Whole life insurance provides lifetime death benefit coverage for a level premium in most cases. Premiums are much higher than term insurance at younger ages, but as term insurance premiums rise with age at each renewal, the cumulative value of all premiums paid across a lifetime are roughly equal if policies are maintained until average life expectancy. Part of the insurance contract stipulates that the policyholder is entitled to a cash value reserve, which is part of the policy and guaranteed by the company. This cash value can be accessed at any time through policy loans and are received income tax free. Policy loans are available until the insured’s death. If there are any unpaid loans upon death, the insurer subtracts the loan amount from the death benefit and pays the remainder to the beneficiary named in the policy.
The advantages of whole life insurance are guaranteed death benefits, guaranteed cash values, fixed, predictable annual premiums, and mortality and expense charges that will not reduce the cash value of the policy. The disadvantages of whole life are inflexibility of premiums and the fact that the internal rate of return in the policy may not be competitive with other savings alternatives. The death benefit can also be increased through the use of policy dividends, though these dividends cannot be guaranteed and may be higher or lower than historical rates over time. According to internal documents from some life insurance companies, the internal rate of return and dividend payment realized by the policyholder is often a function of when the policyholder buys the policy and how long that policy remains in force. Dividends paid on a whole life policy can be utilized in many ways.
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