Updated August 20, 2019

How to Buy Life Insurance

Read more about Life Insurance

Buying life insurance wisely does NOT have to be hard. Find out the best age to get life insurance. Read on to learn if term or whole life insurance is better for you.

When Should I Buy Life Insurance?

When it comes to getting life insurance, the younger you are, the less you'll pay. How much less? Here are two examples:

Take a look at this age comparison for a $100,000 universal permanent life insurance policy at age 16 versus age 32:

Age 16 monthly premium: $35.60
Age 32 monthly premium: $47.35
Difference: $11.75 per month or $141.00 every year

The cost is even cheaper with a term life insurance policy. Here's an age comparison for a $100,000, 30-year term life insurance policy at age 18 (term life is not available at age 16) versus double your age at 36:

Age 18 monthly premium: $13.60
Age 36 monthly premium: $15.84
Difference: $2.24 per month, $26.88 per year, or $806.40 over the 30 years of the policy

Permanent life insurance lasts your entire life. Term life insurance covers you for a specific number of years, or term.

Keep reading to learn more about each type.

Buying Insurance During Major Life Events
Major life events are also a smart time to get insurance.

These include:

  • Starting a Career
    Some companies offer life insurance as part of a group plan. Keep in mind, though, when you leave that job, that life insurance ends, too. You can get a second personal life insurance policy on your own that remains in force no matter where you work.

  • Getting Married
    Life insurance provides financial security to your spouse when you're gone. It replaces your lost income and provides your loved one with a nest egg for the future.

  • Starting a Family
    Life insurance provides financial security to your whole family during life and death. It's a way to save for your kids' college tuition, wedding, and other major life events while you're living.

    If you die prematurely, it replaces your income and ensures there is money to support your children as they grow up.

  • Buying a Home
    Life insurance guarantees your family won't lose their home when you're gone. It's especially important if there is a mortgage on the house when you die. In fact, some people take out a mortgage life insurance policy until their home is paid off.

Some parents buy a whole life insurance policy for their newborns to lock in at the lowest possible rate. By doing so, the premium will never increase, regardless of age.

When major life events occur, you should either:

  • Buy a life insurance policy for the first time to provide financial security for your loved ones and protect your life's investments.

  • Review your existing life insurance policy to see if you need to buy more coverage to cover your new additions.

When it comes down to it, there's really no right or wrong time to buy life insurance. The important thing is to buy it. While you can buy life insurance at any age, keep these two very important facts in mind:

  1. The older you are, the more expensive life insurance will be.
  2. As you get into your senior years, the available options become more limited.

Types of Life Insurance Products

All life insurance products have one thing in common: They provide a death benefit. When you die, that death benefit is paid out to the beneficiary listed on your policy.

The different types of life insurance plans differ according to how they are structured and the extent of coverage they offer.

The two main types of life insurance are permanent life insurance and term life insurance. Here's a look at each type:

Permanent Life Insurance Options

As its name suggests, permanent life insurance doesn't end. As long as you pay your premium, your policy remains in effect until you die.

Permanent life insurance has two components: a death benefit and an investment fund. This investment portion is called cash value.

  1. Your death benefit is the amount your beneficiary will receive upon your death.

  2. The investment fund can be used while you're alive. Think of it as an automatic savings account. As you pay your premiums, a portion of the amount goes to cash value. This cash value builds over time and earns interest.

  3. You can use these funds to take out a loan, buy more coverage, supplement your retirement plan, or pay your policy's remaining premiums.

For the most part, the different types of permanent life insurance work the same way. Differences can be found in the way the savings plan is structured.

  • Whole life insurance (also called ordinary life insurance): Pays out dividends

  • Variable life insurance: You direct where to invest interest earnings. Options include stocks, money market mutual funds, and bonds.

  • Universal life insurance: Builds interest at the money market rate. You can use this interest to increase your death benefit or lower your premium payments.

  • Variable universal life insurance: Earns interest, which you can use however you choose. Other types of permanent life insurance plans provide specialized coverage for specific circumstances. These include:

  • Joint Life Insurance (also called First-to-Die Policy): This policy insures two or more people. The death benefit is paid out when the first person dies. The policy also can include survivorship insurance, which is paid out when the second person dies.

