Dennis Brown realized the importance of life insurance after his father’s death. Following his passing, Brown—a Chicago police officer at the time—found out that his father’s life insurance policy didn’t have enough money to cover the cost of his headstone. This experience led him to pursue a career in the insurance industry in four years ago.
Too often, consumers wait until it’s too late to obtain or review their life insurance coverage, leaving loved ones to pick up the pieces following their death, said Brown, a financial advisor. About 1 in 5 life insurance policyholders say they don’t think they have enough, according to the 2018 Insurance Barometer report by the financial services research firm LIMRA. So when weighing the costs and benefits of term and whole life insurance policies, experts say consumers need to consider their age, income, health and beneficiaries.
“If you’re looking for it as an investment, it’s probably the best investment [in terms of] savings,” Brown said. “If you’re looking for it to leave something for your loved ones behind, it becomes a matter of structuring that so that it can be affordable so that you can maintain this policy.”
Benefits and costs of whole and term life insurance policies will differ by company and applicant, but there are key distinctions between both policy types. Whole life insurance policies insure policyholders their entire lives, whereas term life insurance policies cover policyholders for defined time periods of up to 30 years.
Whole life insurance policies, depending on the insurance company, will offer benefits like dividend payments and premium returns, but the monthly premiums can be pricier than term life insurance plans, said Nancy Coutu, certified financial planner and co-founder of Money Managers Financial Group.
Term life insurance plans, however, often come with more affordable insurance premiums, but—with the exception of a return of premium term life insurance policy—don’t offer a payout at the end of the term, explained J.C. Matthews, co-founder of Simply Insurance.
If you only need insurance for a set period of time, term life insurance could be the way to go. But if you’re looking for both an investment tool and insurance coverage, whole life insurance policies can be worth the added costs, Brown said.
If a policy seems too expensive, consumers should go to an independent insurance agent to compare costs across multiple companies and evaluate their policies—especially if they’re 10 years old or older—and trade their current whole life policy for another, Coutu said. Consumers can do so without paying additional premiums if they’ve had the policy for a while, she said.
Ultimately, experts say consumers need to determine who they want to protect with their policy. Beneficiaries can range from young children or children with special needs to business partners, charities and spouses.