Key takeaways

  1. Term life insurance provides coverage for a set period of time, typically ranging between 10 and 30 years
  2. Whole life insurance offers lifelong coverage and fixed premiums
  3. Compared to term life insurance, whole life is generally more expensive
  4. Whole life has a cash value component; term does not
  5. When selecting a policy, age, health, family requirements, debts, and financial objectives should all be considered

Choosing the right life insurance policy is a crucial decision that can impact the financial well-being of your loved ones.

With term and whole life insurance being the two most popular options, understanding their key features, differences, and ideal scenarios can help you make an informed choice. 

Let’s dive into the details of term life vs whole life insurance so you can confidently select the best policy that aligns with your financial objectives and needs.

How does term life insurance work?

Term life insurance offers coverage for a set period, usually between 10 to 30 years. The beneficiary will receive the policy’s death benefit if the policyholder passes away during this term. 

This type of insurance is particularly suitable for those with temporary needs, such as young families and mortgage holders who require short-term coverage. However, if one’s life insurance needs extend beyond the term, whole life insurance may be a more favorable option. Understanding term life insurance benefits can help individuals make informed decisions about their coverage needs.

The fixed premiums cease once a term life insurance policy expires, and the renewal rates could be substantially higher. At this point, purchasing a new life insurance policy, such as whole life insurance, may be more advantageous, rather than paying the elevated renewal rates of a term life policy.

Key features of term life

Affordability, simplicity, and fixed premiums are the primary attributes of term life insurance. Term life insurance is generally more cost-effective than other types, which can significantly impact life insurance costs. Payment plan options for fixed premiums in term and whole life insurance include:

  • Monthly
  • Quarterly
  • Semi-annually
  • Annually

Ideal scenarios for term life

Term life insurance is most suitable for individuals starting their families, mortgage holders, and those with temporary financial needs. For young families, term life insurance is advantageous due to its affordability, customizability, and the ability to offer protection to their loved ones.

Mortgage holders can benefit from term life insurance in the following ways:

  • Provides a death benefit that can be used to pay off any remaining balance on the mortgage in the event of the policyholder’s passing.
  • Guarantees that the mortgage is taken care of, easing the financial burden on the policyholder’s family and friends.
  • Offers flexible durations and coverage amounts, allowing mortgage holders to tailor their coverage to their specific needs.

How does whole life insurance work?

A whole life insurance policy offers lifelong coverage and a guaranteed tax-free cash value component that accumulates over the policyholder’s lifetime. This type of insurance is a more permanent solution, providing more avenues to safeguard your family’s finances in the long run.

The difference between term and whole life insurance regarding cash value is that term life insurance doesn’t build cash value, while whole life policies include a cash value account that grows over time at a fixed interest rate. The policyholder can take a loan or withdrawal against the cash value, use it to cover premiums, or cash it out entirely by surrendering the policy (although this should only be done in specific circumstances).

Key features of whole life

Key features of whole life insurance include:

  • Lifetime coverage: As long as premiums are paid on time, the policy will remain in effect until the insured passes away, regardless of the duration.
  • Cash value growth: A portion of the premiums go into a cash value account, which increases over time based on a fixed rate determined by the insurer.
  • Fixed premiums: The premiums remain the same throughout the policy’s life.

Whole life insurance offers various payment schedules, including single premium life insurance or policies with payments for a specified period of time, such as ten years. This flexibility allows policyholders to choose a payment plan that best suits their financial situation and objectives.

Ideal scenarios for whole life

Whole life insurance generally benefits those seeking long-term coverage and can manage higher premiums. It is appropriate for individuals who prefer permanent coverage and a cash value component. Whole life insurance is sometimes used as an estate planning tool to support family members financially upon the insured’s passing. Moreover, it can help offset estate taxes and provide funding to cover other expenses left behind by the deceased.

Comparing costs: Term vs whole life insurance

Term life insurance is often more affordable than whole life insurance because it has no cash value and only offers temporary coverage. The cost of a life insurance policy is determined by various factors, such as:

  • The type of policy
  • Age
  • Health
  • Gender
  • Driving record
  • Occupation
  • Hobbies
  • The amount of benefit to be received by the beneficiaries

The average cost of term life insurance for a healthy 35-year-old seeking $500,000 in coverage and a 20-year term is estimated at around $30 per month. 

In contrast, the average cost for that same person for a whole life insurance policy is around $500 a month.

