How to find affordable life insurance

Buying cheap life insurance doesn’t have to mean skimping on coverage. Knowing how companies set rates means you can take the right steps to finding an affordable life insurance policy.

Colin Lalley 1600

Colin Lalley

Published February 22, 2018

Life insurance is a crucial part of a financial safety net. But in addition to getting the best life insurance coverage, you also want to find an affordable life insurance plan. It may seem like there has to be a tradeoff between finding a cheap policy and a comprehensive one, but there are things you can do to help you find the most affordable policy.

In this article:

Buy life insurance early

Life insurance isn’t usually a top priority for young people, since they don’t have mortgages, dependents or the same financial responsibilities that older people have. But one big way to help yourself get the cheapest life insurance is to buy early.

Life insurance is almost always cheaper the younger you are when you buy it. Rates rise an average of 8-10% every year you put off applying. Plus, when you buy young, you lock in premium rates for the entire duration of the policy. That means you’ll be paying the same low insurance premiums decades later.

The following table demonstrates how the monthly cost of a term life insurance policy increases as you age, based on three coverage amounts. These numbers reflect the average monthly premiums for men. Average rates for women are generally lower.

Average life insurance rates by age

AGE$500,000$750,000$1,000,000
30$25.97$36.25$43.94
35$27.26$38.18$47.37
40$36.68$52.28$65.32
45$58.22$84.75$108.15
50$87.81$129.13$167.06
55$140.95$208.85$257.14
60$233.36$347.46$456.42

This explainer gives an in-depth look at life insurance rates by age and the benefits of buying young.

Shopping for life insurance over 50

Even though you’ll get the best rates if you buy when you’re younger, you may still need to buy insurance later on in life. While it will inevitably be more expensive, it’s still possible to find low-cost life insurance, especially if you’re healthy.

One way to find an affordable insurance policy is to look for a smaller benefit amount and shorter term length than you would if you were buying in your 30s. Now, this doesn’t mean you’re giving up the coverage you need in order to save money. Because you have fewer, if any, dependents, you likely just don’t need as much coverage as you would have needed decades earlier.

So consider a smaller policy, such as one that lasts just until your mortgage is up. This guide will help you determine what length of benefit you actually need.

You can also look into types of no-medical-exam life insurance, like simplified issue or guaranteed issue life insurance. These allow you to apply for a life insurance plan without getting a medical exam. They can be more expensive than a typical term policy, but they’re still the best option for some older or less-healthy applicants because they have less-stringent health qualifications.

If you’re an older applicant, start your search by learning more about the best life insurance for seniors.

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Buy a term life policy

In almost every case, term life insurance is the most affordable option. It’s also the most straightforward type of life insurance; it provides only a death benefit, without any additional investment components, and it expires after a set period of time.

Because you can choose whichever term length works for your situation, you only pay for the insurance coverage you want. If you’re in your mid-30s, you could realistically take out a 20-year, $1 million term life policy and pay insurance premiums of about $45 per month.

Learn more about term life insurance rates.

Affordable whole life insurance

Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance, which means it lasts for as long as you continue paying your premiums, with no expiration date. It’s also a type of cash-value life insurance with an investment option that gains interest over time.

A whole or permanent life policy can be a valuable tool for some people, especially those who have complex financial situations and would benefit from the cash value. However, the investment component and maintenance fees make whole life insurance rates up to six to 10 times as expensive as term life.

If you do want a whole life policy, the best way to find an affordable policy is to be smart about the coverage you need, the company you choose, and your overall health.

Long-term care insurance

The majority of people who turn 65 will need some form of long-term care and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, estimates an average cost of $138,000. So while a death benefit can help your loved ones after you pass, you may also need to pay for care before you pass.

That’s where long-term care (LTC) insurance comes in. LTC insurance helps you pay the costs associated with chronic illnesses, like Alzheimer’s, that leave you unable to care for yourself. LTC can cover nursing home costs and at-home care if you’re unable to live alone.

LTC insurance can be costly so there are a couple of things to consider. For starters, ask about a long-term care rider as you look for your regular life policy. Some companies offer standalone LTC plans but they are usually more expensive than a rider and it’s harder to qualify for them.

The other advice in this article also applies to getting LTC. In particular, you can save significantly by getting coverage for LTC in your 50s or earlier. By the time you get into your 60s, adding LTC to your insurance will cost you thousands more.

Supplemental group life insurance

Another way to keep a personal life insurance policy affordable is to supplement it with employer-provided coverage.

Group coverage through a workplace is a common benefit that you can get at little or no cost. The downside is that it usually won’t provide enough coverage for all your needs and it’s tied to your employment.

