Whole life is a type of permanent life insurance plan that provides coverage for the life of the insured as long as premiums are paid on time. Whole life insurance guarantees a fixed death benefit payout for the beneficiaries and a savings component called “cash value” for the policyholder.
To help you choose the best life insurance policy for your needs, we've reviewed several whole life insurance companies, focusing on customer satisfaction and variety of policy options and riders. We also include a whole life insurance guide below our top picks, which you can reference for more advice on choosing a policy.
Our Top Picks for the Best Whole Life Insurance Companies
- New York Life - Best for Flexible Payment Options
- Ethos - Best Whole Life Insurance for Older Adults
- Nationwide - Best for Riders
- State Farm Life Insurance - Best for a Variety of Whole Life Policies
- Gerber Life Insurance Company - Best Whole Life Insurance for Children and Young Adults
Best Whole Life Insurance Reviews
- Ability to customize your premiums
- Long history of paying dividends
- Whole life policies for 90-year-olds
- Broad selection of riders
- Cannot apply or get quotes online. Must talk to an agent.
Why we chose it: New York Life’s Custom Whole Life policy allows policyholders to customize the payment schedule to pay off the policy earlier. Policyholders can choose to pay premiums annually, semi-annually or through an automatic bank drafting method monthly.
New York Life offers two whole life insurance options: whole life and custom whole life.
- Whole life: Policyholders have standard access to the cash value, a guaranteed death benefit and may receive annual dividends.
- Custom whole life: Offers the same benefits but policyholders can choose to pay premiums for a specific period of time, as few as five years, potentially maximizing cash value growth, in addition to the death benefit and potential dividends.
Both policies — Whole life and Custom Whole Life — are customizable through various riders, including the accidental death benefit, chronic care and disability waiver of premium. Policyholders can access the cash value component through loans or withdrawals.
While dividends are never guaranteed, New York Life says it has paid policyholders a dividend every year since 1854. New York Life's whole life policies are only available through agents or over the phone. In addition, the company is rated “A++” by A.M. Best, a credit rating agency that focuses on the insurance industry.
- No medical exam required
- Policy will be active after making the first premium payment
- Policy can be canceled within the first 30 days
- User-friendly life insurance calculator
- Fast, fully online application and approval
- Not available in the state of New York
Why we chose it: Ethos specializes in whole life policies for folks between the ages of 66 and 85, and no medical exams are required, making it a great option for older adults.
Ethos’s whole life insurance for seniors doesn’t require a medical exam and provides instant online approval, making it a great option for older adults who don’t want the hassle of medical exams, insurance agents or complicated applications.
Some of Ethos’ whole life policies have a graded death benefit. This means that your loved ones get 100% of the premiums paid plus 30% of the death benefit if you die a non-accidental death (illness, disease and old age) within the first two years of buying coverage. After two years, the full amount of coverage is paid regardless of the cause of death.
Even though Ethos only offers an online application, non-commission agents are available over the phone to answer questions and provide customer support. Ethos also offers term life policies with a full online application and same-day approval.
Ethos insurance policies are underwritten by well-regarded insurers, including Mutual of Omaha, Ameritas and TruStage — all of which have an “A” rating or higher by A.M. Best.
- Option to customize your policy with seven riders for an additional charge
- $10,000 minimum coverage
- Mobile app available for iOS and Android
- No online application or quotes
- Some options only available to customers with Nationwide auto or homeowners policies
Why we chose it: Nationwide offers seven different riders to customize your whole life insurance policy.
- Chronic illness rider: Policyholders can request a portion of their death benefit early if diagnosed with a permanent chronic illness.
- Critical illness rider: Policyholders can request a portion of their death benefit early if diagnosed with a critical illness like a heart attack or cancer.
- Terminal illness rider: Policyholders can request a portion of their death benefit early if diagnosed with a terminal illness.
- Accidental death benefit rider: Beneficiaries will receive additional funds on top of your regular death benefit if you die in an accident.
- Children’s term insurance rider: Your policy will pay a benefit in the event your child dies.
- Guaranteed insurability benefit rider: Guarantees policyholders the right to buy additional permanent life insurance coverage.
- Premium waiver rider: If you become disabled, this rider will credit a monthly premium to your policy after a six-month elimination period.
Nationwide offers two payment options for its whole life policies: Whole Life 100 and 20-Pay Whole Life. With Whole Life 100, premiums are the same until they stop when you turn 100 or die. On the other hand, with a 20-Pay Whole Life, premiums are the same until the policy is paid after 20 years.
Customers can access their policy, file claims and pay premiums through Nationwide’s online dashboard or mobile app. However, you can only purchase whole life and other permanent policies by speaking with an agent.
Nationwide has an A+ rating from A.M. Best.
- Variety of whole life policy options
- Online quotes available
- Discounts for bundling auto and life insurance policies
- More than 19,000 agents nationwide
- Not available in Massachusetts
- Only available through agents
Why we chose it: State Farm’s variety of whole life coverage options, including term to whole convertible policies earned it a top spot in our list.
State Farm stands out for its four different whole life policies: traditional Whole Life, Limited Pay, Single Premium and Final Expense. These policies offer different premium payment options, coverage limits and riders.
