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When Should I Get Life Insurance? A Guide to Find the Answer

March 08, 2023
Our goal is to educate and advise on life insurance options, so you can feel confident in making the right choice, whether that’s through Quotacy or somewhere else. To ensure we provide accurate and trustworthy information, our writers follow strict editorial standards.

The right time to buy life insurance varies from person to person. In general, if anyone relies on you financially or if your death would cause a negative financial impact on others, then you need life insurance. 

If you’re wondering, ‘When should I get life insurance?’ It’s likely you already need it. 

In this guide, you’ll learn when to buy coverage and how much it may cost.

Table of Contents

Why Get Life Insurance in the First Place?

When you buy life insurance, you designate beneficiaries to receive the policy’s payout if you die while it’s active.

Policies are split between two main categories: term and permanent life insurance. What are their essential differences?

  • Term life insurance is temporary, lasting 10-40 years, depending on the term length you buy. If you die during this time, your beneficiaries receive a payout.
  • Permanent life insurance lasts your entire life. Therefore, your beneficiaries receive a death benefit check no matter when you die.

Term life insurance costs much less than permanent life insurance, which makes it the best choice for most families. Term life insurance can often be converted to whole life once it ends.

Here are some of the most common reasons why people buy life insurance:

  • Financial protection for your children as they grow up
  • Financial protection as you’re paying off your mortgage
  • Financial protection for your spouse/partner as you’re saving up for retirement
  • Pay off debt your loved ones may inherit upon your death
  • Pay for your college education even if you’re not present to see them graduate
  • Funding for buy-sell agreements
  • Collateral for small business loans
  • Pay for funeral and end-of-life expenses
  • Pay estate taxes
  • Make charitable contributions

Learn more about who needs life insurance and why.

When Should I Get Life Insurance?

Your age heavily influences the cost of a life insurance policy. The younger you are, the cheaper it is. 

Term life insurance has fixed premiums. This means you lock in the rate for your entire term when you buy the policy. So, take advantage of low rates by purchasing a policy as soon as you need it. How much life insurance you should get depends on various factors, so it’s important to do your homework.

Another reason to get life insurance sooner rather than later is the likelihood that you may qualify for life insurance that doesn’t require a medical exam. While the life insurance medical exam isn’t invasive or time-consuming, it’s a nice perk if you don’t have to bother with it.

So, when do you need life insurance? 

Not sure how much term life insurance you need?

Life Insurance Needs and Costs By Age

Life is constantly changing. As we age, financial goals come into focus, life stabilizes, health can shift, etc.

To help you get a sense of your current and future life insurance needs and potential costs, let’s explore the role life insurance can play in each decade of life.

Life Insurance in Your 20s

In your 20s, life insurance rates are very inexpensive. They’re probably comparable to your Netflix and Hulu fees.

Young adults are typically quite healthy, which makes them attractive applicants with high chances of approval. However, life can change in an instant.

If you’re starting a family or want to soon, now may be a perfect time to lock in a cheap rate. And because these are likely the lowest rates you’d ever qualify for, consider buying as much as you can afford.

How Much It Costs to Buy Life Insurance in Your 20s

Monthly rates for a $250,000 term policy for a healthy non-smoking male
Term LengthAge 20Age 29
10-Year $9.50$9.54
15-Year $9.99$10.05
20-Year $12.08$12.27
25-Year $15.61$15.54
30-Year $17.47$17.72
35-Year $20.79$21.45
40-Year $24.75$28.31

Reasons to buy life insurance in your 20s:

  • Term rates are cheap
  • You have debt that someone may become responsible for
  • You share a life with someone who depends on you
  • You have children or plan to soon

Life Insurance in Your 30s

Many 30-somethings need life insurance. In your 30s, you’ve likely settled into a career, have a long-term partner, and, if you want kids, you may have one or two by now.

A large percentage of your income goes toward your family’s standard of living and securing their future. So, what happens if you die unexpectedly?

It goes without saying that your unexpected death would cause your family immense grief. But also consider the financial impact it would have.

Life insurance helps protect against this. Should the worst happen, the policy’s death benefit can help pay for the mortgage, the cost of raising children, and pay debts.

How Much It Costs to Buy Life Insurance in Your 30s

Monthly rates for a $250,000 term policy for a healthy non-smoking male
Term LengthAge 30Age 39
10-Year $9.54$11.23
15-Year $10.06$12.43
20-Year $12.35$16.40
25-Year $15.62$22.94
30-Year $17.92$26.22
35-Year $21.69$32.50
40-Year $29.41$54.53

Reasons to buy life insurance in your 30s:

  • Term rates are affordable
  • You’re married/in a long-term relationship
  • You have young children dependent on you
  • You have a mortgage
  • You have shared debt
  • Your group coverage through work isn’t adequate

Life Insurance in Your 40s

If you’re in your 40s and don’t have life insurance yet, don’t wait much longer. The 40 age range is when life insurance rates begin to jump dramatically.

