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How to get the best life insurance rates

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There are reliable ways to obtain good life insurance rates. Getty Images

Don't overpay for life insurance. There are plenty of ways to cut costs and stay protected. After all, there are plenty of reasons to get life insurance, which acts as a financial safety net for people who depend on you in the event of your death.

When you have a life insurance policy, you make regular payments over time to an insurance company or via your employer. People you designate as beneficiaries get an agreed-upon amount when you die. 

Finding the right policy for your situation can be confusing. Beyond choosing the right type of life insurance, it's important to compare costs and benefits from a variety of providers. 

If you're in the market for life insurance - or simply want to increase the coverage you already have - it pays to speak to a life insurance expert. They can get you started with a free quote so you know exactly what to expect.

How to get the best life insurance rates

Here are five steps that can help you get the best deal.

  1. Honestly assess what you want - and need
  2. Take a hard look at what you can afford
  3. Read the fine print
  4. Comparison shop
  5. Choose your company and policy

Honestly assess what you want - and need

Start by figuring out what you want and need for your beneficiaries when it comes to life insurance. Do you want to cover mortgage payments? Provide college funds for your kids? Leave an inheritance?

The type of insurance you buy should fit your circumstances. 

If you have a health condition, for instance, you may want to seek a life insurance policy that doesn't require a medical exam. Think you'll need cash from a life insurance policy before your death? Then a whole life insurance policy may be for you. Only need coverage for a specific time period? Term life insurance may fit your needs. 

You may also want to consider whether a policy should include burial and funeral expenses or any other additional features the insurance company can add (called riders). A life insurance expert can help you assess specifics. 

Take a hard look at what you can afford 

Do the math. What monthly premium payments can you truly afford? Age, family health history, gender and risky behaviors such as smoking are all factors that can determine premium costs for the two main types of insurance, whole and term life insurance.

If you have young children, for instance, you may want to pay for a policy with a bigger death benefit than if you are retired or single. Consider your monthly expenses like rent or mortgage as well as your regular income.

You want to avoid paying a premium that's too high for your current financial situation. Missing monthly payments can lead to policy cancellation. 

Read the fine print 

No two companies offer policies that line up precisely. Make sure to carefully read the life insurance offers (quotes). It can be a good idea to make a simple spreadsheet comparing cost, areas covered, premiums, payouts and potential riders. Make sure the policies offer similar benefits and terms that fit your needs and budget.

Insurance policies are full of jargon. Many states, which regulate life insurance companies, offer glossaries that you can consult to understand terms.

Comparison shop

It's critical to shop around. Make sure the policies you compare have the same elements. Some experts recommend finding at least three quotes for policies with similar scope, payout and price. Use this table to get started.

Many life insurance company websites offer a calculator to help you with general estimates. It can also be a good idea to look at customer reviews and each insurance provider's financial health.

You can also check the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) complaint database to find out if a life insurer has a higher-than-average number of complaints in your state. 

Choose your company and policy

Don't choose based on price alone. A cheaper policy could have a smaller payout when you die, while a pricier one might provide more value. Some experts recommend comparing based on a per-dollar value (that is, the payout for each premium dollar you pay).

When you've chosen a company, you'll proceed by filling out an application. Many companies offer applications online. Then, you'll go through an underwriting process, which varies by company and policy.  Some policies, like those that require a medical exam, can take longer to take effect or be approved.

Remember, you're not obligated to say yes to any quote that doesn't feel right to you. It can pay off, in the long run, to seek out additional life insurance policy quotes if you aren't satisfied with your initial research.

But first, speak with a life insurance agent. They can review your personal financial situation, goals and preferences and help you build a policy that's right for you.

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