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How Much Life Insurance Do I Need?

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how much life insurance do you really need
Su Guillory
Su Guillory
Jul. 15, 20246 min read
Life insurance is an important investment, both for you and your family.

The key is choosing the right type of policy and getting the proper amount of coverage for your needs. Determining the right amount can be challenging with policies ranging from $25,000 to $10 million. Let’s get your questions answered and find out how much life insurance you need.

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How Much Life Insurance Do I Need?

There’s no single answer for how much life insurance you need. Life insurance policies come in a wide range, so figuring out where you land on that spectrum is important.

To determine how much life insurance you need, consider the following:

  • Financial obligations, including any outstanding debts your loved ones will be responsible for paying if you pass away

  • The cost to replace your income so your family can maintain their standard of living after you’re gone

  • Future expenses for your children, like college or weddings

  • Enough life insurance coverage to allow your spouse to save for his or her retirement

Calculate your end-of-life expenses, such as the cost of a funeral, cremation, and/or burial, as well as outstanding medical bills that health insurance won't cover.

Finally, subtract the value of your current savings and assets, as these funds can help with the above expenses. 

Keep these numbers handy for the next step, which is to calculate how much life insurance you need.

What’s a Good Calculation for How Much Life Insurance I Need? 

Using the numbers you ran above, a simple formula for calculating how much life insurance you need looks like this: 

Financial obligations - assets = life insurance coverage

Let’s look at an example for calculating life insurance coverage.

Financial Obligations

  • Mortgage: $200,000

  • Car loan: $15,000

  • Income replacement: $75,000 x 10 years = $750,000

  • College tuition: $100,000

  • End-of-life expenses: $10,000 (funeral) + $20,000 (medical bills) = $30,000

  • Future goals: $100,000 (spouse’s retirement) + $50,000 (major life events) = $150,000

Total financial obligations = $1,245,000

Savings and Assets

  • Savings: $100,000

  • Investments: $50,000

  • Retirement savings: $200,000

  • Equity in home: $400,000

Total assets and savings = $750,000

Now we subtract those assets and savings from the financial obligations:

$1,245,000 - $750,000 = $495,000

Based on this calculation, you would need $495,000 in life insurance coverage. You can always purchase more than this amount, but this is the minimum you would need to cover the financial obligations that you currently have.

3 More Ways to Estimate How Much Life Insurance I Need

This is one method to calculate how much life insurance you need, but there are others to consider.

10X Your Income 

While this method is simpler than the process described above, it's been discounted by many because it doesn’t necessarily match up with the expenses your partner will have to cover upon your death. Nor does it work if you don’t have a job.

10X Your Income + $100,000 per Child for College

College is one of the largest expenses your partner will have if you have children, so this method budgets $100,000 for each child and factors in income replacement.

The DIME Method

DIME is an acronym for Debt, Income, Mortgage, and Education since life insurance covers these primary expenditures. It’s similar to the first method we reviewed, though it simplifies your expenses to just these four.

What Are Some Tips for Calculating the Amount of Life Insurance I Need? 

When figuring out how much life insurance you need, remember that your lifestyle will likely change over time, and your policy parameters may need to be reviewed more than once. 

For example, you usually have fewer financial obligations when you're younger, so you don’t need as much coverage. But this will probably change as you get older. For example, you might buy a bigger house with a larger mortgage, have children, or get promotions at work that result in a higher salary. These changes mean you’ll need to adjust your coverage.

Conversely, as you get older, your expenses might go down. Your children will grow up and be financially independent, your mortgage could be paid off, and you might be retired without the need to replace an income. At this stage, consider reducing your coverage.

Generally, it’s a good idea to regularly review your lifestyle and finances, especially after major life events, and consider adjusting your coverage.

How Much Supplemental Life Insurance Do I Need?

Consider purchasing supplemental life insurance, which provides specific types of coverage beyond what your primary policy covers.

Supplemental policies can cover things like:

  • Larger death benefit

  • Accidents

  • Funerals and burial expenses

  • Coverage for dependents

  • Mortgage payments 

  • College education costs

Whether you purchase a supplemental policy or not depends on whether your primary policy provides the coverage you need. If not, calculate the expenses not covered by this policy to determine how much you need for your supplemental life insurance.

What Should I Consider When Buying Life Insurance?

There are a few things to consider when buying life insurance. Remember that the cheapest life insurance shouldn't be your sole factor when choosing what company to work with. You may need to pay more to get the coverage and features that you want. But you also may not yet be at a point in your life where you can afford a $1 million policy. Buy what you can afford, and plan to increase your coverage when you can pay for more.

