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By

Katherine MurbachEditor & Licensed Life Insurance AgentKatherine Murbach is an editor and a former licensed life insurance agent at Policygenius. Previously, she wrote about life and disability insurance for 1752 Financial, and advised over 1,500 clients on their life insurance policies as a sales associate.&Antonio Ruiz-CamachoAssociate Content DirectorAntonio helps lead our life insurance and disability insurance editorial team at Policygenius. Previously, he was a senior director of content at Bankrate and CreditCards.com, as well as a principal writer covering personal finance at CNET.

Edited by

Adam MorganAdam MorganEditorial DirectorAdam Morgan is an editorial director at Policygenius who leads the life insurance team. Previously, he led editorial teams matrixed across multiple financial publications at Red Ventures — including Bankrate, NextAdvisor, Million Mile Secrets, and others. As a journalist, his work has appeared in Esquire, Scientific American, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere.
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Reviewed by

Maria FilindrasMaria FilindrasFinancial AdvisorMaria Filindras is a financial advisor, a licensed Life & Health insurance agent in California, and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius.
Expert reviewedExpert reviewedThis article has been reviewed by a member of ourFinancial Review Council to ensure all sources, statistics, and claims meet the highest standard for accurate and unbiased advice.Learn more about oureditorial review process.

What is life insurance?

Life insurance is a contract in which you make regular payments — also known as premiums — to an insurance company. If you die while your policy is active, the insurance company pays a tax-free sum of money to your beneficiaries.

Life insurance is the best way to provide a financial safety net for your loved ones in the event of your death. However, only 52% of American adults have a life insurance policy, and 54% of Americans without life insurance say they’ve avoided purchasing it because they don’t know what to buy or how much they need.

Who needs life insurance?

Anyone with dependents who rely on their income should consider buying life insurance.

What are the benefits of life insurance?

It provides financial protection for your family

If you pass away, your loved ones can use the life insurance payout to cover any expenses. Some permanent life policies also come with a cash value you can borrow from while you’re still alive.

It’s affordable for most people

Life insurance is cheaper than many people think — a LIMRA study revealed 4 in 10 millennials think term life insurance is 10 times more expensive than it actually is. Depending on how much coverage you need and your age when you apply, you might pay as little as $20 per month.

It gives you peace of mind

Life insurance is similar to health or car insurance — you hope you’ll never fall ill or get into a car accident, but if you do, you’re covered in a worst-case scenario. For anyone with large debts or loved ones who rely on their income, this peace of mind is crucial.

Determine the right type of life insurance for you

The two main types of life insurance you’re most likely to choose from are term and whole. Term life policies cover you for a set period of time — usually between 10 and 30 years. Whole life insurance covers you for your entire life, and usually comes with a cash value component. Whole life is significantly more expensive than a term life policy with the same death benefit.

Term life insurance

Term life insurance is the best type of life insurance for most people because it’s affordable and easy to manage. It can also provide financial protection during the period of your life when you have the biggest expenses — like when your children are younger, or while you have a mortgage to pay off.

Types of term life insurance

Whole life insurance

Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance, which means it lasts your entire life, and pays out no matter when you die. It comes with a cash value component in addition to the lump-sum payout. High-net-worth individuals can benefit from this cash value as an additional investment vehicle, or as a buffer against estate tax.

If you have trouble qualifying for traditional life insurance due to your age or a serious health condition, a limited type of whole life insurance called final expense insurance could be a good option. Final expense insurance, also known as burial insurance, pays a small death benefit to your family to help cover end-of-life expenses, like a funeral or medical bills.

Other types of permanent life insurance

Term vs. whole life insurance: Understand the main differences

“Term life is usually the best option for most people,” says certified financial planner Patrick Hanzel, an advanced planning manager at Policygenius. “Whole life insurance is usually only suitable for people who have a large annual income or net worth, complex estate planning needs, or a special-needs dependent.”

Features

Term life insurance

Whole life insurance

Permanent coverage

No — maximum of 30 to 40 years

Yes

Cost* ($500,000 coverage amount)

$26/month for a 20-year term

$451/month

Guaranteed death benefit payout

Yes

Yes

Guaranteed cash value

No

Yes

Premium cost stays fixed

Yes, in most cases

Yes, in most cases

Pays annual dividends

No

Yes, in some cases

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*Methodology: Average monthly term life insurance rate is for male and female non-smokers with a Preferred health rating obtaining a 20-year, $500,000 policy. Term life insurance averages are based on a composite of policies offered by Policygenius from Brighthouse Financial, Corebridge Financial, Foresters Financial, Legal & General America, Lincoln Financial, Mutual of Omaha, Pacific Life, Protective, Prudential, Symetra, and Transamerica. Average monthly whole life insurance rate is calculated for non-smokers in a Preferred health classification, obtaining a whole life insurance policy paid up at age 100 from MassMutual. Rates may vary by insurer, term, coverage amount, health class, and state. Not all policies are available in all states. Rate illustration valid as of 02/01/2024.

Average cost of term life vs. whole life insurance

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Calculate how much coverage you need (& how much it costs)

When shopping for life insurance quotes, consider all the expenses your family has now and will have in the future, such as: 

  • Everyday living expenses

  • Mortgage payments

  • Your children’s educational costs

  • The cost of your own funeral

Your life insurance policy amount should cover them all, so your loved ones won’t struggle financially in your absence.

