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Only about half of all Americans are covered by life insurance. While many say they want the financial protection a life insurance policy provides, some believe the cost is too high and that they can’t afford it.  But how much does a policy really cost? What factors determine the price of insurance? And are there ways to get cheaper rates?

To answer those questions, spoke with Adam Schwery, an insurance agent for COUNTRY Financial Insurance based in Kansas City, Missouri. The insurance company is part of COUNTRY Financial, a group of affiliate companies that offer insurance and financial services and products in 19 states. Schwery is also a financial advisor of COUNTRY Trust Bank, a registered representative of COUNTRY Capital Management Company, and an editorial advisor to

A lightly edited version of’s conversation with Schwery follows. Many people believe that life insurance is an expense they can’t afford. Is life insurance really too expensive for most people?

Schwery: Life insurance is complicated, and because the price varies by the individual, it’s no wonder that many people assume it costs more than it actually does. We found that, for a 20-year term life insurance policy, a 35-year-old female pays about $440 a year for $500,000 in coverage and a 35-year-old male pays around $516 a year. What factors into the cost of life insurance?  

Schwery: Life insurance policies are priced using several factors, some you can control and some you can’t. They include:

Age: Your age is a significant determinant. Typically, younger individuals pay lower premiums as they are generally in better health.

Sex: Generally, women live longer than men.  

Health history: This includes overall health and medical history, including pre-existing conditions, chronic illnesses and family medical history. 

Lifestyle habits: Lifestyle habits that are seen as riskier, like smoking, alcohol consumption, driving record and recreational activities – like skydiving and scuba diving – can affect your rate. 

Coverage amount:  Higher coverage amounts mean higher premium costs. 

Term length:  Shorter terms can mean lower premiums. 

Medical exams: The results of a medical exam can impact your rate. However, not all life insurance policies require an exam. 

Additional riders and coverages: Adding riders,  or extra coverage options (such as critical illness insurance), can impact your premium. 

Payment frequency: How you choose to pay – monthly, annually, or otherwise – can impact your premium. 

Insurance type: There are a few different types of life insurance, the most popular are term life insurance and whole life insurance, which offer unique benefits and are priced differently. How can someone lower the cost of life insurance?

Schwery: There are a variety of life insurance options that can fit your needs and budget. But if you want to try to lower your rate, taking these steps may help:  

  • Purchase a policy at the youngest age possible. Parents may consider purchasing a policy for children as their premiums are typically much lower than an adult’s.  
  • Live a healthy lifestyle. Individuals who live healthy lifestyles generally have lower premiums than those who don’t, as they tend to live longer and have a better quality of life.  
  • Review your insurance options. Term life insurance is typically less expensive – it’s like renting a policy for an amount of time, and whole life insurance is like buying a policy. Talk with your insurance agent to see which one is right for your needs. September is Life Insurance Awareness Month. If you could make Americans aware of one thing about life insurance, what would that be? 

Schwery: Overall, life insurance provides protection for the people you love if you pass away. It’s a vital part of protecting their financial future – it could mean they’ll have enough money to pay off a mortgage, pay for a child’s education or ensure a comfortable retirement if you’re not there to provide an income.

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John McCormick


John was a deputy editor at The Wall Street Journal and had been an editor and reporter at a number of other media outlets where he covered insurance, personal finance, and technology.