## What is the income replacement approach?

The income replacement approach is a method of determining the amount of life insurance you should purchase. It assumes that the goal of life insurance is to replace the lost earnings of a family breadwinner who has died. Under this approach, the insurance purchased is based on the value of the income the insured breadwinner can expect to earn during his or her lifetime.

By focusing only on a family breadwinner’s expected future earnings stream, the human life value provides a fairly rough estimate of life insurance needs. To help make your insurance needs estimate more accurate, the* income replacement approach* allows for some adjustments to the human life value.

## Determining the insured breadwinner’s human life value

Calculating the human life value, or the present value of the expected future income stream, is the biggest component of the income replacement approach. In fact, this calculation alone sometimes serves as the income replacement estimate. The human life value calculation has several components:

**Start with the insured breadwinner’s after-tax earnings**

The first step is to take the insured’s current after-tax earnings. The major piece of after-tax earnings is after-tax salary. You use after-tax rather than gross earnings because it represents the amount actually available to spend on your family’s needs.

Example(s):If the insured’s gross salary is currently $60,000 and the federal and state combined income tax liability is 35 percent of her gross salary, her after-tax salary is $39,000. This figure represents the amount the insured currently provides for the family.

**Subtract out the percent of income the breadwinner devotes to personal expenses**

In defining human life value, many financial planners include only that portion of the anticipated future income stream that would be devoted to the family. Since a part of the insured breadwinner’s earnings go to self-maintenance (e.g., clothing, food, and individual transportation expenses), that part of the future income stream has no bearing on supporting the family. The frequent assumption is that 25 percent of after-tax income goes for the breadwinner’s personal expenses and the remaining 75 percent goes for family living expenses. You can, thus, multiply the expected total earnings stream by a family support ratio of 75 percent or some other amount to reflect the percentage of income that actually supports the family.

Example(s):The insured earns a $60,000 gross salary and $39,000 after taxes. To roughly subtract out the percentage of income devoted to personal expenses, you can multiply $39,000 by the general average 75 percent family support ratio to get $29,250 for the after-tax amount actually devoted to family support. If you have a more precise figure, say 30 percent, for the amount the insured actually spends on himself or herself, you can use a 70 percent family support ratio instead. You then come up with a $27,300 ($39,000 x 0.70) figure for after-tax income supporting the family.

**Consider adding employer retirement plan contributions to the after-tax earnings figure**

After-tax earnings also include contributions by the insured’s employer to a 401(k) or other retirement plan. These contributions are an income source that will cease upon the insured’s death, just as salary payments will cease. Although they don’t go directly toward family expenses, they can help ease the surviving spouse’s retirement saving needs. Therefore, you also may want to add in the employer’s annual retirement plan contribution to get a more accurate figure for the anticipated after-tax earnings.

Example(s):Assume once again that the insured’s gross salary is currently $60,000. Also, assume that he or she participates in the employer’s 401(k) plan. Under the plan, the employer matches employee contributions at a rate of 50 percent. If the insured contributes 6 percent of income to the plan, or $3,600, then the employer contributes an additional 3 percent, or $1,800, to the insured’s retirement account. You should add this latter $1,800 amount to the after-tax salary figure.

**Figure the number of years of income you need to replace**

The future earnings stream you want to protect reflects the income the insured will earn over the number of future years he or she expects to work until retirement.

Example(s):The insured is 40 years old and anticipates retiring at age 65. His or her expected future economic life is 25 years. The lost income stream if the insured died today would be for 25 years.

**Take into account anticipated salary growth and inflation**

It is unlikely that the insured’s earnings will stay the same over time. They will probably increase due to several factors: inflation and merit increases, promotions, or other salary growth separate from inflation. You, therefore, need to factor in an earnings growth factor to account for these effects on the future earnings stream. The growth factor is the sum of the effects.

To account for inflation, you have several choices for the appropriate figure to use. You can choose the long-term average inflation rate of approximately 3 percent, which also roughly reflects recent inflation trends. If you think that figure is overly optimistic for the future, you can instead choose the approximately 5 percent average inflation rate of the 1980s or the approximately 7 percent average inflation rate of the 1970s, for instance. To address anticipated salary increases that are unrelated to general inflation, you might use the 2 percent figure for the average annual inflation-adjusted, after-tax salary increase across all industries. If the insured is in a particular industry with much higher or lower annual increases, you might instead use that industry’s annual average increase.

Tip:If your family’s desire is to maintain its current standard of living in the event the insured dies, then accounting for future raises above inflation is unnecessary. You can simplify matters by just using a future inflation rate estimate for the growth factor.

Example(s):The insured works in a computer-related field. You are concerned that current low inflation rates may not hold into the future. You might, thus, choose a 5 percent inflation factor instead of the lower 3 percent long-term average. The insured’s computer field offers annual salary increases above the average 2 percent inflation-adjusted rate across all industries. As a result, you might use the particular field’s average 4 percent inflation-adjusted salary increases as opposed to the cross-industry average. Your growth factor would be 9 percent (5% + 4%). Note that if your family’s goal was just to maintain the current standard of living and not account for future merit, seniority, or other increases unrelated to inflation, you would just use the 5 percent inflation factor as the growth factor.

**Determine the total anticipated future income for supporting the family**

You can calculate the expected future income stream using the following figures:

- Current after-tax earnings (which you can multiply by the family support ratio)
- Number of years the insured expects to work
- Earnings growth factor (accounting for inflation and salary raises)

This income stream represents the future value, which you then need to discount in order to arrive at the present value, or the human life value.

