Archives For stupid rules of thumb

Life Insurance Rules of Thumb Are Stupid - Like This Sign       Like so many other rules of thumb, the 10 times your income for life insurance rule is a stupid way to make a major decision for your finances. (Sames goes for the 15 times your income, or 20 times your income, or any # times your income…) I keep writing about stupid rules of thumb because they can be so dangerous to your financial future. These simple rules of thumb are nice and easy for a quick guess or check on where you’re at now, but you should never use them as your primary decision making tool!

       The problem with using one of these simple rules for calculating your life insurance needs is that they ignore your personal situation. What if you don’t need all of your income to be replaced? What if you only need the income to last a few more years? These simple rules ignore these factors if they don’t give you some way to adjust.

How to Figure Out How Much Life Insurance You Need

       Your first step should be to decide if you actually even need life insurance at all. There are cases where you probably don’t need life insurance. It would be foolish to buy it if you don’t need it.

       If you decide you do need life insurance, the next thing you want to do is think about what you need it for. Are you in one of the rare cases where permanent life insurance makes sense or should you stick with term (which is the best option for just about everybody)? Do you need it to replace your entire income (so your survivors can still fund other goals like retirement or education)? Do you just need it to cover the bare essentials for your survivors? How much would that cost? Will your survivors be able to provide for some or all of their own needs?

       Then you need to figure out how long that income needs to last. This is pretty simple – how much longer would you probably be working assuming you don’t die prematurely? That’s generally how long you’ll need the income to last. You can choose to cut it short or maybe extend it a little longer than you estimate, but you need to know why you’re making that choice.

       After you’ve got those two numbers worked out then you can start using a number times your income need. This chart below is designed to help you figure out how much you need based on the number of years until you retire (or number of years you need your replacement income to last):

Life Insurance Factors

       So if you need to replace an income of $40,000/year and you have 40 years until retirement, you’ll multiply $40,000 by 25 to get $1,000,000 of insurance coverage needed.

       Next, add in any immediate costs like funeral costs or debts you want to pay off immediately at death. Then, subtract any savings that could be used to fulfill any of the goals you included when you were figuring out how much income you need. I generally exclude retirement savings because that money is set aside for non-working years and the amount you need to save for retirement going forward should account for your current savings. That will leave you with the total amount of insurance coverage you need to buy. If you’re married, just repeat this process for your spouse (from their perspective).

       All that’s left is to buy life insurance for the amount and term you need. If your situation is relatively straightforward, you can probably do all this yourself. But if it’s complicated, I’d highly recommend at least sitting down with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM to discuss your situation. If you can find someone who works on an hourly basis or by the project, it won’t cost you too much to get a second opinion.

Think for Yourself!

       Even though this method involved multiplying your replacement income by a certain number, you didn’t get to that step until you thought through several aspects of your situation. That’s the point of all the articles I’ve been writing about stupid rules of thumb. You need to think for yourself to figure out what really makes the most sense for your unique situation. Once you take the time to do that, you can be sure your decision is going to be a lot more accurate than following a stupid, over-simplified rule of thumb.

(photo credit: Chris Ingrassia on Flickr)

This article was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance.

Do You Have Enough or Too Much in Your Piggy Bank Emergency Fund?       I can hear the claims of “Heresy!” ringing out through the personal finance world right now. How can I say the 3 to 6 month emergency fund rule is stupid?! Before you give yourself a heart attack, you need to realize that I’m not saying an emergency fund is stupid. Not by any means! In fact, I’ve written several times already about why you need an emergency fund, where to keep your emergency fund, when you should use your emergency fund, and how to build up your emergency fund. Clearly, I have nothing against emergency funds.

       No, my problem is with the silly rules of thumb that get thrown around with the idea of the emergency fund. Some say you need 3 months of your expenses, some say 6, and some say 9. I’ve even heard 2 years! The problem is that all these simple rules of thumb make the same mistake that other rules of thumb make – they ignore your circumstances.

Base Your Emergency Fund on Your Circumstances

       An emergency fund based on 3 months of your living expenses may work fine if you’re married and both of you have stable jobs with comparable incomes and you have your finances under control. But change just one of those variables (marital status, job stability, income disparity, or financial situation) and you can forget about a 3 month emergency fund doing the job.

       The size of your emergency fund needs to be tailored to your circumstances because the riskiness of your situation is determined by what’s happening in your life – not what some rule of thumb tells you. Now, I’ll grant that a 6 to 12 month emergency fund is going to be in the right zone for most people, but I wouldn’t leave this to a guess. You need to take a few minutes to think about your situation and adjust accordingly.

       For example, if you’re single then you probably only have one source of income. That puts you at a higher risk in case of a job loss than someone who is in a two-income household. The same goes for your job stability. If there’s little risk you’ll lose your job (maybe a government position?), then you’re probably a bit safer than someone in a cyclical industry (car sales, perhaps).

       If you’re socking away 20% of your income, a small emergency might not bother you too much. You can easily divert your money away from saving for a bit and go back after the emergency has been covered. But if you’re struggling to make it from one paycheck to the next, even a small $100 car repair can throw your whole world into a giant mess.

       It’s these kinds of factors that should determine how much you need in an emergency fund. I’ve talked about how much you need in an emergency fund, so I’m not going to go over it again. But keep in mind that even my article is just a general guideline. You’ll still need to think critically about your specific needs and situation.

Beware Rules of Thumb

       I’ve written several of these types of articles over the last few months. I talked about the stupidity of the save 10% for retirement rule, the 2.5 or 3 times your income for a mortgage rule, and the 80% or 90% of your income for retirement rule.

       All of these rules are guilty of oversimplification, a complete ignorance of your unique circumstances, or both. Yet some people rely on these rules of thumb for their most important financial decisions. I’m not saying you need a financial planner. But please do yourself a huge favor and take some time to think about your situation and what makes sense for you. Don’t rely on stupid rules of thumb to determine your financial future!

Any Other Rules of Thumb?

       What financial rules of thumb have you heard of that you’d like to learn more about? Are there any you question but aren’t sure why they might be wrong? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll be happy to write an article specifically tailored to answer your questions!

(photo credit: Alan Cleaver on Flickr)

This article was picked as the Editor’s Top Choice in the Best of Money Carnival!

This article was also included in the Carnival of Financial Planning.