  • Second-to-Die Policy: This policy insures two people. However, the death benefit is not paid out until the second person dies.

  • Juvenile Insurance: Cash value life insurance for children ages newborn to 18. The policy is gifted to the child once a certain age is reached.

  • Guaranteed Issue Life Insurance: A policy that is issued without having to take a medical exam or provide evidence of insurability. This is the quickest way to get permanent life insurance.

Term Life Options

What Is Term Life Insurance?
Term life insurance only covers you for a certain period. Examples of term options are 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, and 30 years.

This coverage provides a death benefit only. That amount depends on how much coverage you buy. If you die within the term of the policy, the life insurer pays out the death benefit.

When the term ends, your policy terminates. You can buy another term, but the policy premium will cost more because you're older.

When you reach a certain age, the term options become limited. For example, not many life insurance companies provide term insurance to someone who is 85 years old.

  • Level Term Insurance
    A policy that provides life insurance protection for a specific term, such as 10 years or 30 years. During the term, your death benefit and premium remain fixed. This policy type is also known as level premium term insurance.

  • Simplified Term Life Insurance
    This type of insurance does not require a medical exam. However, the maximum coverage is limited to $250,000. Usually, young people start out with this type of policy.

  • Yearly Renewable Term Insurance
    This policy has no specific term period. It renews every year without having to submit to another medical exam or show evidence of insurability. The premium amount changes based on your age.

  • Decreasing Term Life Insurance
    With this type of term, the death benefit declines each year. However, your premium amount remains fixed. This type of term policy is usually purchased to match the time left on a home mortgage.

  • Convertible Term Life Insurance
    Converts your expiring term policy to a permanent life insurance policy. You do not have to submit evidence of insurability or take a medical exam. It also locks in your new premium amount.

  • Term to Age
    Term life insurance that is provided until you reach a certain age, such as 65.

  • Policy Coverage Options
    At the time of buying a life insurance policy, you have the option to purchase additional coverage for specific circumstances. These options are called riders.


Extra options, or riders, can be added to both permanent life insurance and term life insurance plans. Some riders are free, while others have a fee that will increase your premium.

Some common types of riders are:

Disability Income Rider
If you become disabled, this rider waives your life insurance premium and provides an amount of income to your family.

Accidental Death Benefit Rider
If you die due to an accident, your beneficiary receives an additional benefit.

Return of Premium Rider
If you outlive your term life insurance policy, you receive the money back that you paid in premiums.

Waiver of Premium Rider
If you become totally disabled and unable to work, this rider waives your life insurance premium.

Critical Illness Rider
If you are diagnosed with a critical illness, you receive a one-time cash benefit to pay for medical expenses or hospice services.

Long-Term Care Rider
If you become ill or have chosen hospice care, you receive a payment amount for your daily living care.

Accelerated Death Benefit Rider
If you have a terminal illness, you receive a percentage of your policy's death benefit to pay for living expenses, medical bills, etc.

The Life Insurance Buying Process

Follow our step-by-step guide to find the right life insurance coverage for your needs.

Step 1: How Much Life Insurance Do I Need?

You should buy the amount of life insurance that will ensure financial stability for those you leave behind.

The amount depends on your income and who relies on you to pay for certain expenses. Life insurance should also cover anticipated future expenses.

When trying to figure out how much life insurance you need, think about this: Whatever you're paying for now needs to be paid for if you die unexpectedly. Whatever your dependents would have relied on you to pay for in the future needs to be factored in, too.

Here's a worksheet to help you determine how much life insurance you need.

