Popular Types of Life Insurance

Types of Life Insurance

Term Life Insurance

Whole Life Insurance

No medical exam life insurance

Whole life insurance

This type of life insurance lasts your whole life and includes a cash value savings component, but may be too costly for most people.

You probably already know you need some form of life insurance to protect your loved ones financially. But you may still be deciding what type of life insurance is best for you.

Like all life insurance products, whole life is designed to provide financial protection for people or organizations you care about in the event of your death. While most people will find term life insurance more affordable, the permanence of whole life coverage and the tax-deferred cash value make it the right choice for some.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Premiums for whole life insurance fund your death benefit and an additional cash value feature

  • The cash value works like a guaranteed investment and grows at a generally low rate

  • Whole life insurance is five to 15 times more expensive than term life insurance; 45% of policyholders abandon their policy within the first 10 years

  • A whole life policy is best if you need coverage for your entire life and need another investment vehicle

What is whole life insurance?

Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance (also called cash value life insurance). The policy lasts for your entire life, and the cash value grows at a rate set by your insurer.

Life insurance providers usually offer a guaranteed minimum rate of growth for the cash value of whole life policies. However, returns on your investment may be smaller than in traditional investing in part because your provider will subtract administrative fees related to managing your policy that a typical investment company doesn't pay.

Whole life insurance quick facts

FEATURESWHOLE LIFE INSURANCE OVERVIEW
Average DurationLife
Average Cost5-15x more than term
Guaranteed Death Benefit?Yes
Guaranteed Cash Value?Yes
How Cash Value GrowsEarns interest at a rate determined by your insurer
PremiumsLevel
NotesNo risk compared to other permanent types, but you may find better investment options elsewhere

How much does whole life insurance cost?

"On average, permanent coverage can be five to 15 times more expensive than a term policy with the same benefit amount. This range can vary based on the length of the term you are comparing and the type of permanent product and features within that product,” says Patrick Hanzel, Advanced Planning Specialist and Certified Financial Planner at Policygenius. "For example, some permanent products can have additional benefits like cash value accumulation and a growing death benefit. Others can be lower in cost but not include similar benefits."

Sample whole life insurance premiums

LIFE INSURANCE COVERAGE AMOUNTMONTHLY PAYMENTANNUAL PAYMENT
$100,000$89/ mo$1,023/ year
$250,000$213/ mo$2,448/ year
$500,000$421/ mo$4,839/ year
$1,000,000$827/ mo$9,506/ year

Methodology: Sample based on lowest cost average from top carriers for a 30-year-old male in a Preferred health classification in the New Jersey area. Life insurance quotes based on policies offered by Policygenius in December 2020 from our partner whole life insurance companies: AIG, Guardian Insurance, MassMutual, and Mutual of Omaha.

No matter what type of life insurance you buy, your premiums are determined based on your:

  • Health: An adverse medical history increases the cost of your premiums. Your weight, any diagnoses, and prescription history all have an impact.
  • Age: The older you are, the higher the risk you pose to a life insurance company. Life insurance rates increase by 4.5-9% every year.
  • Coverage amount: The more life insurance coverage you get, the higher your premiums will be.
  • Term length: Life insurance policies with longer term lengths cost more, which is one reason why whole life insurance costs more than term life insurance.
  • Riders: Adding supplemental coverage can increase the cost of your premiums, though some riders are included in policies for free.

Many people overestimate their ability to pay whole life premiums year after year. Approximately 30% of whole life insurance policies are surrendered within the first three years and 45% are surrendered within the first 10 years, according to a study by LIMRA and the Society of Actuaries.

→ Learn more about whole life insurance premiums

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Some permanent products can have additional benefits like cash value accumulation and a growing death benefit. Others can be lower in cost but not include similar benefits.

- Patrick Hanzel

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What's the best whole life insurance company?

Most of the top life insurance companies offer some sort of whole life insurance, though the type of whole life insurance policy you can get varies by insurer.

Those looking for traditional whole life insurance policies will likely be able to find one through MassMutual and Guardian Insurance. But if you're just looking to cover end of life expenses, such as funeral costs, then explore your options with AIG or Mutual of Omaha. And if you're looking for universal life insurance, look to any insurer that partners with Policygenius.

Since every provider evaluates every application differently, work with an independent broker or agent to determine the right life insurance company for your individual needs.

