The Best Life Insurance Companies

Most insurance covers the material elements of our lives. But when it comes to life insurance, the stakes are on another level entirely. Life insurance is about more than just mitigating the hassle of material damage to your home or car. It’s about taking care of family and loved ones in the event of the unthinkable. So it’s important to do your homework, to make sure you’re getting the right coverage at the right cost.

How We Chose the Best Life Insurance Companies

Accessibility

Before considering policy options or pricing, you have to find a provider that will actually cover you. As a preliminary step, we cleared our initial provider list of any companies that limit their customer base.

That meant nixing providers that only write employer-sponsored group policies (like MetLife) and those with special eligibility requirements (like USAA). We also made sure each company writes policies in at least 40 states, so you won’t have trouble finding coverage in your area.

Financial strength

Financial security is the backbone of insurance — after all, a provider is only as good as its ability to pay out on a claim if need be. Luckily, there are a number of independent agencies that do the work of evaluating insurers’ financial health for you.

“Always check and understand the financial strength of an insurer you’re considering purchasing from.”

We checked the three most prominent rating agencies to make sure all our top four picks had reliable financial backing. These providers earned “Superior” scores from A.M. Best, which focuses solely on insurance, as well as top ratings from both S&P Global and Moody’s. Each one is guaranteed to have the funds to pay out on your death benefit, should it come to that.

Coverage options

After vetting each company for availability and financial strength, it was time for a deep-dive into coverage details. We looked for providers with plenty of add-ons or “riders.” When tacked onto your insurance, these can bolster your coverage against unforeseen circumstances like accidental death or disability. Some even make all or part of the death benefit available during your lifetime in the case of a critical illness – this is called a “living benefit” and can help ease the financial burden of long-term medical costs.

The most important riders for you depends on the type of policy you’re considering. For instance: Long-term care coverage can be an important add-on for lifelong insurance but might not make sense for a term policy that will expire while you’re still young. Keeping this in mind, we favored providers with a wide range of riders to accommodate different needs.

The 4 Best Life Insurance Companies

Compare all our top picks for life insurance based on their best service, coverage or perk.


Best
Term Life Insurance
State Farm

A variety of term life options that come with strong financial backing and top-rated customer service

Pros
Variety of term life plans
Generous extension opportunities
Best-in-class customer service
Good customer resources
Cons
Rigid term lengths
Likely not your cheapest option

Why we chose it

Variety of term life plans

Unlike most companies — which carry one or two term life options — State Farm offers four different plans to help customers match their coverage to their financial goals.

  • Select Term is boilerplate, affordable term coverage that lasts for 10, 20, or 30 years.
  • Return of Premium insurance is more expensive but allows you to recoup paid premiums if you outlive the policy.
  • Mortgage Term Life lasts 15 or 30 years. It decreases in coverage (and cost) as your mortgage is paid off over time.
  • Instant Answer Term provides up to $50,000 of coverage for those who do not wish to take a medical exam.

Generous extension opportunities

Your coverage needs could change at any time, such as if you ever needed to take out a second mortgage or provide long-term care for a family member. This means it’s important to look for term insurance that can be extended if necessary. State Farm has some of the most lenient allowances in that department.

The company lets you renew term coverage through age 95 or convert to a permanent policy through age 75, all without taking a medical exam. By comparison, many companies do require a second health exam, meaning prices could go up drastically. Some companies, like New York Life, even require you to purchase an additional rider for conversion privileges. State Farm provides the option at no additional cost to you.

Best-in-class customer service

As of 2018, State Farm is enjoying its fifth consecutive year as J.D. Power’s top-ranked company for customer satisfaction. The J.D. Power survey (which polled more than 5,000 life insurance customers) measures satisfaction with policy options, billing and statements, and quality of service — and State Farm scored top marks in every category. We’re confident that State Farm will be easy to work with and won’t muddy the claims process or add stress during an already difficult time.

Good customer resources

Life insurance is pretty complex, so we appreciate that State Farm has taken steps to simplify the shopping process. First, it offers quotes for term life insurance online. Not all providers do, and it’s hugely convenient when comparison shopping.

