Whole life versus universal life insurance

Whole Life Insurance

Whole life insurance (WL) is permanent insurance and covers you as long as you live.  You pay the same premium for a specific period (usually the rest of your life) to receive the death benefit.  This type of insurance provides life insurance coverage and a savings feature.  

With whole life your insurance company puts part of your insurance money in a declared interest bearing account. With every premium payment your cash value increases. The savings element of your policy builds up cash value on a tax-deferred basis.  This cash value can be utilized in a few common ways.  You can borrow the cash TAX FREE or surrender it for cash.  If you surrender the policy you will pay tax on the interest gains that the cash value earned over the years.

Whole life can be participating or not.  If it is participating, you get to participate in the surplus of your insurance company’s excess earnings and receive dividends annually.   You have the choice to either receive your dividends in cash or let them accumulate interest.  You may also use your dividends to reduce your policy’s premiums or buy additional insurance coverage.  Talk with a Retirement Life Solutions Specialist before buying a whole life policy from an insurance company because dividends are not always guaranteed.

Universal Life Insurance

Universal life insurance (UL) is also called “flexible premium adjustable life insurance,” because it offers more flexibility compared to whole life insurance. You have the option to reduce or increase your death benefit and also pay your premiums at any time and in any amount (subject to certain limits) after your first premium payment has been made.

With many companies you can purchase an increased death benefit periodically without having to undergo medical underwriting.  This can be advantageous as someone becomes older and begins experiencing medical problems.  

Some companies will allow two options to the death benefit – a fixed amount of death benefit or an increasing death benefit equal to the face value of your policy, plus your cash value amount. Most times however, the death benefit does not increase and the cash value is there and grow to be used by the policy owner (hopefully they know they can use this money since it is their money).

You also have the opportunity to change the amount and frequency of premium payments. So, you can increase your premiums to increase your cash value or may also even add a lump sum according to the specified limit in the policy. As you know, part of your premium is put into an investment account and the interest therein is credited to your account. In this way, the interest grows on a tax-deferred basis, which increases your cash value.

In case of a financial challenge, if there is enough cash value accrued, you can reduce or stop your premiums and use your cash value to pay premiums.  Make sure to discuss the status of your cash value fund with your Retirement Life Solutions Specialist before stopping the premiums. Your policy may lapse if you cease to pay premiums and have insufficient cash value to cover the cost of insurance.

The downside of a universal life insurance can be the interest rate.  If the policy performs well, there are chances of potential growth in the savings fund.  On the other hand, if interest rates are low over a period of years, then the estimated annual returns are not earned.  

A recent addition to universal life market is called Indexed universal life.  In this type of policy instead of a fixed interest rate from year to year; your cash values earned interest is tied to a stock index such as the S&P 500.  The performance works exactly like that of a fixed indexed annuity.  If the index goes up during the period, you will get all of the gains up to a maximum CAP in place that year.  If the stock index falls negative or is flat, you will receive no interest performance that year.  While this may seem risky, your cash is not invested in the stock market.  It is just using the stock market index as a means to credit interest to your cash value.  Reviewing the historical performance of the S&P 500, you could have made more interest performance in 10, 20, or 30 year periods than if you had been in the fixed interest account of a universal life policy. 

Universal life insurance offers all-round protection to your loved ones, thanks to its security, flexibility and variety of index crediting choices options.  In times of low financial liquidity, you can alter your premium payments or may even withdraw from your cash value fund. In addition, you can increase or decrease the face value of your insurance to an extent if needed.

Universal or Whole Life?

When buying any life insurance policy, you need to focus on the needs of your family in the future. Permanent life insurance is designed to give you and your family lifelong security.  Whole life insurance protects your beneficiaries in your absence and acts as an asset-accumulating tool.  Universal life insurance gives you the chance to regulate your insurance premiums to keep current with your financial situations. Universal Life also gives you more control of your earnings because of the crediting strategies that can be changed at any time during the year.  Your Retirement Life Solutions Specialist can provide you the education and knowledge about all life insurance products available today. Take the time to learn from their expertise before you decide what your family needs.


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