Life Insurance Worksheet

Part 1: Income
Income (after taxes) - $
Other Assets (such as property income, retirement accounts, Social Security your spouse would receive, pensions, etc.) - $

Part 2: Current Expenses and Monthly Amount
Home Mortgage - $
Home Insurance - $
Auto Insurance - $
Estimated Life Insurance - $
Utility Bills - $
Taxes - $
Household Expenses (include food, services, clothing, entertainment, etc.) - $
Expenses for each dependent child or special needs adult who depends on you (include child care, activity fees, etc.) - $
Loans - $
Credit Card Debt - $
Other Bills - $

Part 3: Future Expenses and Expected Amount
College Tuition and Expenses (for each child) - $
Dependent Care for each child or special needs adult who depends on you - $
Vehicle Loan for each child - $
Other Debts - $

Part 4: Totals
Total Expenses Part 2 + Part 3 = $
Subtract Part 1 Income = $
Result = Your Recommended Life Insurance Amount - $

Although not as exact as the worksheet, you can figure out how much life insurance you need by using this equation:

Your Annual Salary x 8 = Dollar Amount of Estimated Coverage Needed

Whichever method you use, always bump up the coverage amount to factor in any unforeseen expenses. For example, if your estimated coverage amount is $187,235, buy a life insurance policy with a death benefit of $200,000 or $250,000.

Step 2: Which Type of Life Insurance Policy Is Right for Me?

Permanent life insurance versus term life insurance. It's a tough decision and an important one. Read on to decide which option may be best for you.

Choose a term life insurance policy if you:

  • Want life insurance at the lowest rate.

  • Already have some form of retirement fund that you are contributing to regularly.

  • Have dependents who are grown and financially secure.

  • Just need life insurance to cover your mortgage in case you die before it's paid off.

  • Don't really want to make a long-term life insurance commitment.

  • Just graduated college and have no dependents.

Choose a permanent life insurance policy if you:

  • Aren't putting aside money from each pay period to save for the future.

  • Have a young family and want to make sure they will be financially secure until they're grown.

  • Want more from your life insurance policy than just death benefits.

  • Need to protect your estate.

  • Are more comfortable paying a fixed premium for the rest of your life.

If you need coverage quickly, but don't want to take a medical exam, you can opt for a permanent policy. Just make sure it is a guaranteed issue policy.

Step 3: How Much Can I Expect to Pay for Life Insurance?

What you pay for life insurance depends on several factors:

  • The type of policy you select
  • The amount of coverage you select
  • Your age
  • Your health
  • Your occupation

Of the two types of life insurance, permanent life costs more. However, it gives you more than just death benefits. Term life insurance only provides death benefits if you die during the term period.

Here's a look at how much you can expect to pay for each policy type:

Permanent Life Insurance: A universal life insurance policy with $500,000 in coverage for a healthy 35-year-old man costs about $6,200 a year.

Term Life Insurance: A level term life insurance policy for $500,000 in coverage for a 20-year term for a healthy 35-year-old man costs about $551.00 a year.

Cost should never be a factor in deciding whether to buy life insurance. You can find policies for all types of budgets.

Life insurance rates for the same policy type differ among life insurance companies. That's because some insurers are less strict about people with moderate health or occupational risks than others.

Getting quotes from multiple life insurance companies is a good way to find the best match for your needs.

Step 4: How Do I Get Life Insurance Quotes?

Getting a life insurance quote couldn't be easier. You have several options:

This is the fastest and easiest way. You can use any website with a life insurance quote comparison.

You'll be asked to enter your:

  • Location
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Whether you smoke
  • Overall health condition
  • Coverage amount

In return, you'll receive a free quote comparison from several life insurance companies.

Be sure you're getting quotes for the type of life insurance policy you want. For example, if you want permanent life insurance, you don't want to use a quote comparison site that only sells term life insurance.

Over the Phone
Call a major life insurance company toll-free or an insurance agent in your area and request a quote.

  • If you call an independent life insurance agent, you'll receive quotes from several life insurance companies.

  • If you call a life insurance captive agent, you will only receive a quote from the life insurance company where the agent works.

In Person
You can visit a local insurance agency to discuss your options and obtain a quote.

  • If you visit an independent life insurance agency, you will receive quotes for different plans offered by numerous life insurance companies.

  • If you visit a field office of a major life insurer, you will receive quotes only for that company's life insurance products.

Life insurance quotes provide the type of plan, the amount of coverage the policy will provide, and the estimated premium amount.

If you need help understanding your life insurance quote comparison, don't hesitate to ask. Those providing the quotes are well versed in the workings of the life insurance plans from the companies represented in your quote.

Step 5: What Should I Look for in a Life Insurance Company?

