Buying a life insurance policy is a smart move that ensures financial coverage for your loved ones. The amount of life insurance you need depends on your personal and financial circumstances and should account for your dependents and everyday living expenses.
You can calculate how much life insurance you need by tallying up your financial obligations and subtracting your liquid assets. When your loved ones file a claim, they'll receive a tax-free, lump-sum payout, so you won't need to factor in that additional expense. Learn more about calculating how much life insurance you need.
The life insurance rule of thumb
Nicholas Mancuso, the senior operations manager of Policygenius' advanced planning team, suggests people aim for life insurance coverage that is 10-15 times their income. This number accounts for inflation, market returns, and average household expenses. Policygenius' free life insurance coverage calculator can help you figure out how much life insurance you need and how long your coverage should last.
Some insurance companies offer up to $10 million in life insurance coverage, but the amount of coverage you qualify for depends on your income and overall net worth. For example, someone with a net worth of $100,000 would not be able to obtain a $10 million policy, and coverage between $1 million and $1.5 million would be better suited for their financial profile.
According to Policygenius data from 2020, people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s most commonly purchased policies that provide between $250,000 and $1 million in coverage. Keep in mind, these are the death benefit amounts people have chosen to buy, but they don’t necessarily reflect how much coverage is ideal.
You can also supplement your coverage with life insurance riders, which are provisions to your policy that come at an added cost and offer additional financial security to you and your loved ones while you are alive.
The DIME method
In order to calculate how much life insurance you should get, you can use the DIME method. DIME is an acronym that stands for D-ebt, I-ncome, M-ortgage, and E-ducation. Using the DIME method, you tally up the following to determine how much coverage you should get:
Your income multiplied by the number of years your family will depend on it
The amount left on your mortgage
The cost of your children’s education
The sum of these factors is how much life insurance you should buy. For example, imagine you are a parent of two children who is planning to provide them with financial support for the next five years:
According to the DIME method, you would need about $1 million in coverage if this was your personal profile. But, this may not actually be enough. Because the DIME method doesn’t account for resources you already have, personal considerations, and end-of-life expenses, using this strategy can sometimes lead to getting too much or too little life insurance.
If you account for all other personal considerations, your actual life insurance needs may be even higher.
How personal considerations affect how much life insurance you need
While financial obligations are important, there are other factors you might want to consider regarding your personal circumstances that may influence your life insurance purchase.
The costs associated with raising a child or caring for an aging parent are very high. If you have any dependents, you may need to increase your policy amount by several hundred thousand dollars.
Different circumstances necessitate different coverage needs. Whether you’re an expecting parent or empty-nester, there’s an appropriate amount of life insurance for your specific needs.
If you have kids, you’ll want to factor in the cost of a college education in your decision to get life insurance, as paying tuition can be one of the biggest expenses of adult life. Alongside tuition, getting a college education often includes boarding and other miscellaneous expenses.
Getting the right amount of coverage will require planning for what college will cost in the future, which is likely more than it costs today. According to the College Board, in the last decade, the average tuition at a four-year private college went up by about $19,000.
The average cost of a funeral ranges from $8,000 to $10,000, once you factor in the funeral home and burial costs, like the casket. Many policyholders work these final expenses into their coverage so their families don’t bear the financial burden of final rites on top of the emotional toll of losing a loved one.
→ Learn more about how your financial situation affects your policy
Health and age
Your health and age will determine not only how much insurance you should buy, but how long your coverage should last. The older you get, the less coverage you will likely need, as you will hopefully have less debt and fewer dependents to support.
Age is an important consideration when setting your coverage amount, but is not a reason to put off getting a policy. Life insurance rates increase 4.5-9% every year you age, as older individuals are riskier to insure. If you purchase a policy when you’re young and healthy, you’ll get a more affordable premium for a potentially larger amount of coverage. For that reason, it’s best to lock in lower rates as soon as you can.
How much life insurance can you afford? A life insurance policy isn't useful if you can't pay the policy premiums to keep it active. Higher coverage amounts and longer term lengths equal higher premiums.
You will need to decide between term life insurance and whole life insurance. Whole life insurance can be five to 15 times more expensive than a term policy, so most shoppers — especially those on a budget — should opt for term insurance.
The exact price of a life insurance policy depends on several individual factors including your medical history, lifestyle, and driving record. A licensed insurance agent or broker can talk you through shopping for life insurance and get you personalized quotes.
Everyday living expenses
Don’t forget about everyday living expenses when determining how much life insurance you need. This includes how much you spend every year on groceries and restaurants, bills, clothes, entertainment, vacations, housing costs or rent, and even streaming services.
This is why we recommend 10-15 times your current annual income in life insurance. The cost of living varies over time based on inflation, how many dependents you have, and salary changes, so try to use an estimated average cost you’ll spend over the length of your policy to account for fluctuations.
What happens if I don’t get enough coverage?
A recent study found that 44% of people  would experience a financial impact within six months if their family’s primary wage earner passed away, and 28% would see that impact within a month.
Not getting a face amount or term length that matches your life insurance needs can jeopardize your loved ones’ financial health. Without the right coverage amount to replace your income, your beneficiaries may not be able to keep up with everyday expenses, plan for the future, or pay for your final expenses, and they may even lose their home or car due to your outstanding debts.
Next steps for buying coverage
Once you’ve calculated how much life insurance you need, you’re ready to buy coverage. Here’s how to make the process painless and get the best possible policy:
Shop around with a life insurance broker. Policygenius agents will work with you for free to find you life insurance quotes with the most affordable policy for your profile.
Do your research. Aside from pricing, other factors may be important to you, such as riders or temporary coverage. Make sure your potential provider has what you’re looking for by reading our company reviews.
Get ready to take the medical exam. Check out our guide on the life insurance medical exam so you know what to expect. If you opt for no-medical exam coverage, make sure to get your previous medical records in order.
Get temporary life insurance. Temporary life insurance coverage pays out to your family if you die before your actual policy becomes active.
Calculating how much life insurance you need is pivotal to protecting the long-term financial health of your loved ones. By getting enough coverage and the right policy term length, you can rest assured that your loved ones are taken care of if you’re no longer around to support them.
→ Want to learn more? Check out our glossary for more life insurance basics