By Maggie Overholt, Senior Insurance Editor
Editor's Note:
  • January 12, 2018 - We’ve updated this review with the most recent financial strength scores and customer satisfaction ratings for New York Life. It remains among the highest-scoring life insurance companies in both categories. We’ve also taken a deeper dive into New York Life’s policy parameters and riders to give a better analysis of its life insurance offerings.

Our New York Life Life Insurance Review

New York Life is our favorite life insurance company for seniors. It offers universal life policies that are both affordable and flexible, which can be customized to cover any amount of after-life expenses. For couples, New York Life offers survivorship insurance that covers two spouses under a single, tax-effective plan. The company also partners with the AARP to provide low-cost, no-exam individual and group policies for retirees.

For younger customers, we recommend New York Life’s term life insurance. It writes some of the most customizable policies on the market, including two different term packages that have unique premium structures and renewal opportunities. Plus, with a wide selection of policy add-ons, New York Life is prepared to cover just about anything life throws at you.

That said, we weren’t impressed with New York Life’s customer support. The company lacks comprehensive educational resources and doesn’t have the most helpful reps, so it may not be the best choice for first-time shoppers who need extra guidance. Weak support is also the main reason we don’t recommend New York Life for whole life insurance. If you’re signing on with an insurance provider for decades to come, we prefer one with stellar customer satisfaction scores like Northwestern Mutual.

New York Life's Claim

Visit New York Life’s homepage and you’ll find some bold claims, like this one:

“Our entire company is focused on one thing: doing right by you.”

So what does “doing right by you” mean to New York Life? The company’s website promises many benefits for policyholders, but three features are repeated: customizable policies, great annual dividends, and excellent service.

Is it true?

For the most part.

New York Life certainly has the tools to make its claims come true. Its life insurance offerings are diverse, from policies that are renewable yearly to policies guaranteed through 120 years of age. We also like the flexibility it affords policyholders. Few companies have as many options for term length or term-to-whole life conversion. What does all that boil down to? Basically, New York Life has a life insurance policy for just about anyone.

New York Life also has a strong dividend record. As a mutual company, its dividend payments go exclusively to policyholders, not to outside shareholders. Customers have seen this model pay off in recent years: 2017 was a record profit year for New York Life and resulted in the company’s highest-ever dividend payout. In this sense, New York Life makes good on its promise of putting the customer first.

So why do we say the company’s claim is only true “for the most part”? The fact is, New York Life falls short in “exceptional customer service.” J.D. Power’s 2017 Life Insurance Study, which surveyed over 6,000 policyholders, only ranks New York Life as “about average” for customer satisfaction. Unlike providers like State Farm and MetLife, which consistently top the charts for affordability, billing processes, and customer interactions, New York Life doesn’t stand out for having especially useful tools or stellar customer support. And since your life insurance company will be with you for years to come, a positive relationship is important. New York Life doesn’t quite measure up in this department.

Other Considerations

Although J.D. Power respondents rate New York Life “about average” for its policy offerings, we think the company stands out in a few places. First, as we mentioned, its term life policies are uniquely flexible. New York Life is the only company we’ve seen that sells policies in increments of one year. Other popular term life providers, like State Farm and TIAA Life, sell it in increments of five or ten years. You may only need coverage for a set time frame (for example, during the 18 years that your child lives at home), and it doesn’t make sense to pay for anything above and beyond that amount. New York Life gives you that option.

Second: New York Life’s universal life insurance policies are some of the best in the business. Guaranteed Universal Life insurance should be affordable and flexible, since it’s meant to cover post-life costs, outstanding debts, and/ or estate planning. New York Life’s universal life plans extend through age 120 and start at a face value of $25,000. That’s a reasonable entry point; other companies like AIG and Transamerica require a death benefit of at least $100,000, which makes coverage much less affordable and flexible.

