Life insurance can replace lost income, cover funeral expenses and medical bills, or pay ongoing costs like a mortgage while your estate is sorted out. But costs and benefits vary widely, depending on the company you go with, the riders that are included, and the type of policy you get.
Term life insurance is often the easiest to buy: If you’re healthy and under 50, you could get a policy online in minutes. But if you need a permanent policy, are 50 or above, or are in poor health, be prepared to speak to an agent and for a longer application process (which may include a medical exam).
To choose the best life insurance companies, we evaluated dozens of life insurance providers in the following categories, giving each category a specific weight percentage based on its importance: policy types and features (21%), financial stability (17%), application process (16%), customer satisfaction (15%), customer service (14%), riders and living benefits (9%), and cost (8%). Analyzing these key categories helps us identify which life insurance companies could be the best fit for your particular life insurance needs.
Best Life Insurance Companies of 2023 in USA
Protective has the cheapest term life insurance of all the companies we reviewed (along with Banner and Haven Life). Its excellent pricing and policy options make it our pick for best term life insurance company, most affordable life insurance company, and best life insurance companies for young adults.
Protective offers longer-than-average term policies and it received fewer complaints than expected for a company of its size over the past three years.
The company also offers generous child riders on its policies, which makes it a good life insurance company for children.
However, Protective did not rank well in J.D. Power’s 2022 U.S. Individual Life Insurance Study, coming in at #15 out of 22 companies. This is an indication that you may have issues with Protective’s customer service, as J.D. Power rankings are based on five factors: communication; interaction; price; product offerings; and statements.
Plans & Pricing
- Protective Classic Choice Term
- Non-Participating Whole Life
- Custom Choice Universal Life (UL)
- Advantage Choice UL
- Lifetime Assurance UL
- Survivor UL
- Executive UL
- Strategic Objectives II VUL (variable universal life insurance)
- Indexed Choice UL
A healthy 40-year-old female would pay $22.88 per month for a $250,000 30-year term policy.
Haven Life’s website is what all other life insurance websites should aspire to be. The quote and application processes are entirely online and easy to use. You don’t have to provide any personal information until you decide to apply, and brief educational blurbs are well-placed to guide and address any questions you may have. But if you still need help, an agent is just a click away via live chat; or you can choose to call in instead.
Plus, Haven has some of the best term pricing of the companies we reviewed. And if you opt for a no-medical-exam life insurance policy, you may be approved the same day. Additionally, Haven Life is backed by MassMutual’s A++ (Superior) financial strength rating from AM Best.
For these reasons, Haven places prominently in our review of the best term life insurance companies and best life insurance companies for young adults. The only strike against Haven Life is that its term policies are not convertible to permanent coverage—an option that 89% of the best term life insurance companies we reviewed offer.
Plans & Pricing
- Haven Term (medical exam required/higher coverage limits)
- Haven Simple (no medical exam/lower coverage limits)
A healthy 40-year-old female would pay $22.90 per month for a $250,000 30-year term policy.
MassMutual stands out for a number of reasons. It has an A++ (Superior) financial rating from AM Best. This is the highest rating a company can receive and indicates a “superior” ability to pay claims. MassMutual’s dividend-paying history also adds to its clout: Every year since 1869, eligible policyholders have received life insurance dividends.
In 2023, MassMutual plans to pay $1.9 billion in dividends, which is its largest payout ever. Plus, the company has received far fewer complaints than a company for its size, according to the NAIC, and offers a wide range of policy types.
It’s worth noting that owners of MassMutual term policies can convert to any of MassMutual’s permanent policies. This is important because some companies limit the types of policies you can convert your term policy into. (Convertible term life insurance allows you to exchange some or all of your term coverage for permanent without having to re-qualify for life insurance.)
Plans & Pricing
MassMutual offers term life insurance, whole life insurance, universal life insurance, and variable universal life insurance.
- MassMutual Term
- Whole Life 100
- Whole Life 65
- Whole Life 10/15/20-Pay
- Whole Life High Early Cash Value (HECV)
MassMutual’s whole-life policyholders are eligible to receive annual dividends based on the company’s financial performance. Dividends can be used to increase the death benefit or cash value, or pay premiums.
