It’s a bit like buying new car tires or getting a cavity filled. Purchasing life insurance is not a thrill, but it’s typically the responsible thing to do, according to financial experts.

“Life insurance is the No. 1 way to protect your family financially,” said Brian Dooney, an agent with Leonard Adams Insurance and a member of St. Mary Cathedral in Northwest Portland.

One 2018 study reported on Market Watch — a website of business news, analysis, and stock market data — shows that while 84% of Americans say most people need life insurance, only 59% own some form of it.

“Most people procrastinate until there is an important life event that pushes them to buy it,” writes financial adviser Kristin O’Keeffe Merrick in a 2017 Forbes article.

However, there are some serious benefits to buying insurance early on, especially for those who have debt, are business owners, or are married or planning on marriage.

How does it work?

A life insurance policy is a contract with an insurance company. In exchange for premium payments, the company distributes a lump-sum payment, known as a death benefit, to beneficiaries when the insured dies.

Term life insurance is by far the most common type selected and is a good way to reduce your costs, according to Dooney, the oldest of seven children and a fourth-generation agent in the family’s business.

Permanent insurance — such as whole and universal life — provides lifetime coverage and accumulates cash value, but the premiums are much higher. “Some people see permanent insurance as a safe investment; as they build cash value they can sell or get money out of it,” Dooney said.

With a term life insurance policy, the period of protection is temporary (10, 20, and 30 years are most common). After the initial term runs out, policyholders have the option to renew, but at that point, the renewal rate can be quite expensive, according to The Motley Fool, a financial services company.

But that might not be a financial problem.

“For example, I have a term life policy that’s designed to replace my income for my family,” writes certified financial planner Matthew Frankel in a 2017 Motley Fool piece. “In 20 years, when it expires, I’ll be 55, my kids will (hopefully) be out of the house, and I’ll have relatively few years of income that would need to be replaced.”

Dooney said you always can increase your policy or buy another one or two.

Why do you need it?

According to financial experts, the best way to determine if you need life insurance is to ask yourself a straightforward question: Will my death impact anyone else’s finances?

If you own a business, a home or have personal liabilities, someone else will become responsible for those liabilities, said Dooney. Your spouse, siblings or parents could end up needing to pay off your debts.

“If you have kids and you don’t have life insurance, you may have put your entire family at risk,” writes O’Keeffe Merrick in Forbes. “I know that seems a bit harsh, but it’s a potential reality.”

If you are a business owner, consider what would happen to your business if you died unexpectedly.

You may have a group life insurance policy through your employer, but do not assume it’s an adequate amount, O’Keeffe Merrick writes. Even if it’s sufficient, what would happen if you left the company or were fired? You’d be without any form of life insurance.

Note that death benefits from all types of life insurance generally are income-tax-free.

How much do you need?

You can keep costs down by applying when you’re relatively young and at your healthiest, said Dooney. Lifestyle changes such as losing weight or quitting smoking can reduce your premium costs.

Those with serious health issues may only qualify for substandard rates or be denied altogether. Yet if you have chronic health problems and seek life insurance, don’t assume you’ll be turned down, say financial experts. There may be other options.

Worksheets and formulas are available to determine how much of a policy to buy, but a common approach is to round up your outstanding debts and major family goals, and then purchase a policy whose death benefit will cover all of that. Things to consider are the cost of your children’s college education and your mortgage amount.

According to Dooney, you typically want about five times your income. Some advisers say it should be seven to 10 times your annual salary.

A monthly premium could be $50 or $100, while for an older person it could be as high as $1,000. “The best way to determine a policy is to have quotes run on you,” said Dooney.

Finally, before making any decision, consider seeking the advice of a certified financial planner who understands your financial situation.