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Term Life vs Whole Life Insurance [Which is Best for you?]

permanent life insurane versus term life insurance

There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to the debate between term life vs whole life. It can be a very polarizing subject. Many financial entertainers, specifically Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman, are proponents of term life and disparage whole life every chance they get.

However, when searching for the right life insurance policy it is important to know what type of life insurance fits your need. Everyone is different and not everyone shares the same reasons for life insurance. As a result, we hope to provide our visitors with whole life vs term life pros and cons, so that you can make an informed decision based on your unique life circumstances.

At TermLife2Go, we work with dozens of the best life insurance companies and best no exam life insurance companies. We can help you find whole life or term life, including an exam or with no exam.

However, what sets us apart from the competition is knowing which specific company to recommend based on a client’s unique health and lifestyle profile. It is by knowing each unique company’s niche that we help our clients find the lowest permanent life and term life insurance rates.

Term Life Insurance vs Permanent Life Insurance: What is the Difference?

Whole Life, Indexed Universal Life, Variable Universal Life, Guaranteed Universal Life Insurance or Term Life Insurance — with so many options, how do I know which product and policy to choose?

The intent of this article is to help shed some light on the different types of life insurance policies available. With so many options available it is easy to get confused. Often, a confused person is also a person who fails to act. But if you are considering life insurance time may be of the essence. Hopefully this article will help you make a decision of what the best product is—for you—based on your unique need.

What is the difference between term life insurance and whole life insurance?

First, let’s define what term life insurance is. Term life is a policy that covers an individual (the insured) for a set period of time. Typically, term life is available in 10, 15, 20 and 30 year term lengths. However, 1, 5 and 25 year terms are also available. Term life lasts for the term of the policy. Once the policy expires, the insured may be able to renew the policy on an annual basis. Generally, the policy premium will increase dramatically once the policy expire, although some carriers allow the policy to renew with little change to the premium, choosing to instead drop the death benefit amount if the insured desires to continue to pay premiums. Please see our article covering “what is term life insurance” for more.

Next, let’s define permanent life insurance. Permanent life is coverage that lasts your entire life. Some variations of permanent coverage are whole life and universal life. Each permanent type of insurance offers different pros and cons, which we will attempt to address below.

The basic difference between whole life and term life is the length of time they are valid for payout. As the name implies, a term life insurance policy is only valid for a predetermined period of time, whereas a whole life insurance policy is valid for an entire lifespan—no matter how long you live. With that in mind, the reality is a bit more complex.

Pros of Whole Life Insurance

When you decide whether to buy a term or whole life insurance policy, you need to consider your motivation for choosing between the two options. Delving into whole and term life pros and cons can yield surprising results. For instance, cash value whole life insurance, or some other type of permanent coverage (see below), is typically the best choice for the following:

  • Using Life Insurance for Estate Planning
  • Using Life Insurance for Business Succession Planning
  • Using Life Insurance to Provide for a Special Needs Child
  • Using Life Insurance for Charitable Purposes.
  • Using Life Insurance Cash Value policy loans for:
    • Investing in cash flow assets such as: real estate, dividend stocks, oil and gas, etc…
    • Paying off high interest debt such as: credit cards, student loans
    • Funding a new business venture

For more, please check out our companion articles:

Pros of Term Life Insurance

On the other hand, some of the top reasons people buy term life insurance are:

These are all valid reasons for obtaining a term life insurance policy. Yet, these reasons may not be as pertinent in your old age as they are when you’re 30, 40, or 50 years old. Once your children are adults, then their financial security won’t be dependent on you and your life insurance policy.

Cons of Whole Life Insurance

The simple answer: cash value whole life insurance initially costs more, and it’s not always (although sometimes it is) necessary or the best choice. The average woman in the United States lives to be around 81 years whereas the average male lives to be about 77. It’s quite possible to get a term life insurance policy that covers you until your particular life expectancy if all you are concerned about is a death benefit.

The problem lies here: no one knows how long they will live and using averages to determine your life expectancy is not always the best choice.

Cons of Term Life Insurance

Term life insurance does not accumulate cash value and it has an end date. If either of those are important to you, then cash value whole life insurance is the way to go. However, many financial advisors (think Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman) will point out that when you buy a term life policy, you actually wind up saving money due to lower term life rates. You can use the money you’ve saved and invest it, often providing a higher rate of return than any cash accumulation from your whole life policy.

The one problem with this way of thinking is that it assumes someone will actually invest the difference saved by choosing term over whole life. In reality, most people find other ways to spend the savings, such as on cable TV or Netflix. However, the strategy of investing the difference is a sound one, if you are one of the rare, more disciplined savers. If not, consider the pros of whole life insurance.

 term life insurance versus whole life insuranceUsing Term Life Insurance as Leverage

When considering the pros and cons of term and whole life, one of the major pros of term life insurance is that it offers more bang for your buck, see our best term life insurance rates by age chart.

For example, a healthy 40 year old male will pay around $30 a month for a $500,000 policy with a 20 year term. In contrast, a whole life policy might be as much as seven times that amount, or $210 a month.

