The Best Term Life Insurance

Important protection for your most important people

The 30-Second Review

Your life insurance depends a lot on you: your income, your lifestyle, your family. But according to the insurance experts and financial advisors we talked to, the best providers will all have flexible term lengths, easy ways to extend your policy, and robust riders that will help plan for the worst.

Top Picks
Best Overall

A term life policy with TIAA can convert into a permanent policy at any time without further evidence of insurability. How's that for peace of mind?

Other Top Picks

New York Life
Pick a term, any term.

Amica Life Insurance
Gets the award for standout rider.

Life insurance is one of those things — like 401(k)s and cellulite — that’s impossible to grasp when you’re young and then hits you like a ton of bricks the second reality sets in, often right around when you have your first kid. If there are people in your life who depend on your income, life insurance is likely an essential part of your long-term financial plans. Our pick for best term life insurance, TIAA Life, is financially secure, so you know it’ll be there when you need it, and flexible enough that a policy can be a practical addition to your budget. Every company ranks risk factors differently, so to get the best price, you’ll need to compare quotes.

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There are two major types of life insurance: term and permanent (also known as whole life).

Term life insurance only provides coverage during a set timeframe, and typically expires with no cash value. Whole life insurance is just like the name says: good for your whole life, as long as you keep paying the premiums. With permanent life insurance, there’s a guaranteed payout at the end, but the trade-off is that it’s much more expensive — generally 10 times the price of term. To offset those costs, permanent life policies include a tax-deferred savings account that earns interest over time. A portion of the premium goes into the savings account, which you can use as collateral against a loan, and the interest the account earns can be used to pay your premium. If you cash out the account, though, say goodbye to your death benefits.

A spirited debate persists among experts on the pros and cons of term and permanent. The basic argument for term is that the savings component of permanent policies can be better realized by simply investing the amount you’d pay for the more expensive permanent policy somewhere else, like your 401(k). Proponents of permanent counter that term insurance has zero value once it expires, while permanent policies are at least always worth something.

There’s a trade-off for sure, but one thing is certain: Term life policies offer the most protection for the buck. And, their term covers the years when that protection is most critical. After all, you can’t expect your children to provide for themselves when they’re young, but at the end of a 20- or 30-year term, they’re more likely to be financially self-sufficient. For many people, term is the only affordable type of life insurance.

Our Picks for the Best Life Insurance

Best Overall - TIAA Life

Sure, TIAA Life has elite financial strength ratings from both A.M. Best (A++) and Standard & Poor’s (AA+), but what really set TIAA Life apart was its conversion allowance: It allows you to convert from your term insurance to any of its permanent policies at any time during your initial term, without further evidence of insurability (read: no medical exam required).

TIAA also offers term limits from 10 to 30 years in 5-year increments (the lone exception is the 25-year term — where’s that at TIAA?). This means that you could theoretically purchase a 30-year term policy when you first learn that you’re going to be a parent (say at age 30), secure a sizable benefit for your family at an affordable and stable premium for the entire term, and even if you develop a chronic illness in year 30, you’ll still be able to convert your term policy to any of TIAA’s permanent life products to preserve the benefit for your family.

It’s a farfetched scenario — and a kind of grim one — but without this allowance you might find yourself unable to purchase a policy that will provide for your family after you’re gone. This becomes even more important if you have a special-needs child who requires care into adulthood, or a “surprise” baby who won’t have yet gone to college when the initial term expires. TIAA Life covers the bases better than any of our other top contenders.

Another thing we really liked about TIAA Life was how its website broke down the complex subject of life insurance: how it works, its central purposes, and the different types. It has quote tools for both those who know what type of product they want, and those who are just starting to think about buying a policy. The Life Wizard tool in particular was one of the most helpful we saw for assessing an individual’s need for life insurance and the different options available. It was also easy to get a TIAA agent on the phone to answer specific questions and go over the ins and outs of the policies.

Most Flexible Terms - New York Life

About the only thing that kept New York Life from sharing the top spot with TIAA was its conversion privilege stipulation: It requires you to purchase a separate rider in order to convert to a permanent policy after the first 10 years of the term. Beyond that though, New York Life is on par with TIAA for financial strength, and it gives prospective buyers unparalleled options when designing their policy: any length between 10 and 20 years (there’s no longer-term, 30-year option). You could buy a 16-year policy to coincide with the exact time you expect your last child to graduate from college, or, say, an 11-year policy to match the age when your spouse’s pension kicks in.

And although New York Life requires that extra rider, it offers some nice perks for policyholders who do decide to convert sooner. For instance, if you convert in the first five years of your term, you have the choice of either being insured as if you were still the same age as when you first bought the term policy (which could end up saving you significant money), or receiving a credit equal to one year of your term policy’s premium.

Even though New York Life technically only offers term limits between 10 and 20 years, its Policy Purchase Option allows you to purchase a new replacement term policy at specific option dates without a second medical exam. In this case, although the premium will increase somewhat based on the new “original” age of the insured, coverage will extend for longer, at lower rates than if the policyholder simply renewed at the end of the first term.

New York Life also excelled when it came to educating the consumer on the complicated subject of life insurance. Its site went into impressive detail on topics that beginners should really understand, such as the philosophical argument between those who advocate term insurance and those in favor of permanent life insurance.

It might not seem like you’re ready to dive into the philosophy behind insurance policies on your first go-round — but we’re all only getting older (and therefore more expensive to insure). Now’s the time to figure it all out.

Standout Rider - Amica Life

Amica’s only main drawback was its conversion options: Unlike TIAA there’s no option to convert after the first 10 years of the policy, and unlike New York Life, there’s no rider to make up for it.

