June 29, 2019

Pros and Cons of Term Life Insurance

Read more about Life Insurance

Think you can't afford life insurance? You could pay as low as $8 per month. Learn why you should consider coverage and some common pitfalls to avoid in our guide.

Only 60% of Americans have any type of life insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute. People put off purchasing coverage for many reasons:

  • It's too expensive
  • They don't need it because they are young/healthy/childless
  • They have coverage through work

The reality is, life insurance is likely much less expensive than you think. It should be a key piece of your financial strategy even when you're young.

There are two primary types of coverage: Term and Whole. Term tends to be the most popular option for consumers because of its affordability and flexibility. Read on to learn more.

Choose a Term Life Policy If:

  • You only need life insurance to replace your income over a certain period, such as the years you're raising your children or have an outstanding mortgage.

  • You want a simpler, more affordable policy.

Choose a Whole Life Policy If:

  • You want to provide money to your heirs to pay estate taxes.

  • You have lifelong dependents, such as a child with special needs.

  • You want to spend your retirement savings but still leave an inheritance for your beneficiaries.

What Is Term Life Insurance?

Term life insurance costs less than other types because it's temporary. It provides coverage for years in your life when you need it most.

Traditional Term
Traditional term life insurance provides coverage for a certain period of time, or "term." This type of policy is designed to ensure protection for your loved ones should you die prematurely.

With this policy, your beneficiary receives the full death benefit if you die within the years of the term. The most common terms are 10, 20 and 30 years, though some companies also offer 15- and 25-year options.

Term life insurance is usually a cheaper option because it's temporary and you are more likely to pay out the full cost of the policy before dying. Most term policies do not end up paying the death benefit because most policyholders outlive the term.

Mortgage Term
A mortgage term life insurance policy helps guarantee a tax-free benefit that can be used to help with mortgage payments. Policy terms are available for 15 or 30 years - you can choose the coverage based on your mortgage balance.

With this type of policy, your mortgage lender is the beneficiary of the policy rather than beneficiaries you designate.

The national average for a mortgage amount is about $120,000. You would pay roughly $50 per month for a policy with $120,000 in coverage.

Return of Premium Term
A return of premium policy means if you are still alive when the term of your policy is up, you get the amount you put in as premiums returned to you.

For example, if you paid $100 per month for a 10-year term, you'll get $12,000 back (unless there are additional fees or riders on your policy).

The major downside of a return of premium policy is that your monthly premium will be higher than a traditional policy.

Pros of Term Life Insurance

Think about where you and your family will be in the next 10, 15, or 20 years. Or, consider what would happen financially to your partner and/or children if you were to die unexpectedly.

Being able to choose the length of the term is a plus. As you get older, you'll likely be in a better financial and career position and have had time to pay off debts. As your needs change, your life insurance should change. Term life gives you that freedom.

Low Cost
Term life insurance is likely your least expensive option for coverage. Your monthly premium can vary depending on the length of your term. The shorter the term, the cheaper the premium.

Peace of Mind
For the length of your term, you won't have to worry about life insurance coverage and financial protection. There's peace of mind knowing your family will be taken care of if you die unexpectedly.

Fixed Premiums
With term life insurance, you have the option of locking in your premiums. No matter how your health changes as you age, you will not have to pay an increased cost.

Options for Specific Needs
Choose the amount of coverage you need for the number of years you want. You have the option to lock in your premium and add riders for additional coverage.

Cons of Term Life Insurance

Premiums Increase when Term Expires
You have the option to continue your coverage and pay on a month-by-month basis once your term ends. If you choose to continue coverage, your premiums could increase significantly.

If you shop for another policy, you will likely pay a higher monthly premium. You are now older and may have additional health concerns. Your premiums will be based on that new information.

Expensive for the Older and Ill
If you are older or in poor health, it's more likely that you will not live to the end of your term. Therefore, you aren't paying off your full premium amount.

This puts you at a higher risk to the insurance company, so they will charge you a much higher monthly premium.

You could be declined coverage all together since some ages do not have an option for certain terms. For example, a 70- or 80-year-old cannot qualify for a 20- or 30-year term policy and may even have difficulty getting a 10-year policy.

Coverage Expires
Your coverage may end before you're ready. If you didn't pay down debts like you hoped by the end of your term, it may negatively impact your financial plan.

Say you purchase a 10-year policy because you need coverage for your student debt and auto loans. You thought you'd be able to pay them off in 10 years. If the 10-year term ends and you still haven't paid off your debts, continuing your coverage is significantly more costly than if you had opted for a longer term.

