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Permanent Life Insurance

Researcher & Writer
April 09, 2020

Permanent life insurance, also known as cash value life insurance, is a valuable tool in anyone’s investment toolbox. In the following article we will define what permanent life insurance is, introduce you to the different types of policies available, and discuss the pros and cons of permanent life insurance.

Permanent Life Insurance Defined

Permanent life insurance is a type of life insurance policy that does not expire (as opposed to term life) and includes a death benefit and cash value savings. The two main policies are whole life and universal life, with each type offering subtle to major differences dependent on policy design.

Different Types of Permanent Life Insurance

Benefits Cash Value?
Whole Life
Guaranteed Cash Value, Guaranteed Death Benefit, Guaranteed Level Premiums, Potential DividendsYes, potential early high cash value growth when properly designed
Universal Life
Flexible premiums and death benefit. Yes, grows based on performance of the market with guaranteed minimum annual return.
Guaranteed Universal Life
Fixed returns with flexible premium payments

Some cash value but limited. Structured more for the lifetime death benefit.

Indexed Universal Life
Indexed to stock market for potentially higher returns than Whole life; guaranteed floor to protect against market loss

Yes, potential for early high cash value growth based on indexing of the stock market performance

Variable Universal Life
Investment account tied to the market; growth based on market returns; potential losses based on market sell offs

Yes, potential for early high cash value growth based on performance of the stock market

Permanent coverage, as opposed to level term life insurance, does not end upon a specified term. Rather, the policies either last your entire life, or they are designed to either end or become paid-up at a specific age.

The two main groups of permanent life insurance are whole life vs universal life. Each has its own pros and cons.

Whole Life Insurance

Whole life insurance, also referred to as ordinary life insurance, has a storied history and offers some amazing benefits. 

While it may be a good idea for some to buy cheap term life insurance, whole life insurance is an awesome way to diversify and provide some fantastic guarantees not found with other investment vehicles. The product is non-correlated, which means it does not follow the stock market. Rather, it is a safe place to store money that can provide needed liquidity when cash is tight.

Also, you should consider whole life insurance for children. Particularly as opposed to college savings plans, such as the 529 Plan.

Whole life insurance offers three primary guarantees that set it apart in the world of permanent life insurance.

Guaranteed death benefit

The policy’s death benefit is guaranteed as long as premiums are maintained.

Guaranteed fixed premiums

Whole life premiums are fixed for the duration of the policy.

Guaranteed cash value growth

The cash value in your policy is guaranteed to grow over the life of the policy at a guaranteed rate. With some policies, you can also receive dividends.

Whole life insurance dividends

Another benefit of whole life insurance is the dividend paid to participating policyholders. The dividend on many top whole life insurance companies ranges currently between 5-6.5%. Although dividends are not guaranteed, most whole life insurance from mutual companies have offered dividends consistently over the last 100+ years, even during the Great Depression.

Benefits of Whole Life Dividends

You can use the dividends to:

  • Purchase additional paid up life insurance
  • Leave with the carrier and earn interest
  • Pay premium payments
  • Repay policy loans
  • Cash out

Universal Life Insurance

Universal Life Insurance provides greater flexibility than whole life by allowing the owner to adjust the premium and death benefit. That way you can adjust your premium payment, paying more when money is aplenty and less when money is tight.

Universal life insurance is comprised of two main components: term insurance and an accumulation or savings fund.  UL policies are offered in three main categories: guaranteed, indexed and variable.

A universal life insurance con would be that the cost of insurance increases every year since you are basically buying annual renewable term. But this can be countered by a growing cash value which helps limit the net amount of risk in the policy. Therefore, it is important that your UL policy is designed in such a way as to maximize cash value growth to help limit or entirely negate the ever increasing cost of insurance.

Another universal life insurance pro is that certain companies offer different death benefit options. You can elect to have a standard "fixed" death benefit that remains the same or you can choose to have an increasing death benefit that grows as you age. And with the flexibility of UL policies, the death benefit option can be changed.

Guaranteed Universal Life Insurance

Guaranteed universal life insurance (GUL) offers lifetime protection, fixed premium payments, with a smaller price tag than other permanent policies.

You can tailor the duration of the GUL policy to end upon a certain age such as 90, 95, 100, 105, 110, and 121. By ending the policy at a lower age you can lower your premium. However, the con to doing this is you risk outliving your GUL policy.

This type of permanent life insurance builds little to no cash value. It is primarily designed to provide a permanent death benefit at the lower price. That is what makes guaranteed universal life insurance a popular choice for estate planning, such as funding an irrevocable life insurance trust. The fixed premium protects the estate plan from going bust if the policy suddenly needs a large premium payment to protect it from lapsing.

Indexed Universal Life Insurance

Indexed universal life insurance (IUL) provides lifetime protection with a flexible premium and death benefit.

Indexed universal life offers a death benefit and cash accumulation. The cash value growth is tied to either a fixed account or market index, such as the S&P 500, the NASDAQ 100, EUROSTOXX 50, MSCI Emerging Markets, DJIA, etc.

If you choose the fixed account, you are given a guaranteed floor, typically around 2-3%. That means even in a year when the market is producing negative returns your policy will still grow.

If you choose a market index, your cash is not directly invested into the market. Rather, your account is credited based on the chosen equity market performance.

