4 Ways to Calculate Your Clients' Life Insurance Needs

We all agree life insurance is important, but how much does your client really need? Here are four ways to calculate their needs and find them the amount that fits best.

There are many ways to determine a client’s life insurance needs, and we’ll cover four here: multiple-of-income approach, the DIME method, human life value approach, and capital needs analysis.

Each method serves its purpose, but the latter two methods are more sophisticated and allow you to address the specific needs and concerns of your clients’ survivors.

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Multiple-of-Income Approach

The simplest method for estimating your clients’ life insurance needs is the multiple-of-income approach. The goal of this approach is to replace the primary breadwinner’s salary for a predetermined number of years.

Begin by multiplying the client’s current annual income by how many years they want to provide financial support for their survivors. The recommendation is to have seven to ten years of life insurance.

It’s an easy method, but it doesn’t take into account the specific needs of survivors, current assets and existing funds — such as the survivors’ income and investments — or different types of family structures. For example, this method may work well for a family with one child, but might not work as well for a family with six children, especially if you want to send all six to college. It also doesn’t take into account inflation or future salary increases. Using this approach may lead to over-insuring or underinsuring your clients, but it’s a start that can give you a ballpark figure.

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The DIME Method

The DIME method takes more specifics into account than the multiple-of-income approach. DIME stands for debt, income, mortgage, and education. To calculate your client’s needs using this method, add up their DIME:

  • Debt: Include all your client’s debt (except the mortgage), especially credit card debt and any student loans that aren’t forgiven upon death.
  • Income: Use the multiple-of-income approach. Multiply your client’s income by the number of years they want to provide income replacement. Consider the ages of any children.
  • Mortgage: Add the existing balance of your client’s mortgage, if any, to the running total.
  • Education: Does your client have children? Factor in the cost of higher education, which can range across a broad spectrum. On average, it costs almost $100,000 to send a child to four years of college. Don’t forget costs other than tuition, like room and board and textbooks.

The DIME method gives you a clearer idea of your client’s expenses and needs than simply multiplying income; however, it still doesn’t consider specific circumstances of your client, namely existing financial resources. Stopping with DIME might leave your client over-insured.

Human Life Value Approach

This method considers your client’s age, gender, occupation, current and future earnings, and employee benefits. There are several steps to determining the overall value of the client if they were to die today:

  1. Estimate the client’s earnings from now until a set point in the future — typically their expected retirement age. Be sure to factor in future wage increases as well.
  2. Subtract the insured’s annual taxes and living expenses from the total. It’s usually safe to assume 30 percent of their salary will go to taxes.
  3. Select an assumed rate of return on the remaining total and subtract it from the gross amount. In other words, subtract the interest you expect the money to earn.
  4. Add the cost of additional benefits provided through employment, such as health care, that will need to be replaced when the client dies. Remember to account for inflation.

The primary goal of this method is to replace income lost. It doesn’t necessarily account for funeral costs, children’s educational expenses, or other specific future needs, but it does get a little closer at honing in on your client’s unique situation.

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Capital Needs Analysis

The capital needs analysis is the most widely used approach for estimating life insurance coverage. In addition to replacing the client’s salary, it also accounts for other sources of income and assets and the specific needs of survivors.

This method factors in:

  • Current and future income of both the insured and surviving spouse
  • Immediate lump-sum cash needs upon death, such as funeral expenses, debt repayment, and mortgage payoff
  • Future expenses such as college, weddings, long-term care expenses, and retirement funding
  • Existing family assets, retirement funds, or insurance policies

Once all future needs are taken into consideration, there are then two ways to calculate how much insurance the client needs, based on how they want to utilize the funds in the future.

  • Earnings-Only Approach: The survivors will live off only the investment earnings of the policy without cashing in the principal value. This method is preferable if the client wants funds to be available for their children after their spouse has also died. Like any investment, this method is subject to the risk of changing market interest rates. To provide a sufficient income stream, the death benefit is usually significantly higher than in the liquidation approach.
  • Liquidation Approach: The surviving beneficiary utilizes a portion of the principal as well as the investment earnings. There is more risk with this approach, particularly if the investment earns less than originally predicted. The surviving spouse may not have sufficient income to live on for the remainder of their life.

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No matter which method you choose to calculate your clients’ life insurance needs, it’s always a good idea to have a baseline estimate of their survivors’ future financial needs to ensure the policy will provide sufficient support. Getting a life insurance policy is the smartest thing your clients can do to show their family they care!

Need help starting the discussion? Take advantage of Life Insurance Awareness Month.

Editor’s Note: This post was first published in September 2017. It has been updated to include more up-to-date information.

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