Now that you have a bunch of life insurance quotes from a number of life insurance companies, you're ready for the next step. It's time to choose a life insurance company. But, how do you decide? Keep reading to find out.

Evaluate the Companies
The coverages and prices are very similar. You're familiar with some companies, others not so much. As a rule, you can't go wrong if a life insurance company has these three things:

  1. A top rating (in the "A" range) from A.M. Best Company, Standard & Poor's, or Moody's Investors Service. These independent rating companies rank life insurers based on their financial soundness and their ability to pay claims.

  2. A high Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating (A or B). Also read any customer complaints to see how the company resolved them.

  3. Many years in business. This reflects their stability, reputation, and experience in the industry. It also indicates that they are established in the field and can pay the benefit.

Evaluate the Features
When comparing quotes, look beyond the price. You want to know exactly what you're getting for your money. Some things to look at are:

  • What rate class you're in and why?
    If your quote comparison shows a wide range of prices, it could be linked to rate class. Some life insurance companies are stricter than others when it comes to certain health conditions. You might be in a preferred rate class with one company and a standard class with another.

  • What riders are included for free in the policy?
  • What are the coverage details?
  • Does the policy address all your coverage needs?
  • Are there any additional fees for changes along the way? For example, if you want to increase coverage, change a beneficiary, etc., are there administrative fees?

Evaluate Your Preferences
From your own personal standpoint, think about things that would make you secure in choosing a life insurance company. Some examples are:

Online Capabilities
If you like to conduct business online, go with a life insurer that has online chat and a platform where you can make changes online, access policy forms, etc.

If you're looking to buy life insurance to eventually secure your estate, long-term online options are important to consider. This guide from FinTechFreedom outlines everything you need to know about estate planning in the digital age.

If you can't tolerate waiting on hold, look into how easy it is to do business with the companies you're considering. For instance, do they have 24/7 customer service? Do they have automatic callback if the wait is too long? Can you call an agent directly instead of a call center?

Easy-to-Read Policy
Look at how the life insurance carriers you're considering present themselves. Do they provide information in an approachable manner? Are documents easy to read and understand? Are legal portions explained in common, everyday language?

If you're still having trouble deciding, ask around. Perhaps family members, friends, or coworkers know about the companies on your list. Social media is also a great way to solicit opinions on the life insurance companies you're considering.

Step 6: Complete the Life Insurance Application

Once you're done comparing quotes and have selected a policy, the next step is completing the life insurance application.

The life insurance application consists of:

  • A questionnaire that asks in-depth questions about your health, lifestyle, driving record, financials, and medical history.

  • Documents you provide, including proof of identity, age, and citizenship; proof of income; and proof of residency.

  • A phone interview, which verifies the information you provided in your application. You'll also be asked to give authorization for the life insurer to obtain your health information from your doctor.

    This is also the time to confirm that the policy you selected is the best for you. During this phone call, your medical exam is also scheduled.

  • A 30-minute medical exam, which includes a blood and urine test. You can choose to have the exam done at your home or workplace. The exam is performed by a medical professional contracted by the life insurer. There is no cost to you for the medical exam. You will receive the results in the mail.

  • During the process, the life insurance company may send you paperwork for your signature.

If you want to avoid the extensive life insurance application and medical exam, choose a plan with no questions asked or no medical exam. You may pay more, but the extra cost might be nominal compared to the time saved, especially if you need life insurance in a hurry.

The Underwriting Process
Once you've completed your end of the application process, the life insurer begins the review process. Your application and medical exam results go to the company's underwriting department.

The entire life insurance application process can take six to eight weeks. The underwriting review stage takes up a big chunk of that time.

Underwriters determine your risk of a premature death. All the information gathered determines whether a life insurance policy will be issued at the rate you were quoted.

They also check various databases to confirm your medical history, the prescription medications you've been prescribed in the last seven years, and your driving record.

Upon completion of the review, the underwriter may decide to:

  • Provide a life insurance policy as quoted.
  • Provide the policy, but at a higher rate than quoted.
  • Deny the policy completely.

Even if you are denied coverage with one company, you may still qualify for life insurance with another company. If you apply immediately, you do not have to take another medical exam.

