Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about oureditorial standards
and how we make money.
Permanent life insurance is a type of lifelong coverage that does not expire like term life insurance. Permanent policies also have a cash value savings component that earns tax-deferred interest and can be accessed after holding the policy for a certain period of time.
But there are several different types of permanent life insurance and the right policy for you depends on your current and future financial situation and coverage needs. The main difference between each type of policy is how the cash value grows.
We’ll cover everything you need to know about the four most common types of permanent life insurance – whole, universal, variable, variable universal – so you can decide which policy you need.
Permanent life insurance lasts for your entire life and never expires
Most permanent policies come with a cash value component, but the type of policy determines how the money grows over time
Whole life, universal life, variable life, and variable universal life (VUL) are the four most common types of permanent life insurance
Whole life insurance is the most popular type of permanent life insurance. Cash value accrues interest over time and can be accessed while you’re alive (though sometimes a penalty applies).
The cash value for whole life insurance policies grows at a modest rate, has a guaranteed minimum (or “floor”), and level premiums throughout the life of the policy, meaning the risk for the cash value is minimal.
Death benefit: level; guaranteed minimum
Cash value: guaranteed
Growth: predetermined interest rate set by insurer
Universal life insurance is more flexible than whole life because you can make changes to both your premium and death benefit. The rate of growth for your cash value, however, is subject to change and is based on an interest rate set by the insurance company (whereas it’s fixed with a whole life policy). There is still a guaranteed death benefit.
Death benefit: adjustable; guaranteed minimum
Cash value: guaranteed minimum
Growth: based on market index performance, such as the S&P 500
Variable life insurance has a cash value that grows based on investments in mutual funds offered by your life insurance company. The growth of the cash account correlates to broader market trends, so it’s possible to see faster increases than you’d see with other types of permanent life insurance.
There is no guaranteed minimum cash value, so if the market fluctuates for the worse, you’d bear the investment risk. The death benefit for variable life insurance can fluctuate over time, but still has a guaranteed minimum amount.
Death benefit: variable; guaranteed minimum
Cash value: not guaranteed
Growth: subaccounts (pool of investment funds offered by insurer)
Variable universal life insurance (VUL) combines universal and variable policy features: Your cash value is invested in a fund of your choosing and your premium and death benefit can fluctuate. It is similar to universal life insurance in that it has flexible premiums, but differs in its asset options. With a variable universal life insurance policy, you can choose the assets you invest your premiums in and there is no guaranteed minimum death benefit or guaranteed cash value.
Death benefit: variable & adjustable; no guaranteed minimum
Cash value: not guaranteed
Growth: policyholder chooses assets, similar to an investment account
A less common type of permanent life insurance that does not have a cash value like the others is final expense insurance. This category includes simplified issue and guaranteed issue insurance. These types of permanent life insurance are intended to cover end-of-life expenses or for those who don’t qualify for traditional coverage. Final expense policies only offer low death benefit amounts, up to $50,000.
Still not sure which type of permanent life insurance is best suited for your needs? Reach out to a Policygenius agent for free to compare policies and prices across multiple insurers.
Whole, universal, variable, and variable universal are the four most common types of permanent life insurance.
Whole life insurance has a cash value that is the least complicated, which makes it a good option for most people looking for permanent insurance. But depending on your retirement, estate planning, or future planning needs, other types of permanent insurance may be better for you.
Term life insurance expires after a set period of time (the term) and does not include a cash value component. Permanent life insurance lasts your entire life and most policies have cash value you can use while you’re alive.
AD&D insurance only pays out the death benefit if you are seriously injured or die from an accident.
More related articles