Many people know that I work in the life insurance industry and ask me if the life insurance they get from their employer is enough. There are several types of life insurance that fall under the heading of "Employer Life Insurance". I will try to address their merits individually.
Life Insurance included as part of your Employee Benefits
Many companies that offer health insurance benefits also include a life insurance benefit. The face amount is usually either a flat amount (eg $ 10,000) or based on a multiple of the employee's salary (usually 1 or 2 times the annual salary). Usually this type of coverage is not even optional and there is no reason why you should not accept this benefit.
I would caution you against relying on this as your only form of life insurance. Many people know that they need life insurance and allow themselves to believe that this benefit satisfies that requirement. If your life insurance needs include paying for a funeral and a few bills then $ 10,000 or your annual salary may be enough. If you have a spouse and children that is on your income, then this amount is probably not going to cut it.
Another issue with relying on this type of coverage for your life insurance needs is that this type of coverage is not portable. If you leave the company, then you can not take the policy with you. You need to have a policy that you own and can take with you no matter what your employment situation. You do not want to be at risk while you are between jobs or waiting for your benefits to begin at a new company.
Additional Optional Life Insurance as part of your Employee Benefits
Many companies include a small amount of life insurance with your benefits as I stated above. As an additional benefit, many companies give you the option to sign up and pay for more coverage with your benefits. Most people find this convenient because the promotions are deducted from your paycheck just like your health and dental benefits and you usually do not have to go through anywriting. The insurance company will usually give you a cheaper rate than most other simplified issue life insurance policies because you are in a group and they assume that people who are employed are generally healthier than people who are unemployed.
Even though this is convenient, I would encourage you to shop around and see if you can find better rates on the open market. In most situations, people will find much cheaper insurance if they go and buy a life insurance policy on their own. You will probably have to be written to get the lower rates, which is an added inconvenience. On the other hand, almost every life insurance company now gives you the option to have your payments automatically deducted from your checking account so that you do not have to worry about writing out premium checks every month or year.
Some companies give you the option to convert this to a stand-alone policy if you leave the company, but you need to make sure this is the case. Otherwise you will not have any coverage if you leave the company. If you can not take the policy with you when you leave the company, then I would encourage you to use this form of employer life insurance as a fallback option. If you can qualify for the life insurance you need from a life insurance company, then it may be worth paying a little extra to have a policy that does not rely on your employment status.
Special Life Insurance Offers through your Employer or Trade Association
This kind of life insurance occurs when a trade association pools its members together or a large employer pools its employees together and uses its buying power to negotiate special rates with a life insurance company. An example of this might be a group of realtors in a given state, all the employees of a company, or a large school district's teachers association. Sometimes just being a member of any organization like AAA or AARP can lead to special rates.
The only thing I have to say about this kind of life insurance is to do your homework. I have talked to some people that have really strong associations that have negotiated their members some really low life insurance rates and special considerations. I have also seen some examples where the insurance company tries to play on your loyalty to the association and provides its members a lousy product. You need to compare the product that your association is offering to similar products on the open market and make sure that the association's product is actually better.
Also, sometimes trade associations will only offer a special rate on one type of life insurance or a particular product. Even though it is a great deal, if it is not what you need then, you should consider paying a little more to get the coverage that matches your needs better.