Keep reading for average term policy rates.

Average Term Policy Rates

In the charts below, find an average monthly cost for different life insurance policy options. Each is sorted by male or female, and is based on a generally healthy, non-smoker.

10-Year Term Rates - Male


10-Year Term Rates - Female


15-Year Term Rates - Male


15-Year Term Rates - Female


20-Year Term Rates - Male


20-Year Term Rates - Female


25-Year Term Rates - Male


25-Year Term Rates - Female


30-Year Term Rates - Male


30-Year Term Rates - Female


For a more exact price, research your own life insurance quotes online. These can give you a general idea of how much you will actually pay.

Remember: Your age, gender, height, weight, and health will all help determine your rate class.

How Do I Determine What Term Length Is Right for Me?

Some things to consider when thinking about the length of your term policy are:

  • The length of your mortgage

  • How long until your children are on their own

  • The number of years until you retire

  • The number of years until you pay off other debts, like student or auto loans

Here are the types of policies broken down by who should consider each:

10-Year Term Policy IF

  • You're looking for the cheapest premium. It's generally lower cost because you are much more likely to live to the end of the term length and pay off the full cost of the policy.

  • You have older children who won't need as many years of support.

  • You just graduated college and have student loan debt.

15-Year Term Policy IF

  • You have young kids and want coverage to last until they are at least 18 years old.

  • You want a policy to give coverage for the mortgage on your home. While the average loan term is 30 years, the average person lives only around 11 years in one home. A lower term length should be sufficient.

20 or 25-Year Term Policy IF

  • You have a child and want to provide coverage for them through college and beyond.

25 or 30-Year Term Policy IF

  • You are expecting a baby and want coverage for them through college.

  • You have a child with special needs.

  • You recently got married and want to provide support if you pass unexpectedly.

Think about your debts and how long it will take to pay them off. Many student loan debts take 10 to 20 years to pay off if you stick with the minimum monthly payments. You might want a term length that covers that debt.

Read on to learn how to get the best rates on your term life insurance policy.

How to Get the Best Rate

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Several factors affect your monthly premium.

FactorPrice Effect
AgeThe younger you are, the less you are going to pay.
SexTypically women pay less than men.
HealthThe healthier you are, the less you'll pay.
Smoking habitsSmokers will pay more than non-smokers.
HobbiesRiskier hobbies/occupations increase prices.

When setting rates, the insurance company determines the risk they take on.

  • Higher Risk
    You're more likely to pass away before paying the full coverage amount, so your premiums will be higher.

  • Lower Risk
    You're more likely to pay off your full coverage, so your premium will be lower.

Ways to Save Money
Here are three recommendations for getting the best life insurance rate.

  1. Get a policy when you are young and healthy.
    Age and health are very important factors. You want to take advantage of applying for a policy when you are most likely to get the best rate.

  2. Request quotes from several companies.
    Each insurance company offers different types of policies, benefits, and coverage. Make sure you know which companies offer what you need. Getting multiple quotes allows you to see a variety of premium options so you can choose one that fits your budget.

  3. Work with an insurance agent.
    They are able to assist you with your research and the quoting process. They are experts on insurance product and companies. They likely know what company and/or policy best fits your needs with the best rate.

You may also be offered a small percentage of savings by paying your premium annually or semi-annually instead of monthly. Paying upfront ensures you never make a late payment, therefore avoiding late fees or potentially lapsing coverage as well.

What Happens When Your Policy Expires

If your term ends and you find that you still need life insurance, consider extending or renewing the coverage.

You can usually choose to continue the policy on a year-to-year basis. But the monthly premium will be much higher.

If you opted for a term life insurance policy with a return of premium qualifier, you will get your premiums returned to you when the term is up.

Here are a few things to think about:

  1. Did you recently get married?
    A policy should be able to support both of your expenses should you die.

  2. Did you have a baby?
    Your life insurance policy can help support your children, from childcare to college tuition.

  3. Did you purchase a new house?
    Life insurance policies will help pay off your mortgage so that another loved one doesn't have to.

  4. Did you start or graduate college?
    Your policy could also help pay off student loan debt, so it doesn't fall to someone else to take care of.

  5. Were you diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness?
    It's better to plan ahead and have life insurance before a diagnosis. But a new diagnosis may add additional concerns or considerations that you'll need covered.

  6. Did you get a new job?
    You will need to increase your insurance coverage in order to keep up with your income contribution if you are earning more money than when you purchased the policy.

