Finishing college or graduate school is an excellent step toward landing that dream job you’ve been working toward. That investment in your education and future self is invaluable but it also usually goes hand-in-hand with student loans. While graduating from undergrad or graduate school is a time where you’re likely applying for jobs, planning a move, or creating a payment plan for those loans, it might also be a time where you need to start thinking about life insurance.
The average student loan debt per borrower is around $33,000. And, usually, the amount of debt is much higher for those who went to private schools, graduate school or college out of state. With debt that significant (the average monthly payment is almost $400), you have to ask yourself who would be responsible for those debts if you were to die.
Financially protecting your loved ones from college debt
For those with federally funded loans, college debts are usually forgiven if you die — meaning, it would not be left to your co-signer or spouse to pay off. Private loans, however, which most graduate school students rely upon to pay for school, are often not. That means that your loved ones could be left with a $400+ monthly bill while also grieving your loss.
This is where life insurance comes in. The proceeds from a policy can be used by your loved ones to pay off the debts you leave behind, which is why purchasing coverage can be a smart and responsible move. And, it can be affordable to buy a small policy for the amount of your loan and the timeframe you have to pay it off. For example, a sample term life insurance quote for a healthy 27-year-old woman buying a 20-year, $100,000 policy is less than $10 per month.
Determine what kind of student loan debt you have
Student loans can be a stressful reality of post-college. Depending on your degree, you might be facing six figures of student loan debt. Whether it makes sense for you to get life insurance depends greatly on the type of student loan debt you have.
If you still have the following types of federal student loans when you die, you can relax, they will be wiped away. The forgiveness on death benefit is included with Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct Consolidation Loans, and Federal Perkins Loans.
Parent PLUS loans
Parent PLUS loans are federal student loans; however, the parent rather than the student is the responsible borrower. Good news: if the parent borrower or the student dies, the debt is forgiven. It’s not entirely that black and white if both parents are named as borrowers. In that case, if one parent dies, the surviving parent is responsible for the student loan assuming the student is still alive.
It’s more common to buy life insurance when you have private loans, with a few exceptions.
Depending on your lender, your student loans may or may not be wiped away upon death. It all boils down to the terms of the student loan contract that you signed when you got the loans. Some lenders do forgive student loans, but it’s important to check with your creditor to see what the terms of your loan are.
Additionally, many private student loans require a cosigner. That might be a parent, spouse, or friend. Again, you need to read the terms or your student loan to find out if the cosigner would still be responsible for paying off your loan. Tip – if they are responsible, it’s best to let them know and to also address what kind of plans you have in place to financially protect him or her.
Private student loans are also tricky if you’re married. The state you live in will have laws that determine if your spouse is responsible for paying off your student loans if you pass away. So again, you’ll want to check your student loan contract to find out those details and prepare accordingly (and let your spouse know what would happen if you passed away).
You’re getting married or starting a family
The primary purpose of life insurance is to help financially protect those who are dependent on you, in the event of your death. Often, this is when you get married and also when you become a parent. But, with the rise in student loan debt among young adults, it’s becoming a significant milestone for coverage as well.
When you have a life partner and family who relies on your income to pay the bills, you want to do anything possible to prevent financial hardship if you died. The proceeds from a life insurance policy can help pay for expenses like the mortgage, childcare, shared loans, groceries and the many other bills we have.
You own a home
A home is one of the biggest purchases most people ever make, and it also a milestone that signals the need for life insurance. A policy in the amount of your mortgage and with a term length at least as long as your loan, can provide your intended beneficiary with the funds necessary to keep the home, rent it out, live in it, sell it, or whatever they choose to do. It gives them options.
Without life insurance, the state you live in will determine what happens to your home and loan should you pass away. If you have student loan debts, the assets in your estate (like your home) could be used to pay toward the balance.
If you desire to leave a legacy and to make your loved ones’ financial lives a bit easier if you die, then consider life insurance. A policy in an amount that covers your student loan and mortgage debts will help help keep your legacy intact.
How much life insurance coverage do you need
Determining how much life insurance you need depends on your family structure, debts and risk tolerance. A rule of thumb recommended by most experts is to have coverage that’s 5 to 10 times your annual income. However, if you have significant debts, that amount may not be enough. A life insurance calculator can take into consideration your family, debts, income, age and more to offer a personalized recommendation for coverage.
Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone with student loan debt needs life insurance. If you’re single without any dependents and you have federally funded loans, then the money from a policy could be better utilized toward your debt repayment.
The decision to purchase life insurance as a college graduate boils down to the financial legacy you want to leave the people you care about the most. If you find yourself with student loans to pay off, a mortgage, or a family who depends on you, life insurance can provide a much-needed financial safety net should something happen to you.
Shannah Compton Game is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional with an MBA and is the host of the award-winning podcast, Millennial Money, where she shares totally relatable and easy to understand financial advice that will actually make you want to talk about money.
Haven Life doesn’t provide tax, legal or investment advice. This discussion is intended as general education only. We encourage you to work with your own personal tax or legal professionals and your financial advisor. Opinions expressed by the author are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Haven Life.