However, Amica won points for offering a thoughtful rider that we didn’t see anywhere else: the option to adjust the policy’s death benefit to keep up with inflation. “The effect of inflation on the death benefit is commonly overlooked, particularly longer-term policies — those lasting 20 or 30 years,” explains Weisbart. This is a legitimate concern: Even $500,000 won’t stretch as far in 30 years as it does today.

We were also impressed by the clarity and transparency of its website — particularly its term product breakdown. Whereas some sites made us work to locate specific policy info, Amica presented a streamlined list of what’s included and what’s optional. The Live Chat is also a helpful tool to get speedy answers to sticky questions.

We were impressed with the detail of Amica’s policy breakdown, and we love an on-call live chat option.

Other Life Insurance Providers to Consider

  • Transamerica enjoys a sterling industry reputation and stacked up pretty well among our finalists, but its limited menu of conversion-eligible permanent policies means it takes a backseat to our top three. We did like its consumer-education materials though, especially the Insurance Plan Explorer, which walks through a simple series of questions to recommend an insurance type.
  • Lincoln Financial also has decent coverage options and excellent financial strength, but stopped short of offering the type of flexibility and customization we found in our top three. In addition to limiting its conversion-eligible permanent policies, it also requires a minimum death benefit (called a “face amount”) of $250,000, which is more than some buyers will want.
  • State Farm has the second-best financial strength out of our six finalists, but like Lincoln Financial and Transamerica, it isn’t as flexible with its conversion-eligible permanent policies and doesn’t offer an Accelerated Death Benefit rider for terminally ill policyholders. While the relative merits of this particular rider can be debated (using it automatically depletes the death benefit amount for your beneficiaries), State Farm stands out as the only provider that doesn’t offer it.

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Did You Know?

The decision to buy life insurance — and how much — depends on your dependents.

That’s right: Not everyone needs it. Life insurance is about more than simply leaving behind an inheritance for your loved ones. In fact, if leaving a gift of money for your beneficiaries to spend as they wish is your primary goal, you’re better off with a different investment vehicle, such as an IRA or a 401(k).

But let’s say you’re married with young children and a mortgage, and haven’t yet built a nest egg. Or you take care of a disabled sibling, or an aging parent who needs your financial support. These are instances where life insurance makes perfect sense: Without the money paid out by your life insurance plan, your death would cause major financial upheaval in the lives of your dependents.

But how much should you buy? The industry rule of thumb is to multiply your annual income by 10, but it’s not a very precise method for calculating something so important. A more accurate figure should take into account how much your spouse and children will need to maintain their standard of living, whether any of your children will need help with college, and your mortgage and other debt — not to mention inflation. If your employer offers life insurance, take a hard look at the coverage; even though premiums will often be low, employer-sponsored plans usually carry a relatively low death benefit, and coverage could evaporate if you change jobs.

Your health right now determines your premium for your entire term.

When you apply for life insurance, you’ll be asked a slew of questions regarding your physical health (age, height, weight, etc.) as well as your lifestyle, and medical history. You’ll also need a medical exam, typically performed by a paramedic in your home at the insurance company’s expense.

The results of the exam, along with your answers to the questions, determine the premiums for the entire term of your policy — even if it’s 30 years. If you sign up at 25, the insurance companies will use your health at age 25 to project your health at age 55.

Because “insurability” is only measured at the beginning, this means that even if you develop a serious illness a few years after purchasing the policy, the insurance company will continue to charge you based on your (healthier) medicals at the time of application. And remember: To insurance companies, younger means healthier. The later in life you start the policy, the more expensive the annual premiums will be.

Stay-at-home spouses should consider life insurance too.

In 2014, surveyed more than 15,000 stay-at-home moms and found that their 10 most frequent responsibilities (which included day care, driving, tutoring, and cooking) amounted to an annual market value of $118,905 — the amount a household would have to pay if that work was hired out. So yeah, it absolutely does make sense for stay-at-home spouses to have their own life insurance policies.

The Bottom Line

If you have dependents that rely on your income to be happy and healthy, life insurance is likely an inevitable part of your financial future. The best life insurance will have a policy with flexible terms, great coverage, and unshakable financial stability. But don’t stop at one quote; it pays to shop around for premiums.

Best Life Insurance Policies: Summed Up

Life Insurance Policies

Best For…



Best Overall


New York Life

Flexible Terms


Amica Life

Standout Rider

Take Action

Calculate how much life insurance you need. The Insurance Information Institute recommends buying enough life insurance to replace the income you generate now plus any additional expense — for example, if you do your taxes and your family will need to hire a tax preparer. It also suggests you plan to replace the “hidden income” that isn’t part of your gross wages (like matching contributions to your retirement fund) and any expenses that’ll arise at death (like funeral costs).

Get quotes and compare coverage terms. Make sure you’re doing an apples-to-apples comparison between policies. Compare identical term lengths, death benefits, premium schedules, and policy provisions. If all else is equal, choose the cheapest one!

Feeling overwhelmed? A life insurance broker can help. Insurance companies sell their products either directly, or through an agent or broker. Brokers are typically paid on commission, which gives them a shady reputation, but financial counselor Mark P. Cussen says it’s not so black-and-white: “An adviser’s experience and knowledge of your background can help you find the term life products that match your needs and budget, saving you both the headaches and uncertainty about choosing the right policy.” Going the broker route? The Society of Financial Service Professionals can help you find a responsible one.

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More Life Insurance Reviews

We’ve been looking into life insurance for years now, and have taken a closer look at some other providers too. In the coming weeks, we’ll be updating these reviews with our latest findings, so stay tuned.