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Published: Feb 07, 2022 12 min read
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Best for Policy Customization

When you purchase life insurance, you want to be sure that the policy provides enough protection for your family. But suppose you become ill or disabled — what happens then?

Insurance riders allow you to add coverage in order to receive a benefit in specific scenarios, such as being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Not every life insurer offers riders, but Northwestern Mutual offers a wide range of them. That’s a key reason we selected the company as the best insurer for policy customization, along with other pluses such as a fine track record with agencies that track customer service and financial stability.

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Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Multiple optional riders
  • Potential for dividends
  • Excellent ratings
Cons
  • Limited pricing information online
  • Minimal policy details available without an agent
  • You must buy from an agent

Pros explained

Multiple optional riders

Riders allow you to customize your insurance policy. With Northwestern Mutual, there is a long list of riders to choose from, allowing you to adjust your policy and ensure your primary concerns are covered.

Potential for dividends

As a mutual company, Northwestern Mutual doesn’t have shareholders — it has policyholders. When the company performs better than expected, it may pay some of that money to its policyholders in the form of dividends. In 2022, the company expects to pay $6.5 billion in dividends to its eligible policyholders.

Excellent ratings

Northwestern Mutual is a leading provider of life insurance based on its financial stability, customer satisfaction and the low number of complaints submitted to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Multiple consumer intelligence companies and industry groups have ranked Northwestern Mutual highly.

Cons explained

Limited details about pricing online

Most companies allow you to get quotes for life insurance online, helping you to easily get an idea of their pricing. However, Northwestern Mutual is much more limited. It has a tool that helps you estimate how much coverage you need, but the pricing is vague and doesn’t specify the type of insurance the quote is for.

Minimal policy details available

Northwestern Mutual provides minimal details about its insurance options. It gives broad overviews of its term, whole and universal life policies online, but does not list specifics, such as available riders for each policy type. For more detailed information, you have to contact an agent.

You must buy from an agent

Northwestern Mutual doesn’t sell any of its policies directly to consumers. Instead, you have to work with an agent, and one that works on commission.

Northwestern Mutual Insurance Products

Northwestern Mutual sells fully underwritten term, whole and universal life insurance products.

Available life insurance plans

Northwestern Mutual has four life insurance options:

Term life insurance

Term life insurance is the least expensive form of life insurance because it provides coverage for a specified term. Once the policy term expires, your beneficiaries are no longer eligible to receive a death benefit.

Northwestern Mutual’s term life policies have terms of 10 or 20 years. Alternatively, you can opt for a policy that lasts until you turn 80.

Whole

Whole life coverage is permanent and lasts for as long as you live. It has a guaranteed death benefit and can build cash value over time. You can tap into that cash value to pay your premiums, take out a loan for home renovations or to supplement your retirement fund. Northwestern Mutual’s whole life policies have fixed premiums, so they’ll never increase.

Universal

Universal life insurance is another form of permanent coverage. Rather than a guaranteed death benefit, it has a flexible benefit and premiums you can adjust as your needs change.

Northwestern Mutual has two options:

  • Custom Universal Life: This policy gives you flexibility with the death benefit and premiums, and it can build tax-deferred cash value.
  • Survivorship Universal Life: This plan covers two people, and only pays the death benefit after both individuals have died.

Insurance riders

With optional insurance riders, you can purchase additional coverage for your family, receive an added death benefit under certain circumstances or even use your benefits to cover your expenses if you become ill.

Northwestern Mutual has a long list of optional riders, as noted below, and they allow you to readily customize your life insurance policy. Your options are dependent on your policy type and location; talk to your agent to see what is available.

  • Accelerated Death Benefit: If you are diagnosed with a terminal illness, you may be eligible to receive some of your policy’s death benefit while you’re still living.
  • Accidental Death: If you die as a result of a qualifying accident, the insurer pays your beneficiaries an additional death benefit.
  • Waiver of Premium: If the covered person becomes totally disabled due to an accident or illness, Northwestern Mutual will waive the premiums.
  • Indexed Protection: This rider provides an increase in the death benefit for a set period, such as years two through 10. The death benefit increase is based on the Consumer Price Index.
  • Additional Purchase: At certain times or after major life events — such as getting married or having a child — you can get additional coverage without providing evidence of insurability.

Limitations

Northwestern Mutual only sells policies that are fully underwritten. It does not offer guaranteed or simplified issue policies.

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Northwestern Mutual Credentials

Northwestern Mutual has been in operation for over 160 years, and it is the top life insurer in the U.S. based on direct premiums written. In 2020, its premiums totaled over $11 billion. Northwestern Mutual issues policies to residents in all 50 states.

Financial stability

When you purchase life insurance, you’re providing your loved ones with financial protection. It’s a big investment, so you want to be sure that the company you choose is financially stable and likely to be around in the future.

To research a company’s financial stability, check its ratings from the major credit rating agencies: AM Best, Moody’s and S&P Global.

