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It's a decision many baby boomers are grappling with: Should I buy long-term-care insurance?

The decision has never been more difficult. According to researchers at Georgetown University and Pennsylvania State University, about 70% of individuals 65 and older will need long-term care—whether at home or in an assisted-living facility or nursing home.

At the same time, however, the price of long-term-care insurance keeps going up. A 55-year-old couple, for example, can expect to spend about $3,275 in annual premiums for $164,000 of coverage for each that grows by 3% a year, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, a trade group for insurance agents.

For some people, of course, long-term-care policies make no sense. Medicaid is there to help people who have little money. (Medicare doesn't typically cover continuing care.) People with assets of $2 million or more, meanwhile, can probably afford to pay for long-term care out of pocket, although a policy may still make sense to ensure they have money to leave to their heirs.

But for people who fall between those two extremes, the decision whether to buy long-term-care insurance is a tricky one, especially since the policies are complicated and the business is in a state of flux, with carriers raising prices and exiting the business. "The industry is changing so rapidly," says Howard Gleckman, a resident fellow at the Urban Institute, "it's hard to keep up."

Here are six mistakes consumers commonly make when purchasing long-term-care insurance, and advice on how to avoid these pitfalls.

1. WAITING TOO LONG TO BUY

Many people don't even start thinking about long-term-care insurance until they reach 60. And by that time, it may be too late—either because the insurance is too costly or they simply can't qualify for health reasons.

As a result, for most people, the 50s are the best time to buy a policy. That's typically when premiums are most affordable and coverage is easiest to obtain, says Mr. Gleckman.

For each year applicants in their 50s delay buying coverage, carriers typically raise premiums by 3% to 4%, simply because they are a year older, says Dawn Helwig, a principal and consulting actuary at Seattle-based Milliman Inc. In contrast, for every year someone in their 60s waits, they can expect to pay an additional 6% or more, she adds.

Those who wait may pay higher premiums for other reasons, too. Over the past decade, carriers struggling with losses on existing policies have raised the premiums on new policies an average of 4% to 8% a year, depending on the features, according to Milliman.

Consider a 65-year-old man who purchases $110,000 of coverage with benefits that grow 5% a year. To secure the same coverage 10 years earlier, at age 55, he would have paid approximately $1,032 in annual premiums, says Ms. Helwig. But because he waited, his annual premium is now about $2,770. Assuming he lives to age 85, he will pay a total of about $55,400 in premiums—or some $24,400 more than he would have spent had he bought at age 55 and lived 30 years.

Those who wait also run the risk that their health may deteriorate. Carriers, which have become stricter about how they underwrite policies, reject about 25% of applicants between ages 60 and 69, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance. They also charge those in relatively poor health as much as 40% more, says Ms. Helwig.

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