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ByMaggie Overholt Senior Insurance Editor

Maggie is the lead insurance writer and editor at Reviews.com. She's written more than 70 insurance articles covering homeowners, auto, life, motorcycle, travel, and more.

The Best Whole Life Insurance Companies

The best whole life insurance company caters to your budget, offers comprehensive coverage, and is painless to work with. Because premiums are based on personal circumstances, we can’t tell you which will be cheapest. Instead, we focused on which companies have the best policies, add-ons, service, and returns. We spent a month researching policies and talking with nine insurance experts to find the seven best whole life insurance providers.

The Best Whole Life Insurance Companies: Summed Up

  Northwestern Mutual MassMutual New York Life State Farm Pacific Life Protective Life Mutual of Omaha
Best for
Policy options Recent dividend performance Term-to-whole life conversion Multiple payment structures Affordable policies Customer support Guaranteed benefits on new policies
Our review Our review Our review Our review
J.D. Power 2018 U.S. Life Insurance Study score
4/5 3/5 4/5 5/5 3/5 4/5 4/5
A.M. Best financial strength rating
A++ A+ A++ A++ A+ A+ A+
S&P Global financial strength rating
AA+ AA+ AA+ AA AA- AA- AA-
Moody's financial strength rating
Aaa Aa3 Aaa Aa1 A1 A1 A1
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Northwestern Mutual - Best Policy Options


Best Policy Options
Northwestern Mutual

Northwestern Mutual

Pros
Most customizable
Highest quality
Cons
Lacks support systems

Why we chose it

Most customizable

Northwestern Mutual has almost all of the add-on riders we looked for, so you’d be hard-pressed to find a more customizable policy. Some options really stand out to us; among these are an Accidental Death rider that pays up to double the policy’s value if you die in an accident, a Critical Illness rider that pays a lump sum at the time of diagnosis, and a Disability Income rider to supplement your finances if you can’t work. With such a wide array of options, this company allows you to craft a truly individual policy.

Highest quality

Northwestern Mutual ticked every box we looked for in whole life insurance: solid financial backing, highly rated customer service, and plentiful policy options. This company is absolutely No. 1 in terms of quality of products — any customer will be able to build a whole life plan that fits their individual needs. And, at the end of the day, the first priority of insurance is to keep you covered no matter what.

Points to consider

Lacks support systems

The one place where Northwestern Mutual didn’t totally sell us was its support systems. When we sent emails looking for policy information, Northwestern Mutual was the slowest responder (it took more than a day to receive any response). And when we got its reps on the phone, they weren't terribly accommodating. NWM did garner four out of five stars in J.D. Power’s life insurance study for interactions with agents, so maybe we caught it on an off day. Still, if it’s your first time buying life insurance, a more responsive company like MassMutual might be a better bet.

MassMutual - Best Recent Dividend Performance


Best Recent Dividend Performance
MassMutual

MassMutual

Pros
Excellent dividend record
The right riders
Cons
Customer service scores

Why we chose it

Excellent dividend record

MassMutual won us over with its recent dividend record. Not only are its dividend rates some of the best we’ve seen, but they’ve also risen slightly in recent years. This caught our eye, especially considering that almost all of the 12 companies surveyed have seen a consistent decline in dividend rates. If you’re looking to make the most of a participating whole life policy, we recommend starting your search here.

The right riders

Alongside Waiver of Premium and LTC riders, some highlights include an Accelerated Death Benefit rider and a Term Rider that allows you to tack on extra coverage for a set number of years. This can increase policy value during a critical period of time, like while your kids are living at home. And with MassMutual earning near-perfect financial scores, you can trust these policies to stand the test of time.

Points to consider

Customer service scores

This company scored lower than all of our other top picks in J.D. Power’s customer survey. When we reached out ourselves, MassMutual’s service was by far one of the best of the group; its friendly reps responded quickly and answered our questions comprehensively. However, we’ve found that customer service will vary depending on the agent who picks up your phone call. J.D. Power’s survey pulls information from a large pool of customers, and its rating is a more encompassing view — thus a more negative outlook.

New York Life - Best for Term-to-Whole Life Conversion

Best for
Term-to-Whole Life Conversion
New York Life

New York Life

Pros
Term-to-whole life conversion
Superior financial strength
Cons
Mediocre customer support

Why we chose it

Term-to-whole life conversion

The ability to convert easily from term to whole life insurance is one of New York Life’s greatest strengths. It means you aren’t locked into a term policy should you find that the end date just won’t suffice. Furthermore, you’re able to convert to whole life without a medical exam. That means that if your health has deteriorated during the life of your term policy, you won’t be denied coverage as a result.

Superior financial strength

New York Life stands with Northwestern Mutual for having some of the best financial strength ratings from three of the most trusted independent insurance ratings agencies. A.M. Best, S&P Global, and Moody’s all gave New York Life an A++, AA+, and Aaa, respectively. These are top-tier ratings and, most importantly, a good indicator of the financial stability of New York Life. This company will be around as long as the life of your policy.

Points to consider

Mediocre customer support

While J.D. Power rated New York Life a four out of five in overall satisfaction, we weren’t too impressed with our interactions with the agents. It seems that customers in the study also agree, giving New York Life a middling three out of five when it came to agent interactions. While this doesn't guarantee that you will have an unpleasant experience when you need to pick up the phone, it's also a sticking point for a company with otherwise-great ratings.

State Farm - Best for Multiple Payment Structures

Best for
Multiple Payment Structures
State Farm

State Farm

Pros
Stellar customer satisfaction ratings
Multiple whole life payment structures
Cons
Fewer living benefits

Why we chose it

Stellar customer satisfaction ratings

State Farm has perfect scores in every category of the J.D. Power insurance study: everything from the cost of its policies to the courtesy of its agents. We put a lot of stock in organizations like J.D. Power, which surveys thousands of individual customers to come up with these ratings.

Multiple whole life payment structures

Since a whole life policy can be quite expensive, we appreciate the fact that State Farm offers multiple payment plans. This makes it easier to choose a payment method you’re comfortable with. These plans include:

  • Traditional whole life insurance: Premiums can start as low as over $75 per month for a 25-year-old in excellent health. This is easily one of the most affordable plans offered.
  • Limited Pay Life: With this plan, you’re able to choose the length of time during which you pay premiums on your policy. A 10-year plan carries the steepest premiums, with some starting at over $332 per month. However, should you choose a longer window, such as a 15- or 20-year plan, your premiums could lower significantly. After that, your policy’s cash value grows slowly with interest.
  • Single Premium Life: If you can afford to make a massive down payment, this plan might be more beneficial in the long run. With this plan, you’ll pay a large, one-time lump sum — starting at $20,000 — for a guaranteed $100,000 death benefit. The main reason you would want to consider this over a traditional whole life plan is the fact that the down payment will accrue interest much more quickly.

Points to consider

Fewer living benefits

Living benefits such as Disability and Long-Term care riders are missing from State Farm. These are two of the most important riders we searched for in the best whole life companies, so their absence is a huge strike against State Farm. State Farm is still a good choice if you're looking for pared-down whole life coverage, but if you're considering adding many living benefits to your policy, a provider like Northwestern Mutual is a better bet.

Pacific Life - Best for Affordable Policies

Best for
Affordable Policies
Pacific Life

Pacific Life

Pros
Affordable
Helpful financial tools
Cons
Average customer satisfaction

Why we chose it

Affordable

In our sample quotes, Pacific Life tended to be more affordable for people age 40 and up. That particular age group makes up a wider share of the market, and while the difference in price between companies might only be a few cents per month, the savings add up over time. Quotes will vary based on your individual circumstances, but we recommend starting with Pacific Life if you're looking for an affordable policy.

Helpful financial tools

If you’re new to whole life insurance, Pacific Life has dozens of easy-to-use financial calculators to help you get started. These tools help you calculate your life expectancy, how much coverage you might need, and more. All of these provide crucial insights when shopping around for life insurance, and it's a shame that not many other providers offered these resources.

Points to consider

Average customer satisfaction

In J.D. Power's customer satisfaction survey, Pacific Life is situated firmly in the middle, with three out of five in all categories. While this isn't necessarily indicative of a poor customer experience, it’s also not exactly high praise.

Protective Life - Best for Customer Support

Best for
Customer Support
Protective Life

Protective Life

Pros
Financially sound
Superb customer support
Cons
Not the best option for smokers

Why we chose it

Financially sound

Protective Life holds strong financial strength ratings from the three independent agencies we consulted: A+ (A.M. Best), AA- (S&P Global), and A1 (Moody’s). While these can't match the ratings of Northwestern Mutual and New York Life, they're still a strong indication that Protective Life will be around for the duration of your policy.

Superb customer support

When it came to overall customer satisfaction, Protective Life earned a score of four out of five from J.D. Power. What helped it get that score were above-average performances in a couple of categories, including interaction with agents and sales reps. There, the company earned a stellar five out of five. We cannot stress enough how important it is to work with a whole life insurance provider that has a reputation for good customer support. In a world where life insurance can be confusing and intimidating, we appreciate companies like Protective Life that put a premium on supporting the customer.

Points to consider

Not the best option for smokers

Generally speaking, you can expect to pay more for a life insurance policy if you’re a smoker. However, Protective Life’s rates jumped quite a bit more than those of competitors when we gathered sample quotes for a smoker versus a nonsmoker. If you're a smoker, we recommend starting with Pacific Life, which offered us more affordable rates for our smoker sample profiles.

Mutual of Omaha - Best for Guaranteed Benefits on New Policies

Best for
Guaranteed Benefits on New Policies
Mutual of Omaha

Mutual of Omaha

Pros
Guaranteed return of premiums
Children's whole life
Decent financial strength
Cons
Lower benefit amounts

Why we chose it

Guaranteed return of premiums

Mutual of Omaha includes a graded death benefit with its Whole Life Guaranteed policy. This means that, in the event that the policyholder dies of natural causes within the first two years that the policy is in force, the beneficiary will receive all premiums paid plus 10%. Most life insurance policies have a "contestability period" in the first few years of a policy; in this period, the provider may decline to pay out any benefits to beneficiaries if the insured passes away due to a health condition not listed on the original application. It's nice to see Mutual of Omaha's guarantee — while full death benefits won't be paid until year three if death is due to natural causes, beneficiaries still have a financial safety net.

Children’s whole life

Customers can take out a whole life insurance policy for a child as young as 14 days old with Mutual of Omaha. The underwriting process is described as “simplified” with “only a couple of health questions asked.” While nobody wants to prepare for the worst, Mutual of Omaha makes the process easy and provides benefits up to $50,000. It’s rare to find whole life policies for children; Protective Life is the only other top pick to offer dedicated insurance for children, not just an add-on rider.

Decent financial strength

Mutual of Omaha stands shoulder to shoulder with Protective Life in terms of strong financial stability, earning identical ratings from our independent sources. It’s always a plus when an insurer demonstrates its financial strength, with Mutual of Omaha’s ratings, you know that the company will be there for you as long as you need it.

Points to consider

Lower benefit amounts

Benefit amounts are a little lower with Mutual of Omaha than with the rest of our top picks. Benefits start as low as $2,000 and rise to $40,000. Considering that the benefit range of our other top picks like New York Life start at $25,000 and can climb into the millions, we consider Mutual of Omaha's death benefits a bit limited. If you don't have a large financial portfolio or complex estate-planning needs, Mutual of Omaha's limits could be enough; however, for high coverage limits, we recommend looking elsewhere.

Guide to Whole Life Insurance

Know your policy

15 years to return value

Whole life insurance has significant front-end costs, including agent commissions that can be 130% to 150% of the first year’s premium. You can’t really get around these; they go to the agent who sells you the policy. That means with any whole life insurance, you won’t be able to start saving until these hefty agent fees are out of the way.

Once you’re past the setup costs, your policy’s cash value begins to grow. Since investments are only part of each premium — the other part goes toward your death benefit — cash value builds very slowly at first. It takes time for those earnings to compound. Unless you opt to pay bigger premiums upfront, you won’t have much cash access in the first few years.

On top of that, most companies charge “surrender fees” to discourage people from canceling their policies in the first 15 years. That’s the point at which your cash value is expected to balance out the cost of premiums.

All of this means that if you cancel your policy in the first 15 years, you’ll most likely have lost money. The only way a whole life policy is worth the cost is if you own it for a long stretch. It’s vital to make sure you’ll be able to afford the premiums for at least 15 years. If you’re hesitant about making such a big commitment, term life insurance is a much cheaper way to get coverage during critical years.