Northwestern Mutual scored very well with each company. Its AM Best rating is the highest possible, and it was the fifth-highest rated company by S&P Global out of nearly 70 insurers.

Credit Rating Agency Rating Rating Range
Moody's AAA C to AAA
AM Best A++ D to AA++
S&P Global AA+ D to AAA

Third-party ratings

Northwestern Mutual is a top-rated company. It was ranked third out of 21 life insurance companies in the 2021 J.D. Power U.S. Individual Life Insurance Study, making its record a little above the norm. Its score was 801, while the industry average — out of a possible 1,000 — was 776. The companies were scored and ranked based on their product offerings, pricing, communication and customer satisfaction.

Regulatory actions

Northwestern Mutual is currently facing a class-action lawsuit that alleges that the company failed to issue statutory notices terminating policies due to nonpayment.

Regulatory issues and class action lawsuits are fairly common for large insurance companies, but it’s important to do your due diligence and research the insurer's reliability before purchasing a policy.

Cost of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance

Unlike other insurers that offer online quotes, Northwestern Mutual doesn’t have that feature. Its calculator provides you with an estimate of how much coverage you need, but it gives vague pricing information. For example, a policy was described as costing “about a dollar per day,” but there were no specifics on policy type, term length or exclusions.

To get a quote, you must contact a Northwestern Mutual agent. Your premiums are based on several factors, including your age, location and gender. In general, it’s cheaper to buy life insurance in your 20s since you are less likely to have existing health issues, but it makes sense to shop around and compare quotes before choosing a company.

Northwestern Mutual Accessibility

To purchase a policy from Northwestern Mutual, you must work with an agent; policies aren’t sold online. You can use the company’s locator tool to find an agent near you. The insurer has over 6,400 financial advisors and professionals located throughout the country.

Contact information

Unlike other companies, which offer text, chat and email support, the only way to get assistance from Northwestern Mutual is by contacting an agent or by calling the general customer service line. You can call 866-950-4644 Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. CT.

User experience

For existing Northwestern Mutual policyholders, the company's customer portal is a valuable tool. You can make changes to your account or policy, make payments and download documents.

There is also an app for Android and iPhone users that you can use to manage your account. The app also allows you to sync all of your Northwestern Mutual accounts, so you can track your investments and manage your life insurance policy in one place.

Northwestern Mutual Customer Satisfaction

In terms of customer satisfaction, Northwestern Mutual has a better-than-expected complaint ratio and a solid reputation for customer service.

Customer reviews

There are no Northwestern Mutual life insurance reviews from customers on Trustpilot.

Complaint index

To gauge a company’s customer service, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) is a useful resource. It releases company complaint ratios every year. The ratios reflect the number of complaints that consumers submitted about an insurer relative to the company’s share of the insurance market.

For reference, the industry standard is 1.0. Companies with a ratio below 1.0 received fewer complaints than is typical for a business of its size, while companies with a ratio over 1.0 received more complaints than typical.

In 2020 — the last available data — Northwestern Mutual’s complaint ratio for its individual life insurance segment was 0.07, significantly better than the industry standard. The company collected over $11 billion in annual premiums, but received just 12 total complaints.

How reputable is Northwestern Mutual?

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Northwestern Mutual has been in operation for over 160 years. It is the largest life insurance company in the country based on direct premiums written, and was highly ranked in the J.D. Power Individual Life Insurance Study. It also has received top ratings from the credit rating agencies, including AM Best, Moody's and S&P Global.

Does Northwestern Mutual only sell life insurance?

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Besides life insurance, Northwestern Mutual also sells disability insurance for individuals, disability insurance for doctors and dentists, long-term care insurance and income annuities.

How long has Northwestern Mutual been around?

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Northwestern Mutual was started in 1859. Today, it's a leading insurance company, with over $11 billion in direct premiums written for individual life insurance.

Does Northwestern Mutual Pay Dividends?

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Northwestern Mutual policyholders are eligible for dividends. While dividends aren't guaranteed, the company expects to pay $6.5 billion in dividends to its policyholders in 2022.

How We Evaluated Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance

In our evaluation of Ladder and other life insurance companies, we looked at the following factors:

  • Available plans and terms
  • Insurance riders
  • Policy exclusions
  • Underwriting process
  • Cost
  • Financial stability
  • Customer service
  • Customer reviews
  • Third-party ratings

Summary of Money’s Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Review

Northwestern Mutual is a top life insurance company for a reason. It offers a range of policy options and riders, has an outstanding reputation for financial stability and is well-known for strong customer service and communication. If you are willing to work with an agent and undergo a medical exam, it could be a good match for you.

For those that want to purchase insurance online rather than work with an agent — or for those that want to avoid medical exams and blood work — a digital insurance company that offers simplified issue policies may be a better choice. Not sure where to start? Check out our picks for the best life insurance companies.

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