Step 7: Buy the Life Insurance Policy

Once your application is approved, you will receive a full copy of your life insurance policy with premium payment instructions. You'll be asked to sign the acceptance page of your policy, confirming you read and understand the coverage.

Here are some things you'll want to do first:

  • Review the policy in its entirety.

  • Contact the insurance company with any questions regarding the policy.

  • Select your payment frequency (monthly, biannually, or annually, for example). Return the acceptance document with your premium payment. If you provided a deposit with your application, it will be applied toward your first premium payment.

Once you submit your first premium payment, your policy goes into effect. You have completed your purchase of life insurance!

Store your life insurance policy in a safe place. It's important to let your beneficiary know about the policy and where it is stored. By doing so, your beneficiary will know there is a benefit to claim upon your death.

Life Insurance Terms to Know

Terms like cash value, beneficiary, premium, rate classification, and death benefit are examples of life insurance words you will encounter in the buying process.

Knowing what these terms mean help you understand:

  • what you are buying.

  • How it works.

  • Whether or not it's something you need.

  • The various coverage options available to you and their benefits.

  • What to expect in the life insurance buying process.

  • What the terms mean in your policy.

Here's a list of common life insurance terms and their definitions to review and keep handy when buying life insurance.

Basic Terms

Life Insurance: Coverage in which a life insurance company pays a death benefit upon the death of the insured individual. There are many types of life insurance.

Risk: Your probability of dying at a certain age. It is determined by your:

  • Age
  • Overall health
  • Occupation
  • Lifestyle and other factors

Risk defines how insurable you are under a life insurance company's guidelines.

Life Insurance Company: A company that sells its own line of life insurance products (also called a life insurance carrier).

Life Insurance Agency: A firm that is authorized by one or more life insurance companies to sell their life insurance products.

Life Insurance Captive Agent: A licensed individual who is employed by a life insurance company and sells its life insurance products exclusively.

Life Insurance Independent Agent: A licensed individual who represents the buyer and has access to life insurance products from numerous life insurance companies (sometimes called a broker).

Life Insurance Applicant: A person or entity that applies to a life insurance company for life insurance coverage.

Life Insurance Quote: An estimate obtained by a life insurance applicant that provides a ballpark figure of how much you might pay for a life insurance policy based on your age, health, and coverage amount.

Life Insurance Application: A document containing questions that applicants must complete when requesting coverage from a life insurance company.

Evidence of Insurability: Information life insurance companies use to determine whether an applicant is a candidate for their life insurance. Such information includes:

  • Responses on the application
  • Health status based on medical records
  • Occupation
  • Lifestyle
  • Medical history

Insurability is based on how much risk the life insurance company's guidelines allow. One life insurer might find an applicant uninsurable, while another will find the same person insurable.

Medical Examination: Required for most types of life insurance policies to determine your insurability and risk. It is performed by a medical professional appointed by the insurance company.

The exam is free and typically includes a physical examination, a blood test, and a urine sample. The findings of the exam became part of the life insurance application.

Life Insurance Underwriter: A person who works in the underwriting department of a life insurance company and evaluates the risk of a life insurance applicant.

The underwriter determines whether to approve a life insurance policy for the applicant and, if so, in what coverage amount and by what terms.

Rate Classification or Class: How life insurance companies group applicants based on similar characteristics of risk. Typically, rate classifications are referred risk, standard risk, and substandard risk.

This classification is used to approve your application and determine your premium. For example, nonsmokers in good health is an example of a preferred risk class.

Life Insurance Policy Terms

Conditional Temporary Coverage Agreement
The document you receive as evidence of coverage if you pay your initial premium with your life insurance application. The temporary coverage is in effect while the life insurance company processes your application and issues your policy.

When the life insurer approves your application and sends you the policy.

Life Insurance Policy
A legally binding contractual agreement between you and the life insurance company that outlines the coverage you have purchased. It includes your completed and signed application (also known as a contract).

The person(s) whose life is covered by the life insurance policy.

Permanent Life Insurance
A type of life insurance policy that provides death benefits and earns interest, known as cash value. The policy is in effect until the death of the insured.