- Universal Life (UL) Guard
- Survivorship Universal Life (SUL) Guard
- Apex VUL (variable universal life insurance)
Some universal life insurance policies can be structured like term coverage, where the coverage is designed to remain in effect for a fixed period of time.
A healthy 40-year-old female would pay $27.26 per month for a $250,000 30-year MassMutual term policy.
Nationwide is a financially stable life insurance company that’s been in business for nearly a century. It offers a wide range of policies that may be available without a medical exam and with fast approval. It’s also our top pick for best whole life insurance companies, best no-medical-exam life insurance companies, and best life insurance companies for people over 50.
The company garnered an A+ (Superior) financial stability rating from AM Best and fewer complaints than expect with the NAIC for a company of its size.
It also boasts a wide range of policy types and riders, no-exam life insurance for healthy applicants, and most policies include three accelerated death benefit riders at no upfront cost for chronic, critical, and terminal illnesses.
This was a rare offering among the insurance companies we considered. Its host of exceptional features puts it squarely at the top of our best life insurance companies list.
Plans & Pricing
- Guaranteed Level Term
- Whole Life 100 and 20Pay Whole Life
- No-Lapse Guarantee UL II (universal life insurance)
- VUL Accumulator (variable life insurance)
- VUL Protector
- Advisory VUL
- IUL Accumulator II 2020 (indexed universal life insurance)
- IUL Protector II 2020
- Survivorship IUL 2020
Nationwide’s indexed policies let you participate in stock market gains, but without direct market exposure. Cash value growth is tied to the S&P 500, NASDAQ-100 and/or the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Though not as risky as variable life insurance, these policies are complex and can still lose value when market gains aren’t enough to offset policy expense.
A healthy 40-year-old female would pay $26.25 per month for a $250,000 30-year term policy.
5.Mutual of Omaha
At no upfront cost, Mutual of Omaha includes three accelerated benefit riders on its Term Life Express and IUL Express policies (for critical, chronic, and terminal illnesses), and most other policies include two of these benefits. Accelerated benefit riders add flexibility to a life insurance policy by letting you tap the death benefit early if you have a qualifying illness.
Plus the company offers at least two uncommon features: a disability income rider and a return of premium benefit on select term policies (both for an extra cost). With return of premium (ROP) term life insurance, you can receive up to 100% of premiums back if you outlive the term.
Only 11 of the 91 life insurance companies we reviewed make this type of coverage available. Mutual of Omaha is also our top pick for the best burial insurance companies.
Plans & Pricing
- Term Life Answers
- Term Life Express
- AccumUL Answers (universal life insurance)
- Income Advantage IUL (index universal life insurance)
- Life Protection Advantage IUL
- IUL Express
- Children’s Whole Life Insurance
- Guaranteed Whole Life Insurance
A healthy 40-year-old female would pay $28.38 per month for a $250,000 30-year term policy.
Life Insurance Glossary
- Free-look period: This is an amount of time after purchasing the policy during which you can cancel for any reason and receive a full refund. Free-look periods typically last 10 to 30 days, depending on your state and age.
- Face value: This is the amount of death benefit you purchased with the policy.
- Death benefit: The amount of money your beneficiaries receive when you die. In some cases, the death benefit may differ from the policy’s face value, such as if your policy has an outstanding loan when you die (this would reduce the death benefit).
- Beneficiary: The individual or individuals you choose to receive the death benefit when you die.
- Policyholder: This is the person who owns the policy and is responsible for paying premiums. They are often, but not necessarily, the same person as the insured.
- Insured: This is the person whose life is insured by the life insurance policy.
- Cash value: This refers to a cash account within a permanent life insurance policy. A sufficient cash value keeps the policy from lapsing as the cost of insurance increases. You may be able, however, to withdraw or take loans from the cash value during life.
- Dividends: These are profit-sharing payments that are made, usually on an annual basis, to certain whole life policyholders. The company must be a mutual life insurance company and dividends are not guaranteed.
- Surrender charge: Most permanent life insurance policies have a surrender period. This period may last from a few to as many as 20 years. During this time, withdrawals from the cash value (in excess of a certain amount) are assessed a penalty fee, known as the surrender charge.
