What Is Whole Life Insurance, and How Does It Work?

Whole life insurance includes both assured investment growth and permanent life insurance. However, the cost is high.

PakOption takeaways
  • Although whole life insurance usually lasts forever, it can be costly.
  • A portion of your premium is used to increase the cash value of your policy, which works similarly to an interest-bearing savings account over time.
  • Whole life insurance works best for those who want guaranteed death benefits and a stable cash value increase along with those who have a lifelong need for coverage.

What Is Whole Life Insurance, and How Does It Work?

A whole life insurance policy is a good option if you want life insurance that won’t expire for several years or decades. Although it’s the most popular type of permanent life insurance, the cost is high.

Learn about whole life insurance and what to look for in a policy to determine if you’re a suitable fit for this kind of coverage.

Key terms in this article
  • Cash value: A growing savings component that is part of a permanent life insurance policy. Generally speaking, you can borrow money, make withdrawals, and do a lot more with the cash value of your insurance.
  • Premium: The amount you pay on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis for life insurance. For the term, whole life insurance premiums remain constant.
  • Term life insurance: Life insurance with a finite duration—10, 20, or 30 years, for example. For most people, term life insurance is appropriate.
  • Whole life insurance: A kind of cash value savings component included with permanent life insurance. As long as you continue to pay your payments, whole life insurance usually lasts for your entire lifetime.

What is whole life insurance?

Three essential characteristics characterize whole life insurance, a kind of permanent life insurance:

  • It lasts the entirety of your life. Just be advised that many plans expire at age 100 and that if you have outstanding debts at the time of death, your payout may be lowered.
  • Level premiums are present. This implies that throughout your insurance, your rates are fixed and won’t fluctuate.
  • It includes a financial value element. A percentage of your premium payment goes toward your policy’s cash value, which you may imagine as an interest-bearing savings account over time.

How does a whole life insurance policy’s cash value function?

According to brokerage Quotacy, the cash value of a whole life insurance policy increases at a preset rate determined by your insurer; this rate is usually between 1% and 3.5%. This distinguishes whole life insurance from other permanent policies that do not offer a return guarantee.

After your policy has adequate cash value, you can begin borrowing against it. Furthermore, your beneficiaries will usually get a payout after your death that isn’t taxable as income.

Did you know… If you have a whole-life policy with a mutual life insurer—a corporation in which policyholders own the business rather than investors—you can be eligible for annual dividends contingent upon the financial performance of the company. With the money, you can pay off cash value loans, accept cash dividends, reduce your premium, or buy extra insurance. Dividends are normally tax-free, but if you allow the money to grow and accrue interest in your policy, you may eventually owe taxes on the profits if and when you decide to withdraw the money.

How much does the entire life insurance cost?

Generally speaking, full life insurance costs more than term life insurance. This is because it often gives cash value growth, lasts your entire life, and, if you bought the policy through a life insurance agent, commission costs may be included in the overall cost.

The annual cost of whole-life insurance is $7,028 for a 40-year-old, healthy applicant purchasing a $500,000 policy, whereas the cost of a 20-year term life coverage is $312. However, if you require lifetime coverage and would like a guaranteed return on the policy’s cash value, whole life can be a smart option.

AgeAverage monthly rate for menAverage monthly rate for women
30$388$335
40$586$495
50$930$787
60$1,596$1,329
70$2,777$2,341
Source: Quotacy. Rates reflect the Preferred Plus risk class, the best risk class available. Valid as of December 4, 2023.

Are whole-life policies worthwhile?

You might benefit from whole life insurance if:

  • The increased rates are within your means.
  • Your life insurance coverage should be handled like a cash asset.
  • You have a large income and have funded all of your retirement accounts, including your IRA and 401(k).
  • You are searching for insurance coverage that provides assured cash value returns.
  • You are responsible for a lifetime dependent, such as a kid with special needs.
  • As a well-to-do person, you want your life insurance coverage to assist your heirs in paying inheritance taxes.