State Farm is also one of the few providers that lets you file claims online and provides a checklist of information you’ll need to do so. Most companies tiptoe around the subject of claims and make information scarce, so State Farm’s straightforward approach is refreshing.

Points to consider

Rigid term lengths

State Farm only offers 10-, 20-, and 30-year term lengths (unless you opt for its 15-year mortgage insurance). That means it’s not the best for people with very specific term needs: say, someone who only wants coverage for 12 years until their child moves out. If you’d prefer a more tailored term, we suggest checking out New York Life, which lets customers choose any length between 10 and 20 years.

Likely not your cheapest option

In our review of the Best Cheap Life Insurance, State Farm quoted slightly higher premiums than other companies we tested, including TIAA Life, Amica, Transamerica, and New York Life.

Of course, premium comparisons need to be taken with a grain of salt. Life insurance quotes are highly personal, so State Farm may still end up being the right choice for you. Try getting quotes from a few different companies to see how your coverage and pricing options stack up.

Other Top Term Life Insurance Companies to Consider

More top picks from our review of the best term life insurance

  • TIAA Life — Easily Convertible Policies
  • New York Life — Most Flexible Terms


Best
Whole Life Insurance
Northwestern Mutual

Comprehensive, dividend-earning whole life policies backed by industry-leading financials

Pros
Diverse policy riders
Flexible entry point
Above-average customer ratings
Strong dividend performance
Cons
Sub-par online resources
No Child Term rider

Why we chose it

Diverse policy riders

While riders are important for any life insurance policy — and all our top picks offer a good selection — they’re especially critical for whole life insurance. Since your policy will be with you for the long haul, it should be able to adapt to all of life’s changes. That’s a big reason we recommend Northwestern Mutual for permanent insurance.

Northwestern Mutual has one of the best coverage selections we’ve seen, with 15 of the 16 popular riders we looked for. These can extend coverage to children or a spouse, excuse premiums if you become disabled, release the death benefit early in case of terminal illness, and more. With Northwestern Mutual, you’ll be able to build a policy that provides much greater value than a death benefit alone.

Flexible entry point

We generally recommend whole life insurance for people with larger assets, as premiums tend to be expensive (around a few hundred dollars per month). That said, permanent insurance should still be accessible if you want it; companies shouldn’t bar entry with sky-high coverage requirements.

Northwestern Mutual’s whole life coverage starts at just $25,000. By comparison, some companies set their minimums at $100,000 or more. If you’re interested in whole life but not ready to buy into a huge policy, Northwestern Mutual makes it easier to get started with a reasonably sized benefit.

Above-average customer ratings

Northwestern Mutual scored four out of five for customer service in J.D. Power’s 2018 survey. It’s also considered reviewed positively across the board, from customer interaction to policy options and billing. That means you can count on helpful reps, easy payments, and responsive claims processing. Plus, should you need to use any riders during the course of your term (critical illness, disability, etc.), NWM makes accessing those benefits smooth and painless.

Strong dividend performance

One of the biggest benefits of a whole life policy is its cash value, and annual dividends are a great way to bolster that cash account. Dividends are never guaranteed; they depend on a company’s performance, your policy size, and other factors. But your best bet is to pick a provider with a strong historical dividend record — and Northwestern Mutual is a frontrunner in that race.

Northwestern Mutual (which has been around since the 1800s) paid out $5.3 billion in dividends to its policyholders in 2018 and is expected to pay $5.6 billion in 2019 - making it the largest payout in the company’s history. That makes it one of the biggest dividend-paying life insurance companies on the market and a pretty sure choice for earning a yearly bonus on your whole life insurance.

Points to consider

Sub-par online resources

Northwestern Mutual’s website is notably sparse. It offers very basic details on the types of insurance it carries and little else — all signs direct you to “take the next step” and contact an agent if you’d like to learn more.

While you’ll have to talk with an agent eventually to get signed up, we prefer companies that provide policy information for shoppers to explore on their own first. That way you have the means to comparison shop without an agent putting the sell on. Many companies provide comprehensive learning centers or FAQ resources to empower shoppers; in this regard, Northwestern Mutual falls far behind the pack.

No Child Term rider

One popular rider not offered by Northwestern Mutual is Child Term, an add-on that lets you extend coverage to your child or children for a small additional fee. If that option is important to you, then we recommend looking at policies with either New York Life or State Farm — both of which do carry it.

Other Top Whole Life Insurance Companies to Consider

All top picks from our review of the best whole life insurance

  • MassMutual — Best Recent Dividend Performance
  • Guardian Life — Most Payment Models


Best
Life Insurance for Seniors
New York Life

Flexible guaranteed universal life policies that are great for seniors, complete with a generous no-exam allowance

Pros
Range of death benefits
Generous age limits
Survivorship insurance option
Cons
Average customer service
Poor learning section

Why we chose it

Range of death benefits

New York Life’s Guaranteed Universal Life (GUL) insurance is a great option for seniors. The death benefits are flexible, with policies starting at just $25,000 but reaching as high as company retention limits will allow (read: in the millions).

This is important for seniors, whose policy needs can range from the very small — for example, a few thousand dollars to cover funeral expenses — to extremely large — say, someone who wants to use life insurance as a vehicle for inheritance. Whatever your coverage requirements, New York Life likely offers a benefit fit to size.

Generous age limits

Seniors should be able to opt into life insurance when they’re ready, whether it’s at age 65 or 85. That’s why we’re so impressed by New York Life’s generous age-of-issue allowance. The company will issue GUL through age 85 with or without a medical exam.

That “no-exam” qualifier is important, especially when it comes to seniors. For someone with a pre-existing health concern, an exam could mean much pricier insurance or even (in extreme cases) being denied coverage. New York Life is one of the few companies that will issue a brand-new policy without an exam so late in life.

Survivorship insurance option

New York Life also offers a Survivorship Universal Life option (and is one of only two top GUL companies to do so, along with Lincoln Financial). It delivers the same flexible payment plans and guaranteed death benefit of GUL, but with one big difference: SUL extends that coverage to two people and only pays out after the second spouse dies.

SUL ensures that funds can be used to cover outstanding obligations, as well as taxes on any assets that the first spouse may have passed on to the second. New York Life’s SUL is a good option for two spouses that want sizeable, joint coverage without paying for two whole policies. Death benefits start at $250,000 and only max out at company retention limits.

Points to consider

Average customer resources

While we stand by the quality of New York Life’s insurance products, we’re less impressed by its customer resources. There’s no online quote tool for easy price comparison, and unlike some companies (The Globe, for example), New York Life hasn’t yet developed a mobile app to make policy management more convenient for its customers. Most every decision or change has to be made by speaking with a New York Life representative over the phone.

Poor learning section

To top it off, the FAQ section on New York Life’s website is pretty unhelpful. The answers to basic questions (How much insurance do I need? How do I get a quote?) simply instruct you to contact an agent directly. We appreciate when companies are more open with information on their websites, allowing customers to shop around without the pressure of speaking to a salesperson. If you’re hoping to do most of your life insurance comparison shopping online, New York Life isn’t as accommodating as many other providers.

Other Top Universal Life Insurance Companies to Consider

All top picks from our review of the best life insurance for seniors

  • Mutual of Omaha — Best Customer Service
  • American National — Best Range of Coverage
  • Banner Life — Most Flexible Payment Plans
  • Lincoln Financial — Best for Large Death Benefits


Best
Cheap Life Insurance
TIAA Life

Affordable term life coverage backed by strong financials and excellent customer service

Pros
Affordable term life
Opportunities for policy conversion
Easy application
Cons
Limited rider selection
No whole life option

Why we chose it

Affordable term life

In our review of the Best Cheap Life Insurance, we requested quotes for a variety of profiles: male and female, older and younger, smoker and non-smoker. TIAA came back with some of the cheapest quotes for every scenario, compared to State Farm, New York Life, and Transamerica.

Of course, we can’t guarantee TIAA will be your cheapest option. Quotes are highly personal — that’s why we recommend comparing a few providers before making your final decision. What we can say is TIAA is likely to be among the most affordable and should make your list when comparison shopping for cheap life insurance.

Opportunities for policy conversion

Of course, the “best” insurance isn’t all about affordable premiums. TIAA also offers solid coverage. We’re particularly impressed with this company’s conversion allowance: TIAA will let you switch from term to whole life insurance at any point during the original policy, without taking a second medical exam.

This policy is uncommonly flexible. Most companies limit the time frame for conversion or charge an additional fee for the privilege. We appreciate TIAA’s generosity in the face of life’s unpredictability.

Easy application

TIAA’s Life Wizard tool makes it a breeze to determine your death benefit needs, get a life insurance quote, and apply for coverage online. You can work through the whole process from start to finish in just a few minutes.

By comparison, many other top companies (like New York Life or Northwestern Mutual) will only provide a quote if you call and speak with an agent directly. TIAA stands out for letting customers view and select their policy details on their own. Of course, if you prefer to have an agent help you through the process, that’s absolutely an option with TIAA as well.

Points to consider

Limited rider selection

TIAA has the shortest roster of any of our top picks: eight popular riders, compared to 11 from State Farm or New York Life and 15 from Northwestern Mutual. Most notably, TIAA lacks accidental death, disability income, and long-term care riders. Our other top picks offer these and then some.

That said, it’s important to remember that many riders are more crucial with a permanent policy than a term life policy. If coverage is set to expire while you’re still pretty young, then chances are lower that you’ll need to access the death benefit early. Consider term length and personal risk factors when choosing a provider — your own needs will determine whether TIAA is the right choice for you.

No whole life option

While most providers offer both types of permanent life insurance — whole and universal — TIAA strictly offers universal life policies. Universal life can be a good choice if you’re looking for permanent coverage at a lower cost; but anyone looking for whole life benefits, like a larger cash value, will have to choose a different company.

Other Cheap Life Insurance Companies to Consider

All top picks from our review of the best cheap life insurance

  • State Farm — Best Customer Service
  • Transamerica — Best Range of Policy Sizes
  • New York Life — Most Flexible Term Lengths

Guide to Life Insurance

Life insurance is a big investment and one you want to get right. Start with our in-depth guide to life insurance shopping to make sure you’re choosing the right policy and provider. We’ve summarized a few key points below.

Life Insurance FAQ

How does life insurance work?

Life insurance is just like any other insurance: You pay a premium to your provider, and in return, your provider promises to pay a much larger sum if something happens. In the case of life insurance, that lump sum is called a “death benefit” and is generally paid out when the insured passes away. (There are a few situations where the death benefit can be used during life; we’ll cover those in the next question.)

There are two main kinds of life insurance that each work a little differently.

  • Term life insurance offers coverage for a specific time period (or “term”), usually between 10 and 30 years, and only pays a death benefit if the insured passes away during that span. Term coverage is generally very affordable.
  • Permanent life insurance covers you for your entire life, meaning the death benefit payout is guaranteed. The flip side is it’s a much pricier form of insurance, often up to 10 times as expensive as term life.

What does life insurance cover?

In its most basic form, life insurance offers a lump sum death benefit that acts as a safety net for the policyholder’s family and beneficiaries. It can be used to cover any financial obligations the insured left behind or act as a supplemental income for surviving family members.

Your policy’s death benefit covers:

  • End-of-life expenses and funeral costs
  • Outstanding debts and business obligations
  • Estate taxes
  • Mortgage payments or housing costs
  • Living expenses for surviving family members
  • Children’s education
  • Etc.

Most companies also offer add-ons, or “riders,” that expand what your life insurance policy will cover. Each life insurance company has a unique selection — so if your needs go beyond a basic death benefit, we recommend contacting an agent at each company you’re considering to see what they can offer you.

Riders can cover:

  • Insurance for a spouse and/or children
  • Medical bills if the insured is diagnosed with a serious illness
  • Disability income
  • Accidental death
  • Increased cost of living from inflation
  • Etc.