- Rider: A life insurance rider is an add-on benefit or feature on the underlying policy. Common riders include guaranteed insurability, child term, automatic premium loan (APL), and living benefit riders.
- Living benefits: Living benefits are types of riders that allow you to use part of the death benefit while still alive. Many companies offer (or include) living benefits for chronic, critical, and terminal illnesses, and long-term care.
- Contestable period: A two-year period during which time the life insurance company may closely investigate any cause of death and review your application for fraud. Death by suicide is not covered during the contestable period.
- Policy loan: Cash-value life insurance policies typically allow you to borrow from the policy’s cash value. This negates any surrender charges associated with a withdrawal as well as potential tax implications (as long as the loan is paid back and the policy doesn’t lapse). If you die before the loan is repaid, the death benefit will be reduced in order to cover it.
- Lapse: This is when your policy is cancelled and coverage ends as a result of insufficient payment. The life insurance company will contact you to tell you the amount you must pay to avoid a lapse in coverage.
- Grace period: Once your policy has lapsed, your grace period is the amount of time you have to pay the necessary amount to reinstate your policy.
How to Choose the Best Life Insurance Company
To find the best life insurance companies, consider financial strength, customer complaints, customer satisfaction, available policy types, available and included riders, and ease of application. Then, collect quotes among your top picks. Doing this homework will ensure you choose a company that offers a policy that suits your needs and will be there when your family needs it.
- Financial strength: Check AM Best ratings for financial stability. A++ and A+ ratings are considered “Superior,” while A and A- are considered “Excellent.” Other agencies also rate insurance companies, including Moody’s, Fitch, Standard & Poor’s, and Demotech.
- Customer complaints: The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) uses customer complaints to create the NAIC complaint index, which indicates whether a company received more or fewer complaints than expected, based on its market share. An index lower than 1 indicates the company received fewer complaints than expected, while a number over 1 means it got more than expected. The higher the index, the more customers complain, and vice versa.
- Customer satisfaction: Not all companies are ranked for customer satisfaction, but check sources like J.D. Power’s 2022 U.S. Individual Life Insurance and Individual Annuities studies to see if companies you’re considering are. At a glance, you can see how a company ranks compared to others when it comes to customer satisfaction.
- Available policy types: If you know which type of insurance you need, make sure each company you’re considering offers it. But note that a whole life policy with one company can be very different from a whole life policy with another. Though policies between companies might have the same name, each company tries to make its product stand out. Make sure their efforts suit your needs.
- Available and included riders: This is a major way that same-named policies can differ. For example, a universal life policy with one company might include a generous accelerated death benefit rider at no cost, while a UL policy with another company may not. Or a term policy with one company may allow you to convert it to permanent coverage, while a term policy with another company may not. Research riders to know what you’re paying for.
- Ease of application: Sometimes the biggest barrier to getting a life insurance policy is the application process. And often, it’s better to get some coverage in place—especially if you have dependents—than it is to find the absolute best coverage you can. If you’re too busy for a medical exam, look for companies that don’t require one.
Sometimes the biggest barrier to getting a life insurance policy is the application process. And often, it’s better to get some coverage in place—especially if you have dependents—than it is to find the absolute best coverage you can. If you’re too busy for an exam, look for companies that don’t require one.
Types of Life Insurance
Life insurance can be divided into two main types: term and permanent, or cash value life insurance. Term life insurance policies only provide coverage for a certain period of time, such as 30 years. Permanent policies are sold primarily as either universal or whole life insurance; they’re designed to offer coverage for the duration of your natural life.
Term Life Insurance
Term life insurance is the most affordable type of life insurance coverage because it isn’t designed to last into old age. Most term life policies last between 10 and 30 years.
The best term life insurance policies offer affordable coverage that can be converted into permanent coverage before the term policy expires. This is called convertible term life insurance. The advantage of buying convertible term is that you can lock in the health classification the insurance company gave you when you first applied for the term policy. (This is important if you develop a health issue that could increase you rate, or make you ineligible for coverage.)
Most term life insurance policies also allow you to renew coverage on an annual basis once the term expires. But the premium will increase annually based on your current age; if you want coverage longer than the duration of your term policy, it’s best to convert to whole life instead of renew. Most companies offer term life insurance for terms up to 30 years, but some, such as Protective, offer terms up to 40 years.
