Buying Insurance: 2 Essential Things to Know

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Barefoot Investor" by Scott Pape. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What should you consider when buying insurance? And what are some pitfalls to watch out for when signing your insurance plan?

When buying insurance, you should always comparison shop and scrutinize all the options. You don’t want to end up paying for coverage you don’t need, or worse, failing to get the coverage you do need.

Here are two pieces of advice you should keep in mind when buying insurance.

Top Tips for Buying an Insurance Plan

Life comes with losses, such as losing a job or becoming disabled. Having insurance helps protect you from the financial costs of these losses. However, finding appropriate insurance can be tricky. Here are some common mistakes people make when buying insurance:

  • We pay for coverage we don’t need.
  • We pay too much for insurance.
  • We fail to get coverage we do need.

Here are two pieces of advice to consider when buying insurance:

  1. If losing it won’t affect your financial situation, don’t insure it. For example, if you damage your phone beyond repair, you’ll be able to get a new one without putting yourself at a financial disadvantage, so don’t insure it. On the other hand, if your house burns down, you’ll want to recoup the value of the house itself and the possessions within. Here are some other common items or scenarios to consider insuring against:
  • Losing the ability to work, or becoming disabled
  • Death
  • Theft
  • Car accidents
  • Health insurance (more on this below)
  • Becoming ill and needing medical care while traveling abroad
  1. Negotiate your annual insurance premiums down. Companies want to retain your business. If you call them and tell them you’re thinking about switching, they’ll likely be willing to negotiate a better deal for you. You can also offer to pay more money, or excess, which is the initial amount of money you’re willing to pay toward a claim. By increasing the amount of excess you’re willing to pay, you can decrease your insurance cost. Since you now have a Backstop account, you’ll have the extra money to pay if something catastrophic happens.

Now, we’ll look at buying some specific types of insurance.

Private Health Insurance

Australia’s health care system is so robust that you may not need private insurance. If you’re under the age of 31 or earn less than $91,000 as a single person or $180,000 as a couple, the country’s health system will cover your medical expenses for free.

If you earn above these thresholds, you’ll have to pay a special tax for medical services. To avoid paying this tax, pay for private insurance instead, which is the same cost, but gives you access to private medical providers. You’ll also want to go with private insurance if you want to avoid waiting for care in the public system or want to choose your own doctor.

Here are four tips for buying private insurance in Australia:

  1. Opt for comprehensive coverage and $500 excess.
  2. Choose a plan that allows you to pay for each day you’re in the hospital. This reduces your annual insurance cost.
  3. Purchase plans that don’t cover extras like massages that increase the cost.
  4. Avoid iSelect for browsing insurance, as it doesn’t include all the most prominent or cost-effective providers. Instead, visit PrivateHealth.gov.au for a list of all providers.

Income Protection, Life Insurance, and Disability

Ninety-four percent of Australian families have no insurance to protect them if an income earner can no longer work. This leaves families vulnerable, as they will have to make do with less income in the event of accidents or other life-changing events. 

Pape recommends that parents with young children aim to insure 10 to 12 times their annual income.

Australians can purchase insurance for income protection, life, and disability through their super fund. Call your super fund and asking for three pieces of information:

  1. A quote on 12 times your annual income for combined life and total permanent disability insurance.
  2. A quote on 75 percent of your annual income until the age you plan to retire.
  3. How much additional money you’ll need to put into your super to cover these new insurances.

(Shortform note: U.S. employers may provide some types of insurance to employees. Be sure you understand what your employer offers and supplement it if necessary.)

Buying Insurance: 2 Essential Things to Know

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