Do I need life insurance?

If anyone depends on your salary for their livelihood — children, a spouse, an elderly parent — then the answer is probably “yes.” Life insurance guarantees that your loved ones will be taken care of financially should you pass away. For those without dependents, life insurance can also be a means for retirement savings, building a nest egg, settling an estate, and more. We recommend talking through your options with an adviser. Try using the Society of Financial Professionals’ search tool to find an agent in your area.

What life insurance should I buy?

The majority of people will be best served by a term life insurance policy. Term life covers you during the most critical years; say, while you have a mortgage out or while you’re financing your kids’ education. This type of policy only pays out if you pass away during the insured term, but coverage is incredibly affordable — often between $10 and $20 per month.

The alternative to term life is permanent life insurance. Permanent coverage guarantees a death benefit payout, no matter when the insured passes away. The tradeoff? Both types of permanent insurance — whole life and universal life — are pricier than term coverage. Whole life is the most expensive, often ringing in around $200 to $300 per month.

Like we said: Most people will find that an affordable term life policy suits their coverage needs. If you are leaning toward permanent insurance, we recommend speaking with a financial professional who can evaluate your portfolio and help you understand your options.

How are life insurance rates determined?

Life insurance premiums are determined through a process called “underwriting.” In short, the company slots your personal information — age, health, family history, occupation, etc. — into a complex mathematical formula that (as grim as it sounds) determines the likelihood of you passing away during your policy. The more likely, the more expensive the coverage.

Note that taking a physical medical exam is a key part of the underwriting process. It’s the best way for providers to get an accurate read on your health. Without it, they’ll up policy prices because they can’t accurately determine the “risk” of insuring you. Many insurers do offer simplified underwriting or “no-exam insurance” that skips this step, but we generally don’t recommend that route. Premiums will almost always be cheaper if you take the physical.

The 11 Best Life Insurance Policies of 2019

One of the best ways to find the best life insurance policies for your needs is to get as many quotes from as many providers as possible. We’ve put together a quick rundown of the best life insurance providers we’ve covered to help get you started.

  1. Best Term Life Insurance — State Farm
  2. Best Cheap Life Insurance — TIAA
  3. Best Life Insurance for Seniors — New York Life
  4. Best Whole Life Insurance — Northwestern Mutual
  5. Best Recent Dividend Performance — MassMutual
  6. Most Payment Models — Guardian Life
  7. Best Customer Service — Mutual of Omaha
  8. Best Range of Coverage — American National
  9. Most Flexible Payment Plans — Banner Life
  10. Best for Large Death Benefits — Lincoln Financial
  11. Best Range of Policy Sizes — Transamerica

While looking for the best life insurance policies you might find acceptable quotes from one or more (or none) of the providers we’ve listed. That’s why it’s important to shop around and gather as many quotes as possible.

The Best Life Insurance Companies: Summed Up

Once you have a few companies in mind for your policy, take a look at the recent qualitative data that we rounded up for you:

A.M. Best Financial Strength Rating
2018 J.D. Power Overall Satisfaction Score
2017 NAIC consumer Complaint Ratio
State Farm
A++
5/5
0.13
TIAA Life
A++
N/A
0
New York Life
A++
4/5
0.04
Northwestern Mutual
A++
4/5
0.03
MassMutual
A++
3/5
0.04
Guardian Life
A++
3/5
0.07
Mutual of Omaha
A+
4/5
0
American National
A
N/A
0.58
Banner Life
A+
N/A
0.02
Lincoln Financial
A+
3/5
0.07
Transamerica
A+
2/5
0.57

Our Other Life Insurance Reviews

Our main top picks for life insurance – State Farm, TIAA Life, New York Life, Northwestern Mutual – are among the best in the industry. That said, it’s a large industry. And since it’s crucial to compare quotes before choosing a policy, you’ll need a few more providers to consider. Check out our reviews below for the best in term, whole, and universal insurance. We even found some great options for affordable coverage.

Not sure what kind of policy you need? We’ve also put together a few shopping guides that can help point you in the right direction.

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