- Traditional Whole Life: Guarantees lifetime coverage, level premiums and cash value accumulation. The premium stays the same your entire life.
- Limited Pay Whole Life: Policyholders pay premiums for 10, 15 or 20 years. Once all premiums are paid, the coverage continues.
- Single Premium: Policyholders pay a one-time premium for lifetime coverage.
- Final expense: Available for policyholders between the ages of 50 to 80, this policy provides $10,000 or more in coverage for funeral expenses.
In addition, policyholders can convert a qualifying term life insurance policy into whole life. Policyholders must be 75 years or younger to qualify. This is a good option for those who currently cannot afford a whole life premium but are interested in having a life insurance policy with cash value in the future.
State Farm has been rated “A++” (Superior) by A.M. Best.
- Coverage from $50,000 to $300,000
- Application available online or via phone
- No medical exam for policies of less than $100,000
- 10% off premiums with autopay
- For child coverage, death benefit doubles at age 18
- No riders available
- Competitors are rated higher by A.M. Best
Why we chose it: Gerber Life offers an impressive whole life insurance policy for children 14 days to 14 years old that builds cash value. Policies for adults are available as well.
Gerber Life Insurance provides whole life coverage starting at $50,000 and going up to a million dollars. However, a medical exam is required for customers over 52 years old who want to purchase more than $100,000 in coverage.
Gerber offers traditional whole life insurance for adults and two options for children.
- Traditional Whole Life: covers policyholders between the ages of 18 and 80
- Children Grow-Up Plan: Parents can buy coverage for children (aged 14 days to 14 years). Coverage starts at $5,000 to $50,000.
- Young Adult Plan: Parents can buy coverage for young adults (aged 15 to 17 years). Coverage starts at $5,000 to $50,000.
When the child turns 18 years old, the coverage amount doubles, at no extra cost. This policy also guarantees that additional coverage can be purchased, regardless of health status or occupation, after the insured reaches the age limit.
Gerber Life’s portfolio includes term, guaranteed life, accident protection and insurance policies for older adults. The company has been rated “A” by A.M. Best.
Other whole life insurance companies we considered
The following companies didn’t meet all the criteria to be part of our top picks. However, their whole life policies might fit your insurance needs.
American Family Insurance offers whole life insurance for children with the option to choose between a 10-year or a 20-year payment option. This company is not part of our top list for its high NAIC complaint index, limited riders and lack of information about coverage amounts and payment options.
- Offers four types of whole life policies, including whole life for seniors
- Life insurance calculator
- Online quotes
- High NAIC complaint index
- Lack of information on website
- Limited riders
- Only available through agents
Northwestern Mutual’s whole life insurance includes three policies: 65 Life, 90 Life and Limited Pay Life. This company stands out for its low customer complaint ratio and helping customers select a policy tailored to their financial needs and goals. It’s not part of our top picks because of the lack of information on its website, which makes it difficult for consumers to comparison shop.
- Three types of whole life policies
- Paid dividends yearly since 1872
- Only available through financial planners
- Limited online information
Farmers Insurance offers two whole life policies. Its non-exam policy, Graded Whole Life, provides coverage from $5,000 to $30,000 and a variety of riders for customization. The company didn’t make it to our top list because of its high number of customer complaints.
- Two whole life policies that don't require a medical exam
- Insures people between the ages of 15 days and 80 years
- Online quotes
- Mobile app for iOS and Android
- Only available through agents
- High complaint index
Penn Mutual’s portfolio includes three whole life policies that can be customized with up to 13 riders. Penn Mutual’s website lacks an FAQ section and overall policy information, meaning consumers may have to talk to an agent before they are able to determine whether a Penn Mutual policy is right for them.
- More than 10 different riders to customize policies
- Consistently paid dividends for nearly 175 years
- Low NAIC complaints
- Website lacks information
- Only available through financial advisors
Allstate’s insurance portfolio includes term, universal and variable universal insurance policies. This company is not part of our top list because of its high NAIC complaint index and limited information about whole life policies and riders on its website.
- Might earn dividends
- Online life insurance calculator
- Whole life insurance quotes are only available through the phone
- High NAIC complaint index
- Lack of policy information on the website
Globe Life no-exam whole life policy can be purchased online and is active after completing the first premium payment. Its limited variety of whole life policies and riders kept it from our list of top picks.
- No medical exam required to open a policy
- Limited rider availability
- Lack of information on the website
Whole Life Insurance Guide
In this guide, you can find information about the different types of whole life policies, riders, dividends and costs.
Table of contents:
- What is whole life insurance?
- How does whole life insurance work?
- How much does whole life insurance cost?
- How much whole life insurance do I need?
- Whole vs. term life insurance
- Whole life insurance FAQs
What is whole life insurance?
A whole life insurance policy is a type of permanent life insurance that provides a guaranteed death benefit while building cash value. As its name implies, whole life insurance is designed to insure you over your entire life, so long as your premiums are paid.
Technically, most plans will only insure you until your 100th or 120th birthday, though. But the vast majority of people do not reach that cutoff age.
