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What is whole life insurance?

Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance coverage. This form of insurance offers both death benefit protection and cash value, or savings, build up.

A whole life insurance policy is usually intended to remain in force throughout the lifetime of the insured. And, the funds that accumulate in the policy’s cash value may be borrowed or withdrawn if needed by the policyholder.

How does whole life insurance work?

With whole life insurance, a lump sum death benefit will be paid out to a beneficiary (or beneficiaries) if the insured dies while the policy is in force. The funds that are in the cash value portion of a whole life policy can grow on a tax-deferred basis, meaning that there is not a tax on the gain unless or until the money is withdrawn. This can allow the policyholder a way to grow money in a tax-advantaged manner over time.

Cost of whole life insurance

Because of the cash value build up in a whole life insurance policy, this type of insurance will always cost more than a term life insurance policy that has a comparable amount of death benefit. There are many components that go into the pricing of whole life insurance, such as:

  • Age
  • State
  • Gender
  • Tobacco Use
  • Product Type
  • Coverage Amount
  • Health History
  • Family History
  • Financial History
  • Criminal History
  • Medication History
  • Insurance Company

Here is an example whole life insurance rate chart by age.  Preferrred Plus – non smoker rates shown.


What are the different types of whole life insurance?

There are different types of whole life insurance available. These include participating and non-participating whole life.

  • Participating

Although not guaranteed, participating whole life policy may offer dividends to the policyholder. Dividends are considered to be a return of excess premium and are therefore not taxed as income. A dividend may be received in the form of cash, or the amount of the dividend may be used for purchasing additional insurance coverage. Alternatively, a dividend may be added to the whole life insurance policy’s cash value.

  • Non-Participating

With a non-participating whole life policy, the insurance company assumes all risk of future performance. This means that if the insurance carrier’s actuaries have underestimated the cost of future claims, the insurer will need to make up the difference. Non-participating whole life insurance policies do not offer the opportunity for dividends.

Whole life payment options

One of the benefits of whole life insurance is that has several premium payment options. These payment options could benefit someone who wants a life insurance policy that lasts their entire life, but they do not want to pay premiums for the rest of their life.  For example, maybe someone only wants to pay premiums during their peak income-earning years and not the remainder of their life, so they could choose a limited pay payment option.

  • Level Premiums (lifetime premiums)
  • Limited Pay (10-pay or 20-pay)
  • Single Premium (one premium)

Level Premiums

Pay premiums your entire life

Limited Pay

Pay premiums on a 10-pay or 20-pay

Single Premium

Make one single premium payment

What whole life insurance won’t provide*

Although there are many benefits to owning a whole life insurance policy, there are some things that this type of plan may not offer, such as:

  • Low premiums (as compared to a term life insurance policy with the same death benefit amount)
  • Guaranteed dividend payments

Is whole life insurance a good investment?

Whole life insurance may or may not be a good investment. For those who are looking for a way to lock in coverage at a set premium rate, whole life may be a good option.

However, if you are seeking a way to obtain a large amount of death benefit at an affordable premium rate, then term life insurance may be a better alternative for you. Either way, an Insurance Geek can help you find the best fit for your situation.

Whole Life Insurance Pros and Cons

There are many pros and cons to whole life insurance. Some of the more common ones are listed below. Here is one of our best articles to compare the differences between term life vs whole life insurance.


This type of life insurance offers many advantages, including:

  • Lifetime coverage – regardless of increasing age or health issues in the future
  • Cash value build up that grows tax-deferred
  • Premium locked in for life


While there are many benefits of whole life, there are also some factors to be mindful of, such as:

  • Higher premium cost than term insurance
  • Low return on cash value compared to other “investments”
  • May have higher fees

Who should buy whole life insurance?

While whole life insurance may not be right for everyone, it could be a good option for those who are looking for:

  • Guaranteed death benefit protection
  • Premiums that are locked in for the life of the policy – regardless of the insured’s increasing age or future health condition
  • A way to accumulate savings on a tax-deferred basis

See our carrier reviews. Find the best.

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As an independent insurance brokerage, we will help you to narrow down the coverage and the insurance carrier – as well as the premium – that works the best for you and your specific needs.

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