5 term life insurance myths that can cost you

Learn the basics about term life plus what's fact vs. fiction.

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Key takeaways

  • Life insurance is a way to help financially protect your loved ones in the event of your death.
  • Falling for certain misconceptions—like life insurance is only for parents—can hurt you.

Two truths and a lie (in that order): Life insurance can be hard to talk about. Imagining worst-case scenarios is kind of a downer. It's better to sidestep an awkward conversation now and figure it out later.

Don't put it off. Find time to read up on how life insurance works and the different types of policies you can consider. Then get the facts on the most common myths about term life insurance that you need to know today. Because knowledge is power—and peace of mind.

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What is life insurance?

A life insurance policy pays your beneficiaries (a.k.a. the people you choose to receive the benefits) when you die. Typically, that comes in the form of one lump sum from the insurance company, and it's usually income tax-free.1 Insurance companies tend to make these payments within 14 to 60 days2—without the delays often associated with settling a will or estate.

Generally, life insurance plans are split into 2 categories: term and permanent. We'll cover term life insurance here, but for more information about permanent life insurance read, What you should know about life insurance.

Term insurance

Term life insurance means that the policy covers you over a set "term" or defined number of years, such as 10, 15, or 20 years.

These policies have a fixed premium (a.k.a. your monthly payment) during their term period, making them easy to budget around. After the term period ends, you can choose to continue the coverage, but the premiums increase significantly and may change every year.

People often choose term insurance because it provides a specific payout and it's much less expensive than permanent life insurance. For instance, you might select $500,000 worth of coverage to make sure your spouse has enough to pay off the mortgage if something were to happen to you. You can also time your coverage to match a particular need, such as a 20-year coverage for a child's upbringing. Once your child is no longer financially dependent, you may find you don't need as much coverage. Keep in mind, though, that after the policy term ends, you can continue your coverage, but your premiums might rise substantially.

You can purchase individual term life on your own or a group policy through your employer. Individual policies let you fine-tune the amount of coverage and the length of term, but usually require a medical checkup. That's because insurance companies want to assess your risk factors and likelihood that they'll need to make a payment to your loved ones. Group policies, on the other hand, are more "cookie cutter" and are generally set for a predetermined coverage and premium. Unless you opt for additional coverage, they rarely require a health assessment. And group policies rarely go with you if you change your job. It can be a smart idea to take advantage of any group policies your employer may have, and supplement that coverage with an individual policy.

For more information read: Term insurance: What young families need to know

5 myths about term life insurance

True or false? Many common beliefs about term life insurance aren't totally accurate. If you guessed "true," you got it. The industry has been changing rapidly, and what might have been a fact 10 or even 5 years ago isn't necessarily the case today.

Myth 1: Life insurance is too expensive
It may be more affordable than you think. In a recent survey by the Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association (LIMRA), 80% of people between ages 25 and 40 overestimated the cost of life insurance—with 50% overestimating the actual cost by 3×.3 Policy prices vary from person to person, so it's smart to shop around and see what your costs may be. The average yearly cost of a $500,000 20-year term insurance policy for 30-year-old female is $252.4

To learn what the price of term insurance could be for you, check out our term quote tool.

Myth 2: I don't need life insurance until I'm older, or become a parent

You also don't have to wait to apply for term life insurance until you're a parent. Your beneficiary doesn't have to be a child—it could be your partner or anyone else who relies on you. You can easily change your beneficiary if your family situation changes, and you can always list other family members.

Additionally, applying for life insurance sooner than later could save you money in premiums. That's because one factor in how much you pay—or qualifying for coverage at all—is your health. As you age, your risk for developing certain conditions increases. Nearly 40% of those who hold life insurance policies wish they'd bought it at a younger age, according to LIMRA.5

Myth 3: It's a chore to apply for term life insurance

Not anymore, it is actually easy to apply online. Online accessibility was accelerated by the pandemic, which created change by trying to eliminate or reduce the human interactions required to apply for a policy, like requiring a medical exam. In the past, you may have needed to see a doctor for a thorough health assessment and then meet with an insurance representative to sign a term life application. But now many (and sometimes all) of those steps are no longer necessary. These days, applying for term life insurance can be as easy as answering questions on your phone.

Myth 4: Life insurance offered by my employer is enough
Many employers offer a life insurance policy, but the coverage may not be enough for your family. The median workplace life insurance coverage is just one year's salary.6 Of US households that rely upon workplace life insurance coverage, 48% say their families would struggle financially in less than 6 months should a wage earner die unexpectedly.6 And this isn't to mention that if your employment situation changes you could lose your group coverage altogether. Instead of relying solely on workplace life insurance, consider it as a supplement to other coverage to help make sure your family is protected. It's important to calculate how much coverage your family may need, but one simple guideline is to aim for 5 to 10 times your annual salary and bonus.

Myth 5: I only need life insurance if I'm working
If you're not employed outside the home, it's still important to consider life insurance. Although life insurance is typically thought of as a replacement for lost income, it could also be necessary to pay for childcare and household work in your absence. If you have a partner or spouse, plan your coverage together with your family in mind to make sure you're both in the best position possible.

Bottom line on term life insurance

Term life insurance may be more affordable than you think—and offer peace of mind for your loved ones in the long run. Consider getting a term insurance quote or read more about navigating life milestones. If you're ready to dig into how term life insurance might fit into your bigger financial picture, visit our term life insurance landing zone.

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What families need to know about term insurance

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