How Much Life Insurance Do You Need?

One of the greatest gifts you can give your family is adequate life insurance. Your life insurance coverage is designed, of course, to provide your loved ones with a means of support should something happen to you. A good life insurance policy can provide you with peace of mind now and take care of your…
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One of the greatest gifts you can give your family is adequate life insurance.

Your life insurance coverage is designed, of course, to provide your loved ones with a means of support should something happen to you.

A good life insurance policy can provide you with peace of mind now and take care of your family later.

But how much life insurance do you need?

Deciding How Much Life Insurance to Buy

How much life insurance do you need?Your first step is to figure out how much life insurance you need. The easiest thing to do is to use a rule of thumb. There is no one-size-fits-all answer regarding how much life insurance you need. If you are the sole supporter of your family, then you would likely need more life insurance than if you were a single military member with no dependents or anyone else relying on your income for survival.

One common factor is to get life insurance coverage that is ten times your annual salary.

So, if you make $45,000 a year, you would need at least $450,000 in coverage.

Another plan, though, is to get enough coverage to provide your family with your yearly income each year indefinitely.

You should have enough capital so that you can sustain a 4% withdrawal rate indefinitely. The idea is to put the money in an account that offers a return, allowing your family to live off the interest.

This way, your family will never run out of funds. In order to generate $45,000 a year in interest at 4%, you need $1.125 million in capital. So that’s the coverage you need if you follow this plan.

Finally, you can do your own assessment of what you need. In order to do that, add up your expected expenses for the next few years. Here’s one way to calculate your needs:

  • Add up how much you need to provide your family with your annual income until your youngest child turns 18. If your youngest is five, then you need to multiply your salary by 13. In our example, that is $585,000.
  • Next, add up all your consumer debt, including student loans, car loans and credit cards. If you have $6,000 in credit card debt, $10,000 left on your car loan and $15,000 in student debt, that’s $31,000. If you are eligible to have your student loans paid because of your service, you might decide not to include them in your calculations, so that’s $16,000.
  • Consider your mortgage, if you have one. If you have $185,000 left on your mortgage, use that in your calculations.
  • Other items to consider include whether or not you want to help your children with college or if you want to help with other purchases along the way. However, it’s worth noting that as your family pays down the mortgage, the money can be used for something else.

Add up everything on your list. In this case, if you leave out the student loans and decide not to go beyond debt, the total is $786,000.

Other Considerations

Of course, you should consider the needs specific to your situation.

For example, do you have a family member with special health care needs? Are you a military retiree with a pension and Tricare for the rest of your life?

If you opted for the survivor benefits plan, then you may be able to decrease your life insurance policy if your spouse will have your pension.

Do You Have a Lot of Savings and Investments?

Some people have enough money saved to provide for their families, even if they are no longer able to contribute to the family. Consider the possibilities and increase or decrease your insurance policy accordingly.

Special Life Insurance Options for Military Members and Veterans

Military members and veterans have special options available to them, including the government-sponsored SGLI plan, available to current military members, and the Veterans Group Life Insurance plan, which is available to veterans.

These low-cost plans may be a good idea, since many civilian plans don’t cover deaths caused by acts of war. You can also convert your SGLI to VGLI when you leave the service.

There are also some life insurance plans offered by civilian companies that are great options for military members and veterans. One good example is life insurance from USAA.

USAA offers insurance, banking and investment products. They limit membership to military members, their families and children of USAA members, so they know what it means to serve.

You can check your USAA eligibility here and learn more about their financial products.

Where Military Members Should Buy Life Insurance

For most military members, the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program is the best option because it is available to everyone and will pay out even when the policyholder dies from an act of war or similar event. (Many private insurance policies have a rider that excludes death from an act of war.)

The SGLI policy also includes a long-term disability rider called the Traumatic Injury Protection coverage (TSGLI).

SGLI offers great military life insurance rates. The government supported company, the Service Member’s Group Life Insurance program offers troops insurance coverage of $400,000 for only $27 per month. Here are the rest of the SGLI rates.

No longer in the military? Check out Veterans’ Group Life Insurance, which is available to veterans.

Should Military Members Purchase Private Life Insurance?

For most people, the SGLI offers the best prices and features (payment for death due to act of war, automatic disability clause). However, if you do not think the SGLI offers enough coverage, then you should consider purchasing insurance from a private vendor.

Buying a private life insurance policy. Private policies should be considered for those who believe they will need more than a $400,000 policy.

If you need an amount above and beyond the SGLI limits, then you should shop for policies through multiple providers to find the best deals.

One place to start is with USAA, which is an insurance and financial company that limits its membership to military members, veterans and children of USAA members.

Learn more about USAA membership, get a life insurance quote here, or read our USAA review.

Caveats regarding private life insurance for military members. Many private life insurance policies have clauses that do not cover death caused by military actions or during an act of war. Military members need to read their policy carefully before signing the contract to ensure that they are covered at all times, including during an act of war. This is where the SGLI is often better than private life insurance policies the SGLI covers deaths caused by acts of war and other causes.

Single Military Members’ Life Insurance Needs

The maximum coverage with SGLI costs $24 per month ($288/year), which is a lot of money to spend when you don’t need much, if any, life insurance coverage.

If you are single and do not have any dependents, you can get away without any insurance or only the minimum. You can buy a $50,000 policy for $3 per month ($36/year), or add the TSGLI coverage for an additional dollar per month, or a total of $48 per year. A $50,000 policy should be enough to pay off most debts and cover any other expenses.

Remember, military burials are free.

Bottom Line

How you determine what’s adequate for your family is up to you. There are different methods of figuring out how much life insurance your family needs. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide how much coverage is right for your family. The key is to choose the amount of coverage that you are comfortable with and that will provide your family with what they need for as long as they need it.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is The Military Wallet's founder. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over six years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the Illinois Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes,, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

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