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Whole life insurance is a permanent policy that lasts your whole life. It includes a cash value and savings component, which makes it more expensive than other types.
Patrick Hanzel, CFP®
Updated February 1, 2021|4 min read
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Purchasing whole life insurance is an easy way to protect your loved ones financially without worrying about policy expiration dates. Like all life insurance products, whole life pays a death benefit to your beneficiaries if you die while your policy is active. While most people will find term life insurance more affordable, the permanence of whole life coverage and the tax-deferred cash value make it a good choice for high-earners or people with lifelong financial obligations.
Premiums for whole life insurance fund your policy and an additional cash value feature
The cash value works like a guaranteed investment and grows at a 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 or need another investment vehicle
Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance (also called cash value life insurance). The policy lasts for your entire life and has a savings component called the cash value that grows at an interest 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 investment options. That’s because insurance companies will take out administrative fees related to managing your policy that a typical investment company doesn't.
|FEATURES||WHOLE LIFE INSURANCE OVERVIEW|
|Guaranteed Death Benefit||Yes|
|Guaranteed Cash Value||Yes|
|How Cash Value Grows||Earns interest at a rate determined by your insurer|
|Notes||Low-risk compared to other permanent insurance, but you may find a better return on investment elsewhere|
Most people are better off with term life insurance, which is much cheaper for the same amount of coverage and still provides plenty of protection to your loved ones. Using life insurance as an investment vehicle isn’t a great idea 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.
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. The table below reflects what kind of policy four of Policygenius’ partner insurers offer and ratings for each.
|LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY||TYPE OF POLICY||POLICYGENIUS RATING (OUT OF 10)||J.D. POWER RATING||BBB RATING||A.M. BEST RATING|
|MassMutual||Traditional whole life insurance||6.7||769||B-||A++|
|Guardian Insurance||Traditional whole life insurance||6||743||A+||A++|
|AIG||Final expense insurance||8||742||A-||A|
|Mutual of Omaha||Final expense insurance||7||789||A+||A+|
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.
Compare and buy life insurance
"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."
|LIFE INSURANCE COVERAGE AMOUNT||MONTHLY PAYMENT||ANNUAL 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|
No matter what type of life insurance you buy, your premiums will vary, as they 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.
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.
No single whole life insurance policy is the best for everyone. You should compare quotes to find the most affordable rates and the best policy for your family’s needs, but also consider a provider that:
Is favorable toward applicants with any health conditions you may have
Guarantees a good rate of return on the cash value
Offers the policy options and riders that you want
Has good customer service and online policy management options
Is well-rated by trusted third-party agencies
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 should something happen to you within that time and nothing more. Whole life insurance, on the other hand, costs more than you would pay for an equal coverage amount of term life because it lasts longer and builds cash value.
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 INSURANCE||CONS OF WHOLE LIFE INSURANCE|
|Life insurance coverage lasts your entire life||Coverage is expensive compared to term life|
|Your policy can accrue interest through the cash value||Withdrawing from the cash value incurs high administrative fees|
|The cash value has a guaranteed rate of return||Dedicated investment options provide a higher rate of return|
Term life insurance : Because term is so much cheaper than whole life insurance, you can buy a lot more coverage for the same amount of money.
Other types of permanent 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 is a type of whole life insurance that only requires one premium payment. Instead of paying premiums monthly or annually, you make one upfront payment for a lifetime of coverage.
Compare the market, right here.
Policygenius saves you up to 40% by comparing the top-rated insurers in one place.
Whole life insurance is best for people in special circumstances that require it. For example, 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 should you no longer be able to provide it. For everyone else, it’s better to pursue a term life policy.
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.
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.
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.