Term Life Insurance
A type of life insurance policy that provides death benefits only. It expires when the term or period of time is up.

Free Look Period
A period of time after you receive your life insurance policy that allows you to review it and request a full refund of premiums paid.

The person or entity who is responsible for paying the policy's premiums.

The person or entity who owns the policy and holds all policyholder rights to it (also known as the policy owner).

A person who has certain rights to the life insurance policy.

The person or entity named on the life insurance policy who will receive its death benefits. A secondary beneficiary can be named to receive death benefits if the primary beneficiary is not living when the insured dies.

Cash Value
The amount of tax-deferred interest your permanent life insurance policy has earned to date. The cash value can be used to take out a loan against your policy, provide supplemental income in retirement, or pay premium amounts.

Total Cash Value
Includes cash value earned, any paid up additional insurance, and accumulated dividends in a whole life insurance policy.

Grace Period
The time between the policy's due date and when coverage will terminate if the premium is not paid. A typical grace period is 30 days.

The termination of a life insurance policy due to nonpayment of premium following the grace period.

Restoration of coverage after the policy has lapsed.

Cancellation of your life insurance policy by returning it to the life insurance company.

Cash Surrender Value
The amount you will receive if you no longer want your permanent life insurance policy. It is the cash value minus any policy loans, interest, and surrender fees.

Coverage Related Terms

The amount of death benefit you buy plus any cash value your policy has built.

Not having enough life insurance coverage to pay for your funeral and burial expenses, final debts, and/or provide financial security to the loved ones you leave behind.

Death Benefit
The amount of money the insurance company will pay to the policy's named beneficiary upon the death of the insured.

The death benefit can differ from the coverage amount if you took out loans against your policy or purchased additional coverage.

The amount you pay for your life insurance coverage. Your premium can be paid monthly, quarterly, semiannually, annually, or by automatic deduction from a financial account.

Additional coverage added to a life insurance policy for a fee. Some examples are accidental death benefit rider, accelerated benefit rider, and chronic illness rider.

Terms or conditions of an insurance policy stated as policy clauses.

An amendment to a life insurance policy that changes the initial provisions of the contract.

A policy provision that states certain events or circumstances in which payment of the death benefit will be excluded or limited (also known as restrictions).

Policy Purchase Option
Allows you to buy more insurance coverage for certain life events or age milestones without having to prove evidence of insurability.

Good to Know Terms

Money earned by certain permanent life insurance policies. The amount represents your share of the company's surplus. It can be used to:

  • Reduce your premium
  • Gain interest in your account
  • Take out as cash or to purchase more insurance

When a whole life insurance policy's cash value equals its coverage amount.

Maturity Date
When the life insurance policy's proceeds become payable.

Legally transferring a person's interest in a life insurance policy to another person.

Absolute Assignment
Transferring a life insurance policy to another person or entity.

Accumulation Period
The value of a life insurance policy stated by the "as of" date.

Age Change
Used for calculating your insurance premium, it's the point in which you are considered a year older. This period is usually within six months of your date of birth.

Contestable Period
The time span when a life insurance company can challenge the accuracy of the information you provided in your insurance application. Usually, the period is two years after your policy is issued.

Incidents of Ownership
Your right to exercise policy ownership privileges. Examples are:

  • Changing your policy's beneficiaries
  • Withdrawing cash value
  • Taking out a loan against your policy
  • Transferring policy ownership to another person

Paid-up Insurance
Life insurance that remains in effect without having to pay any further premiums.

Reduced Paid-up Insurance
The option of using the policy's accumulated cash value for a reduced coverage amount instead of continuing to pay premiums.

Waiver of Premium
Allows you to stop paying your policy's premiums if you become disabled for a certain length of time. Your life insurance coverage continues during the waiver period.

Bottom Line

Life insurance is a key component to financial planning to:

  1. Ensure those who depend on you are financially secure if you prematurely die.

  2. Pay for your funeral and burial costs so as not to burden other family members.

When buying life insurance, take the time to explore all your options and be sure to get quotes from multiple insurance carriers. You can do it easily online.

In the end, the time invested in buying life insurance will pay off in a policy that meets your coverage needs and budget.

Write to Maryellen Cicione at feedback@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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