Having insurance is a lot like carrying an umbrella with you at all times: Most of the time it feels burdensome, but boy, are you glad to have it when the rain comes.
The right insurance policies are key to a healthy financial life. Below, we've explained briefly which those are, plus when you should purchase them.
Keep in mind that insurance policies are largely personal. Everyone's situation and needs are different, and as your life changes (say, you get a new job or have a baby) so should your coverage.
One of the best things you can do to get the best coverage for your needs is to educate yourself: Get multiple quotes, read your policy closely before signing on, and don't hesitate to ask questions when you don't understand.
Also note that while the policies below are arranged by age, of course they aren't all set in stone. If you become a homeowner in your 40s instead of your 30s, for example, that's when the need for homeowner's insurance will kick in.
Here's a brief overview of the policies you need and when you need them:
In Your 20s
Health insurance. While the Affordable Care Act has brought health insurance to the headlines, the simple fact remains that for most of us, healthcare in the U.S. is impossible to afford without insurance. (Not to mention that under the ACA, you usually have to pay a fine if you go without coverage.) Under the law, children can stay on their parents' policies until age 26. If that's you, you'll need coverage immediately after that period. If you have a job, you can usually obtain it through your employer.
You'll stop needing it: Never.
Auto insurance (when you get a car). There were over 5.6 million accidents in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety administration. If you have a car, you need auto insurance. Insurance rates vary according to everything from who is driving the car (like your teenager) to your driving history.
You'll stop needing it: When you no longer own a car.
Disability insurance (when you get a job). Disability insurance is meant to provide income should you be disabled and unable to work. It's estimated by the Social Security Administration that over 25% of today's 20-year-olds will be disabled before retirement.
If you're relying on your income to live, you should have disability insurance. Most people who are traditionally employed should be able to secure a policy through their employer, while people who are self-employed will have to take out an individual policy. Some people may prefer the increased coverage provided by buying private policies to supplement those from their employers. This is even more important if you have dependents relying on your income.
You'll stop needing it: Once you exit the working world around age 65, which is often the end of the longest policy you can buy.
Renter's insurance (when you rent your own place). Renter's insurance, while not a baseline requirement like health or auto insurance, is something any renter will be glad to have in the case of a fire, leak, or storm. While policies differ, they're generally low cost (think $30 a month) and cover costs including the replacement of your personal property as well as a temporary living situation should you be unable to occupy your rented home. Note that, if needed, you can usually add coverage to this policy for an engagement ring.
You'll stop needing it: When you stop renting.
In Your 30s
Life insurance (when you get married and/or have children). Life insurance, like disability insurance, is meant to replace your income for those relying on it should something go terribly wrong. There's one situation in which pretty much everyone agrees some type of life insurance is a good idea: When you have dependents, such as minor children or a spouse who doesn't work.
You can calculate your coverage needs at lifehappens.org. Again, many people will be able to get coverage through their employers, but not always as much as they need. Some experts recommend replacing up to 10 times your annual income.
You'll stop needing it: When your dependents are no longer relying on you for financial support. For that reason, term life insurance (a policy that only covers you for a set amount of years) tends to be a better fit for many parents, whose kids will grow up and become financially independent.
Homeowner's insurance (when you buy your own place). This is one of those non-negotiables: If you own a home, you need homeowner's insurance, which should cover everything from the structure itself to your belongings to liability should someone be injured on your property. Note that if you live in an area of the country that's subject to flooding, earthquakes, or other natural disasters, you may need to purchase additional coverage that isn't included in your primary policy.
You'll stop needing it: If you sell your home and go back to renting, or make other living arrangements.
Pet insurance (if you have a pet). Pet insurance isn't necessarily a must-have, but if you're the type to shell out $8,000 for your dog's surgery, it might be worth considering. Some plans even cover routine vet visits and vaccinations, and most will reimburse 80-90% of your vet bills for a premium that ranges from about $100-$300 per year.
You'll stop needing it: When you no longer own a pet.
In Your 40s
Long-term care insurance. Long-term care insurance is exactly what it sounds like: It covers care for people who are aging or disabled and need help with daily living, whether that means a nursing home or an attendant. This is the sort of thing people don't think about until they get older and realize this might be a reality for them, but of course, as you get older you get more expensive to insure. That's why it's a good idea to start looking at long-term care insurance well before you need it. Bankrate.com has a great explanation of how shopping sooner rather than later can save you money.
You'll stop needing it: Never.
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