if anything happened to me. I have no one that relies on my income. I’m glad this article validates what I have decided to do.

  12. I’m not quite sure what you are referring to as a “black hole.” Is it their lifestyle or the life insurance they purchase to protect the lifestyle.

  13. Why not have a term policy should be the question. I’m single, plan on having kids, 28 and have $500,000 of coverage that is convertable to whole life up to age 60. This costs me $23/mo. That’s the cost of a few beers after work. Again, why not? Locking in my insurability at optimal health. It’s portable. I dont have to worry about it when I do get married. And my future wife will be thankful that I took care of this now. I’m not getting any younger and premiums will only go up. Now I can have a beer gut and not worry about what rating I’ll be, ha (j/k). Anyway, love the comments, just thought I’d throw in my 2 cents.

  14. Why not buy two types of policies?