Consider also that the life insurance company you choose will be one you’ll have a professional relationship with for the rest of your life. You need reassurance that the company is reliable, that it'll pay the claim quickly, and that its customer service is knowledgeable and accessible. Look for online customer reviews to understand a company’s reputation.

When you calculate how much life insurance you need, keep in mind that the cost for everything on your list could rise over time, including college tuition, end-of-life costs, and more. So, budget a little extra to account for inflation.

Also, keep in mind the type of policy you use when making your purchase. We’ll talk about term life vs. whole life insurance in a minute, but be aware that they’re different, so you need to choose the best policy for your needs.

Shop around. It’s important to look at what several life insurance companies can offer you rather than sign up for the first policy you come across.

What are the Main Differences Between Term and Whole Life Insurance?

Term and whole life insurance are very different policies, but the differences between them are easily explained.

  • Term life insurance provides coverage for a set period of time like 10, 20, or 30 years. Term life policies tend to cost less than whole life insurance policies.

  • Whole life insurance covers you for your entire life, as long as you pay your premium each month. It comes with a guaranteed death benefit and a cash value component. This cash value component can serve as a loan if you have an emergency or need cash you can easily access. Whole policies are usually more expensive.

How to Choose Between Term and Whole Life Insurance

When it comes to term life vs. whole life insurance, it can be confusing to know which to choose. Here’s a quick guide to help.

Term Life Insurance Is Best for You If…

  • You need affordable coverage: Term life insurance offers high coverage at lower premiums.

  • You have temporary financial obligations: It’s ideal if you need coverage for a specific period, like until your mortgage is paid off or your children are financially independent.

  • You want simplicity: Term life insurance is straightforward, without the complexities of investment components.

  • You’re looking for flexibility: You can choose the term length that fits your needs.

  • You plan to invest separately: With lower premiums, you can use the savings to invest in other financial opportunities.

  • You need a safety net during key life stages: It’s perfect for covering financial risks during critical times, like starting a family or buying a home.

  • You’re young and healthy: Younger, healthier individuals can lock in lower premiums for substantial coverage.

  • You want convertible options: Many term policies offer the option to convert to whole life insurance if your needs change.

Choosing term life insurance can be a smart decision for those seeking affordable, straightforward coverage for specific financial needs.

Whole Life Insurance Is Best for You If…

  • You want lifetime coverage: Whole life insurance covers your entire life, ensuring a payout to your beneficiaries.

  • You’re interested in building cash value: Whole life insurance includes a savings component that builds cash value over time, which you can borrow against or withdraw.

  • You prefer fixed premiums: With whole life insurance, your premiums remain the same throughout your life, making it easier to plan your finances.

  • You’re focused on estate planning: Whole life insurance can help cover estate taxes and ensure your heirs receive a financial benefit.

  • You want financial security: The combination of lifelong coverage and cash value accumulation offers financial security for you and your family.

  • You’re looking for dividend opportunities: Some whole life insurance policies pay dividends, which can reduce premiums, buy additional coverage, or be taken as cash.

  • You have a high net worth: If you have significant assets, whole life insurance can help with estate tax liabilities and provide liquidity for your estate.

Whole life insurance can be the best decision for those who want lifelong coverage, are interested in building cash value, prefer fixed premiums, and seek comprehensive financial security and estate planning benefits.

Why Should I Get Life Insurance? 

We’ve talked about how much life insurance you need, but we haven't yet answered one major question: Why should you get life insurance?

Consider this scenario: You’re married with three children, and both you and your partner work. Now, imagine what would happen if you passed away. Could your spouse cover your living expenses with one salary? What about when it comes time to send those kids to college (or even pay for daycare or private school before then)? 

Losing a spouse is emotionally difficult, and adding a layer of financial burden unnecessarily exacerbates the situation. Life insurance serves to provide relief and security for the loved ones you leave behind.

You don’t need to purchase a life insurance policy worth millions if your expenses are low. At the bare minimum, you want enough coverage to help your family go on with minimal disruption to their lifestyle should you pass away before your time.

Bottom Line: Life Insurance Is for Everyone

There are a few investments you’ll make in your life that are as important as life insurance. It is a vital financial tool that benefits everyone, regardless of age or income level. By securing life insurance, you are responsible for safeguarding your family’s future and providing stability during life’s uncertainties.

Su Guillory
Written bySu Guillory

Su Guillory is an experienced business and finance writer now contributing to BestMoney. She’s written several business books and has been published on sites including Forbes, Nav, SoFi, and AllBusiness. She writes about business and personal credit, financial strategies, loans, and credit cards.

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