Life insurance ownership has been on the decline for years — less than 60% of Americans have a policy today, compared to 77% in 1989.
While ownership varies a bit by generation -- about a third of millennials have coverage versus fully half of boomers -- so do the reasons behind purchasing (or not purchasing) a policy.
Millennials think it’s important but don’t have it
Although the vast majority (86%) of millennials believe most people need life insurance, only 52% have a policy, according to a study by Life Happens and LIMRA. Why? Some eight out of 10 of them say they’ve got other financial priorities right now, including:
- Cost of living expenses like rent, mortgage, groceries, electricity, etc. (61%)
- Expenses such as Internet, cable, cell phone (57%)
- Activities such as going out to eat, movies, shopping (38%)
- Saving for vacation (23%)
It may be that millennials haven’t done their research. About three-quarters of them say life insurance is too expensive, but eight in 10 overestimate the cost, according to the survey.
Forty percent thought it was five times more expensive than it is, saying they thought the yearly premium would be more than $1,000 when it actually costs $160. This would be for a $250,000 term life policy for a healthy, non-smoking 30-year-old. In another analysis, a 20-year term policy for $500,000 was determined to cost just $26.20 per month for a healthy, non-smoking 30-year-old. (That’s about $314 a year.)
And health-minded millennials may be able to save even more. Compared to other generations, millennials are more likely to define being healthy as exercising and eating right versus just not being sick, so they’re ripe to benefit from life insurance companies that offer discounts for meeting health-related goals.
Millennials may also be simply waiting for the right moment to buy coverage. Among the reasons that people in this age cohort haven’t purchased a policy: No one has approached them about it, or they haven’t gotten around to it.
On average, millennials with life insurance only have about $100,000 of protection, which would cover about a fifth of their income needs, according to New York Life.
Gen X may have it, but may still be underinsured
Generation X has more coverage than millennials, and that makes sense — they’re older, making more money and more likely to be deep into family life. However, the average Gen Xer with life insurance has approximately $272,000 in coverage, according to the New York Life survey, which would cover about half of their income needs.
When clients aren’t feeling any urgency to get coverage, financial planners often walk them through the risks of not having it — and even people in great shape financially realize that it’s an important thing to add to their portfolio.
“We run the numbers and say, ‘Look, if you do what you’re doing now, you’ll be okay, but if [your spouse] doesn’t come home tomorrow, your family is wiped out,’” said Robert DeHollander, a financial planner in Greenville, S.C. “If something does happen, and you don’t have [coverage], it’s life changing for your heirs. And for $50 a month, you could eliminate that risk completely.”
Baby boomers have coverage, but often may not still need it
Baby boomers with life insurance have, on average, approximately $190,000 in coverage, but their needs are fewer, so that policy would cover about 63% of their income needs.
“You could use insurance to cover a lot of your estate tax payments or things of that nature,” said Thomas Rindahl, a financial planner in Scottsdale, Ariz. “The necessity to supplement the family for a lost wage isn’t as important at that point for many of them, because they’ve built up a sizable amount of savings and tend not to have a lot of debt.”
Maxime Rieman is Product Manager at ValuePenguin. Educating and assisting shoppers about financial products has been Rieman's focus, which led her to joining ValuePenguin, a consumer research and advice company based in New York. Previously, she was product marketing director at CoverWallet and launched the personal insurance team at NerdWallet.
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