Dividends aren’t guaranteed

Most of our top picks offer participating whole life policies. They’re called “participating” because policyholders “participate” in the companies’ investment fortunes: In other words, they get a share of profits in the form of annual dividends. Not every whole life provider offers this option, but most mutual companies do.

Despite projections, it’s impossible to know what your actual rate of return will be. Emory Smith, a Principal at EJS Financial Management, calls dividends “a bit of a black box — there isn’t a simple way to describe how they work.” Your policy guarantees a minimum amount of cash gain, generally something like 3% per year. But providers often paint a rosier picture, showing what could happen in a best-case scenario. These projections assume that the company’s investments will perform as expected and that you’ll reinvest dividends into your policy, bumping up its earning potential each year.

“Policyowners have the flexibility to take dividends as cash payments, use them to reduce future premium payments, or have them added to the death benefit each year.”

The problem is that neither of these things are guaranteed to happen. You may choose a cash dividend instead of putting it toward your policy. And even if the company’s portfolio performs well, it could still raise the cost of insurance due to revised mortality expectations. Your premium won’t go up if this happens, but less of it will go toward the cash component.

We still recommend choosing a mutual company — like Northwestern Mutual, New York Life, State Farm, Pacific Life, Mutual of Omaha, or MassMutual — for a shot at good dividends. Just be aware that the expected returns may not be 100% true for every policy.

Policy loans should be emergency only

Once you’ve built up cash value in a whole life policy, you can use it as collateral for a loan from the insurance company. These loans are taken tax-free, and you technically never have to pay them back. That said, interest on the loan can snowball to the point where it eats away at the policy’s remaining value and reduces the amount your beneficiaries will be paid.

"A policy loan is effectively a cash advance on your death benefit, so if you don't pay it back, it's costing your heirs."

If you do pay back the loan, you have two options: You can pay it with interest, which gets pricey fast, or you can give up the policy and potentially pay surrender charges. In all three cases outlined, your insurance policy loses value and coverage is weakened. For this reason, insurance experts caution against taking policy loans except in cases of serious need.

Whole Life Insurance FAQ

What is whole life insurance?

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

  • Term life insurance provides coverage for a set timeframe — anywhere between five 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 trade-off is that it’s costly — up to 10 times the price of term.

Whole life insurance falls under the umbrella of permanent life. It’s generally much pricier than term insurance — think $200 to $300 per month, rather than $20 to $30. This is because part of the premium for whole life insurance gets invested into a savings account. This account, otherwise known as your policy’s “cash value,” grows with every premium payment and accrues interest over time. You can take loans from your cash value account tax-free or use it to offset premium payments; it can even act as a channel for retirement savings or estate planning.

So, is whole life insurance the right choice for you? Financial experts generally counsel that, as far as savings go, it’s more profitable to pay for a cheap term life policy and invest the difference into traditional accounts like a mutual fund or 401(k). If you’ve already contributed heavily to retirement funds, though, or have complex estate planning needs, investing in whole life insurance can be the right choice.

“Stage in life and lack of other tax-efficient alternatives (maxing out 401(k) contributions or no access to similar investment vehicles) can certainly warrant exploring permanent life insurance. And in other cases, such as the funding of a trust, paying estate taxes, or complex estate planning, permanent life insurance is not only appropriate but absolutely necessary.”

It’s important to correctly evaluate your investment options and life insurance needs before making the commitment to whole life. Remember, those premiums are steep: According to insurance literacy advocate Tony Steuer, a whopping 20% of whole life policies lapse in their first year due to policyholders’ inability to make payments. Ohman recommends working with a qualified estate planner like an attorney, CPA, or CFP, who can break down the options and help you find exactly the right life insurance for your needs.

When it’s the right fit, whole life insurance is a great option. It ensures a death benefit payout to your beneficiaries, which is padded by the financial security of extra savings (all of which gets passed down tax-free).

What is GUL?

Guaranteed Universal Life insurance (GUL) is the other popular type of permanent life. It technically has an expiration date, but that date is set between 90 and 120 years of age, so it’s expected to have a payout. We recommend GUL primarily for seniors — you can learn more about it here.

Our Other Life Insurance Reviews

We’ve taken a close look at other kinds of life insurance policies and reviewed companies for specific needs.

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