The Best Term Life Insurance Companies

The best term life insurance offers a winning combination of great coverage and affordable premiums. We did a deep dive into policies for nineteen national companies and found three with outstanding term life options. As far as price goes, your premium will always depend on how “risky” it is to insure you — and every company evaluates those risk factors a little differently. To find the best price, you’ll have to compare quotes from multiple providers. Our top picks are a great place to start.

2017 marks State Farm’s fourth year running as the highest-rated life insurance provider for customer satisfaction. While that’s a strong recommendation in and of itself, we’re also impressed with State Farm’s comprehensive term life policies. The company offers term lengths ranging from five to 30 years, with the option to renew through age 95 and convert to a permanent policy through age 75. Whether you end up needing insurance for five years or fifty, State Farm has you covered. State Farm also has an industry-leading selection of policy riders, meaning its term life policies can easily be customized to fit your needs.

TIAA Life was the only company we found that topped State Farm’s generous conversion limit. With TIAA, you can convert from term life insurance to any permanent policy at any point in your initial term. TIAA is also one of the only companies that has retained “excellent” financial strength ratings since we first reviewed life insurance in 2016, giving extra security for those longer-term policies.

We’d also suggest looking into New York Life. It offers the greatest term length flexibility, allowing you to choose any number of years between 10 and 20. That’s a plus if you need insurance for a very specific time span and don’t want to pay for surplus coverage.

What is term life insurance, and why is it best for most people?

There are two major types of life insurance to consider: Term and Permanent.

  • Term life insurance provides coverage for a set time frame — anywhere between 10 and 35 years. If you outlive it, the policy expires with no cash value.
  • Permanent life insurance never expires, so long as you keep paying the premiums. This option guarantees a payout to your family, but the tradeoff is that it’s much more expensive — up to 10 times the price of term.

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 daycare, 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 yes, it absolutely does make sense for stay-at-home spouses to have their own life insurance policies.

Of these two, most people will be best off buying a term life insurance policy. The main reason? Term is cheaper and simply more practical. It allows you to purchase coverage during the most critical period — say, during the 20 or so years that your kids are dependent on your salary — at a price that won’t break the bank. Think $20-30 per month, rather than $300.

John Espenschied, Agency Principal at Insurance Brokers Group, also points out that “over time, things [like a mortgage] will get paid off and savings will generally increase, reducing the need for life insurance.” In other words, after 20 years you will have built greater assets. Your family will no longer be dependent on your salary alone, so life insurance becomes less crucial.

Some people choose permanent life insurance over term for its cash value component. In short, permanent premiums are higher because part of what you pay gets invested, and grows into a savings account that you can later borrow from and earn dividends on. However, this should be a last-recourse savings option for most people. The financial advisors we spoke with generally agree that you’ll be better off paying for a less expensive term life insurance policy and investing all you can into traditional savings channels, like a mutual fund or 401(k).

[Generally] by investing money in other places such as the stock market, people will end up with a much higher return on their investment than they will with a whole life policy.

Thomas RockfordFinancial Advisor and Retirement Planner, Creator

That said, if you’ve already invested heavily in typical retirement funds, permanent life insurance can be an additional avenue for passing money down to your family tax-free. Just make sure that you’re in a financially comfortable position before taking this leap. A whopping 20% of whole life insurance policies lapse in their first year due to policyholders’ inability to pay the steep premiums that come with this type of coverage. To learn more about permanent policy options and benefits, keep an eye out for our review on Whole Life Insurance.

Our Picks for the Best Term Life Insurance

Best Overall: State Farm

You don’t have to take our word for it — State Farm has held the highest customer satisfaction rating for four years running, according to J.D. Power’s 2017 survey. We take these customer rankings into strong consideration: When it comes to a product as personal and weighty as life insurance, you want to find a provider that offers great coverage and makes the insurance process go as smoothly as possible.

State Farm also boasts some of the best financial strength ratings in the industry: A++ from A.M. Best, AA from Standard & Poor’s, and Aa1 from Moody’s. Among our top picks, it’s second only to TIAA’s perfect score. This is especially important when it comes to life insurance. Such contracts can last anywhere from five years to the rest of your life. Your provider needs to remain solvent for many years down the road, and top financial strength scores are the best way to guarantee it won’t go under.

Of course, State Farm’s financial strength and customer satisfaction are only possible as a result of great insurance offerings. This company’s success is built on comprehensive life insurance that can be tailored to just about anyone. State Farm offers a wide range of term lengths — it’s the only company we looked at that starts at just five years of coverage — with guaranteed renewal through age 95. It also allows you to convert your term policy to a permanent one through age 75, “regardless of health” (meaning no second medical exam). Terms between 10 and 30 can only be bought in increments of ten years, which does limit flexibility. However, a 20-year policy, which State Farm offers, remains the most popular option and “will do the job for 90%+ of Americans,” according to one life insurance expert.

Finally, State Farm has one of the most comprehensive rider selections of any life insurance company we considered. Spouse and child-term riders allow you to add protection for your whole family, critical illness and disability income riders offer financial support in times of need, and an accidental death rider can bolster your death benefit in light of an unforeseen tragedy — that’s just naming a few. Whatever your circumstances, your life insurance can be made to fit.

The biggest drawback to State Farm’s term life insurance is that it 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. That said, the company does offer the Critical Illness rider, which can be used to mitigate some medical costs.

