If you are young, relatively healthy and your employer offers life insurance, should you buy it? The answer is almost always, “No” – with a few exceptions. (For more, see: Is Life Insurance A Smart Investment?

The reasons not to buy life insurance through your employer tend to follow three main themes: 

Portability: What If You Change Jobs or Retire?

Even if you plan to work for your current employer for the duration, eventually you will retire, and when you do, your employer-based life insurance will no longer be in force.

For most people, though, the lack of portability becomes a factor long before retirement. It could be a job change, in which case your company life-insurance policy will likely not go with you to your new employer. It could be a disability that forces you out of the workforce. In all likelihood this means your life insurance through the company will lapse, and you will no longer be covered. Or you might be fortunate enough to stay healthy but the company you work for goes out of business. If that happens, your life-insurance policy will become null and void. 

Portability Exceptions

Sometimes, solutions can be found to the portability issue – at least to some degree.

  • Some policies allow you to continue coverage by switching to a comparable individual term policy should you leave the company or the company go out of business.
  • A policy that includes “waiver of premium” might allow you to continue to have insurance protection, without premium payments, should you become disabled.

What any of these scenarios might do to the cost of your premium payments (except with waiver of premium, of course) is an open question and should be discussed with the human resources department before purchasing an employer-based life insurance policy. 

Cost: Is It the Best Deal?

Group term life insurance through your employer often means there is no medical exam, and all that’s required of you is to answer a few health-related questions. The price you pay (literally) is in higher premiums than individual term insurance since you are also paying for less healthy people in the group.

Cost Exceptions

  • If your health suddenly declines, the cost of group insurance might be less than from a private insurer.
  • If your company offers life insurance at no cost to you, you should take it. A company can fully deduct the cost of life insurance for its employees, and many offer modest term policies – typically equal to a year’s salary. Even if your company offers group coverage that requires you to pay a portion of the premium, the fact that the company pays part of the premium likely makes that coverage less expensive for you. 

Flexibility: You Don’t Get to Choose

The final major issue with company-sponsored life insurance, whether paid for by you or by the company, is the lack of flexibility. The amount of coverage available through your employer may not approach the “10 times annual salary” figure often quoted by experts. Even if it does, that coverage may be more expensive than if you compare prices on the open market. 

Although most experts advise buying term life insurance to get the most coverage at the lowest cost, some people may wish to purchase permanent insurance. If all you can get through your employer is term insurance, you are out of luck. 

Flexibility Exceptions

  • Even if your employer-sponsored life insurance doesn’t offer enough coverage to meet all of your needs, you should calculate the cost of whatever you can purchase (or get free) through your employer before you begin an outside search.
  • When it comes to buying life insurance, young healthy people tend to procrastinate. Even though life insurance through your employer may not offer sufficient flexibility, it has the advantage of being easy to obtain and (sometimes) free. 
  • Taking a dip in the “life insurance pool” when you are young and healthy is much better (and less expensive in the long run) than waiting until you are older and in poorer health.

The Bottom Line

If you are young and in good health, you can likely buy private individual life insurance cheaper than getting it through your employer. That is, unless your employer-sponsored insurance is free. If it is, take it.

Even in the private marketplace, always compare prices. An independent agent is usually better than one affiliated with one particular life insurance company because you’ll be able to compare prices among different companies. Online independent broker AccuQuote is one source for checking insurance costs. Another is PolicyGenius