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How much life insurance do I need? (Canada edition)

Life insurance is often a necessity, especially if you have loved ones who are dependent on your salary – but how much life insurance do you need?

In 2014, a BMO Insurance study found 74% of Canadians had a life insurance policy, but 70% weren’t confident their policy would give them enough to take care of their family if they passed away. So when you ask ‘How much life insurance do I need’ – you’re not alone!

How much life insurance do I need?

There’s no quick answer to how much life insurance you need, as everyone is different. A rule of thumb is to make sure your life insurance covers your debts, income, mortgage, and education. This is called the DIME formula.

  • Debts: How much do you have?
  • Income: The lost income that would need replacing.
  • Mortgage: The amount remaining on the mortgage.
  • Education: How much your kids will need for post-secondary learning.

Let’s break it down with a real-life examples, to better understand how much life insurance you need.

Calculating how much life insurance you need in Canada


We’ll start with how much debt you have, not including your mortgage. This includes any credit cards, lines of credit, car loans, and any student loans. If you expect to go into extra debt in the near future, make sure to include that as well. You’ll also want to include future debts you won’t be around for, such as funeral costs.

For a real-life example, let’s say you have $25,000 in debt and your funeral estimate is $15,000.

Debt: $25,000 + $15,000 = $40,000


Next, we need to calculate how many years your family would need your support, and multiply your annual salary by the required years. The number of years can be until your child graduates high school, leaves university, or buys their own house – this is up to you.

Let’s say you make $50,000 per year, and want to support your family until your children graduate college. Let’s estimate that’s around twenty years.

Income: $50,000 x 20 = $1,000,000


How much do you owe on your mortgage? You’ll want to life insurance coverage for the entire amount. You might even consider adding more to cover the costs of a major renovation, in case your family outgrows your current house.

For this example, we’ll say you have $400,000 remaining on your mortgage, but you want expect to add a granny flat in the next five years, at a cost of $50,000.

Mortage: $450,000


How much will it cost in twenty years to send 2 kids off to college? What if they end up wanting to do their masters, PhD, or even a college diploma? Will they study at home or abroad? These are all costs you’ll want to have covered. To make our number easier, the lifetime limit of an RESP for any beneficiary in Canada is $50,000.

For two kids, each with maxed out RESP’s would be $100,000.

Education = $100,000

If we use the DIME formula, in this scenario, this person would need $1,590,000 in life insurance coverage for a 20-year term. Now, you just need to get some life insurance quotes.

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How much is a 20-year term life insurance policy?

A rough estimate for the person in this example would be about $50-$60 per month, depending on their age, gender, and health. Your term life insurance quote will likely be different based on a number of variables. What if you only have 1 child, a more expensive mortgage, or you earn more money?

How much life insurance do you really need in Canada?

if you’re still not satisfied with the above example, consider other ways of calculating. The old rule of thumb was 10 times your salary, but that’s arbitrary. Why not just calculate the salary you’d make until you retire. If you’re forty years old, making $50,000 per year and plan on retiring at 65, let’s do the math. 25 x $50,000 = $1,250,000.

Of course, we haven’t taken into account any high-interest savings or investment accounts like RRSPs. With that in mind, follow this 2 step process; essentially, financial obligations minus liquid assets.

Obligations: Annual income multiplied by the years you want to replace that income, then add in your remaining mortgage, debts, college funds and funeral expenses. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, include how much it might cost to replace all the work you do every day from daycare to cooking and cleaning.

Liquid assets: What’s your obligated amount? Now, subtract your savings, investments RESPs, and any other life insurance you might currently have that maybe your parents bought for you when you were a child.

That number is probably not bad an estimation for how much life insurance you need.

There’s also an argument to buy multiple term life policies. Here’s how that would work. Let’s say you buy a 30-year term policy to only cover what your spouse needs until your retirement. Then, for your children, buy a smaller term say for 20 years to cover your children’s college education. If your life insurance quotes come to less, use it.

Workplace life insurance

If you have life insurance through work, the amount you’re covered for is usually one or two times your annual earnings. However, that might not be enough – the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association says a common amount of coverage is often between five and seven times your current net income. What happens if you get fired or move to another company that doesn’t have life insurance? It’s better to have too much life insurance than not enough.

Quick tips

  • Use the DIME method
  • Speak with your spouse – would they need your full income or be fine with a portion?
  • Consider a child-rider – insuring your children is often an inexpensive addition to your policy.

The Bottom Line

How much life insurance do you need in Canada? Well, it depends. It depends on what you want to leave your loved ones when you’re no longer here. What level of comfort do your loved ones require to carry on with their lives?

Remember, life insurance isn’t for you, it’s for them.


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