One easy rule of thumb is that your coverage should be roughly 10 to 15 times your annual income. For example, if you make $100,000 per year, you’ll likely need around $1 million to $1.5 million in life insurance coverage. Use our life insurance quote calculator to estimate the right coverage for you.

The cost of your life insurance premiums will depend on your life insurance risk. In general, the younger and healthier you are, the cheaper your life insurance will be. Additionally, term life insurance is far less expensive than whole life insurance. 

  • A healthy 30-year-old who doesn’t smoke pays on average $26 per month for a 20-year term life policy with a $500,000 payout. 

  • The same person would pay around 17 times more — $451 per month — for a whole life policy with the same payout.

Methodology

Why you can trust our rates

At Policygenius, our educational guides are written and fact-checked by licensed life insurance experts and reviewed by our Financial Review Council to ensure autonomy, expertise, and accuracy. Our rates are based on internal actuarial rate tables for 10 life insurance carriers that offer policies through the Policygenius marketplace (Brighthouse Financial, Corebridge Financial, Legal & General America, Lincoln Financial, MassMutual, Mutual of Omaha, Pacific Life, Protective, Prudential, and Transamerica), and the Policygenius Life Insurance Price Index, which uses real-time rate data from leading life insurance companies to determine pricing trends. The prices represent the average monthly life insurance premium for each sample customer profile (age, gender) and policy type (term or whole, and coverage amount) as of the date reflected on each tables methodology. Rates for those products may vary by state, and not all products are available in all states. Individual rates may vary, depending on age, gender, state, health profile, and other eligibility criteria.

Term life insurance rates

Cheapest term life insurance rates February 2024

Standard term life insurance rates February 2024

More term life insurance rates

Whole life insurance rates

Cheapest whole life insurance rates February 2024

Standard whole life insurance rates February 2024

Find the best life insurance company for you

The right life insurance company for you depends on factors like your age, health, and financial needs. Our independent, unbiased ratings and reviews of the best life insurance companies will help you find a great life insurance policy with confidence.

Methodology

Why you can trust our picks

Our recommendations are based on internal and external expert analysis, as well as our Policygenius Life Insurance Price Index, which uses real-time data from leading life insurance companies to determine pricing trends. When reviewing a life insurance company, our editorial team uses a proprietary scoring rubric with five factors — price, policy details, financial strength, transparency, and customer experience — to assign an unbiased rating between one and five stars. These ratings are also taken into consideration as part of our company recommendations. We don’t get paid for our reviews

Our reviews and recommendations can help you find a reliable insurer for your family’s financial protection, but the best life insurance company for you depends on multiple factors. A licensed agent at Policygenius can support you during the application process to ensure you get the right coverage for your circumstances at the most competitive price.

Read more about our reviews methodology

Compare the 5 best life insurance companies of 2024

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Shop the country’s top life insurance companies

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Understand the factors that affect your life insurance quotes

The best insurance company for you might not be the best for someone else — one insurer might offer you more affordable life insurance quotes than another for the same policy. Your age, health, and coverage needs are the primary factors to consider when shopping for life insurance.

  • Age: The younger you are when you apply for coverage, the lower your premium payments will be. Life insurance rates increase as you age, even year to year.

  • Gender: Women pay an average of 24% less for life insurance than men. Since women often live longer than men, covering women presents less risk to insurance companies.

  • Health: Serious health conditions can lead to high rates or denied coverage. Mild conditions, like high cholesterol or asthma, may have a small impact on the cost of your premiums.

  • Lifestyle: Insurance companies consider some hobbies — like skydiving or scuba diving past a certain depth — risky enough to increase the cost of your life insurance.

What’s the difference between life insurance quotes & rates?

Life insurance quotes are estimates of how much your life insurance premiums will cost on a monthly or annual basis. You can get quotes for life insurance online, for free, with just a few pieces of information. Life insurance rates are the final cost of your premiums, which an insurance company will only provide after it evaluates your application.

Learn more about how life insurance works

Applying for life insurance is easy: Here’s what you need

Getting free life insurance quotes and applying for coverage is easy with Policygenius. Here’s everything you need to get started:

Depending on your circumstances, you may need to answer a few more questions with a Policygenius agent about your lifestyle, health, and past medical conditions. You may also have to take a medical exam as part of the application.

Some policies let you skip that step so you can get coverage more quickly. If you have no health issues or just minor health conditions, you may be eligible for a no-exam life insurance policy.

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Authors

Katherine Murbach is an editor and a former licensed life insurance agent at Policygenius. Previously, she wrote about life and disability insurance for 1752 Financial, and advised over 1,500 clients on their life insurance policies as a sales associate.

Antonio helps lead our life insurance and disability insurance editorial team at Policygenius. Previously, he was a senior director of content at Bankrate and CreditCards.com, as well as a principal writer covering personal finance at CNET.

Editor

Adam Morgan is an editorial director at Policygenius who leads the life insurance team. Previously, he led editorial teams matrixed across multiple financial publications at Red Ventures — including Bankrate, NextAdvisor, Million Mile Secrets, and others. As a journalist, his work has appeared in Esquire, Scientific American, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere.

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