There are plenty of life insurance options out there, including new variations on traditional coverage, but most people end up deciding between traditional term and whole life policies, each of which has its selling points. Term life insurance is affordable and straightforward but doesn’t last for life, while whole life insurance doesn't expire, but is more expensive.
Term life insurance is right for most people, since they won’t need coverage in their retirement years, but that doesn't mean it's right for everyone. Whole life insurance is best for people with lifelong dependents or more complex financial planning needs.
Term life insurance is the right choice for most shoppers.
Whole life insurance is five to fifteen times more expensive than term life.
Whole life has a cash value component that acts similarly to a savings account, but the return is relatively low.
What’s the difference between term and whole life insurance?
The main differences between term life and whole life insurance lie in the length of coverage and premium costs. Term life insurance usually lasts 10 to 30 years, then expires, whereas whole life lasts for as long as you keep paying premiums.
Whole life insurance is much more expensive than term life insurance because of the longer coverage period and because it comes with extra features, like a cash value account that earns tax-deferred interest. Term insurance doesn’t have a cash value, which makes it less complicated.
For most people, the convenience and lower cost of term life insurance make it the best choice. But a whole life policy may be a better fit if you need lifetime coverage or another way to invest outside traditional accounts.
Ready to shop for life insurance?
What is term life insurance?
After 20 to 30 years, many people have fewer financial responsibilities and don’t need life insurance anymore. As long as you don’t need coverage into old age, a term policy is simple and cost-effective.
Can cancel the policy without any penalty
No hidden fees, exclusions, or investment risk
Expires, so you have to buy a new policy if you still need insurance
What is whole life insurance?
The policy's cash value grows over time at a rate controlled by your insurer. You can use the cash value to take out loans or use it for retirement when the account matures. Some restrictions apply to when you can begin making withdrawals and interest on policy loans.
Can be useful for estate planning
Cash value acts as forced savings
Coverage doesn’t expire
Higher premiums are difficult to afford long-term
Other investments offer higher interest rates
Penalties apply if you cancel coverage
Term life vs. whole life: Coverage comparison
Below is a quick overview of common term and whole life policy differences, including a cost comparison for 35-year-olds.
|Policy features||Term life insurance||Whole life insurance|
|Duration||10 to 30 years||Life|
|Cost||$25 to $30/month||$481 to $571/month|
|Guaranteed death benefit||Yes||Yes|
|Guaranteed cash value||No||Yes|
|How cash value grows||N/A||Earns interest at a fixed rate|
|Risks||No cash value savings option||Low interest rates and high premiums|
Methodology: Estimated term and whole life insurance quotes based on policies offered by Policygenius in March 2022 from our 10 partner life insurance companies: AIG, Banner, Brighthouse, Lincoln, Mutual of Omaha, Pacific Life, Protective, Prudential, SBLI, and Transamerica. Rates are calculated based on a $500,000, 20-year term life insurance policy and $500,000 whole life insurance policy paid up at age 99 for 35-year-old female and male non-smokers in a Preferred health classification.
Cost comparisons for whole vs. term life insurance
Both term life and whole life premiums stay the same for the duration of your policy. Because coverage lasts longer and comes with a cash value, whole life insurance is five to fifteen times more expensive than a comparable term life policy.
The charts below compare the monthly cost of a $250,000, 20-year term policy and a $250,000 whole life policy for a male non-smoker at different ages.
|Age||Term life||Whole life|
Note that a whole life policy costs as much as 15 times more than term life in the example above for the same death benefit. Visualized another way, the difference in cost is even clearer:
Methodology: Quotes based on policies for male non-smokers in a Preferred health classification, offered by Policygenius in March 2022 from our 10 partner life insurance companies: AIG, Banner, Brighthouse, Lincoln, Mutual of Omaha, Pacific Life, Protective, Prudential, SBLI, and Transamerica. Rates are calculated based on a $250,000, 20-year term life insurance policy and $250,000 whole life insurance policy paid up at age 99 for a 35-year-old male non-smoker in a Preferred health classification.
How to choose between whole life and term life insurance
Whether you need a term life or whole life policy depends on your financial needs.
Term life is right for you if: You want an affordable way to leave a death benefit behind to financially support your loved ones and you expect to self-insure in the future
Whole life is right for you if: You want to minimize your estate tax, you want to build cash value, or you have long-term dependents
Term life insurance is the right life insurance policy in most cases because it offers the same amount of death benefit as whole life insurance for a fraction of the price. If you’re still unsure, a Policygenius agent can help you compare the best companies and decide which type of policy is right for you.
Frequently asked questions
What’s the difference between term life and whole life?
Term life offers affordable coverage for a set period, usually 10 to 30 years. Whole life is a lot costlier because it lasts your entire life and has an investment-like component.
Which is better: term or whole life insurance?
Term life insurance is better for more people because it’s affordable and easy to manage. Whole life insurance is more expensive, but better for people who have a high net worth or long-term dependents.
What are the pros and cons of term life insurance?
Term life insurance is cheaper and simpler to manage, but if you need insurance after your coverage expires, a policy may be costly.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of whole life insurance?
Whole life provides permanent coverage, but the policy isn’t cost-effective for most people and the cash value earns low interest.