Easily Convertible Policies: TIAA Life

Logo for TIAA Cheap Life Insurance

TIAA Life has elite financial strength ratings from both A.M. Best (A++) and Standard & Poor’s (AA+), but what really sets the company apart is its conversion allowance. TIAA allows you to convert from your term insurance to any of its permanent policies at any time during your initial term. The company also lets you convert your policy without “further evidence of insurability” (read: no medical exam). If, down the road, a serious illness leaves you reconsidering how much your family needs insurance, you’ll have plenty of options for extending your coverage.

TIAA also offers a broad range of term limits: from 10 to 30 years in five-year increments (the lone exception is the 25-year term). Coupled with the company’s generous conversion policies, this means 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), and secure a sizable benefit at an affordable and stable premium. Then, 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.

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, for example, 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 these 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 both for 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 life insurance needs. With a few simple questions, it guides you from “do I even need life insurance?” to exactly what policy type and size you should consider based on your individual circumstances. 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

Logo for New York Life Cheap Life Insurance

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

And although New York Life requires that extra rider, it offers some perks for policyholders who decide to convert sooner. For instance, converting in the first five years of your term gives you the choice of either being insured as if you were the same age as when you first bought the term policy (which could save 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 does allow you to buy a new replacement term policy at several set dates (like when you hit a certain age or experience certain life events) without a second medical exam. In this case, although the premium will increase somewhat based on your current age, your coverage will extend for longer, at lower rates, than if you waited to renew until the very end of your term.

New York Life also excels at consumer education. Its site has impressively easy-to-read explanations of tricky subjects, like the investment theories backing term insurance versus those in favor of permanent life insurance. It might not seem worthwhile to dive into the philosophy behind insurance policies on your first go-around — but we’re all only getting older (and therefore more expensive to insure). Now’s the time to figure it all out.

Other Term 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 (just one term policy, their “Trendsetter Super,” can be converted.) 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. If conversion isn’t your number one concern, we recommend checking out a policy with Transamerica. And if you’re only considering our top picks, we still highly recommend Transamerica’s learning materials. Its site is great as an educational resource for first-time life insurance buyers.

Tips for Building Your Term Life Insurance Policy

The amount of life insurance that you need depends on your dependents.

The industry rule of thumb is to multiply your annual income by 10, but that’s not a very precise method for calculating something so important. Our insurance guru, Tony Steuer, recommends following something called the economic life cycle theory of planning. This theory claims that the earnings-multiple method is insufficient for planning how your family’s finances are going to pan out over the long run. You don’t have to buy insurance to provide for a luxury future, you just want to provide for a steady continuation of your family’s quality of life.

A more accurate figure takes 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. You should also factor in “hidden income” that isn’t part of your gross wages (like matching contributions to your retirement fund) as well as any end-of-life expenses.

And life insurance isn’t necessary for everyone. If your primary goal is simply to leave a monetary gift for your beneficiaries, you’re likely better off with a different investment vehicle, such as an IRA or a 401(k).

Medical exams can help lower your premium.

When you apply for a life insurance quote, you’re asked a slew of questions regarding your physical health (age, height, weight, etc.) as well as lifestyle and medical history. When you’re ready to see if you qualify, you can sometimes opt for filling out a similar questionnaire, but more often you’ll need a medical exam. These are performed by a paramedic in your home or office at the insurance company’s expense.

Your health right now determines your premium for your entire term. If you sign up at 25, the insurance companies will use your health at age 25 to project your health at age 55. Companies don’t share their risk formulas, but most will look for similar red flags. A urine analysis can reveal diabetes risk as well as liver and kidney function. A stress test will disclose heart health. But unless you have reason to believe that these test results wouldn’t look good, know that undergoing an exam can usually secure a lower premium. And conversely, policies that don’t require an exam usually have higher premiums or a smaller benefit. “These insurers have to allow for something they would have caught on an exam,” Steuer says.

But because “insurability” is only measured at the beginning of your term, 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.

Prepare for your medical exam by cutting back on bad habits.

No matter when you undergo an exam, preparation will help ensure you’re well-representing your health.

  • Detox — For the week leading up to your exam, swap out salt for leafy greens and guzzle as much water as you can hold. Reducing sodium and upping hydration can help lower both blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Fast — 8-12 hours before the exam. It’s a good idea to schedule your exam in the morning for this reason. Eating before having bloodwork done can give inaccurate results and perhaps even paint a bad picture of your glucose levels and liver function.
  • Avoid anything that might skew your results — alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, strenuous exercise. All of the above can cause aberrations in your results or simply draw the truth in harsher strokes.
  • That said, staving off cigarettes for a brief spell before your exam won’t do much good if you’re a longtime smoker. The exam doesn’t test for nicotine, which actually disappears from the body fairly swiftly. Instead, they look for cotinine, which shows up in blood, urine, and saliva and leaves traceable amounts for about ten times as long.

No prep can erase long-term bad habits, but it’s akin to riding a C average throughout the semester but then taking a good look at your notes the night before the final. It won’t bring you to the top percentile, but it may scrape you a low B.

Our Term Life Insurance Review: Summed Up

Term Life Insurance
The Best
State Farm
Easily Convertible Policies
New York Life
Flexible Terms

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