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Life insurance changed my life. Before I graduated high school, both of my parents died. They had a tiny bit of life insurance.  Fortunately it was enough to send me and my siblings to college. Without that coverage I don’t know where I would be today. I’m also a financial adviser and much of what I’ve learned about life insurance has come from my professional experience selling it. So, yes, I feel strongly about the subject.

But I don’t think you should hock your left kidney in order to buy as much life insurance as possible. It’s a balance and you have to consider the tradeoff between taking care of your heirs in the future and taking care of yourself and your family right now.  In short, you have to get the most bang for your life insurance buck. Here’s how to do just that:

1. Don’t Buy Permanent Insurance

There’s a place in the world for whole life, universal life and variable life – but not in your world if you’re trying to save money. That’s because permanent insurance (whole life, UL and VUL) can run you seven times as much as term life for the same benefit.

Some life insurance agents will try to convince you that permanent insurance is a better deal than term, but that’s hogwash. Yes, permanent insurance provides an investment element but the return is paltry and largely irrelevant to people who are trying to buy enough life insurance to protect their family while spending as little as possible. If you’re concerned about cash flow, buy term life.

2. Don’t Buy Too Much Coverage

Life insurance is meant to provide a big pile of cash that can be invested and used to replace your income in case you die prematurely. But over time you’ll probably need less life insurance.

That could happen for any number of reasons. If your expenses drop in the future (like after the kids are out of the house and/or the mortgage is paid off), you won’t need to replace as much income, so you don’t need as much coverage. If your investments and savings grow, they can generate passive income and that also reduces your need for insurance. Make sure you buy term life insurance that can be scaled back when you want.

3. Shop Around

It’s important to shop around for inexpensive life insurance. And getting quotes online is fine. But when it comes to signing on the bottom line, you might do far better if you actually talk to a qualified and objective professional. This is especially the case if you have a medical condition or need the coverage fast. Here’s why.

People with medical challenges or who need life insurance pronto often make the mistake of only applying for insurance that doesn’t require a medical exam. They think that’s the only way they can buy coverage, but that’s rarely the case.

Depending on the state you live in and the condition you have, you still might be able to get a regular policy much cheaper. And if it’s speed you need, you can most always get coverage in place immediately pending a medical review. The exam doesn’t have to hold you up. That’s where working with an objective pro can really pay off.

Anyway, the “insurance no exam” scheme is sometimes misleading. They still ask you a series of questions that will weed out the big risks. So if you are extremely ill, you’re going to have a tough time finding insurance anyway.

4. Understand Who You’re Working With

The most expensive error you can make when you buy life insurance is to buy from a person who only works with one insurance company. That’s what a captive agent is. If your agent only represents one firm, there is no way she can sell you a better policy at a lower price even if she wants to.

In order to avoid this mistake just ask your agent how many companies she represents. If the answer is one, walk on.

5. Talk to at Least Three People

In your search for life insurance, you’re bound to meet nice, friendly and respectable looking agents. That’s fine, but don’t be swayed by that. Gather lots of information. Bounce ideas off of the competing agents. Trust your gut.

If an agent doesn’t clearly answer your questions, cross them off your list. Again, no matter how comfortable you feel, make sure you speak with at least three agents. This is the best way to make sure everyone is being upfront and you are getting the best deal.

If others depend on you financially, life insurance is usually a great and inexpensive way to fulfill that responsibility. The good news is you can use these five tactics to slash your life insurance costs.

What other tips do you recommend to reduce the expense of life insurance?

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its affiliates.

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