Group Versus Individual Life Insurance Policies

Here's how to find out whether you'll get a better deal purchasing coverage through your employer or on your own.

I’m starting a new job, and among the benefits I get is life insurance that equals my annual salary. I also have the option of buying extra coverage at a group rate. Is this a good deal?

The free coverage is definitely a good deal. But before jumping on the extra coverage, compare the group rates with how much it would cost to buy a comparable policy on your own. If you’re healthy, buying an individual policy could be less expensive and you may be able to lock in the rate for a longer time period than the group coverage.

With most group life insurance policies you need to answer some medical questions before qualifying for coverage, but you don’t need to take a medical exam or provide the same level of detail that you’d need to provide for individual coverage. That less-stringent underwriting lets people who have minor medical conditions get coverage they might not have qualified for on their own (or for which they would have had to pay a higher rate). But because insurers generally assume that the pool of people applying for such coverage is not the healthiest, they charge more for everyone in the pool, says Byron Udell, CEO of If your health is good, you want the insurer to ask a lot of questions and gather as much information as possible about your medical condition. Individual policies tend to have more rate classes than group policies do, offering some of the lowest rates (often called super preferred) to people in the best of health, as indicated by their medical record and family medical history, as well as by their height and weight, cholesterol level and other factors. For more information see Get the Best Rate on Life Insurance.

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Another big difference between the extra coverage offered by employers and an individual policy is the number of years that rates remain in effect. Many group policies set their premiums in five-year age bands, says Udell, so if you buy the policy when you’re in your early forties, the premium will increase when you reach age 45 and jump again at 50 and 55. But if you buy a policy on your own, you can lock in your premiums for 20 or 30 years. And individual policies can still be very inexpensive: A healthy 30-year-old man could buy a $500,000 policy for just $355 per year and lock in that premium for 20 years.

For more information about calculating how much life insurance you need and your options for buying coverage, see How Much Life Insurance Do You Need?

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.