There are a few different types of life insurance policies to choose from when you’re shopping for coverage. That includes whole life insurance, which is a permanent type of life insurance policy that remains in place for your entire life and guarantees a death benefit, as long as premiums are paid. But while whole life insurance can offer a number of unique perks, it may not be the best option for everyone. Before you make a decision on your life insurance coverage, it may benefit you to learn more about the pros and cons of whole life insurance, as well as how it works, in order to make the best choice possible for your unique circumstances.

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Key takeaways
  • Whole life insurance is a permanent policy that remains in force for your entire life, as long as premiums are paid, and guarantees a death benefit.
  • Whole life insurance policies may cost two to three times more than term life insurance policies because of the expected payout.
  • Whole life insurance policies usually have a cash value component that you may be able to put towards premiums when enough funds accumulate.

What is whole life insurance?

Whole life insurance offers coverage for your entire life as long (in most circumstances) as you’re paying your premiums. In return, the death benefit is essentially guaranteed to be paid out to the beneficiaries in the event that the policyholder passes.

In addition, whole life policies include other benefits, like a cash value component, which is an account that accumulates funds over time. This account is funded by the policy’s premiums, which are what you pay to keep your policy active. As the policyholder, you can choose to borrow against the cash value component during your lifetime under certain circumstances.

How does cash value work?

The cash value component of a whole life insurance policy can be used in a variety of ways and has a few tax considerations to keep in mind. You may borrow against it, use it to pay premiums or make tax-free withdrawals, within policy limits. Withdrawals over the amount of the cash value may be considered taxable income and will reduce the death benefit amount that goes to your beneficiaries. Your beneficiaries will also not be able to access this cash value when you pass away, as it can only be used while you are alive.

Knowing how to leverage the cash value can be a useful tool. When you borrow against the cash value amount, you will not have to undergo a lengthy approval process from a bank or lender, and you will likely enjoy a lower interest rate. Borrowing against the cash value account may be the right fit for individuals in a pinch who want a loan with an easy approval process. Additionally, a loan against the cash value is not reported to credit bureaus, meaning it does not impact your credit score. Just remember that any amount that remains unpaid when you pass will likely be deducted from the death benefit total.

Best whole life insurance

Many regional and national life insurance companies offer whole life policies, so choosing the right one will require some research. Bankrate’s list of the best whole life insurance companies may be a great place to start your search. To determine this list, our insurance experts chose these providers based on the following considerations: customer satisfaction rankings from J.D. Power’s 2021 U.S. Individual Life Insurance Study, financial strength scores from AM Best, reported complaints from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), available coverage options and digital policy management tools.

The cost of whole life insurance

Generally, whole life insurance is more expensive than the same amount of term life insurance coverage. This is because whole life insurance policies are guaranteed to be paid out, as long as the policy remains in force and premiums are paid. As such, whole life policies might also come with a lower potential death benefit compared to a term policy.

However, whole life premiums remain stable and the policy comes with a cash value account, which policyholders can leverage for other financial needs. Your specific whole life insurance policy cost is determined by multiple factors, including the amount of coverage you choose, your age and your relative health.

Learn more: Affordable life insurance companies

Is whole life insurance worth it?

Some people may prefer whole life insurance because it remains in effect for the insured’s entire life and because the cash value component adds additional financial flexibility. However, these financial components also contribute to a higher rate compared to premiums associated with a term life insurance policy. Whether or not whole life insurance is worth it to you depends on your financial situation, budget and long-term goals.

On the other end of the spectrum, many people prefer the shorter-term coverage that comes with a term life policy. For instance, if you only want coverage for a limited amount of time — such as when your children are in school or while you still owe on a mortgage — you may want to apply for a term life insurance policy just for the period of time when the financial protection is most critical. Term policies are typically much more affordable, as a payout is significantly less likely to occur. If deciding between term life vs. permanent life insurance, knowing what your immediate and long-term needs are, budget and purpose for life insurance can help you make a choice.

Frequently asked questions

    • A whole life insurance policy comes with a cash value account that can be invested, but since it is considered low-risk the cash value is usually minimal. Whole life insurance policies are designed to provide loved ones with a death benefit after your passing, rather than to act as an investment vehicle. While the investment component of insurance can be a nice added perk to a whole life insurance policy, other forms of investment may generate higher returns. A financial advisor can help you determine whether or not a whole life policy is right for your situation, taking into account its investment component.
    • How much life insurance you need typically depends on your situation and the goals you have for your policy. You may also want to keep in mind your individual financial obligations when determining the amount of life insurance you need. For instance, if you have personal debt, a mortgage, or upcoming college tuition payments for your children, you may want to factor in those expenses. If you financially support someone into adulthood, such as a special needs family member, you may want to factor their living expenses into your life insurance coverage, as well. Typically, a licensed agent or certified financial professional can guide you in estimating how much life insurance you need, or you can use Bankrate’s life insurance calculator as a starting point.
    • You may have less need for life insurance coverage if you’re single and have no dependents, since this likely means that you have less people who would be financially at-risk if you were to pass away. However, some policyholders choose to purchase life insurance to pay for their funeral expenses, or to leave money to a favorite organization or charity.

      This is one reason single people may choose to obtain a term policy, which can typically be converted to a whole life policy ahead of the policy’s expiration when you may marry or have dependents in the picture. Obtaining a policy when you are young and in relatively good health may help you secure good rates for such a time when insurance becomes more critical.