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Life Insurance

Surf for Life Insurance

There are plenty of Web sites that offer quotes -- just make sure you know what you're getting.

The Web makes it easy to search for insurance; there's no shortage of sites that provide quick price quotes for dozens of companies. Unfortunately, the prices are often wrong. So if one site lists lower prices for a company than another site, don't assume you've found a better deal.

A premium can't be accurately estimated if it's based solely on your birthday, height and weight -- which is all that some Internet interviews request. Other factors -- such as your health, your family's medical history, your driving record, travel, hobbies and a variety of other details -- should enter into the mix. Internet sites that don't ask for all of your background information often quote prices that are lower than almost anyone could actually qualify for. You may not find out the real cost until you take a medical exam and the insurance company spends weeks reviewing your medical records.

In other words, although it might seem like a hassle to go through a long Q&A, the more questions you're asked, the more accurate the quote you'll receive. There's no one site that includes all the lowest-priced policies for everyone, but you can feel secure you've done your shopping job by visiting just a few.

Make your first stop InsWeb, which asks some of the most detailed questions (have your cholesterol level, blood pressure, weight and family medical history handy before filling out the questionnaire). InsWeb gets its pricing information directly from the insurance companies, which is another reason its quotes tend to be more accurate than those of some other sites. InsWeb includes fewer companies than many online-quote services, but the insurers on its list have been screened for financial strength and reputation for customer service. InsWeb is a Kiplinger.com partner site.

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The lowest-cost companies, however, are not always on InsWeb's list. To see what else is available, visit InsuranceQuote Services. The site asks even more questions than InsWeb -- such as how many immediate family members died of heart disease before ages 50, 60 and 70, and other small details that can affect your price.

Iquote also includes a unique feature: ratings of each company's service, based on its brokers' experience working with the insurers, including comments about which are slow to process applications or tend to be more lenient with certain medical conditions.

Double-check the insurers

You'll also want to go directly to several insurers' Web sites. Ameritas and Vanguard, for example, offer competitive rates that don't appear on other quote services (the Vanguard policies are only available to its mutual fund shareholders).

If you prefer to have a real person take your information and find the best deal for you, go to AccuQuote. The personalized service can be particularly helpful if your health isn't great. But it's not anonymous. You must provide your name, phone number and an address so someone can contact you. (AccuQuote also provides quick but not necessarily precise quotes online. That's because you decide whether you deserve preferred plus, preferred or standard rates based on a generic list of criteria.)

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Look beyond the premium

After you gather quotes, check out the "coverage details" for each appealing policy to find out more details. Look carefully at how long the premium is guaranteed for. Even if you asked for 20-year term policies, some sites list policies that can raise your rates after just five or ten years (which, surprisingly, aren't always less expensive than policies with 20-year guarantees). It's usually best to get at least a 20-year guaranteed policy if your children are young.

If there's a chance you may eventually need insurance for longer than 20 years, find out about the policy's conversion rules. Most let you switch to a cash-value policy (which may be more expensive but can remain in force for the rest of your life) without a new medical exam anytime during the 20-year term; some only give you five or ten years to make the switch.

One last caveat: Do not drop your old policy before the new one is issued. It usually takes several weeks -- and at least a cursory medical exam -- to set the exact price and for the policy to take effect.