**Determine a discount rate for the insurance proceeds and calculate the present value**

You need to determine a discount rate that reflects the after-tax investment return on the insurance proceeds over the years. The investment of the life insurance proceeds should provide returns over time that equal the income stream calculated in the previous step. Stocks, bonds, Treasury bills, and other types of investments offer varying average rates of return. Figures are available for short-, medium-, and long-term average rates of return for the different types of investments. Stocks generally offer the highest rates of return, and significant variations exist among the different types of stock. Similarly, different types of bonds offer different average rates of return.

Tip:Many financial advisors recommend using relatively conservative investment returns for your discount rate. This way, you account for possible market declines or lower-than-expected rates of return on your investments.

Caution:Avoid basing your discount rates on the unusually high rates of return for investments during the 1990s. These rates of return don’t reflect the long-term trends and most likely won’t reflect long-term future trends.

You complete the human life value calculation by determining the present value of the expected income stream, using the discount rate you have selected. You can utilize either a formula for calculating present value or the easier-to-use present value tables. If you use present value tables, they typically give the present value of $1 at various rates of return for different numbers of years that you invest. You simply take the number of years and percentage that apply to you, find the present value in the table, and multiply it by the expected income stream figure you determined above.

Example(s):Assume you calculated an expected income stream of $800,000 for a 25-year period and have chosen an inflation-adjusted discount rate of 4 percent. You turn to the present value of $1 table and find a figure of 0.375 for a 25-year investment at 4 percent. You then multiply $800,000 by 0.375 to come up with a human life value of $300,000.

## Making adjustments to the human life value

As mentioned, the human life value isn’t a very precise estimate of your family’s actual life insurance needs. In one sense, it tends to overstate your family’s insurance needs by failing to account for other family assets and sources of income that can help support the family if the insured dies. Investments, savings accounts, and Social Security survivor benefits, among other things, can offset some of your family’s life insurance needs. In another sense, it tends to understate your family’s life insurance needs by failing to account for certain large lump-sum expenses that will come up only after the insured’s death, such as final medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, estate settlement expenses, mortgage and other debt repayment costs, and college education costs. The income replacement approach allows adjustments for these factors, so you arrive at a more precise insurance needs estimate tailored more closely to your family’s circumstances.

**Subtract out other assets and sources of income**

In reality, your family probably won’t need to depend entirely on life insurance to replace the insured breadwinner’s lost income. It may have investments in stocks, bonds, or other assets. It may have savings accounts or certificates of deposit. In addition, the surviving spouse and eligible children will qualify to receive Social Security survivor benefits over time. To make a proper deduction for a stream of these benefits, you will need to calculate their present value. With the income replacement approach, you can subtract these additional sources.

**Add in large lump-sum expenses**

Projecting an income stream based on your family’s current standard of living doesn’t provide for large lump-sum expenses that will occur only in the future. First, the insured’s death will result in final death expenses, including final medical costs, funeral costs, and estate administration costs. Second, the insured’s death may necessitate paying off personal debts, such as credit card debts, college loan debts, automobile debts, and home mortgage debt. Third, if you have children, you have future college costs that aren’t necessarily part of your current income needs. The income replacement approach can adjust for these expenses by adding them on to your human life value figure.

**Considering differences in income replacement needs during different future periods**

The amount of income needed for family support may differ over time. The time after the insured’s death can be divided into different periods:

- Readjustment period
- Dependency period
- Blackout period
- Retirement period

You may wish to make allowances for the varying family support needs during these periods. Typically, this type of analysis falls under the family needs approach, but it can also be useful with the income replacement approach.

**What are these periods?**

Briefly, the readjustment period refers to the first one to two years following the insured’s death. During this period, the family pays off the insured’s remaining obligations and deals with the transition to life without the insured. The dependency period refers to the years in which the family must still support any children who aren’t ready to be on their own. The blackout period occurs after all children have grown up but before the surviving spouse retires. Finally, the retirement period involves the surviving spouse’s retirement years. These periods are also covered in the discussion on the family needs approach.

**How can you make allowances for different income needs during these periods?**

Many financial planners recommend a relatively simple way to account for differing family income needs during the readjustment, dependency, blackout, and retirement periods. You take the insured’s current income and estimate the percentage of that income that would be necessary during the different periods. Differences in children’s dependency needs and the availability of income from the surviving spouse factor into the various estimates you make.

## Strengths

**More accurate than the rules of thumb**

By taking into account inflation, salary increases, and several factors unique to your family’s situation (including the breadwinner’s remaining work years, other available assets and sources of income, and some major lump-sum expenses), the income replacement method provides a more accurate estimate of life insurance needs than the rules of thumb.

**Relatively easy to understand conceptually**

Although income replacement approach calculations involve a number of steps, they are relatively easy to understand conceptually. The idea of maintaining a stream of income is more straightforward than accounting for a long list of expenses in the family needs approach.

## Tradeoffs

**Requires more involved calculations than some other approaches**

The income replacement approach calculations involve more steps than the very straightforward rules of thumb or even the more involved estate preservation and liquidity needs approach.

**Fails to consider family financial needs in depth**

The income replacement approach generally makes the assumption that it is sufficient to look primarily at current income (or that percentage of income that currently goes toward family support) when anticipating the family’s future financial needs. It provides for some adjustments but fails to examine the future expenses in depth. Thus, this approach is generally less precise than the family needs approach.

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