Choose term or cash value
There are two basic types of life insurance: term life insurance, which provides life insurance coverage for a specified period of time (the term), and cash value (permanent) insurance, which combines a death benefit with a cash value component. Cash value insurance offers lifetime protection, while term insurance may be the most affordable option if you're buying life insurance mainly for the financial protection it offers, and your need for life insurance is temporary (until your children leave the nest, for instance). Some term policies (called "convertible") will permit you to exchange the term life insurance policy for a permanent one at some point.
How much will it cost?
How much you pay for life insurance will depend on a number of risk factors, including your age, your health, whether you use tobacco, your family health history, and the type and amount of life insurance you're buying. Keep in mind that the premium you're quoted initially will increase later. For instance, when you buy term life insurance, rates are guaranteed only until the end of the term (annually for annual renewable term or at the end of a specified number of years for level term). While most life insurance policies can be renewed at the end of the term, you'll pay a higher premium for coverage.
Decide how much coverage you'll need
The amount of life insurance protection you should buy depends on how much income your survivors will need, how much you own and owe, and the amount of other life insurance available to you. If you're married, both you and your spouse should consider buying life insurance. One of the easiest ways to estimate how much life insurance protection you should buy is to use a life insurance needs calculator.
Why buy life insurance?
Topping the list of reasons to buy life insurance is the financial protection life insurance offers. If you're single and just starting out, you may not need life insurance. But as you take on more responsibilities and your family grows, your need for life insurance increases. The proceeds from a life insurance policy can replace the income lost to your family upon your death. You might also want to buy life insurance to pay off debts and expenses, leave money to charity, and cover final and estate expenses.