But while an employer-provided group policy isn’t enough on its own, it can supplement a private policy. If you’re able to get, for instance, $50,000 worth of coverage for free, you can consider lowering your private policy (and thus your monthly premiums) slightly to make it more affordable.

Here’s a more detailed look at the benefits and drawbacks of using group life insurance.

Get the right amount of coverage

It’s easy to overestimate the amount of life insurance you need and buy too much, raising the cost considerably. But it’s also easy to underestimate how much you need, potentially leaving your beneficiaries on the hook. A good rule of thumb is that the insurance you need is equal to 10-12x your salary.

You can estimate how much coverage that means for you by using a free life insurance calculator. You can also crunch the numbers on your own if you prefer.

Either way, make sure to consider all of your financial obligations when choosing a benefit amount and term length. For example, take the following into account:

  • Existing debt, like a mortgage or student loans
  • Future college plans (for you, a spouse, or a child)
  • Dependents, including children and aging parents
  • Any financial cushion you want to leave behind
  • Final expenses, like end-of-life medical care or funeral costs

For more guidance on what to consider, read this page about how to calculate how much life insurance you need.

Consider the ladder strategy

One tricky situation when it comes to how much life insurance you need is that your coverage needs decrease over time: your mortgage debt decreases, you need to provide for kids for less time, and so on.

By using the ladder strategy, you can get the coverage you need while ensuring you’re not paying for coverage you won’t need later in life. With the ladder strategy, you buy multiple policies of varying coverage amounts and term lengths. As the decades pass, some policies will expire, and at the end you’ll be paying for a small policy that covers your current needs and nothing extra. Policyholders can spend up to 50% less on life insurance by laddering smaller policies versus buying one larger policy.

Learn more about the life insurance ladder strategy and talk to a licensed expert to find out if it’s right for you.

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Understand the underwriting process

Life insurance companies largely set the price of policies through the underwriting process. This is where they determine how risky an applicant is to insure by using:

  • Your current health and medical history. This is done primarily through a paramedical exam and a request for documents from your doctor.
  • Motor vehicle reports that show your driving record.
  • A phone interview with you to find out if you have any dangerous habits (like smoking) or hobbies (like rock climbing).

At the end, the underwriter will assign a classification to you that determines your policy cost.

There isn’t anything you can do to change what happens in the underwriting process, but knowing beforehand what insurance companies look for can help you take steps to lower your insurance costs. For example, a health condition like diabetes can result in more expensive life insurance. But with certain steps to manage your condition, like taking the proper medication or treatments, insurance carriers may lower your premiums.

Before you apply for life insurance, help yourself by taking a minute to learn more about what happens during the life insurance underwriting process.

Choose the best life insurance company for your situation

Life insurance companies use your health to determine your policy cost, but not all carriers treat health conditions the same way. One common example is that certain companies offer better rates for former or current smokers. That may also include better life insurance rates for marijuana smokers.

Certain companies also offer better rates for people of certain ages, military personnel, high-net-worth individuals, recovering alcoholics, those who recently lost weight, people with high blood pressure, or individuals with certain types of cancer.

These differences between companies are why the best life insurance company for you is usually the one that is most accommodating to your health situation. Going with the wrong one can cost you thousands of dollars over the decades you own the policy.

To see which companies offer the best and the most affordable life insurance coverage based on specific factors, like your age, lifestyle, or health circumstances, see our page on the best life insurance companies.

Compare quotes

Taking all of the above into account — coverage amount, type of policy, company differences — can feel overwhelming. But if you want the best insurance rates, it’s also crucial to compare quotes for different plans. Comparing life insurance quotes can save you up to 40%.

The easiest way to quickly compare quotes from multiple insurance carriers is with an automated process like Policygenius. Otherwise you will need to do all of the above — figure out what type of insurance you need, the death benefit size, which company is best for a given health situation, and more — and then go to each company individually, write down their offers, and compare manually. And if you do it manually, you’ll still need to apply through the insurance carrier, another thing Policygenius helps you do quickly and without putting you through a confusing online application.

Don’t be afraid to use a broker

Knowing how to get an affordable life insurance plan is important, but so is recognizing some myths about saving money.

It’s untrue that you can save money by buying directly through an insurance company. Using a life insurance agent or broker does not come with additional costs. Life insurance rates are highly regulated, so the same policy cannot be offered at a discount by some parties or marked up by others.

You will pay the same amount for an individual policy whether you buy from the carrier or use an independent broker. Additionally, independent brokers (like Policygenius) can help guide you through the process and answers questions you may have about how certain policies or companies compare.

We’ve also debunked a few other common myths about life insurance to make sure you understand what you’re getting with your policy.

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Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.