Most IUL policies offer a maximum cap and minimum floor. Currently, the maximum cap on most IUL policies is around 13% and the floor is around 0-1%. That means you are limited on the overall gains in a given year. However, you are also protected from market loss in a given year.

One indexed universal life pro is that you can structure the policy to achieve high early cash value growth. If the markets are accommodating, you can see strong returns early on that will allow you to borrow from the policy and put your money to work.

Further, some policies provide wash loans that allow you to take out a loan at the same rate your cash is being credited.

Variable Universal Life Insurance

Variable universal life insurance (VUL) provides permanent protection and cash value growth. A variable life insurance pro is that your cash account can be invested into different asset classes to increase your return. However, the con of variable life is that investing in these equity accounts also exposes you to more risk.

Survivorship Universal Life Insurance

Survivorship universal life insurance, also known as second to die insurance, offers protection on two individuals, such as spouses and business owners. You can often get coverage for less than if you were to insure two people individually. Further, if one of the two insured has health issues, second to die life insurance is actually easier to qualify for in most cases that trying to get life insurance with health issues on just one person.

A survivorship life insurance con is that it does not payout on the death of the first insured. So if you die your spouse or business partner does not receive the death benefit. Rather, this type of permanent life insurance is designed so that your heirs receive the death benefit. As a result, this coverage is used particularly for estate planning with life insurance where a large death benefit is desired or required.

Pros and cons of permanent life insurance

Permanent policy have both pros and cons when compared to term life insurance. One of the biggest pros is the cash value that is part of the policy. One of the biggest cons is how expensive it is compared to term life insurance.

Pro HeadingPros
  • Pro BulletCash value
  • Pro BulletDesigned to last a lifetime
  • Pro BulletSome offer flexible premiums
  • Pro BulletWithdraws and loans from cash value
  • Pro BulletTax benefits
Con Heading Cons
  • Con BulletCost
  • Con BulletComplicated
  • Con BulletNot meant for short term

Pros of permanent life insurance

The primary pros of permanent life insurance are the death benefit and cash value growth.

Rather than expire upon a specified term, your death benefit will be there when you need it most: upon death. Further, in a properly designed permanent life insurance policy the death benefit can grow over your lifetime.

Limited Pay Life Insurance

And there are some types of permanent life insurance where you can stop making premium payments and still enjoy the advantages of permanent coverage, such as 10 pay whole life insurance. That way you have an ever increasing death benefit and cash value account that you no longer have to make premium payments on.

Withdrawals and Policy Loans

As your cash value grows you can either withdraw your cash value or take out a policy loan. Having cash value at your disposal is a great way to supplement your retirement income.

Life insurance loans are income tax free. And a life insurance policy loan is generally not considered when factoring your taxation on your social security benefits.

Tax benefits of Permanent Life Insurance

Another permanent life insurance pro is that the tax code provides many benefits to permanent coverage, AKA cash value life insurance. Among the benefits or incentives in the tax code are:

Tax free death benefit: You death benefit passes income tax free to your beneficiary if your estate is below the current federal exemption level and you are not in a state that has an inheritance tax, AKA death tax. For those in one of the states with an inheritance tax you will need to know what the maximum current level for estates to not be taxed is.

Tax deferred cash value growth: the cash value growth for permanent life insurance is tax deferred. The two ways you can be taxed are if you take out a life insurance loan and your policy lapses or if you withdraw from your policy an amount above your basis.

Income tax free dividends: your whole life insurance dividends are considered return of premium and are not taxed.

Tax free policy loans: there is no tax due if you take out a policy loan. Rather, you are borrowing form the life insurance company using your cash value as collateral.

Tax free withdrawals: You can also withdraw money from your policy income tax free. One requirement is you cannot withdraw above your basis in the policy, which is loosely defined as how much you have contributed into the policy via premium payments.

So those were permanent life insurance pros. Now let's discuss a couple of the cons.

Cons of Permanent Life Insurance

Price: It is more expensive than level term life insurance. At least initially. But consider the fact that 98% of term life expires worthless. If you bought a 30 year term when you were 40 and now you are looking to buy another term policy at age 70 it may be completely cost prohibitive.

Alternatively, if you were to buy a 10 pay policy at age 40 you would have permanent coverage with no more premiums due after age 50. And if the policy was designed correctly, with a focus on cash value growth, as opposed to an initial large death benefit, the policy's cash value and death benefit will continue to grow as you age, providing a larger death benefit and more cash value to use in retirement.

Longevity: A pro and con of permanent life insurance is the longevity. It is a pro because you can keep the coverage your entire life. However, this can also be a con if you decide you no longer need a policy you have been paying into for years. The good news is there are alternatives to cancelling life insurance, such as selling your policy, withdrawing the cash value, or taking out a policy loan.

So those are the pros and cons of permanent life insurance. When you weigh permanent life insurance pros vs cons you can make a decision in your own best interest which type of coverage is best for you.


Permanent life insurance can be an asset if it is the right type of policy for you. Your policy builds cash value which grows over time. You can use the cash value as collateral for a loan, such as a small business loan, or you can borrow against the cash value to purchase other assets. 

Still not sure which type of life insurance is right for you? 

If you are ready to get a quote, check out our quote tool. If you would like more help and guidance give us a call and let a life insurance agent guide you towards the right life insurance policy.

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We are a team of life insurance experts with the simple mission of helping you find the best coverage for your unique situation. We research, review, and rank life insurance companies to make that process easier.