Whole Life Insurance
Whole life insurance is more expensive than term life insurance and even universal life insurance (another form of permanent coverage). This is because whole life insurance has strong contract guarantees that ensure your coverage won’t lapse: As long as you pay premiums as scheduled in the contract, the insurance company guarantees the death benefit and cash values for life. This is why it’s an ideal solution when you need rock-solid permanent coverage and can afford the premiums. Some whole life insurance policies offered by mutual life insurance companies also pay dividends.
Universal life insurance, on the other hand, is more flexible (you can skip premium payments as needed), but could lapse in later years if you don’t build up the cash value sufficiently.
Most permanent policies have a surrender period, during which time you’ll pay a surrender charge for withdrawing from the cash value or canceling the policy. Ask how long the surrender period is on any cash value life insurance you might buy.
Universal Life Insurance
Universal life (UL) insurance is similar to whole life insurance with a couple of important distinctions. The premiums and death benefit can be changed after the policy has been issued, and interest is credited to the cash value based on current interest rates. So, unlike whole life insurance, you don’t know in advance how much the cash value will be worth in the future.
Universal life insurance is more affordable than whole life insurance, but you may need to increase your premium payment in the future if the cash value doesn’t perform as expected and/or you don’t make sufficient premium payments.
Indexed Universal Life (IUL) Insurance
Indexed universal life insurance (IUL) policies are a hybrid type of UL coverage that provide an opportunity to profit from upward swings in a variety of popular stock market indexes, such as the S&P 500. Positive index performance results in the cash value being credited, while negative performance does not result in a cash value loss. The least amount the cash value will be credited is referred to as the floor (for example, when the index experiences a negative return). Most IUL policies have a 0% floor.
Conversely, gains are limited as well. In fact, insurance companies are innovative when it comes to the complexity of calculations they employ to limit gains. For example, an IUL policy may be subject to one or more (usually “more”) of the following:
- Participation rate: This is the percentage of index gains that will be credited to the policy. For example, if the index returns 10% and the participation rate is 60%, 6% would be credited).
- Spread: This rate is deducted from the index’s gains. If the index returns 10% and the spread is 4%, your policy would be credited 6%.
- Cap: This limits the amount of interest your policy can be credited. If the cap is 6% and the index returns 10%, 6% will be credited to the cash value.
IUL policies can be an attractive proposition if you want the potential for stock market gains but want to avoid losses. Just be aware that if the index doesn’t perform well enough, interest credited could be insufficient to keep up with policy expenses and your premium could increase.
Variable Life Insurance
Variable universal life insurance (VUL) is the most risky type of coverage. Like IUL, it’s typically designed on the chassis of a regular universal life insurance policy. But instead, the cash value is invested directly in the stock market via subaccounts, which are very similar to mutual funds.
While variable life insurance can be a tax-advantaged way to invest in the stock market, the cash value is not protected from market losses. This means if your investments underperform, you could be required to increase premium payments or the policy could lapse. What’s more is that VUL policies that lapse may result in severe tax consequences.
Most people should only invest in variable life insurance if they have sufficient life insurance coverage in place via another policy. Since this is considered an investment product, it can only be sold by life insurance agents that are also licensed to sell securities. Always ask for a prospectus before investing in VUL. It’s best to speak with a financial advisor to be sure an investment in variable life insurance makes sense.
Burial Insurance (a.k.a. Final Expense and Guaranteed Issue)
Burial insurance policies are whole life policies designed for older applicants in poor health and don’t require a medical exam. Some policies have a handful of health questions, while others are considered guaranteed issue and do not consider your health at all when determining your rate or approving your application. As a result, these policies are the most expensive, relative to the amount of coverage.
They also carry a “graded benefit” for two to three years. If you die from natural causes during this time, your beneficiaries will only receive a return of the premiums you paid (usually plus a percentage like 10%). They will not receive the full death benefit unless you die after the graded period is over.
The minimum age for burial insurance may be as low as 40 years old, but some companies have higher minimum age limits. Final expense policies also have low coverage amounts (typically not more than $35,000) as they are intended to cover the insured person’s final expenses.