Life throws many unexpected things at all of us. While we usually can't stop these things from occurring, we can opt to give our lives a bit of protection. Insurance is meant to give us some measure of protection, at least financially, should a disaster happen. There are numerous insurance options available, and many financial experts tell us that we need to have these insurance policies in place. Yet, with so many options, it can be difficult to determine what insurance you really need. Purchasing the right insurance is always determined by your specific situation. Factors such as children, age, lifestyle and employment benefits are all points to consider when planning your insurance portfolio. (For related reading, see How Much Life Insurance Should You Carry?)

SEE: Intro To Insurance

There are however, four insurances that most financial experts recommend that all of us have: life, health, auto and long-term disability. Each one of these covers a specific aspect of your life, and each one is very important to your financial future.

Life Insurance
The greatest factor in having life insurance is providing for those you leave behind. This is extremely important if you have a family that is dependent on your salary to pay the bills. Industry experts suggest a life insurance policy should cover "ten times your yearly income." This sum would provide enough money to cover existing expenses, funeral expenses and give your family a financial cushion. That cushion will help them re-group after your death.

When estimating the amount of life insurance coverage you need, remember to factor in not only funeral expenses, but also mortgage payments and living expenses such as loans, credit cards and taxes, but also child care, and future college costs.

LIMRA, formerly known as the Life Insurance Marketing & Research Association, says that if the primary wage earner dies in a family with dependent children that family will only be able to cover their living expenses for a few months, and four in 10 would have difficulty immediately.

The two basic types of life insurance are Traditional Whole Life and Term Life. Simply explained, Whole Life is a policy you pay on until you die and Term Life is a policy for a set amount of time. You should seek the advice of a financial expert when planning your life insurance needs. There are considerable differences between the two policies. In deciding between these two, consumers should consider their age, occupation, number of dependent children and other factors to ensure they have the coverage necessary to protect their families. (For additional reading, see What To Expect When Applying For Life Insurance.)

Health Insurance
A recent Harvard study noted that statistically, "your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy." They also concluded that, "62% of all personal bankruptcies in the U.S. in 2007 were caused by health problems and 78% of those filers had medical insurance at the start of their illness."

Those numbers alone should urge you to obtain health insurance, or increase your current coverage. The key to finding adequate coverage is shopping around. While the best option and the least expensive is participating in your employer's insurance program, many smaller businesses do not offer this benefit.

Finding affordable health insurance is difficult, particularly without an employer-sponsored program or if you have a pre-existing condition. According to the Kaiser/HRET survey, the average premium cost to the employee in an employer sponsored health care program was around $4,100. With rising co-payments, yearly deductibles and dropped coverage's, health insurance has become a luxury less and less can afford, yet even a minimal policy is better than having no coverage. The cost for a day in the hospital can range from $985 to $2,696. Even if you have minimal coverage, it can provide some monetary benefit for your hospital stay.

As the health care debate continues in Washington, approximately 48 million Americans are without insurance coverage. Check with your employer regarding health care benefits, inquire of any occupational organizations that you belong to regarding possible group health coverage. If you are over age 50, AARP has some health insurance offers available. (To learn more, check out Buying Private Health Insurance.)

Long-Term Disability Coverage
This is the one insurance most us think we will never need, as none of us assumes we will become disabled. Yet, statistics from the Social Security Administration show that three in 10 workers entering the workforce will become disabled, and will be unable to work before they reach the age of retirement. Of the population, 12% are currently disabled in some form, and nearly 50% of those workers are in their working years.

Even those workers that have great health insurance, a nice nest egg and a good life insurance policy never prepare for the day when they might not be able to work for weeks, months or may not ever be able to return to the job. While health insurance pays for your hospitalization and medical bills, where is money coming from to pay those daily expenses that your paycheck covers? Here are a few very sobering statistics regarding disability:

  • Disability Causes Nearly 50% of all Mortgage Foreclosures, 2% are Caused by Death.
  • Close to 90% of Disabling Accidents and Illnesses Are not Work Related.
  • In the Last 10 Minutes, 498 Americans Became Disabled.

If you are injured and off work for even three months, would you have enough in savings to cover your living expenses? Consider what you might face financially if you suffer a major medical condition such as cancer and were unable to work for over a year.

Many employers offer both short-term and long-term disability coverage as part of their benefits package. This would be the best option for securing affordable disability coverage. If they don't, seek out a private insurer. If you aren't sure how much coverage you need, AARP offers a very good disability insurance calculator to help you.

A policy that guarantees income replacement is the optimal policy; more usual terms are replacement of 50 to 60% of your income. The cost of disability insurance is based on many factors including age, lifestyle and health. For group or employer coverage, the average rate in 2009 was about $238 per year or approximately $5 per week. A small price to pay if you are faced with a devastating illness or injury. Disability insurance will guarantee that you will have some income when you can't work.

Auto Insurance
There were over 10-million traffic accidents in the U.S. in 2009 (latest available data) and 33,808 people died in motor vehicle crashes in those accidents, according to data released by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). The number one cause of death for American's between the ages of 5 and 34 were auto accidents. Over 2.3 million drivers and passengers received treatment in emergency rooms in 2009, and the costs of those accidents including deaths and disabling injuries was around $70 billion.

While all states do not require drivers to have auto insurance, most do have requirements regarding financial responsibility in the event of an accident. Many states do periodic random checks of drivers for proof of insurance. If you do not have coverage, the fines can vary by state and can range from the suspension of your license, to points on your driving record, to fines from $500 to $1,000.

If you drive without auto insurance and have an accident, the fines will probably be the least of your financial burden. Your car, like your home is a valuable asset you use every day. If your car is damaged in an accident and you have no auto insurance, you will have no way to replace that vehicle unless you have a large savings account, and you don't really want to tap into that savings when auto insurance could cover the cost.

If you, a passenger or the other driver is injured in the accident, your auto insurance will pay those expenses, and help guard you against any litigation that might result from the accident. Auto insurance also protects your vehicle against theft, vandalism or a natural disaster such as a tornado or other weather related incidents.

Again, as with all insurances, your individual circumstances will determine the price of your auto insurance. The best advice is to seek out several rate quotes, read the coverage provided carefully and check periodically to see if you qualify for lower rates based on age, driving record or the area where you live.

The Bottom Line
While insurance is expensive and certainly takes a chunk out of your budget, being without it could lead to financial ruin. Always check with your employer first for available coverage, as this will probably be where you will find the most economical way to of securing coverage. If your employer doesn't offer it, obtain multiple quotes from several insurance providers. Schedule times with agents who offer coverage in multiple areas as they may have some discounts available if you purchase more than one type of coverage. (For additional reading, see Understanding Your Insurance Contract.)

The expense of not having insurance is nothing compared to the expense of living without it.

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