A new study released by LIMRA and the LIFE Foundation on Wednesday found that Americans, especially those who are younger, prefer to buy life insurance via the Internet, mail or by phone.

Although 64% of consumers are still buying life insurance from a professional, far fewer are doing so compared to 1996 when 80% preferred to purchase it face-to-face. Now, 26% of consumers prefer to buy life insurance directly.

“Obviously, the Internet has fundamentally changed consumers’ buying practices over the past 15 years,” said Marvin H. Feldman, president and CEO of the LIFE Foundation, in a press release. “Recognizing the growing consumer interest to use the Internet to conduct research and buy life insurance, life insurance companies and agents have developed and implemented innovative strategies to engage and serve consumers through their websites and social media platforms that are more convenient for the customer.”

Meanwhile, three out of four of those between 25-44 years of age prefer the Internet to buy life insurance.

The study found consumers in general feel life insurance is a necessity, with 86 percent agreeing that most people need life insurance. Nonetheless, only 70% think they personally need life insurance and just 63% of individuals surveyed say they own some sort of life insurance.

“Life insurance has never been as easy or inexpensive to buy, yet millions of Americans continue to put off making a purchase that they, by their own admission, say is an important one,” said Feldman. 

The study revealed a few other highlights: Individuals rank understanding what they’re buying when it comes to life insurance as the most important factor in their purchasing decision, followed by obtaining the proper amount of coverage. Price ranked fourth out of six factors, with only 14% saying it was most important to them.

Yet worries over price keep people from buying more insurance. Although the study states that the cost of basic term life insurance has tumbled by about 50% over the last decade, consumers still think life insurance costs a lot. Of insured individuals who say their coverage is inadequate, 85% say cost has prevented them from buying more, followed by 76% who cite other financial priorities and 55% who say they don’t know what to buy, the report found.

The biggest reason people report owning life insurance is to cover burial and other final expenses followed by replacing the income of a wage earner. Sixty-two percent of individuals of all income levels say they see life insurance as a way to transfer wealth or leave an inheritance.

As for financial concerns, 46% of respondents said they are extremely or very concerned about having money for a comfortable retirement, followed by 42% who said they are worried about paying for medical expenses. Only 27% said they are extremely or very concerned about dying prematurely and leaving family in a precarious financial situation even though many Americans don’t have any life insurance or are inadequately insured.

The online survey was conducted from February 3 - 8, 2011 by Harris Interactive. The 2,051 respondents were between ages 18 and 75 and shared or were the sole decision maker for financial matters in the household. The margin of error in this study is +/- 2 percentage points or less.