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How to know if you need to buy your own life insurance

Your employer may offer life insurance, but you should get additional coverage in these situations.

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If you're lucky enough to receive a life insurance benefit from your employer, you might consider the matter settled. But that policy probably isn't enough to adequately cover your needs as defined by most insurance industry experts.

"Any life insurance is better than no life insurance policy," says Seattle-based certified financial planner and president of CEG Life Insurance Services Daniel Adams. "But having said that, if you can qualify elsewhere and you don't have other health problems or concerns, it's rarely going to be enough."

Employer-provided policies usually provide you coverage equaling one year of your salary, according to financial services company Securian. But this may not be enough to help your financial dependents maintain their lifestyle after you're gone.

While some experts suggest 10 times your salary as a rule of thumb for how much life insurance you need, Adams suggests calculating your own ideal coverage. "How much, if you were to pass away, does your family need on an annual basis, and for how long?" he says. "That's just a simple math equation."

Here are several situations where you should consider looking beyond your office for a life insurance plan.

You're early in your career

Younger people tend to think they don't need life insurance, but buying a policy early in life is a financially smart move to make.

That's because (in general) the younger you are, the cheaper your life insurance premiums. "If you're at a young age and [have] a healthy lifestyle, it's much cheaper than even if you wait a few years," Adams says. "Those prices are going to go up dramatically."

According to data from insurance comparison site Policygenius, the typical 25-year-old male will pay $39.48 a month for a $500,000, 30-year term policy, while the typical 35-year-old will pay $46.42 for the same policy — a 16% increase. By age 45, that rate increases to $105.07 per month, or 77% more.

And, if you're early in your career, there's also a good chance that you'll be moving jobs as your career progresses. "If you leave your job, whether that's of your own free will or you get laid off, you lose that coverage," Adams says.

When searching for your own coverage, a great starting point is with CNBC Select's top life insurance companies. Our overall top pick is Northwestern Mutual, which offers a variety of policy types and is rated highly for customer satisfaction.

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance

  • Cost

    The best way to estimate your costs is to request a quote

  • App available


  • Policy highlights

    As the largest life insurer by market share in the U.S., Northwestern Mutual is an established choice with a proven record. And, it offers a number of types of policies across the country. 

You'd like to have a family someday

When you're young, single and without any financial dependents, you may not spend a lot of time sitting around thinking about your life insurance coverage. But as you start to take on more responsibilities in life, you should start reassessing whether the life insurance policy you had at age 23 will still do the job 10 or 15 years from now.

"If you're just starting out in your career, you're likely looking forward to getting married, having kids, and buying a house," Adams says. "As you go through those stages, your needs are going to go up, and likely, whatever it is through work, it's not going to be enough."

Assuming you're fairly certain about wanting a family, it's cheaper to buy a policy now rather than wait. Some term life insurance policies offer options to those with changing needs in the future. Guardian, one of CNBC Select's top picks for life insurance, allows you to convert some term policies to whole life insurance as plans firm up and your needs change.

Guardian Life Insurance

  • Cost

    The best way to estimate your costs is to request a quote

  • App available


  • Policy highlights

    Guardian offers a variety of policies, including term, whole and universal. Guardian offers term policies that can be converted into whole or universal life policies. 


  • A++ AM Best financial strength rating


  • Ranks slightly below other top picks for customer satisfaction
  • Policies must be purchased through a financial professional
Why whole life insurance is good for the whole family

While term life insurance can expire with no payout to your family if you outlive the term, whole life insurance policies provide your dependents with payouts into the future. These policies also earn cash value that can be borrowed against or used to build an inheritance for children.

You don't have any major health problems

If you don't have any major health conditions, it might be worth buying your own life insurance for two reasons.

Getting a policy while you're in good health will make coverage cheaper since potential health complications could always spring up. Getting it while you're healthy could also mean you qualify for more coverage. "You could always qualify for more life insurance now than you will be able to as you get older and potentially in worse health," Adams says.

Sometimes, employers offer the option to buy more coverage through their plan. If you're considering buying more coverage through your employer than what's offered for free, it might be better to get your own policy if you don't have health concerns.

Workplace coverage is generally not medically underwritten, meaning no medical exam is involved. But no-exam life insurance is usually more expensive, costing up to twice as much as insurance requiring an exam. "If you're healthy and you're paying for insurance through your employer, you most likely can get a much lower premium by buying insurance outside of your employer," Adams says.

While it's better to have some coverage through work than no coverage at all, your employer's life insurance should be seen as a starting point.

Bottom line

Getting life insurance is cheaper when you're younger and healthier. Taking advantage of that now can help you qualify for more coverage, and get it at a more affordable rate. If you think you'll want it in the future, buying coverage now could help you save.

Catch up on Select’s in-depth coverage of personal financetech and toolswellness and more, and follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter to stay up to date.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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