  7. Did you start a new business?
    If you are self-employed or running your own business, your policy should be able to help pay off outstanding debts or assist in continuing to operate the business (should those be your wishes).

You could also convert your term policy to a permanent policy when the term expires. Keep reading to learn how that works.

Most term policies do not "technically" expire until you reach age 95, so you can keep your policy in place and continue paying monthly until you decide you no longer need the coverage.

Converting Term Policies to Permanent Policies

If your term policy expires and you don't want to renew it month to month, another option you have is to convert it to a permanent policy, like a whole or universal policy (more on those options below).

You can usually do this without taking a medical exam or answering health questions if you are below a certain age (typically 75). Check with your insurance company about the deadline so you don't miss the cutoff.

Here are some benefits of converting your policy:

  • The new policy's first year of premium will probably be reduced. This is based on the premiums you paid in the last year of your previously existing term policy.

  • You can convert only the amount of coverage you think you'll need. You do not have to convert the entire total of the policy.

  • You can grow cash value or invest. This gives you some savings for estate and end-of-life planning.

  • Your beneficiaries will receive a payout when you die. With a term policy, your beneficiaries only collect a death benefit if you die during the term.

You should convert your policy if:

  • Your health has deteriorated, so you might not qualify for another term policy.

  • You need life insurance for longer than you initially anticipated.

  • You are interested in a cash value or investment option.

To convert your policy, you have to talk to your agent or life insurance company to arrange the conversion. You can do this at any time during the term of your policy. Make sure you do it before the expiration date.

Other Life Insurance Alternatives

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If you're unsure whether a term life insurance policy is right for you, keep reading to learn of alternatives to term life insurance. These include whole, universal, and variable life policies.

Whole Life

Whole life insurance provides lifelong coverage and includes an investment and cash value component.

The three main benefits to a whole life insurance policy are:

  1. Guaranteed Cash Value Growth
    This type of policy typically involves investing dollars so the cash value account will grow over time. You can normally access the cash value any time through withdrawals or loans. You can use the cash value for retirement, emergency funds, or other bills.

    Withdrawals often come with a fee or other contingencies, so you'll want to be sure you're familiar with your policy.

  2. Guaranteed Death Benefit
    The death benefit is a stated amount of proceeds paid to your beneficiary upon your death.

  3. Guaranteed Level Premiums for Life
    Whole life insurance premiums are higher because the policy lasts forever and has cash value. But the premium will not increase or decrease throughout your life, so it's easy to budget for.

Universal Life Insurance

Universal Life Insurance provides a permanent death benefit and has added cash value. When you pay your premiums, part of the dollars go into a cash account that is credited each month with interest. The other part goes towards paying the death benefit.

Your premiums are not fixed, so the amount you pay each month can change month to month. But you have more control and access to the dollars that go into the cash account.

Variable Life

Similar to Universal Life, part of your premium is contributed to a cash account. The difference in Variable is that the cash value can be invested in a variety of different accounts, similar to mutual funds. The choice of which accounts to invest in is up to you.

Examples of investment funds are stocks, bonds, equity funds, and money market funds.

You should thoroughly review your policy, preferably with your life insurance agent. Be sure to ask a lot of questions to fully understand all the terms and fine print.

Why Do I Need Life Insurance?

Whether or not you need life insurance can be boiled down to two questions:

  1. Does anyone rely on me for financial support?
    (This includes your children, spouse or partner, co-signors of debt or loans you have in your name, or elderly parents you are, or will in the future, have to care for.)

  2. Do I have enough money in my savings to provide that support?
    If someone does rely on you for financial support but you do not currently have enough savings to provide it, chances are you need life insurance coverage.

When you die, your life insurance payout could go towards:

  • Funeral Expenses
    The National Funeral Directors Association reports the average funeral costs between $6,000 and $9,000. That doesn't include the cemetery plot, monument or marker costs, flowers, or obituaries.

  • Medical Expenses
    This includes deductible, copay, and/or coinsurance costs that will vary depending on the state of your health before passing and the coverage your health insurance provides.

  • Paying Off Remaining Debts:

    • Student Loans
      The average amount of student loan debt is between $28,000 and $40,000, depending on what year you graduated. In 2017, over 44 million Americans collectively owed nearly $1.5 trillion in student loan debt.

    • Credit Card Debt: The average American has a credit balance of nearly $6,500, according to Experian's annual study on the state of credit and debit.

    • Mortgages
      Your monthly mortgage is determined by the price of your house, total of your down payment, your loan program, and loan interest rate. The average monthly rate is about $1,500

What remains of your life insurance is used to help your family with additional expenses.