Term or GUL? New York Life has great offerings for both term and GUL policies. Term is meant to cover a only a critical set of years, while GUL is set to expire at an age you’re not expected to reach (say, 100 years), effectively making the death benefit payout “guaranteed.” To learn more about which type of life insurance is best for you, visit our review of the best life insurance.

It’s also worth noting that New York Life consistently pulls the highest-possible financial stability ratings, which means the company is stable and salient enough to meet all of its ongoing insurance obligations. In other words, you and your family will never have to worry about getting shortchanged on your policy. Financial stability is especially important for life insurance, as it could be decades down the road before a payout is needed.

With such solid financials and diverse offerings, it’s surprising that New York Life only garners average reviews from customers. Perhaps this has something to do with lackluster customer support. When we reached out to a New York Life rep looking for policy details, we were shunted off the line and left waiting on hold. In addition, there’s no live chat option online, and its FAQ section is paltry — there’s no quick-and-easy way to get all your questions answered. That said, New York Life does have a fairly in-depth “learning” section, which covers a broad range of insurance concepts. It’ll just take a bit of digging (or a lengthy phone call) to find the answers you need.

A Closer Look at New York Life's Features

Types of Life Insurance Available Term, Whole, Universal Life
Annual Premium Quotes will vary
Important Coverage Options
  • Term-to-Whole Life conversion opportunities
  • Guaranteed renewability*
  • Guaranteed level premiums*
  • Accelerated Death Benefit rider
  • Disability Waiver of Premium rider
Term Lengths
  • 10-20 year level premium, OR
  • 10+ years, renewed annually with increasing premiums
Financial Strength
  • A.M. Best: A++
  • S&P Global: Aaa
  • Moody’s: AA+
J.D. Power 2017 Customer Satisfaction Score 782/1000
"About average"
(Ranked 12 out of 24 companies surveyed)
NAIC Customer Complaint Ratio 2015-2017 Average: 0.17
Well below average
National Median: 1.00
Customer Resources
Best For... Seniors
Whole Life dividends
Flexible Term Life policies
Not For... Cheap life insurance
Customer support

*With Term Life policies

Our Deep Dive

In this section, we’ll cover some of New York Life’s specific policy offerings. If you need to brush up on life insurance lingo before jumping in, you can skim through our Life Insurance Review. It covers all the basics terms you’ll need to understand what’s coming next.

Unshakable Financial Stability

New York Life backs its policies with rock-solid financials. In 2018, it earned perfect ratings from the three biggest independent agencies — a rare feat. What’s even more impressive is that New York Life has maintained these scores since we started reviewing life insurance in 2016. We’ve seen other companies (like the North American Company for Health and Life Insurance) fall down in the rankings and even get get bumped off our list over time. With a product as important and long-lasting as life insurance, you should never have to worry about financial failures. With New York Life, you won’t have to.

Two Unique Term Life Options

In our review of the Best Term Life Insurance, we called out New York Life for having the most flexible term life policies. The company offers two different ways to customize its term insurance depending on your preferred term length and payment structure. This allows customers to pick the exact amount of coverage they need and are comfortable paying for.

The first option, “level premium term insurance,” lets you to select coverage for anywhere between ten and twenty years. Premiums are guaranteed to remain the same and are based on your initial health exam (when you’re younger and likely healthier), so you pay a fairly low price throughout the term. The second option, “increasing premium term insurance,” is renewable on an annual basis. Each time you renew, the premium will rise by a set amount, determined at the time you sign up. Increasing premium insurance has the potential to become more expensive than level premium. However, it also lets you terminate coverage at any point — saving yourself future payments if the insurance is no longer needed.

Opportunities to Convert Term Life Insurance to Permanent

If you elect for term insurance and later decide the end date won’t cut it, New York Life gives you the option to convert to a whole life policy (although they call it a “privilege”). Even more important: It lets you convert your policy without undergoing a second medical exam. That means that if your health has deteriorated since you first signed up, you won’t be charged higher premiums because of it.

