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There’s no better time to get a life insurance policy. The cost generally increases with age, so the sooner you apply the better. Start comparing options from our partners today.

Buying a life insurance policy can be quick and easy. Unsure of where to start? We’ll walk you through the whole process, so you can compare life insurance quotes and choose the right coverage for you and your family.

What types of life insurance are available?

Learn about the two main types: term and permanent.

How much life insurance do you need?

Calculate the amount of coverage you need.

Get a free life insurance quote today.

Compare options online before you buy.

What is life insurance?

A life insurance policy is a contract with an insurance company. In exchange for regular premiums you pay over time, life insurance pays out after your death to the people you choose as beneficiaries — usually children, a spouse or other family members. It’s an important safety net if anyone depends on you financially. A life insurance payout can be used for debts such as a mortgage, to replace your income, or provide funds for college tuition.

Types of life insurance

There are two main types of life insurance: term and permanent. Within these two categories there are various types of policies. Understanding which type is right for you can help you build a robust life insurance plan.

Term life insurance

Term life insurance covers a limited time period, such as 10, 20 or 30 years, and doesn’t build cash value. If you die within the term, your beneficiaries receive the payout. When your term life insurance expires, you can buy a new policy or reassess your options.

Permanent life insurance

Permanent life insurance costs more than term but offers additional features like cash value that you can borrow against, which grows over time. Whole life is the best-known form of permanent life insurance. Other types include universal, variable and variable universal.

Which type of life insurance is right for you?

Term life insurance costs less than permanent insurance, and you can choose a term that matches the years when people depend on you financially. By the time the term ends, you may no longer need life insurance: Your house will be paid down, your kids will be grown and you’ll have some money in the bank. Term life is sufficient for most families. In some cases, you can buy term life insurance online without completing a medical exam. Online life insurance is typically available to healthy individuals, and may include questions about your medical history.

However, whole life insurance and other forms of permanent coverage can be useful if you want to provide money for your heirs regardless of when you die. A permanent life insurance policy can also be useful if you want to spend your retirement savings but still leave an inheritance or money for final expenses, such as funeral costs.

Average cost of life insurance

The cost of life insurance depends on many factors, including your age, your health and how long the policy will last. The average cost of life insurance is $26 a month. This is based on data provided by Quotacy for a 40-year-old buying a 20-year policy — the most common length sold. Learn more about the average life insurance rates for men and women at different ages so you can estimate your monthly costs.

Expert tip: If you can, apply for life insurance as soon as you identify a need for it.

Life insurance companies use life expectancy as the basis for determining rates. Anything that could shorten your life expectancy could lead to a higher price.

So it’s smart to buy a life insurance policy as early as possible, when you’re young and healthy. If you wait, your life insurance quotes will increase solely because of your age. If new health problems arise, your rates could go up even more.

You can still get life insurance if you have a medical condition. Insurance companies vary in how they view pre-existing conditions, and some types of life insurance don’t require a medical exam.

How much life insurance do you need?

The face value of a policy, often called the death benefit, is the amount of money the insurer pays out when you die. How much coverage you buy depends on how much money you want your beneficiaries to receive. Ten times your annual income is a common estimate, but rules like this are not universal and may not reflect your specific situation. Take into account your current finances and future obligations, such as income, debts and daily expenses, when deciding how much life insurance you need.

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Life insurance buying guide

Life insurance isn’t a purchase you make often, so you may not know where to start or how to get life insurance quotes. Here’s how to build a life insurance plan and get the coverage you need.

 1. Determine how much life insurance you need

Consider your family’s needs and priorities when figuring out the amount of life insurance to purchase. Do you have debts to pay? Will your family have to replace your income to meet everyday living expenses? Do you want to fund a college education for your children?

Although you may have some life insurance through your job, it’s generally a good idea to have your own policy in addition to the life insurance provided by your employer. The policy through your employer likely isn’t enough to meet your family’s financial needs and typically ends if you leave the job.

Debt and income replacement calculators can help you decide how much life insurance you need before you get quotes.

 2. Evaluate life insurance companies

Life insurance is a long-term purchase, so you want a company that can pay claims many years in the future. The biggest life insurance companies have long track records, but some smaller insurers are solid contenders as well. Check out insurers’ financial strength through ratings agencies such as A.M. Best or Standard & Poor’s. NerdWallet recommends avoiding insurers with an A.M. Best rating of B or lower, if possible.

NerdWallet’s ranking of the best life insurance companies also gives points to companies that have fewer complaints to state regulators.

Not all companies sell the same types of policies, and some focus on specific products, such as life insurance policies for children. Narrow your choices by reading life insurance reviews and knowing the type of coverage you want before you begin comparing life insurance quotes.

 3. Gather info you need

Collect the information you need to apply for term life insurance or a permanent policy before you start the application process. You’ll likely need to provide information about your current and past health conditions, as well as your family’s health history. The insurer may need your consent to get medical records and ask you to take a life insurance medical exam. Insurers also check other data sources, such as MIB Group, which collects data on medical conditions, your driving record and hazardous hobbies.

You’ll need to choose beneficiaries, who will receive the payout when you die. Be sure you have their Social Security numbers and dates of birth.

You also may have to answer questions about criminal convictions and driving violations, such as a suspended driver’s license or DUI, particularly if they happened within the past few years.

 4. Compare life insurance quotes

The best way to save on a life insurance policy is to compare all your options. To find the best policy for you, be sure to compare life insurance quotes from several companies. Prices can vary widely, depending on the life insurance plan you choose and personal factors such as your age, gender and health.

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