  • Maintaining a Current Home or Purchasing a New Home
    The median cost of a new house is $322,637.

  • Sending Children to College
    Average cost of tuition for private colleges is $34,740 per year, for in-state public colleges $9,970 per year, and for out-of-state public colleges $25,620 per year.

  • Purchasing a New Family Car
    Average cost of a new car in 2019 is $34,000.

  • Paying Medical Bills
    Monthly premium for a family health insurance plan averages $1,168.

  • Childcare
    If your spouse or partner must go back to work or continue working, it could cost $10,000 or more per year for just one child.

  • Replacing a Parent's Income
    Salary.com reports that if a stay-at-home parent were compensated, they would earn nearly $115,000 per year. At-home duties include cooking, cleaning, laundry, carpooling, childcare, running errands like grocery shopping, and more.

    Think about how much it would cost to pay a third party to do those things—that loss of income can add up quickly.

Outstanding debts and other costs incurred when you die can add up quickly. If you do not have a life insurance policy, payment for these expenses will fall to your family to pay out-of-pocket.

This could total hundreds of thousands of dollars that can be very difficult (or even impossible) to afford, putting your loved ones in a difficult financial position.

How Do I Determine How Much Coverage Is Right for Me?

Here's a simple way to calculate your potential coverage amount:

  1. Consider how many years would you like coverage and multiply your annual income by that number of years.
    For example, if you want a 10-year term policy and earn $60,000 per year, you'll want a minimum $600,000 policy.

  2. Think about other financial obligations you want your policy to cover. This can include:
    1. Funeral costs
    2. Mortgages
    3. Student loans
    4. Credit card debt
    5. Medical bills
    6. Costs of raising your child or children

    Add these totals to the sum found in Part 1.

  3. Determine what services you provide that would have a cost to replace. This is particularly important if you are a stay-at-home parent and your partner wouldn't be able to quit their job to provide the services you do.

    Add the replacement cost to Parts 1 and 2.

  4. Do you have any savings or life insurance through a current employer?
    Most employers offer a life insurance policy for full-time employees. You should participate in those policy offerings. But most only provide 1–3 times your current salary.

    It's likely the coverage isn't enough for what you'll need. Also, if you leave that job, you probably lose the coverage.

    Subtract your existing life insurance from your determined policy amount.

A quick internet search will provide several options for life insurance calculators that will ask you questions and calculate numbers to give you a good estimate how much coverage you may need.

Common Life Insurance Mistakes

With so many options, choosing life insurance can feel like a complex decision. Read on for a few mistakes to avoid.

Immediately Opting for a No-Exam Policy
No-exam policies have faster approval times and are generally easier to get. But you could pay a much higher premium. This is because the insurance company knows less about your health and is therefore taking on a higher risk by insuring you.

Here's when you should consider a no-exam policy:

  • You are older or in poorer health and won't qualify for a traditional policy.

  • You've been denied coverage in the past.

  • You need quick coverage for a divorce or business loan.

Rushing Into a Purchase
Some people who quote online and are contacted by an agent feel pressured to purchase a policy right away. But it might not be the best option for them. This can happen specifically if they don't do their research ahead of time.

There two types of life insurance agents.

  • Captive Agents
    Work for one insurance company. They are not able to quote you with different companies. Their company might not offer the type of policy or specific coverage you need because every life insurance company is different.

  • Independent Agents
    These agents typically represent several insurance companies, or carriers. They can quote with different carriers and sell products that are best for you and your budget.

Independent agents often have a significant understanding of life insurance, the market, and the products that are available to you. So you may find it easier or better suited to work with one of these agents.

Purchasing One Policy
Sometimes you need a larger amount of coverage while you're younger, but those needs lessen as you age. Layering several policies together might be a better option than purchasing one large policy.

Perhaps you need $1 million in coverage for 10 years, but your coverage needs are different for a full 20 years. Instead of buying one large policy, you can purchase a 10-year policy for $500,000 and a 20-year policy for $500,000.

That way, you have $1 million in total coverage for 10 years, but you won't have that full coverage for all 20 years. This could save you money on monthly premiums.

How to Get a Quote

Most companies offer you the ability to either request a quote or get a quote online. These quotes are subject to change based on the answers to your application questions and/or results of your medical exam.

Request a Quote Online
You can enter and submit basic contact information to request a quote. The information is provided to a life insurance agent who will follow up with you via phone or email (depending on your preference).

