My wife and I recently went through the process of purchasing term life insurance. We have the paperwork filled out, and I wanted to ask the audience if this is a waste of money.

Our situation is we own a house, have 3 kids, we are under 30 and healthy and I'm sole earner.

We have a quote for 30 year term life, 150k for my wife and 400k for me. This comes out to around $550/year. I know no one can tell me what's right, but I'd like to know if this amount (premium and policy) sounds right or if it's too much for how old we both are.

  • Life insurance is only one part of the equation, you need to also consider income protection, total and permanent disability cover and trauma cover. – Dale M Jan 15 '15 at 4:45

The average of a dozen good answers is close to what would be right, the wisdom of crowds. But any one answer will be skewed by one's own opinions.

The question is missing too much detail. I look at $400K as $16K/yr of ongoing withdrawals. How much do you make now? When the kids are all in school full time, can your wife work? $400K seems on the low side to me, especially with 3 kids. How much have you saved for college?

The $150K for your wife is also a bit low. Without a long tangent on the monetary value of the stay at home spouse, what will you spent on childcare if she passes?

Term life also has a expiration date. When my daughter was born, my wife and I got 20 year term. She is now 16, her college account fully funded, and we are semi-retired. The need for insurance is over. If one of us dies, the survivor doesn't need this big of a house, and will have more than they need to be comfortable in a downsized one. My belief is that the term value should bridge the gap to the kids getting through college and the spouse getting resettled. Too much less, I'd have left my wife at risk. Too much more, she'd be better off if I were dead. (I say that half joking, the insurance company will often limit the size policy to something reasonable.)

  • Thank you, this has answered my question for the most part. Our household income is a little over 100k, and our kids are all under 5. – Quailman Jan 15 '15 at 1:28
  • Big +1 agreement with this answer. My two cents: $500k for your wife and $1M for you -- 20 year term insurance -- is a starting point. But do the math as Joe described. You might need more coverage or a longer term. – Rocky Jan 15 '15 at 1:48
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    Another thing to consider is how much you have in savings/investments. If you have a $1 million portfolio, you'll need much less than if you're currently living paycheck to paycheck. – jamesqf Jan 15 '15 at 5:36

To add to JoeTaxpayer's answer, the cost of providing (term) life insurance for one year increases with the age of the insured. Thus, if you buy a 30-year term policy with level premiums (the premium is the same for 30 years) then, during the earlier years, you pay more than the cost to the insurance company for providing the benefit. In later years, you pay somewhat less than the cost of providing the insurance. The excess premiums that the insurance company charged in earlier years and the earnings from investing that money covers the difference between the premium paid in later years and the true cost of providing the coverage. If after 20 years you decide that you no longer need the protection (children have grown up and now have jobs etc) and you cancel the policy, you will have overpaid for the protection that you got. The insurance company will not give you backsies on the overpayment.

As an alternative, you might want to consider a term life insurance policy in which the premiums increase each year (or increase every 5 years) and thus better approximate the actual cost to the insurance company. One advantage is that you pay less in early life and pay more in later years (when hopefully your income will have increased and you can afford to pay more). Thus, you can get a policy with a larger face value (150K for your wife and 400K for yourself is really quite small) with annual premium of $550 now and more in later years. Also if you decide to cancel the policy after 20 years, you will not have overpaid for the level of coverage provided.

Finally, in addition to a policy with larger face value, I recommend that you include the mortgage (if any) on your house in the amount that you decide is enough for your family to live on and to send the kids to college, etc., or get a separate (term life insurance) policy to cover the mortgage on your home. Many mortgage contracts have clauses to the effect that the entire principal owed becomes immediately due if either of the borrowers dies. Yes, the widow or widower can get a replacement mortgage, or prove to the lender that the monthly payments will continue as before, (or pay off the mortgage from that $150K or $400K which will leave a heck of a lot less for the family to survive on) etc., but in the middle of dealing with all the hassles created by a death in the family, this is one headache that can be taken care of now. The advantage of including the mortgage amount in a single policy that will support the family when you are gone is that you get a bit of a break; the sum of the annual premiums on ten policies for $100K is more than the premiums for a single $1M policy. There is also the consideration that the principal owed on the mortgage declines over the years (very slowly at first, though) and so there will be more money available for living expenses in later years. Alternatively, consider a special term life insurance policy geared towards mortgage coverage. The face value of this policy reduces each year to match the amount still due on the mortgage. Note that you may already have such a policy in place because the lender has insisted on you getting such a policy as a condition for issuing the loan. In this case, keep in mind that not only is the lender the beneficiary of such a policy, but if you bought the policy through the lender, you are providing extra profit to the lender; you can get a similar policy at lower premiums on the open market than the policy that your lender has so thoughtfully provided you. I bought mine from a source that caters to employees of nonprofit organizations and public sector employees; your mileage may vary.

  • Just to add so there is no confusion, do not get the life/death insurance that covers the mortgage. Add this value as part of your term life. The actual insurance for the mortgage or car or any other loan is much more expensive than term. – AbraCadaver Jan 15 '15 at 18:18
  • @AbraCadaver That was not my experience with mortgage insurance, but my experience was in the previous century and conditions may have changed since then (or after the 2008 meltdown in the housing market). – Dilip Sarwate Jan 15 '15 at 20:21

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