How can I choose the best full life insurance coverage?

A whole life insurance policy is an expensive purchase, so do your homework and shop around before deciding on one.

Decide how much coverage you require.

Decide what you want the life insurance policy to do before calculating how much you need. For example, a $10,000 coverage might cover the cost of a burial. However, if you have other priorities, like supporting a child’s trust, you’ll require more.

Inspect riders

You can enhance a life insurance policy with riders, which are additional coverage options. They may be purchased separately or be covered as part of the coverage, depending on the insurance. A chronic illness rider, which enables you to access a portion of the death benefit if you develop a chronic illness or become terminally ill, is one example of an expedited death benefit. A waiver of premium rider, which enables you to forego payments in the event of a disability, is another add-on to take into account.

Make sure your policy includes the riders you desire before purchasing because the types and prices of riders vary depending on the insurance company.

Examine the cash value return rate

A percentage of your whole life insurance premium is applied to your cash value, which normally increases gradually over time tax-deferred. You have two options: you can give up the policy for cash or borrow against its cash value. If you default on a loan, the death benefit can be lowered, and it won’t be paid out if you give up the policy.

Policies for whole life ensure a minimum rate of growth for the cash value. A policy you purchased through a mutual life insurance firm may be eligible to receive dividends, which are sums of the insurer’s excess funds. Although life insurance earnings aren’t always guaranteed, it’s nevertheless important to consider them when comparing policies.

Our Tip: Life insurance firms occasionally offer predictions regarding the potential performance of the cash value of each policy. These are referred to as illustrations for life insurance. Always enquire as to which portions of the estimate are guaranteed.

Recognize surrender fees

Surrender charges are common in whole-life insurance plans throughout the first ten to fifteen years of coverage. This implies that there will be a price associated with canceling your coverage, which will be a portion of the cash value you have accrued. During the initial years, the surrender charge may be nearly 100%. Every year, the surrender fee gets smaller until it is eliminated.

Recognize the various approval procedures

Three primary categories of approval procedures exist:

  • Completing an extensive application and passing a life insurance medical test are usually requirements for fully underwritten whole life insurance.
  • There is no medical exam required for simplified issue whole life insurance, but you must respond to some health-related questions.
  • With guaranteed issue whole life insurance, there are no health questions or medical exams required for acceptance.

A fully underwritten insurance will usually offer you the best value, even if you have certain health concerns.

If your health has prevented you from being approved for ordinary whole life insurance, you should think about simplified issues and guaranteed issue life insurance policies. Just be mindful of the drawbacks. When compared to fully underwritten contracts, these policies’ premiums might be costly, and their death payouts are comparatively tiny. Furthermore, if you commit suicide or pass away from natural causes during the first few years of coverage, these policies do not pay the entire death benefit.

Compare quotes for entire life insurance

Obtain quotations for the same level of coverage from multiple insurers when looking for life insurance so that you can compare costs. Whole life insurance rates may differ significantly.

Verify the insurer’s stability financially

Find out each whole life insurance you are thinking about has a certain financial strength rating. Financial data is available via rating agencies like AM Best. A corporation with good finances has a higher probability of still being in business decades from now and being able to pay claims.

According to AM Best, a company that gets a B+ or above rating has an excellent ability to fulfill its responsibilities. Generally, NerdWallet assigns an A- or higher rating to insurance companies.

Analyze the insurer’s track record regarding customer support

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners website allows you to search for an insurer’s complaint index. After adjusting for the company’s market share (based on written premiums), the score is determined by counting the number of complaints that state authorities have received about the insurance company. Since the average score is 1, a number higher than 1 indicates that, given its size, the company received more complaints than it should have.

Whole life insurance alternatives

While most families find that term life insurance is adequate, whole life insurance may be the better option for certain individuals. These contracts expire at the end of the term and have no cash value, but their premiums are usually far less than those of whole life insurance.

Universal life insurance is an additional choice. These policies typically offer you the flexibility to change the amount of the death benefit and your premiums throughout your entire life.

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