A reader recently asked us “Can you do a post on insurance? I have no idea how much insurance I need.” Which is a great question. Insurance is something we often don’t talk about in personal finance blogs, but is something everyone has to do deal with.
New readers, please click here to start from the beginning.
In my experience, when it comes to how much/what types of insurance people own, they usually fall into two categories:
- Over optimistic idiot who doesn’t own ANY insurance even though they should
- Overly pessimistic scaredy-cat who owns WAY TOO MUCH insurance than they need
We actually know both types of people. There’s the homeowner friend back in Toronto who rants and raves about how much her condo has appreciated in value every time we go out for lunch, yet doesn’t own any home insurance because all her money is going towards the mortgage and there’s nothing left over for anything else. She is one fire or burst pipe from financial ruin and refuses to do anything about it. She is underinsured.
And we have another friend who pays hundreds of dollars a month on life insurance despite the fact that he’s single and has no kids. He is overinsured.
But I’m not gonna yell at these people for being idiots, because it’s not that easy to figure out how much insurance you actually need. They sure as Hell don’t teach it in school, so the only authority available on how much insurance you need is left to insurance salesman. And from them, the answer is always “As much as I can trick you into signing up for.”
So we are left with Goldilocks scenario. Too little insurance and you may get wiped out financially. Too much and you’re wasting money. So how much is “just right?”
To answer this, we will break down the different types of insurance most people have to deal with into 4 categories:
- Life Insurance
- Medical Insurance
- Asset Insurance
- Travel Insurance
Life insurance is an insurance contract where if you kick the bucket while shark-surfing, or whatever awesome thing it is that you do in your spare time, your family gets a lump-sum benefit to provide for them while you remain unable to work (you know, because you’re dead).
So do you need this? Well, obviously if you’re not married or have any dependents, then the answer is no. But if you do, it gets a little trickier.
While Working Towards FI
When you’re still working and savings towards FI, it does make sense to purchase life insurance. However, and this is a BIG however, you don’t want to purchase too MUCH life insurance.
Let me explain.
You may have noticed that in the many case studies we do on this site, one of the first things we calculate is the reader’s “FI Number,” meaning the portfolio size they need to hit to be able to retire. This is typically calculated by taking their annual expenses and multiplying by 25, as per the 4% rule. So someone spending $40k a year will need $1M, someone spending $50k a year will need $1.25M, etc.
So let’s say your FI number is $750k and you currently have $250k saved. This means you need to save $500k to get to your FI number, and given your current savings rate you should be able to get there in about 10 years.
So how much insurance do you need? The answer is just enough to get you (and by that, I mean your surviving family) to your FI number in case you get run over by a car. So you need $500k of coverage over the next 10 years. That way, if you make it, you win. And if you don’t make it, your family is still taken care of.
So you should purchase Term Life Insurance. Term Life Insurance covers you for a specific period (or term), and for a specific coverage amount. In this scenario, you should purchase a Term Life policy with a coverage of $500k (the amount you need to become FI) for a duration of 10 years (the amount you think it will take to get there on your own). Other insurance products like Permanent/Whole Life or Universal Coverage are meant to cover you for your entire life, but you don’t need that much coverage.
Why? Because you only need that insurance coverage over the set period of time it will take you to become FI, not your entire life. And because of this, your insurance costs will actually be very low. I plugged in this data into State Farm’s website and I got a cost of…$32 a month. By comparison, Permanent Life Coverage from the same company cost $615 a month, or 20X MORE!
Figure out how much coverage you need, and don’t pay a single penny more than you have to. If you’re paying more than $50 a month, you are doing something seriously wrong.
Cost: $30-$50 a month.
Here’s the fun part. After you retire, you do NOT need Life Insurance at all.
Got it? Zero. Zip. Nada.
That’s because your portfolio acts as your life insurance. In retirement, your portfolio, not your job, provides you enough income to live via your Yield Shield, so your family is provided for whether you’re physically there or not. So life insurance is redundant.
Medical Insurance is, depending on where you live, either ridiculously complicated (*cough* AMERICA *cough*), or ridiculously simple.
If you live in a developed country outside the USA like Canada, the UK, Australia, etc, you can pretty much just skip this section. You’re good.