Conversion may come in handy if life throws you a curveball down the road. For example, if you come into some money and suddenly have complex estate planning needs, whole life insurance can serve as a tax-free channel for inheritance and estate management. If you’d like to convert to whole life, New York Life has solid options. Like other providers, it offers guaranteed cash value growth with fixed interest and customizable premium payment schedules. But New York Life has a unique option, too. The “lifetime protection for less” plan offers the benefit of a guaranteed payout, but with smaller premiums and cash value. It’s a good in-between option for customers who need permanent coverage but don’t want to shell out the large payments normally associated with whole life.

Excellent Options for Seniors

New York Life took home the gold in our review of the Best Life Insurance for Seniors thanks to its standout universal life offerings. New York Life’s universal policies start at just $25,000 face value and last up to 120 years of age. It also lets you increase the death benefit at any point in your policy. We appreciate this level flexibility, as death benefit needs vary greatly and might change over time. New York Life is also unique in providing survivorship life insurance. Survivorship universal life covers two spouses and only pays out once the second person dies — that way, the death benefit can be used to pay estate taxes on any assets that were inherited by the surviving spouse from the deceased.

Another benefit for seniors is that New York Life’s partnership with the AARP offers both term and permanent life insurance for association members. The NYLAARP program doesn’t require members to undergo a medical exam before applying for insurance, which means premiums may be lower than retired persons would find elsewhere. Its website is fairly scant on information, so if you’re an AARP member, we recommend requesting a quote to see how prices stack up.

Great Selection of Policy Riders

New York Life has one of the best rider selections in the industry, with 12 of the 16 common add-ons we looked for. Among these, the most important is the Accelerated Death Benefit rider. This falls under the umbrella of “living benefits” that let you access your policy’s death benefit during your lifetime. With an Accelerated Death Benefit rider, the insured person can use a percentage of the death benefit to cover costs for medical care, treatments, and other end-of-life expenses. In the case of a serious medical diagnosis, it may take a large financial burden off the shoulders of the policyholder and their family.

Other highlights include a Waiver of Premium rider that excuses payments if the insured becomes disabled and can no longer work; a Critical Illness rider that pays a lump sum if they’re diagnosed with a terminal illness; and a Long Term Care rider that allows the death benefit to be used for assisted living expenses. No matter what happens down the road, New York Life likely has a rider that will help cover it financially. You can read more about New York Life’s rider options here.

Average Customer Support

Customer support is one of the few places where New York Life is lacking, and likely the reason it doesn’t score higher for customer satisfaction. The “Learn” center is its only standout, with articles on financial planning and policy management for those who want to learn more about insurance. Beyond this, New York Life’s educational resources were lacking. Its FAQ is bare-bones compared to other companies we’ve looked at, only featuring ten questions, with a few sentences answering each. If you’re not sure what kind of policy you need, where to look for information on riders, how premiums are calculated, and so on, the FAQ won’t help you.

If you want to get in touch with a rep to find out more about specific policies, New York Life provides phone and email links — the most basic options a provider can offer, and a far cry from the live chat features that other companies supply. That means there’s no quick way to get questions answered; you’ll have to wait for an email response or dedicate time for a phone call. To make matters worse, when we reached out, we were brusquely transferred and then left on hold for over ten minutes.

No Mobile App

We’re also disappointed that New York Life hasn’t made the move to mobile yet. Other companies — like The Globe Life Insurance — have built full-scale life insurance apps in recent years. They let you view coverage options, get quotes, update your info, manage your policy, and make payments. It’s become the norm to manage accounts and finances on the go, and we appreciate the life insurance companies that are keeping up with that trend. New York Life hasn’t. Even its website, while decently mobile friendly, is fairly slow to load.

New York Life vs. The Competition

The best life insurance for you will depend on what type of life insurance you need and who offers you the best premium, since companies calculate premiums differently based on perceived “risk factors.” We recommend requesting quotes from a few different providers to see how they compare.

