If you’re not clear on the precise difference between term and whole life insurance, you have come to the right guide on insurance. I promise: by the end of this short article you will be clear.
There a few major differences, so let’s take them one at a time. Term life is insurance that you buy for a limited, defined term. This term could be as little as a year, but it’s usually between 10 and 30 years. Whole life, on the other hand is good for the whole of your life, i.e. until you pass away, or until you reach a very old age as specified in your policy, say 90 or 100 years old. So, the #1 difference between term life insurance and whole life insurance is whether there is a fixed length or term of the policy, or there is not.
The implied rule here is that you know for certain that with a whole life policy you will receive a death benefit payout, as long as you make your premium payments, unless you yourself decide to terminate the policy early, for some reason. With term life you know for sure that you will not get a payout unless you die within the term of the policy. It’s very simple, and note that it’s hardly a question of whether one type or another is ‘good life insurance’: the best policy is the one that make the most sense for you.
The next difference between whole life and term insurance? Let’s look at their investment function, or lack thereof. Term policies have no investment value. You cannot borrow against them and the payout amount is fixed from the start. With whole life, as well as other forms of permanent insurance, you can borrow against the cash value amount that has built up, at an interest rate that is probably going to be lower than credit cards and other loan sources. Now, most unbiased insurance experts at least (i.e. experts not actually engaged in trying to sell you whole life insurance!) will tell you that while whole life might be good life insurance in a generic sense it is not a great investment, but that is the subject of another post.
We just touched on the basis for a big difference between term life and whole life insurance, that of the concept of ‘cash value’. This amount builds up over time, based on interest earned by the premiums that you pay. The idea is that the cash value amount will cover the guaranteed payout that the insurance company is obliged to pay when you die. You may borrow against this amount, but be careful that you don’t overdo it as you may impact the eventual policy payout, which is the reason for buying life insurance in the first place! Also, since borrowing against the cash value is a little like paying the insurance company to borrow from yourself don’t put too much weight on this feature as a reason to buy whole life insurance. Oh yeah: term life does not have this cash value feature. Your death benefit, should your beneficiaries get it, is all that you are owed. It’s a fundamental tenet of the basics of life insurance.
Here’s a big one– the premium amounts that you pay, for a similar payout amount. As any term life insurance guide will tell you, the difference is huge. Whole life premiums are multiples of what term premiums are for the same coverage amounts. Now, although anyone would be attracted to the idea that his heirs will definitely get a payout upon his death, the high cost of whole life premiums is enough to make a smart a smart buyer think twice, and this leads us to the final, essential point:
Most people don’t buy whole life insurance. They buy term. Good life insurance for them primarily means lower payments and a clearly defined policy.
OK, whole life wouldn’t exist as a product unless it was a good idea for some. But rather than paying the sky-high whole life premiums, most folks opt for a term policy (maybe with an option to renew after the initial term finishes) and try to diligently invest money that they might have paid toward a whole life policy. In this way they will very probably have a larger nest egg when they pass away than the promised whole life payout that their sizable premiums are going toward each month. This is the most critical difference between term life insurance and whole life, and while it’s always best to get a second and third opinion on life insurance basics as you augment your knowledge with a good whole and term life insurance guide, it’s why you’ll most likely end up buying term life.