For Americans though, this is a tad more complicated…
While Working Towards FI
While you’re working, your health insurance should be covered by your employer. However, your employer doesn’t pay for your entire health insurance premium, and instead shares the cost with the worker. Typically, the employer picks up about 70-80% of the tab, leaving the worker having to contribute the rest. In 2016, this was, on average across the US of A, about $5000 a year, or $420 a month according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
And of course, for everyone else with a single-payer health care system, your health insurance is paid for by your taxes, so the additional cost for you guys is $0.
Cost (USA, National Average): $420 a month
Cost (Everyone Else): $0
In the past, if you didn’t have a job (or had a job, but also a pre-existing condition) the American health care system would simply wish you the best of luck in your future (and likely, brief) endeavours.
But after the implementation of ObamaCare (and the Republicans rather embarrassing failure to repeal it), the situation is considerably better for Early Retirees. This is because ObamaCare offers federal subsidies (and expanded Medicaid, for the states that implemented it) that were income tested rather than means tested. This means that Early Retirees can now access health care plans at way cheaper prices.
This is all due to the fact that once you retire, your earned income drops dramatically. Here’s our good buddy Justin McCurry talking about how Obamacare helps Early Retirees retain their health insurance at a fraction of the cost. Plugging my own information into an Obamacare calculator, I got a monthly premium of $200 a month, but this could be much less for you depending on your MAGI and number of dependents. I’ve seen it as low as $50 a month.
And of course, for everyone else with a single-payer health care system, your health care is guaranteed as a basic human right whether you work or not, so your cost is $0.
Cost (USA, National Average): $50-200 a month
Cost (Everyone else): $0
And finally, we come to Asset Insurance. These are the insurance policies you take out on your fixed assets (like a home or a car) to insure you from financial loss in case that asset spontaneously combusts.
Let me get this out of the way: Yes, you should insure your major fixed assets like your house or your car. You don’t want the majority of your net worth to get wiped away by that evil-looking girl up there.
But on the other hand, as we write endlessly on this weird little blog of ours, if the majority of your net worth is tied up in a house or a car, you’re probably not going to EVER retire.
This is because money tied up in a house or a car can’t be used to fund your living expenses. That’s the reason why in our case studies we exclude home equity from contributing towards a person’s FI number.
So on home/car insurance, as long as you own those things, YES, you should definitely insure them to protect your investment. But unless your home/car is a small fraction of your net worth, you’re going to need to sell it to unlock your equity and help you retire. Otherwise, you’ll have to keep paying to insure it forever (as well as property taxes, maintenance, utilities, etc.), possibly delaying your retirement indefinitely.
We never owned property, or a car, so our insurance cost was $0.
Cost: $0 (ideally)
Obviously, this only applies to people who are like us who travel nomadically. If your plan in retirement is to stay in your home country, this doesn’t apply to you.
Travel Insurance is meant to cover your health care costs while you are away from your home country. Even if you are in a country with universal health care, since you’re not a resident you typically have to pay out of pocket. For things like checkups or teeth cleanings, this isn’t a big deal since those things are usually much cheaper abroad than in North America, but if something really bad happens and you fall and break your leg or you’re diagnosed with something more serious (knock on wood), Travel Insurance will prevent you from going bankrupt as a result. I know a couple who gave birth prematurely while travelling in the US and the entire ordeal (the birth itself, complications from being premature, extended hospital stay, and medevac back to Canada) ended up costing about $1M! But because they had Travel Insurance, the were OK.
We’ve been using World Nomads for Travel Insurance, and they’ve actually been pretty good, having paid out to us on numerous occasions when bad things did actually happen on the road. They’re also one of the few companies that offer “Worldwide” travel insurance for an extended period of time. Our premiums for this year are $1585 annually, or about $130 CAD a month.
Cost (if living nomadically): $130 a month
Cost (if staying in home country): $0
The cost varies depending on where you live, so you can use this widget to generate a quote if you’re interested in Travel Insurance.
So there you have it. Insurance: Who needs it? And that’s because as a Canadian who retired at 31 and travels the world (and therefore doesn’t own a house or a car), our insurance burden is just $130 CAD ($100 USD) a month for the two of us (we have travel insurance, but that’s it). As an American, you have to pay some health insurance premiums, but thanks to ObamaCare it doesn’t have to break the bank and your dream of Early Retirement is still possible.
So what do you guys/gals think? How much insurance do you currently buy, and how much do you actually need?