They will ask questions like:

  • Why you need life insurance
  • What kind of coverage you are looking for
  • How long you need coverage
  • Other general informational policy questions

Once they get all the information, they will get quotes from different companies that best fit your needs.

Get an Online Quote
To get started, you will answer questions about:

  • Your gender
  • Date of birth
  • Height and weight
  • Coverage amount you are considering
  • Other basic health questions

You will have to do this for every company you are considering. Once you submit the information, you will either be emailed or immediately shown a quote.

Talk to an Agent
You could go solely through an insurance agent. You'll provide them with all of your contact and health information and they request the quotes for you. With this option, you don't have to do anything online or yourself.

Before getting a quote, calculate how much coverage you think you need by following the steps shown above. You will also want to know some general medical information such as height, weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

Purchasing a Policy

You'll submit an application for the policy once you decide which quote and company is right for you. You'll be asked to answer questions like your age, marital status, occupation, and basic health history.

Most companies require a medical exam to gather additional health information in order to better assess your risk. Keep reading to learn more about the exam.

With an Exam

Once you apply, you will receive a call from a company representative or an email with instructions on how to complete your medical exam.

The medical exam verifies the information you gave about your health is accurate. They will record your medical history, take blood pressure, and do a simple blood test to test for diseases, drug use, cholesterol and glucose levels, etc.

Once you complete the exam and the results are received by the insurance company, they will determine your risk. Your risk determines if they will approve your application and how much your premium is.

If your exam results are poor, you could either be denied or have to pay more per month. If you're denied, you will not have a policy through that company. You will either have to apply with a different company or apply for a no-exam policy.

If you're approved, your policy will go immediately into effect.

Without an Exam

Some companies offer the option to bypass the medical exam, which typically means underwriting decisions are quicker. But it also means premiums are more expensive.

Consider a no-exam policy if you:

  • Have a chronic condition or illness
  • Are a smoker
  • Are elderly
  • Have a dangerous job or hobby
  • Were previously denied coverage

The two types of non-exam policies are Guaranteed Issue and Simplified Issue.

  1. Guaranteed Issue
    This is generally the most expensive policy. Underwriters on guaranteed issue life insurance policies do not get to see your medical records, plus you're skipping a medical exam. This means the insurance company knows little about the risk your policy would present.

    When you apply, the insurance company will ask you a variety of generic, yes/no questions like:
    • Do you smoke or use tobacco?
    • Are you currently residing in a hospital?
    • Do you have HIV or AIDS?
    • Have you been declared terminally ill?

    Based on your answers, the company will decide whether to insure you. Typically, underwriting is completed and coverage is obtained within 24–48 hours.

    If approved, your policy will have a graded death benefit. This means if you were to pass away within the first two or three years of owning the policy, your beneficiary would only receive a refund on the premiums you paid, plus interest.

    If you live beyond three years and continue to pay the premium on the policy, your beneficiary would qualify for the full death benefit amount.

  2. Simplified Issue
    While this policy is typically not as expensive, it still costs more than medically underwritten policies. Underwriters will ask more thorough questions and have access to your medical records during a simplified issue application process. Their questions are meant to be more in-depth and telling of your health and medical conditions.

    You still do not take a medical exam. But you may not be approved for coverage depending on your answers to the questions and your medical records.

    If the underwriter doesn't request your medical records, you are typically approved for the coverage and the policy goes into effect. If records are requested, it can take longer to be approved.

Knowing average monthly premium rates will be helpful when you're getting quotes. Keep reading to learn what some of the top companies are charging.

Top Life Insurance Companies

These are the Top 10 Writers of Individual Life Insurance by Direct Premiums Written in 2017 according to the Insurance Information Institute. When researching your different options, you can start by looking into and quoting with these companies.

CompanyPremiums Written (in Millions)Market Share
Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.$10,488,2148.2%
New York Life Insurance Group$7,416,4515.8%
Lincoln Financial Group$6,804,9635.3%
Prudential Financial Inc.$5,754,8094.5%
Mass Mutual Life Insurance Co.$5,741,4524.5%
John Hancock Life Insurance Co.$4,593,4323.6%
State Farm Mutual$4,488,0363.5%
MetLife Inc.$3,728,8752.9%
Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America$3,415,7972.7%

Bottom Line

Life insurance provides financial coverage for you and your loved ones when you die. Term is an inexpensive type of coverage that insures you for a set period of time. Often, that means the years you need it most.

Talk to an independent life insurance agent if you have questions about your coverage needs or how to purchase a policy.

More from CreditDonkey:

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