Protecting Your Assets

Insurance can protect against unforeseen losses, but which type of coverage is best? Experts weigh in to clear the mystery.

The biggest asset a working person has is his or her ability to earn income. Whether young and single or middle-aged and married, workers need to insure their income first, typically between 60% and 70% of after-tax income. For example, if your gross pay is $10,000 a month, but after taxes your net equals $7,000, you’ll need a disability insurance policy that provides about $5,000 a month. Many employers provide up to 60% of an employee’s base salary (excluding bonuses) in disability coverage. “If you are dependent upon bonuses for living expenses, then buy supplemental coverage to cover just the bonuses,” says MetLife financial planner Dwight Raiford. Many insurance companies sell private insurance policies that cover up to 70% of after-tax income.

Next, you should insure the income that would be lost if you die unexpectedly. Life insurance is particularly important for people who have young families.

A standing rule is to buy life insurance equal to six to10 times your current salary to cover outstanding debt, pay off a mortgage, and leave sufficient assets for surviving loved ones to maintain their lifestyle. Raiford stresses that you should take into account your “human life value” and your individual insurance needs. “What you don’t want to lose at death is the house because the surviving spouse can’t pay the mortgage,” says Raiford. “Death is a trauma, and changing schools and lifestyle would just add to it.”

Single people who have no heirs should buy insurance to cover burial expenses and estate taxes, says Raiford. People who have more family obligations should calculate their coverage by factoring in yearly earnings until age 65, including the following: inflation adjustments; job benefits survivors would lose in the event of early death, such as company-paid health insurance and 401(k) matching dollars; the value of the household chores they used to perform, minus taxes; and what they would spend on themselves. MetLife’s Human Life Value calculator, at, will do the math for you. The Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education has a calculator ( ineeds.html) that estimates life insurance needs by looking at total debt, current income, savings, taxes, inflation, and a spouse’s income.

Before age 50, it’s unlikely that a person will need long-term care insurance. But beyond age 50, it’s “non-negotiable,” says Raiford, because 40% of people above that age will need long-term care at some point. State Medicaid programs work best for those who make less than $50,000 a year and have few assets, as long-term care policies can be pricey.

Those with more assets and income will need a policy that protects what they have, something Medicaid doesn’t do. Raiford recommends buying enough long-term care insurance to cover at least the typical length of stay in a nursing home, which is about three years, and purchasing an inflation rider because long-term care costs have been rising an average of 4% to