Pros and cons: Weighing your options

Term life insurance offers affordability, simplicity, and fixed premiums for the duration of the policy, making it an attractive option for those with temporary needs and limited budgets. However, term only provides coverage for a specific period, and if the policyholder outlives the term, the coverage will expire, leaving them without a death benefit.

Whole life insurance provides lifetime coverage, a guaranteed death benefit, and a cash value that grows over time, making it a better option for those seeking permanent coverage. However, whole life insurance premiums are generally higher than term life insurance premiums, which may be a drawback for those with limited resources.

What is convertible insurance?

Convertible term life insurance

Some life insurance policies provide the option to convert term insurance to a whole life policy with cash value. Convertible term life insurance policies allow policyholders to move to permanent life insurance (generally) at any time without another round of medical underwriting.

Converting from whole life to term

It is also possible to transition from whole life to term by applying a whole life policy’s accumulated cash value toward a term life policy that is ‘paid up.’ Just be sure you are willing to end your whole life coverage because this will terminate the policy.

Life insurance alternatives

Beyond term and whole life insurance, other life insurance options offer added financial security and investment possibilities. Universal life insurance, variable universal life insurance, and indexed universal life insurance are all alternatives to traditional term and whole life insurance.

Universal life insurance (UL)

Universal life policies are a type of permanent life insurance. Unlike whole life, this type of life insurance allows you to increase or decrease your premiums within certain parameters, making it potentially more affordable than whole life. However, this flexibility relies on your cash value, which can fluctuate depending on interest rates and the amount you use to cover premiums. If there isn’t sufficient cash value to keep the policy in force, your death benefit can decrease, and the policy can even lapse.

Variable universal life insurance (VUL)

Variable life insurance also offers permanent coverage, but its cash value is linked to the stock market, providing policyholders with the potential for greater returns but with the risk of increased premiums if their investments perform poorly. VULs also have higher fees and longer surrender periods, which means there are penalties to terminate the policy.

Indexed universal life insurance (IUL)

Indexed universal life is another type of permanent life insurance where the cash value is linked to the S&P 500 or a comparable market index, offering another avenue for investment growth. VULs also offer a fixed-interest option, allowing the policyholder to allocate funds as they wish between accounts.

While the equity-indexed interest rate can change, there is a guaranteed interest rate that can help to limit losses. The downside is that it can also curb upside potential.

These life insurance alternatives provide additional options for policyholders seeking financial protection and investment opportunities. However, they may also come with higher policy fees, which can reduce the amount of money going toward the cash value.

Tailoring your life insurance to your needs

Factors such as age, health, family requirements, debts, and financial objectives should be considered when selecting the most appropriate policy to customize your life insurance.

Evaluating these factors before purchasing a policy can help ensure that your life insurance provides adequate coverage and aligns with your financial objectives.

For individuals with chronic illnesses, optional riders such as a chronic illness rider can be added to a life insurance policy, allowing them to access their life insurance death benefit while still living if their condition qualifies.

Final word

Understanding the key features, differences, and ideal scenarios of term and whole life insurance can help you make an informed decision when choosing a policy that best aligns with your financial objectives and needs. 

Term life insurance offers temporary coverage at a lower cost, making it suitable for those with short-term needs, such as young families and mortgage holders. On the other hand, whole life insurance provides lifelong coverage and cash value, making it a potentially more suitable choice for those seeking long-term financial security and estate planning.

By carefully considering factors such as age, health, family needs, debts, and financial goals, you can confidently choose the best life insurance policy to protect your loved ones and secure your financial future.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better, whole life or term life?

Neither is better; it’s circumstantial. Whole life insurance is generally better for people who want coverage that will never end. Term life is typically more well-suited for those who seek temporary coverage for the unexpected.

What are the advantages of term life insurance?

Term life insurance is generally more affordable, offers coverage for a set period, and can financially relieve your beneficiaries if you die unexpectedly. It can be a good option for those who can’t afford more expensive, permanent coverage.

What are the disadvantages of term life insurance?

Term life insurance has several disadvantages, including becoming increasingly expensive over time, not providing lifetime coverage, and having no cash value. Additionally, if you outlive the policy, you will not be covered, and your policy will not have any remaining benefits.

What happens to term life insurance at the end of the term?

When a term life policy expires, the coverage typically ends, and you no longer need to pay premiums. You may have the option to convert the policy to permanent life insurance or purchase a new policy to continue coverage.

What are the main differences between term life and whole life insurance?

Term life insurance offers coverage for a set period, usually at lower premiums, whereas whole life insurance provides lifetime coverage with the added benefit of an accumulating cash value.