Health problems can start to creep in, raising life insurance rates.

A 30- or 40-year term may not be necessary at this stage in life. A 20-year term is probably the best option (cost-wise) and will provide financial protection for your loved ones until you reach retirement age.

How Much It Costs to Buy Life Insurance in Your 40s

Monthly rates for a $250,000 term policy for a healthy non-smoking male
Term LengthAge 40Age 49
10-Year $11.64$21.87
15-Year $12.94$27.97
20-Year $17.33$35.05
25-Year $24.21$53.00
30-Year $28.03$61.19
35-Year $34.73$101.06
40-Year $60.64Not available after age 45

Reasons to buy life insurance in your 40s

  • Buy before life insurance rates get too high
  • Your spouse/partner relies on you
  • Your children are still financially dependent
  • Your mortgage balance is significant
  • Your debt could become someone else’s responsibility
  • You have business needs

Life Insurance in Your 50s

If you’re in your 50s, life insurance is still attainable. But if you have health issues, expect to see some steep premiums.

The table below shares possible monthly pricing if you’re in excellent health and qualify for Preferred Plus rates.

How Much It Costs to Buy Life Insurance in Your 50s

Monthly rates for a $250,000 term policy for a healthy non-smoking male
Term LengthAge 50Age 59
10-Year $23.15$53.37
15-Year $30.14$71.07
20-Year $38.11$95.35
25-Year $57.82$177.14
30-Year $67.18Not available at age 59
35-Year $115.39Not available at age 59
40-Year Not available at age 50Not available at age 59

​However, because health issues can creep in as you age, I want to share what costs look like if your health is just average.

Monthly rates for a $250,000 term policy for a non-smoking male in average health
Term LengthAge 50Age 59
10-Year $43.76$90.55
15-Year $53.91$118.78
20-Year $67.55$164.44
25-Year $102.24$245.06
30-Year $123.13Not available
35-Year $166.07Not available
40-Year Not availableNot available

Term life insurance may not suit you if you’re in your 50s. It doesn’t last forever.

If you need life insurance until the day you die, permanent life insurance is necessary. However, permanent life insurance in your 50s will be much more expensive than term life insurance, so weigh the pros and cons.

Below are sample rates from two permanent options: guaranteed universal (GUL) and whole life insurance. GUL is essentially a term policy that provides lifelong coverage. Whole life insurance offers lifelong coverage and cash value accumulation.

Monthly rates for a $100,000 policy for a non-smoking male in average health
Product TypesAge 50Age 59
Guaranteed Universal Life Insurance$159.49$229.80
Whole Life Insurance (non-participating)$258.48$421.11

Reasons to buy life insurance in your 50s

  • You have a non-working partner who relies on your income
  • Your mortgage is taking longer to pay off than planned
  • You want to leave behind an inheritance
  • You have estate planning needs
  • You have aging parents relying on you
  • You want to leave money for final expenses

Life Insurance in Your 60s

As you reach your 60s, your life insurance options become more limited. The 30- and 40-year term lengths are no longer an option. Rates are going to be considerably higher.

At this stage in your life, perhaps you don’t need much life insurance. Is your mortgage paid off? Are your children independent? Do you have adequate emergency funds and retirement savings?

Consider your current financial situation and whether you need life insurance. The monthly premiums you save by not buying a policy may be used better elsewhere.

If you have confirmed you need life insurance, the table below provides quotes for someone in average health.

How Much It Costs to Buy Life Insurance in Your 60s

Monthly rates for a $250,000 term policy for an average non-smoking male
Term LengthAge 60Age 69
10-Year $98.84$277.72
15-Year $130.72$397.51
20-Year $182.84$563.31
25-Year $275.03Not available
Monthly rates for a $100,000 policy for a non-smoking male in average health
Product TypesAge 60Age 69
Guaranteed Universal Life Insurance$238.59$450.75
Whole Life Insurance (non-participating)$446.40$722.07

Reasons to buy life insurance in your 60s

  • You have debt you don’t want to leave your spouse/partner
  • You want to leave a financial cushion to supplement your partner’s retirement savings
  • You want to leave behind money for medical bills and final expenses

When Should You Get Term Life Insurance vs Whole?