→ Learn more about how the best life insurance companies rank

How to buy a whole life insurance policy

Before you get a whole life insurance policy, make sure permanent coverage is in line with your needs. Most people are better off with term life insurance, which is exponentially cheaper for the same amount of coverage. But if your circumstances warrant a whole life insurance policy (perhaps because you have a high net worth or a lifelong dependent), then you'll undergo a standard underwriting process. This includes an initial phone interview with an insurance agent and a medical exam conducted by the insurer.

If you're opting for final expense insurance, which offers much less coverage, then the application process is more cut and dry: You'll talk through your needs with the life insurance agent and pay your first premium, putting your coverage in force.

→ Learn more about buying life insurance

Compare and buy life insurance

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Whole life vs. term life insurance

The biggest difference between term life insurance and whole life insurance is that term life insurance ends after a set number of years; it offers a death benefit and nothing more. Whole life insurance, on the other hand, costs more because it lasts longer and builds cash value. Because of these additional features, whole life is at least five to 15 times more expensive than term life.

→ Check out our full guide on term vs. whole life insurance

Pros and cons of whole life insurance

Like all life insurance policies, whole life insurance comes with its own set of benefits and drawbacks that are worth considering.

PROS OF WHOLE LIFE INSURANCECONS OF WHOLE LIFE INSURANCE
Life insurance coverage lasts your entire lifeCoverage is expensive compared to term life
Your policy can accrue interest through the cash valueWithdrawing from the cash value incurs high administrative fees
The cash value has a guaranteed rate of returnDedicated investment options provide a higher rate of return

For the vast majority of people, a term life insurance policy is the better option. You’ll get more coverage at a lower price, making it more affordable and easier to maintain than whole life.

Life insurance also isn’t a great investment if you have other options available to you, like a 401(k) or IRA. Traditional investment accounts usually grow at a faster rate than the cash value of a life insurance policy.

Alternatives to whole life insurance

  • Term life insurance: Because term is so much cheaper than whole life insurance, you can buy a lot more coverage (meaning a larger death benefit) for the same amount of money.
  • Other permanent (cash value) life insurance: Other types of permanent life insurance grow the cash value differently, which may better suit your needs.
  • Single premium life insurance: Single premium life insurance is a type of whole life insurance that only requires one premium payment. It has a cash value that you can access while you’re still alive, but instead of paying premiums monthly or annually, you make one upfront payment for a lifetime of coverage.

→ Learn more about the other types of life insurance and how they work

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Is whole life insurance worth it?

Whole life insurance is best for people in special circumstances that require it. If you have a high income and regularly max out your other tax-deferred savings accounts, whole life insurance can be useful in managing your estate. And if you have a lifelong dependent who will need care after you are gone, a whole life policy guarantees financial support for them without the need to track term lengths or expiration dates. For everyone else, it’s better to pursue a term life policy.

Consult with an independent insurance agent or broker to find out whether whole life insurance is right for you and how to find the best policy at the best price.

Whole life insurance FAQ

How does whole life insurance work?

Whole life insurance policies last for your entire life and can accrue interest over time with a cash value component. The cash value can be used as an additional investment vehicle and can be accessed while you’re alive, though sometimes with a penalty.

Is whole life insurance a good investment?

If you’re in a high tax bracket and have maxed out other investment options, whole life insurance policies can build additional tax-deferred wealth. But most of the time, whole life insurance shouldn’t be a part of your savings strategy because of the high premiums.

How much is whole life insurance?

Whole life insurance policies are highly customized to the policyholder and there is no one price point for coverage. The premiums for a whole life insurance policy are based on your life insurance needs, but they tend to be costly.

Life Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir

Life Insurance Expert

Expertise
Nupur Gambhir is a life insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City. She has researched and written extensively about life insurance since 2019, with specialties in life insurance companies, policy types, and end-of-life planning. Her writing on insurance and finance has appeared on MSN, The Financial Gym, and end-of-life planning service Cake. Previously, she worked in marketing and business development for travel and tech.

Education
Nupur has a B.A. in Economics from Ohio State University.

Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih

Life Insurance Expert

Expertise
Amanda Shih is a life insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City. She has a passion for making complex topics relatable and understandable, and has been writing about insurance since 2017 with specialities in life insurance cost and policy types. She's previously written for Jetty and LegalZoom.

Education
Amanda has a B.A. in literature and communication from New York University.