Often people will decide to go with less coverage since they really want a permanent policy. However, $50,000 or $100,000 is not going to stretch very far. As a result, if the insured dies, the coverage barely pays any remaining bills and funeral expenses.

If you have limited funds available but you want the most coverage possible, choosing term vs permanent life makes sense. That way, if you die prematurely, the term policy will provide your family with the funds needed to move on and not be left desolate.

What is the difference between various types of “universal life” policies?

No pros and cons between term and whole life is complete without considering Universal Life. Universal Life Insurance is a form of permanent life insurance. There are three main types of universal life insurance policies:

All of these types of universal life insurance can be considered more than just a life insurance policy, but also accumulate cash value. Universal life insurance policies normally allow for a flexible payment plan, meaning that you can control the premium and death benefit, to some extent.

Indexed Universal Life

This is a permanent life insurance policy that will pay out no matter when you die. Indexed Universal Life Insurance has two parts: life insurance and cash value. You pay premiums, then subtract the policy charges, and then add the value depending on the insurance company’s growth and dividend. This allows you to possibly get a bump up in your cash value, but not always. The downside of an indexed universal life insurance policy is that it can be outright confusing, particularly if you’re not a regular investor. The good news is we have a few articles that focus on the benefits of Indexed Universal Life to help shed some light on this beneficial (for the right person) product:

Variable Universal Life

Like an indexed universal life policy, a variable universal life insurance policy is also made up of life insurance and fund allocation. It is different, however, because you put the money in various account funds. The policy owner makes the financial decisions of where to put that money. Again, if you aren’t a regular investor this can wind up being a lot of work, and if you don’t make smart choices on where to put your policy’s money, then your policy value can be severely harmed. Variable Life Insurance often has “hidden” fees that make it a poor choice. While there may be some good options out there for the more astute investor, most people should steer clear of VULs.

Guaranteed Universal Life

The difference between guaranteed universal life insurance and indexed or variable universal life, is, that as the name suggests, there are some guarantees. This policy guarantees a lot of positive things:

  1. You can set premiums that last a lifetime—even if you live to 105 and beyond
  2. There will be a guaranteed death benefit—again, no matter how long you live (note that there are options for GULs: to age 90, 95, 100, and 121. If you choose an option other than to 121 you run the risk of outliving your policy).
  3. There is much less investor volatility
  4. It’s a “safe” insurance product (but see the note in #2)

It may sound good so far, but there are some drawbacks. Unlike the variable universal life policy, you won’t be able to set your own payment schedule. Failure to make timely payments may disrupt your guaranteed premium. Also, many guaranteed universal life policies do not have, or have limited cash value—something that people look forward to with permanent life insurance. But while you are not accumulating cash value you are also paying a lower premium for a permanent policy—this is often worth the exchange.

So which product is right for me?

Assessing the pros and cons of whole life versus term life insurance can be daunting. Universal life or whole life policies sound enticing and safe since they last, well, forever. But you need to ask yourself is whether the higher premiums are going to be worth it. If you think so, then you need to decide how much risk you want to take, and how involved in the choosing of where your money is placed you want to be. These things will help you determine if you should buy a term, whole, indexed, variable or guaranteed universal life insurance policy.

You can always convert down the road

When deciding on the pros and cons of term life insurance versus whole life insurance, one thing to be aware of is that many term life insurance policies have a conversion option. This allows the policy to be converted to a permanent policy sometime typically before age 70 or before the term expires. You can convert all or a portion of the policy (ex. $500,000 term policy; you can convert all or as low as $100,000).

And the best part is that the policy is converted with no proof of insurability, i.e. no exam or background check. Instead, the policy converts at the rate class you originally qualified at. Therefore, if you choose term as your initial insurance policy, and you become sick due to some serious illness such as cancer, you can convert the existing term policy to a permanent policy and keep it the rest of your life.

No Exam Universal Life Insurance

There are no exam permanent life insurance policies available. Therefore, if you do not want an exam but desire permanent coverage, consider purchasing a no medical exam universal life insurance policy.

And for those of you on the fence, trying to determine if you should go with an exam versus no exam policy, consider the following: If you are concerned what might turn up in your blood or urine sample, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, etc…, go with the no exam policy. Lock into coverage and then take the life insurance medical exam. This way, if you find out your not as healthy as you think (or as healthy as you thought you were), then at least you locked into coverage. The worst thing is to find out you are postponed or declined coverage due to some asymptomatic latent health issue.

How can I find out more information about different life insurance policies?

Making any major purchase can be difficult, and often requires expert advice. We are here to help you make wise life insurance policy decisions. We walk you through the entire process, and help you assess your own situation so that you can decide on a life insurance policy that’s right for you. We work with clients wanting term, whole and universal life policies. Every individual’s and family’s needs are different. At TermLife2Go, we understand that and we help you figure out what’s right—for you.

If you are interested in knowing more about your term, whole and universal life insurance options, then please call TermLife2Go today for a free consultation.

Thank you for reading our article, Term Life Insurance versus Permanent Life Insurance: What is the Difference? Please leave any questions or comments below.


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