Term life insurance offers low cost protection with guaranteed level premiums for a fixed duration, typically 10, 15, 20, or 30 years. Whole life insurance offers lifetime guaranteed coverage with the additional benefit of accumulating cash values.
It’s a great debate among life insurance professionals, consumers, and financial planners.
While each has its pros & cons, lets read more about which could be better for your needs.
Term vs. Whole Life Insurance
When analyzing term vs whole life insurance, of course, you’ll want to look at several different factors:
- Quotes (the cost)
- Cash Value
- Pros and Cons
We’ll cover all that here, but let’s start with the most crucial questions.
Term Life Insurance
Term life insurance offers low cost protection for a specified period of time, such as 10, 15, 20, or 30 years.
During this time the premiums and death benefit is guaranteed to stay level.
Term life insurance is the most basic form of life insurance and offers a death benefit as its only real benefit (it has no cash value).
How Term Life Insurance Works
Term life insurance is the most basic form of life insurance because it pays death benefits only.
Choosing a term life insurance policy is quite simple as it is 3 step process which includes:
- Select the amount of coverage (death benefits) you want
- Choose the length of coverage or term such as 10, 20 or 30 years
- Choose your beneficiary(s)
What Is A “Convertible Term” Life Insurance Policy?
Most term policies sold today come with a conversion feature.
This allows you to convert your term policy to either a Whole Life or Universal policy.
You can do so without having to take a medical exam.
The type of permanent policy and amount of coverage available varies from company to company.
Generally, you must convert the policy at certain time periods specified in the policy.
What is Group Term Life Insurance?
Group term life insurance is generally available through an employer or a professional association or organization.
It covers all members who apply for the coverage period. Benefits are payable for the coverage period.
Most of these policies are not portable and you are only covered while an employee or association/organization member.
The majority or group term life insurance plans do not require a medical examination.
Pros of Term Life Insurance
Term life insurance is clearly the most affordable and the most suitable form of life insurance for the majority of Americans.
Term is very affordable for younger people and a fraction of the cost of what you would pay for a similar whole life policy.
Term is an excellent choice for providing for:
- Income replacement
- Mortgage and Debt Payoff
- Business policies (key person and buy-sell arrangements)
- And more!
Term provides coverage for a specific period of time suitable to the needs of most people.
The majority of term policies also come with a conversion feature where you can convert your term policy to a permanent policy without having to take a medical exam.
Cons of Term Life Insurance
Term life can be very costly if you have to renew the policy when it expires because of your age and health issues.
Policies do not offer any living benefits and have no savings features.
Whole Life Insurance
Whole life is a form or permanent life insurance.
Whole life insurance also pays out a death benefit upon the death of the insured person.
However, it differs from term in that it offers lifetime coverage with fixed level premiums.
Additionally, it offers the benefit of accumulating cash values.
How Whole Life Insurance Works
Whole life insurance contains 3 components:
- Death Benefits
- Cash Value Accumulation
When you pay your premium, a portion of the premium is applied to death benefits and a portion to the cash value accumulation.
For the first 5 to 10 years the majority of the premiums you pay in these early years of the policy is applied to the death benefits portion (cost of insurance) along with policy fees & commissions.
After this period, the cash value will receive a greater portion of the premium. Another portion of your premium is also used to pay for administrative costs.
Your beneficiaries are entitled to receive only the death benefit portion of the policy when you die. You have no choice in how the life insurance company applies the premium you pay.
You can cash in or surrender your policy at any time. Otherwise, coverage is for your lifetime.
Cashing In Your Whole Life Policy
You can cash in either a portion of the cash value accumulation or receive the full amount if you surrender the whole life policy.
The cash value portion is non-taxable so long as it does not exceed the amount of total premiums you paid (the cost basis) when you cash in a portion or surrender the policy. Any cash value in excess of the total premiums paid is taxable.
All you have to do is contact the life insurance company and they will provide you with current values and a surrender/withdrawal form.
You complete the form and submit it to the company. If you surrender the policy, you may receive less than what you paid in.
What is Universal Life Insurance?
Universal life is a form or permanent life insurance similar to Whole Life.
Universal Life provides both death benefits and a cash value accumulation portion.
The major difference between Universal life and Whole Life is that Universal policies are:
- more flexible in that they offer options for your death benefits
- how premiums are payable
- various investment options
Pros of Whole Life Insurance
A few benefits of whole life are:
- Whole Life provides coverage for your entire lifetime
- Premiums are guaranteed
- The cash value accumulation feature is non-taxable, unlike other investment vehicles.
- You can borrow against the cash value accumulation feature.
- Many policies offer living benefits.
Cons of Whole Life Insurance
Whole life policies are typically very expensive and easily cost 10X or more than what you would pay for a comparable term life insurance policy.
Whole life policies are very inflexible as it relates to your premium payments, and compared to “traditional investments”, you might also think it’s inflexible, as you have no choice in how the money is invested.
The cash value accumulation rate of investment is generally much lower than rates provided through other investment vehicles.
What Happens to the Cash Value of a Whole Life or Permanent Life Insurance Policy?
The cash value accumulation portion of any permanent life insurance is only available to the insured person while they are still alive, and is available to borrow against (for which the policyholder will be charged interest) or for withdrawal.
If you have borrowed against the cash value accumulation while still alive, any amount that has not been re-paid, along with interest, will be deducted from the death benefits when you die.
Here’s the real shocker!
What most people don’t know is that when you die the cash value is not payable to your beneficiaries– it is absorbed by the life insurance company.
This applies to all forms of permanent life insurance policies, whether it be Whole Life or Universal Life.
We believe agents push whole life to their clients to earn high commissions, and consumers continue to buy because the benefits are confusing.
Consumers are made to understand that with whole life, they are getting a blend of permanent life insurance protection as well as some cash value build up that may be able to supplement their retirement.
The problem is 99% of them don’t need permanent coverage. They need term.
We believe that if consumers knew the cost of term life insurance, and what their money could do for them if they were to “buy term and invest the difference,” that far fewer people would buy whole life insurance.*While we make every effort to keep our site updated, please be aware that "timely" information on this page, such as quote estimates, or pertinent details about companies, may only be accurate as of its last edit day. Huntley Wealth & Insurance Services and its representatives do not give legal or tax advice. Please consult your own legal or tax adviser.