Choosing the right type of life insurance is an important first step to buying a policy. Term and whole life insurance have many differences.

Differences between term and whole:

  • Coverage length: Term life provides temporary coverage lasting 10-40 years. Whole life insurance coverage is lifelong, meaning your beneficiary is guaranteed a payout.
  • Rates: Term life insurance rates are much cheaper than whole life.
  • Cash value growth: Whole life insurance has guaranteed cash value growth. Term life has no cash value.

No two people are alike, and we all have different life insurance needs. The key is getting a policy that meets your needs and is affordable long-term.

Reasons to Have Term Life Insurance

During your life, there are prime years in which you’re at your earning potential, funding others’ standard of living, and saving for retirement all at once.

It’s these same years when your unexpected death would cause the most financial devastation to your loved ones.

It’s why term life insurance is the most logical answer for people with families. You can afford to buy a large amount of coverage at a low cost.

If you were to die during these fragile years, the policy’s death benefit helps ensure your loved ones have money for your final expenses and can continue their standard of living.

Needs term life insurance can meet:

  • Costs of raising children: If you die unexpectedly, money from the policy can go towards your children’s needs, such as clothing, food, and education.
  • Mortgage balance: If you die unexpectedly, money from the policy can be used to pay the mortgage bills so your family can stay in their home.
  • Shared debt: If you have debt that would transfer to someone else upon your death, term life insurance can provide funds to cover the debt.
  • Dependent non-working spouse: If you’re the sole provider, term life insurance can protect your spouse through your working years.
  • Working spouse: If you and your partner both work, you both likely contribute to bills and expenses. If you die unexpectedly, they must pay these same bills on one income. Term life insurance can replace your income.
  • Business ownership: If you own a business, you have many responsibilities. Term life insurance can be used for many business needs, such as loan collateral and buy-sell agreements.

Use our interactive life insurance quoting tool below to compare quotes from the nation’s top carriers and see how much you could pay for life insurance.

Reasons to Have Whole Life Insurance

If you want life insurance to pay out no matter when you die, then you want permanent life insurance.

Whole life insurance is the most well-known type of permanent insurance.

Whole life insurance is too expensive for many families, which is why term life insurance is more common.

There are benefits to whole life insurance if you can afford the premiums though, such as guaranteed cash value accumulation and potential dividend earnings.

Needs whole life insurance can meet:

  • Lifelong dependents: If you have children with special needs or aging loved ones you’re financially responsible for, whole life insurance provides a guaranteed payout should you predecease them.
  • Estate planning: Wealthy individuals should consider using whole life insurance in estate planning. It provides the liquidity needed when you die. Your family can use the death benefit to pay taxes instead of estate funds.
  • Business ownership: Whole life insurance is often used in buy-sell agreements. The cash value accumulated within the policy on a tax-deferred basis can also be accessed for business needs.
  • Supplement retirement: Buying a whole life insurance policy early on and letting it grow untouched means you’ll have a nice cash value balance later in life. You can borrow against this amount at a decent interest rate and use the cash for whatever you want.

Getting life insurance through your employer is a valuable benefit. Group life insurance policies are typically free or heavily discounted, so we recommend taking advantage of that opportunity. However, it’s likely not enough coverage, especially if you have a family, so it’s wise to buy a private policy in addition.

You can have more than one life insurance policy. For example, you might have a term policy to cover your mortgage and a permanent policy to provide a death benefit to your loved ones.

The Cost of Waiting to Get Coverage

As years go by, not only do you age, but the likelihood of developing a health issue increases as well. Both of these factors have significant impacts on life insurance rates.

If your health issue worsens, you may even become uninsurable for affordable life insurance. Get life insurance before your health becomes a concern.

If you have anyone who relies on you, you’re taking a massive risk by not having life insurance. It’s a risk that could take away their standard of living in a second. Don’t force loved ones to become one of many struggling and asking for help on Go Fund Me.

The longer you wait to buy a policy…

  • The more expensive it will be
  • The higher your loved ones’ risk of financial ruin

Compare Quotes From Top-Tier Carriers and Apply Today

Buying life insurance has never been easier. Get quick and anonymous term life insurance quotes, then instantly compare quotes from top-rated life insurance companies before applying.

Once you’re ready, the online application only takes a few minutes. After it’s submitted, you’re assigned an agent who will advocate for you and guide you through the process.

Buying life insurance can take some time, so don’t delay. When should you apply for coverage? The time is now. We can help.

Note: Life insurance quotes used in this article are accurate as of March 8, 2023. These are only estimates and your life insurance costs may be higher or lower.

Watch the Perfect Age to Buy Life Insurance Video


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