Find out if long-term-care coverage is right for you.
Make Your Best Guess
The first step shoppers need to take is to estimate the daily cost of the kind of care you expect to need. Prices vary enormously based on location. According to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, one day in a private nursing home in Stamford, Conn., will set you back an average of $331, versus just $99 in Shreveport, La. Much also depends on your lifestyle: A high-end facility will cost more than the local average. Do a little digging to get a basic idea of what you might expect to pay, says Enid Kassner, senior policy adviser for the AARP.
Keep in mind that you don't need to cover 100% of your costs. Consider the other income you'll have from, say, Social Security, a pension or other assets that you're willing to tap for your care. If you think you need $200 a day, "you might say, 'I could afford to pay $100 a day, but I want to have the best care, so I'll buy a policy that covers another $100,'" Kassner says. Just make sure that the amount you choose to pay won't become onerous as you get older, particularly as prices continue to increase over time.
Stretch the Elimination Period
Another way to reduce premiums is to extend your elimination period -- the time for which you agree to pay out of pocket before payments kick in. (It's essentially a deductible.) Payments can begin immediately, or you can postpone them for 30, 60, or 90 days or more. "No one will go broke during the elimination period," says Arthur Stein, vice president for long-term-care insurance for First Financial Group in Bethesda, Md. "If that's a stretch for them, they probably shouldn't be buying the insurance."
Take a Pass on Lifetime Benefits
Lifetime benefits are viewed by many as the gold standard when it comes to long-term-care insurance. But the average stay in a nursing home is 2.4 years, according to the 1999 National Nursing Home Survey issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, and a four-year policy is likely to cover most needs. What's more, lifetime benefits are pricey; you can save by limiting your insurance payouts to a set amount of time.