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What is life insurance laddering?

Laddering life insurance policies is a strategy that helps you have additional coverage when you need it most and then it tapers off as your coverage needs lessen.

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As anyone mired in a busy life can understand, it’s tough to know what life will look like thirty days from now let alone how things could change thirty years from today. A pregnancy, career change, big move or dream home… and all of a sudden, your financial future looks vastly different than it did just last month.

The point: It’s hard to plan decades down the line, which can make the idea of determining how much life insurance you need a bit daunting. You’ve likely heard it’s smart to purchase life insurance when you’re young and healthy, but signing up for a monthly bill for the next three decades can feel like a major commitment with so many unknowns in the future.

While term life insurance policies are, in general, affordable, you may not want to pay for life insurance coverage above and beyond what’s really needed — especially if you have larger life insurance policy needs that are well over $1 million. Fortunately, most life insurance carriers  will let you reduce coverage at any point, but a need to increase coverage will usually mean additional cost and going through the medical underwriting process.

This is where thinking outside the box, and considering a term life insurance ladder might make sense.

In this article:

Why create a life insurance ladder?

For many people, expenses are higher when we’re younger. If you’ve got kids, for example, you likely want life insurance to help cover:

As your kids get older, and as you pay down some of the debt you carry when you’re young (like student loans or a mortgage), you may have less of a need for hefty coverage.

This is just one example of how financial needs can fluctuate over time, but it’s a common illustration of how the life insurance ladder strategy can help. Essentially, laddering insurance services sets you up with multiple life insurance policies that may help you save money in the long run while still providing the life insurance coverage you need.

How do you ladder life insurance policies?

Let’s say that you’re a healthy 34-year-old female signing up for a 30-year, $1,500,000 life insurance policy at about $72 each month. Every month for 30 years, you’re going to spend $72, even if you don’t need the full $1,500,000 of coverage in 10-20 years. Over 30 years, you’ll spend $25,920 on the monthly premium.

If you built an insurance ladder instead, you’d purchase multiple life insurance policies at the same time. Using the example above, you’d purchase:

In this example, you would have $1,500,000 in coverage for the first ten years for $57 per month, $1,000,000 in coverage for the next ten years for $45 per month, and $500,000 in coverage for the last ten years for $28 per month. Over 30 years, you’d spend $15,600 on your monthly premium throughout the years, saving $10,320.

You might even consider looking at the different steps in your term life insurance ladder as financial goals that you and your family are checking off your list. For example, you might set up your ladder of policies like this:

This could make putting together a life insurance ladder strategy easier, even if you’re not entirely sure what your family’s financial and lifestyle future looks like.

While there are potential cost savings from laddering life insurance policies, you’ll also want to consider what kind of financial legacy you want to leave your loved ones. You might decide that keeping the $1,500,000 policy for a full 30-year term, while maybe the full coverage amount is no longer necessary, is the financial safety net you want to provide. Or, you can reach out to your life insurance company and ask to reduce the face amount by half.

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How to ladder life insurance

To build the ladder, you’ll need to take a few steps beyond what you’d do if you were traditionally buying a single life insurance policy, which is why it’s wise to speak with a financial planner to help you determine what amount to purchase. Laddering life insurance policies can be challenging to determine the right coverage amount for your loved ones and ultimately, you don’t want to put your family potentially at financial risk. When evaluating your needs, consider:

  1. Estimate your expenses. To build a successful life insurance ladder, you’ll need to estimate your expenses for each new season of coverage (or when one policy expires). This means you’ll need to think through what your expenses will look like right now, when you have kids (or as your kids grow up), and as you near retirement. You might ask yourself what the financial responsibility of raising your kids will be, or how much your debt will cost you at each stage of your life.
  2. Estimate your worth. This part can be a little bit harder to do. To estimate how much insurance you’ll need during each season of your life (or on each step of your insurance ladder), you’ll need to know how much money you might feasibly bring in during that time period. Most people expect to have their total net worth increase with time. This might mean you need your insurance to replace a higher salary at different steps on the insurance ladder, even if you have fewer expenses during that time.
  3. Shop around. You’ll pay this bill for many years, so there’s no reason not to get more than one quote. It can also be helpful to compare the total cost of your insurance policies against a single policy to make sure a ladder strategy is actually less expensive. Additionally, be sure to check the industry rating for each company you contact.

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How do you know if laddering will work for you?

A life insurance ladder is largely dependent on knowing your family’s financial responsibility in the future. So, if you have too many “question marks” or variables in your plan, this strategy might not work for you. For example, if you and your partner haven’t started having kids yet and aren’t sure when that might be on the horizon, haven’t bought a home (or have, but know it’s not your forever one), or are considering taking another big financial leap like starting a business — a single life insurance policy may be simpler to ensure you have the coverage you need over time.

On the other hand, if you already have young kids, know how long it’s going to take you to pay off your mortgage (or have a good rough estimate), and are aware of your family’s current debt load — a ladder strategy may be easy for you to build.

For many people, a single term life insurance policy provides an affordable and adequate financial safety net during the years your family needs it most. But, if you have a need for larger coverage amounts and want to benefit from the cost savings that may be available with a ladder strategy, speaking with a financial planner can help you get organized and find the different types of term life insurance policies that best fit your family’s life insurance needs both now and in the future.

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About Mary Beth Storjohann

Read more by Mary Beth Storjohann

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Our disclosures

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.

MassMutual is rated by A.M. Best Company as A++ (Superior; Top category of 15). The rating is as of Aril 1, 2020 and is subject to change. MassMutual has received different ratings from other rating agencies.

Haven Life Plus (Plus) is the marketing name for the Plus rider, which is included as part of the Haven Term policy and offers access to additional services and benefits at no cost or at a discount. The rider is not available in every state and is subject to change at any time. Neither Haven Life nor MassMutual are responsible for the provision of the benefits and services made accessible under the Plus Rider, which are provided by third party vendors (partners). For more information about Haven Life Plus, please visit: https://havenlife.com/plus.html

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