How long should my life insurance coverage last?

Figuring out how long your life insurance should last is your first step to getting covered.

If you’re just starting out shopping for life insurance, the two key things you need to figure out are how much coverage you need and how long your coverage should last. We talk in depth about how how much coverage you need here; to figure out how long your coverage should last, read on!

In this article you’ll learn:

What does term length for life insurance mean?

There are two different kinds of life insurance: term life and whole life. How long is term life insurance versus whole? The difference is that whole life coverage lasts—you guessed it—your whole life, whereas term life covers you only for a set period of time and then expires. That period of time is called the term.

The “term length” is the policy’s duration. Most term life insurance policies last 10, 20 or 30 years, but can usually be sold in any five- or 10-year increment. For example, a 20-year term policy covers you for 20 years from date of purchase, as long as you keep paying the premiums. Likewise a 30-year term policy will cover you for 30 years. If you die during that time, your beneficiaries will receive a death benefit.

While it might seem you’d want coverage to last your whole life, term life is actually the best choice for 80%-90% of shoppers. See our article on term vs. whole life insurance to learn why.

So assuming you’re buying term life, how long should your coverage last? 10 years? 30 years? Everyone is different, but Policygenius makes it easy to calculate your coverage needs and find a policy that lasts as long as you need it to. The best way to think about it is to calculate your coverage needs and choose a term length based on your own unique situation. Here’s how:

Calculating your coverage length

The reason you need life insurance in the first place is that someone else depends on you for financial support—be it a child, spouse, or parent who cosigned a student loan and would be on the hook for the debt if you weren’t around to pay it.

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While it might seem you’d want coverage to last your whole life, term life is actually the best choice for 80%-90% of shoppers.

The term length of your life insurance policy should be about as long as you expect these loved ones to depend on your financial support:

  • Just had a kid? Congrats! You’ll want your coverage to last at least 18 years since junior will depend on you at least that long. And then there’s college. Better round up to 20. Think he or she might take a few years after graduating to land a job and become independent? Maybe a 25-year term policy is right for you.
  • Got married and just bought your first house? Awesome. You’ll probably want your term to last 30 years—the same as the mortgage. You don’t want your spouse to have to sell the house if you’re not around to help make mortgage payments.
  • On the other hand, if you just graduated with a small student loan and you’ve got an aggressive plan to pay off the debt, a five-year term policy might be all you need.

Do you need life insurance after 60? After 65? These questions are largely irrelevant. Instead, think of low long your financial obligations to loved ones will last.

Remember: the longer the term length, the more the policy will cost along the way. Monthly premiums for a 30-year policy will be higher than a 20-year policy. So if you pick a policy that far outlasts your financial obligations, not only will you be wasting money to pay for coverage you don’t really need when you’re older, you’ll be paying more than you need to in the policy’s early years as well.

Genius tip: Wondering about using a life insurance policy that builds cash value later in life as a way to leave an inheritance? Most of the time, you’re better off funding a more traditional investment vehicle like an IRA or Roth IRA instead of a whole life insurance policy. Learn why here.

At what age should you buy life insurance?

Should you get life insurance in your 20s? 30s? Just like there’s no right term length, there’s no single right age to buy life insurance. It all depends on your situation.

For instance, plenty of people in their 20s with cosigned student debt and young children should be protected with life insurance. However, people in their 30s or 40s without loved ones to support financially (or without debts that could get passed to loved ones) may not need life insurance at all. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for when you should get life insurance.

However, if you do have someone depending on you for financial support, you should consider getting it as soon as possible, for a couple of reasons:

  1. Life insurance rates go up with age. You can expect your premiums to go up by 8%-10% every year you put off getting it. The sooner you buy it, the larger the death benefit you'll be able to afford.
  2. If you’ve got financial dependents and you’re not covered, they’re at risk. Life is unpredictable, which is the whole point. The sooner they’re protected, the better.

Next steps

Once you’ve determined that you need life insurance and decided on a term length, you’re ready to calculate your coverage needs. Visit our life insurance calculator page, and when you’re ready Policygenius can pull term life insurance quotes from the nation’s top insurers tailored to your specific situation.

Read more

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How much life insurance do you need?

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Life insurance shopping for spouses

Spouses can buy separate policies or one joint policy. Learn which is the best option, even for stay-at-home spouses.

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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.


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