New York Life vs. Northwestern Mutual

While we like New York Life’s term and universal policies, it wasn’t one of our picks for The Best Whole Life Insurance. The reason? Since whole life insurance is with you your whole life, we gave more weight to customer satisfaction scores. If you’re going to be working with a company for many decades, it should be one you can build a great relationship with. In that regard, we prefer Northwestern Mutual. J.D. power names this company “better than most,” ranking it fifth out of 24 companies surveyed (whereas New York Life places twelfth). It also has a lower consumer complaint ratio, averaging 0.04 across the last three years, compared to New York Life’s 0.12. While both ratios are quite low, Northwestern Mutual’s near-zero complaint record speaks to a more positive customer experience.

It’s worth noting that New York Life has a better dividend record, according to the insurance brokerage NFP’s 2016 study. Northwestern Mutual has seen a steady decrease in dividends paid to customers since 2012, whereas New York Life has seen a recent uptick. In 2018, it announced its largest annual dividend payout in history. Dividends are never guaranteed, of course — they depend on the company’s annual performance, your policy’s cash value, and a number of other factors — but New York Life may give you a better shot at an annual bonus than Northwestern Mutual.

New York Life vs. TIAA Life

New York Life and TIAA Life both write excellent term life insurance. As far as offerings, they’re fairly equal. Both companies have solid financial strength ratings, diverse riders, and options for term-to-permanent policy conversion. We do prefer New York Life’s flexible, year-by-year terms; TIAA only offers lengths of 10, 15, 20, or 30 years. If you’re worried about paying for excess coverage, New York Life is a better bet.

However, TIAA Life may offer you cheaper overall premiums than New York Life. When we reviewed the Best Cheap Life Insurance Companies, TIAA quoted us the lowest premiums for all of our sample profiles. By comparison, New York Life came in third out of the five companies we tested. Remember that premiums are individual — they depend on your age, health, family history, and other personal factors. That means you’ll have to compare quotes from multiple companies to find your best price. If you’re shopping for term life insurance, we recommend requesting quotes from both New York Life and TIAA to see who offers you a better price.

New York Life vs. State Farm

If you’re looking for term life insurance and customer service is your number one concern, then we recommend heading over to State Farm. This company is currently enjoying its fourth year running as J.D. Power’s top-rated provider. Customers praise its diverse policy offerings, smooth billing process, and exceptional service. In addition, State Farm is the only provider we found with term lengths starting at just five years — a short-term coverage option that not even New York Life offers. It also offers a decent rider selection, with 11 to New York Life’s 12. However, State farm doesn’t include the Accelerated Death Benefit rider, our experts highlighted as the most important option.

What Others Are Saying

Insurance News Net applauds New York Life for record dividend payouts in 2018.

New York Life puts a strong emphasis on its mutuality. The company wants customers to know that it has their best interest at heart because it’s owned by policyholders and “not Wall Street.” What does that mean for customers? In theory, that New York life will make financial decisions that directly benefit policyholders — not shareholders — resulting in bigger dividends for participating policies. And it seems to be working.

InsuranceNewsNet reports that in 2018, New York Life paid out a total of $1.8 billion in dividends. That’s the largest payout in the company’s history. It’s also 36% higher than its 2012 payout; a significant increase, considering that many companies’ dividends decreased in the same timeframe. This means that while dividends aren’t guaranteed, New York Life customers are likely to receive bigger dividends than customers with other top insurers like Northwestern Mutual or John Hancock.

The Bottom Line - New York Life Life Insurance Review

New York Life consistently ranks as one of our favorite life insurance providers. It writes comprehensive, customizable life insurance policies that can be tailored to just about anyone. We highly recommend its universal life insurance for seniors and AARP members and its term life insurance for people who need a policy with a flexible time frame. The biggest drawback to working with New York Life is unexceptional customer service. Those with extensive questions and support needs should consider signing up with a different provider.

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