How does whole life insurance work?
Whole life insurance policies provide permanent protection, a tax-free death benefit and cash value. In some cases, the policies also earn dividends, or payments from the life insurance company to the policyholder.
The death benefit on whole life insurance policies is guaranteed. That means beneficiaries will receive a payment upon the policyholder’s death — provided premiums are paid as required and the policy is in force at that time.
Cash value and living benefits
The cash value component is an investment feature that allows the policy owner to access investment earnings during their lifetime through loans or withdrawals. Policyholders can use cash value earnings to pay for college tuition, supplement retirement income, or for a down payment on a house.
The cash value is a living benefit. When the policyholder dies, the insurance company keeps the earnings from the cash value component.
The options available vary depending on the life insurance company. Loans (including any accrued interest) and withdrawals taken from the cash value earnings must be paid back. If it’s not repaid, you would have to pay taxes on the loan.
In the event that you die while an outstanding loan, the balance could reduce the death benefit. If the owed amount exceeds your cash value, the policy could lapse, resulting in a loss of coverage.
Dividends are a portion of the insurance company’s earnings received annually by qualified permanent policy owners. Dividends are not guaranteed, and the amount received will depend on the company’s earnings that year. Policyholders can use dividends to pay for premiums, reinvest in the cash value component or receive a cash payment.
Riders are extra coverage add-ons for life insurance policies purchased at an additional cost. Not all insurance companies offer the same riders, but the most common are:
- Accelerated death benefit rider: provides access to the policy’s death benefit if the insured is diagnosed with a terminal illness
- Waiver of premium: waives premium payments if the insured becomes disabled and is unable to work for more than six months or they become critically ill
- Children’s term insurance: provides benefits to cover funeral expenses, hospital bills or other expenses in the death of the insured’s child. This rider covers children until they turn 22 years old.
Adding a rider to a whole life insurance policy means higher monthly premiums. Make sure you need the additional coverage and that it fits your budget and financial plans.
How much does whole life insurance cost?
A whole life insurance policy provides permanent protection as long as monthly premiums are paid. (Term life insurance, by comparison, covers the policyholder for a defined set of years.)
While whole life insurance boasts some unique advantages over term life policies, it often costs several times the amount.
According to quotes from insurance marketplace Policygenius, average monthly whole life insurance rates for a healthy 30 year-old are roughly 12 times the rate for a comparable 30-year term-life plan.
The cost of a whole life insurance policy is ultimately determined by the type of whole life policy, the death benefit amount and information about the person being insured.
When underwriting a whole life policy, insurance companies take several factors into consideration when setting your rates:
- Height and weight
- Substance use
- Criminal history
- Credit history
- Hobbies, or the performance of other dangerous activities
Average cost of whole life insurance policies
$1 million coverage
- Female: $146/mo.
- Male: $169/mo.
- Female: $287
- Male: $334
- Female: $545
- Male: $639
- Female: $205
- Male: $238
- Female: $408
- Male $472
- Female: $801
- Male: $920
- Female: $296
- Male: $355
- Female: $588
- Male: $706
- Female: $1,161
- Male: $1,826
- Female: $462
- Male: $543
- Female: $920
- Male: $1,081
- Female: $1,826
- Male: $2,117
Riders and dividends also influence the policy’s cost and will make monthly premiums higher since they provide added protection and coverage. Policyholders can use dividend earnings to pay premiums and lower the policyholder’s out-of-pocket expenses.
The cash value earnings may help cover monthly premiums, but it’s important to keep in mind that the cash value is not immediately available. In most cases, it can take up to two years for the cash value to be accessible through withdrawals or loans.
How much whole life insurance do I need?
The death benefit in a life insurance policy should be based on the financial needs and goals of the policy owner. When choosing the death benefit, the future policy owner should consider their number of dependents, yearly salary, debt and inflation.
When calculating life insurance benefits, most financial advisors recommend that the policy’s coverage amount be at least 10 to 15 times the amount of the insured’s yearly income. At a minimum, enough coverage should be bought to cover the insured’s final expenses (which would cover funeral expenses).
Whole vs. term life insurance
|Whole life insurance
|Term life insurance
|Permanent coverage so long as premiums are paid
|Coverage for specific amounts of time or “terms,” usually 10 to 30 years
|Cash value component
|No cash value or investment component
|Monthly premiums are usually higher
|Monthly premiums are lower
|Potential to earn dividends
|Doesn’t earn dividends
Many life insurance companies offer the option to convert a policy from term to whole life.
Whole Life Insurance FAQs
Which is better term or whole life insurance?
Is whole life insurance worth it?
What are the benefits of whole life insurance?
How much cash value does life insurance build?
When can I borrow from my whole life insurance policy?
How We Chose the Best Whole Life Insurance Companies of 2023
As part of our methodology to select the best whole life insurance companies of 2023, we considered the following:
- The insurance company’s complaint index with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)
- Financial strength rating with A.M. Best, a credit rating agency that focuses on insurance companies
- Variety of whole life insurance policies offered so readers can find a policy that fits their needs
- Customizable riders to give policy shoppers more options