Our generation wasn’t really taught about life insurance. Of course, most of us grew up seeing Alex Trebek’s insurance commercials, but his important message was targeting our parents and grandparents, not us kids.
Before my son was born, I didn’t realize there was a difference between life insurance and health insurance. It sounds silly when I look back now, but I thought that if you paid health insurance and didn’t get sick, it rolled over into a life insurance plan. It would be amazing if the world really worked that way.
Twenty years and two major family deaths later, I know how critical life insurance is. So let’s get into it. I made mistakes, but hopefully, you won’t make the same ones. Ahead, we’ll explore some myths about insurance and how I navigated through them to get myself a solid policy.
Myth No. 1: All life insurance is the same
All life insurance policies are about taking care of your loved ones after you die, but not all policies are the same.
When I got hired by my current employer, I was offered a life insurance option. I planned to take it because it seemed like a good idea, but I didn’t really understand what I was buying into.
When my supervisor sent a reminder email about enrollment paperwork to all the new hires, I sent back a panicked text saying I was completely clueless. He sent the cry/laugh emoji and said we’d discuss in the staff meeting. He understood my main goals: keep my house in our family, and pay for college for my son.
I was overwhelmed when he explained the difference between term life insurance (affordable, has an expiration date), whole life insurance (expensive, lasts as long as you do, builds cash value), and final expense insurance (small scale, whole life insurance that covers one-time death expenses), but I understood there were different options.
My company offered term life insurance, so that’s what I bought. If you can afford it, you’re allowed to have both term and whole life at the same time.
Myth No. 2: Everyone pays the same amount for life insurance
While any amount of coverage is a good start, there is no magic number when it comes to buying life insurance.
When I was looking at the different coverage amounts offered by my employer, I tried to calculate how much it would cost to pay for a funeral, four years of college tuition, and a Kentucky mortgage. I broke that down into the number of years I thought I would reasonably live, and subtracted a few years just in case I was hit by a bus.
It was an equally morbid and futile effort.
Back then, there weren’t as many insurance calculators to plug in your information and figure out how much coverage you need. Now, though, there are simple formulas to help ensure you’re saving enough.
As a relatively healthy woman in my thirties, I pay $26.50 per check for a $750,000 policy, which comes out to $689 each year. My term is for 20 years. If you’re a 50-year-old smoker, your costs would be higher.
Consider the amount of time you need (term), the amount you need (value), and the amount you pay per month (premium) when you’re choosing a policy.
Myth No. 3: Life insurance isn’t important if you’re young/healthy
Ten years ago, my mother was battling cancer and struggling to keep up with hospital debt. When she died on Easter in 2010, she was 42 with no life insurance. I am the oldest of my three siblings, and none of us had ever purchased insurance — life or health.
Paying for her funeral, obituary, cremation, and headstone was overwhelming. Even though she had been sick for a while, we were completely unprepared to deal with the amount of money we needed. It put a strain on our family and I had to postpone my dreams of owning a home. Life happens, and life insurance can help the people we care about.
For me, life insurance is about my family’s legacy. I don’t want my son to have to drop out of school to pay for my funeral. As a homeowner, I want to build generational wealth. Plus, I’m a single mother, so if my income suddenly disappears, it will be financially devastating.
Term life insurance gives my family a cushion without breaking the bank, and when the term expires, I can convert it to a permanent policy to cover the rest of my lifetime. A little investment in your future can go a long way.