Let me start this article off by noting that I am by no means an expert on life insurance. What I state here is simply my own opinion, based on what I've read and learned over the years. Always do your own research and make your own informed decision based on what is best for you and your family.
As I mentioned the other day, I've been thinking about life insurance since my friend lost her husband. They have two young boys also, so her loss has really got me wanting to make sure we've done everything we can to prepare for the unthinkable in case it happens. Because sometimes it does.
I've already discussed how to figure out how much life insurance you need, but I didn't really talk about the difference between term and whole life insurance.
Term insurance is very simple to understand. Your policy is for a set term (usually between 10 and 30 years). You pay a monthly or annual premium that's based on your age, gender, health, and personal and family medical history at the time you obtained the policy.
Whole life insurance is a little more complicated. The policy isn't for a set term but rather it's for the rest of your life. Partly because of that, the premium is considerably higher than the premium for a term policy. But (and here's where things start to get confusing for me), unlike with term insurance, part of the premium of a whole life insurance policy goes toward an investment component. Generally, the return on the investment portion of a whole life policy is such that it's not considered a good investment, i.e., you could get a better return on your money elsewhere.
There are other types of life insurance also - universal and variable - which are similar to whole life in that they also have an investment component (and these are all often grouped together as "whole life"). The differences between these types are related to the investment component, i.e., what types of investments are available.
So how do you know if you should get term or whole life insurance?
Generally, you always want to go with term. It's much more affordable and it's all most people need.
But there are times when you need life insurance for your entire life. For example, if you have a disabled dependent who may outlive you but will be unable to support herself, you may want to consider a whole life policy.
If you think you'll need some life insurance but not that much when you are older, you can purchase a small whole life policy and get the rest of your coverage as a term policy. The advantage of doing this is that the premium on the whole life policy will be significantly lower than if you wait to get a new policy when your term policies expire. And if you keep your whole life policy for 20 or more years, eventually you will end up with a pretty good cash value in the investment portion of the policy. (Although some experts would recommend that you simply invest the money you would have paid toward the premium instead.)
If you decide a whole life policy is right for you, you still have other decisions to make. Within whole life policies, there are variables that I don't quite understand that need to be taken into account. You'll probably want to talk to an expert to help you decide exactly what kind of policy is best for you.
If you want to learn more about whole life insurance, check out the following articles: