Should I buy term life insurance or permanent?

Should I Buy Term Life Insurance or Permanent

While it’s controversial among the experts, the question of whether to buy term life insurance or permanent life insurance – and invest the difference – is a key factor in building a successful financial strategy. People who purchase life insurance generally associate themselves into one of two “camps” who prefer one type of insurance to the other.

The whole life camp consists of the “True Believers,” to whom buying life insurance is the answer to every problem – except, maybe, cancer. These people have some valid points in their favor, but neither camp owns the moral ground on this issue.

The term insurance camp is often referred to, in derisory terms, by the permanent group as “termites” – those who prefer to buy term and invest in the difference.

This means investing in the difference between the (cheap) term life insurance premium and the (expensive) permanent policy in stocks or mutual funds. The theory is that, the investment component of the two will accumulate more money than the permanent policy.

As you might expect, the truth often lies somewhere in between the two opposing point of views.

The two sides have polarized the issue into a dichotomy – an either or situation –   when in reality the combination of term and permanent life insurance is the most appropriate and beneficial recommendation.

Your specific needs and circumstance will ultimately determine which method is better for you. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the life insurance planning problem.

Term insurance is generally agreed to be an excellent short-term solution to a temporary need, while permanent life insurance is intended to remain in-force until your death or until your needs change.

Most people need some sort of life insurance.

As Dr. Joe Belth, Indiana University Professor Emeritus and one of the most respected critics of the life insurance industry pointed out some years ago, there is no substitute for life insurance. No other financial product does, or will ever do, what life insurance accomplishes.

While you are young, with a growing family and on a limited budget, you will probably need a higher death benefit that you can afford if you purchased only permanent insurance.

Term insurance makes sense for you at any stage in life. Rates are low, while benefits are high.

At some point, however, you will probably need to own some permanent coverage in order to accomplish the intended purpose that life insurance is designed to fulfill.

Permanent insurance provides coverage for the rest of your life. It is a vehicle for cash accumulation, it can provide liquidity to pay estate taxes, and it is a method for leveling out premiums.

While term insurance is very inexpensive if purchased at younger ages, it becomes rather pricey beyond the age of 70 or 75.

Buying permanent life insurance early on helps to ensure its affordability. The invested cash value element accumulates over time, helping to cover the increasing cost of the pure life insurance protection element in the later years.

The trade-off is paying a higher, more or less level premium for many years, to avoid the problem of unaffordability in the later years.

Term insurance is temporary coverage intended to meet a short-term need over a specific time horizon. Permanent insurance is a long-term solution for lifetime needs. Again, which one is right for you depends on your individual situation and needs.

If you would like further assistance, please email me at

By Tony Steuer, CLU, LA

Steuer, author of Questions and Answers on Life Insurance: The Life Insurance Toolbook, has more than 25 years of experience and holds the Department of Insurance Analyst License (LA) as well as the Charted Life Underwriter (CLU) designation. Tony holds various leadership positions and has authored three books on the topic of life insurance.

Steuer’s work has been awarded the “Excellence in Financial Literacy (EIFLE) Award from the Institute of Financial Literacy for his The Questions and Answers on Disability Insurance Workbook and The Questions and Answers on Insurance Planner. Forbes named Questions and Answers on Life Insurance: The Life Insurance Toolbook as one of their top nine great investment books.

He’s also the founder of the Insurance Literacy Institute and creator of The Insurance Bill of Rights designed to empower consumers and to identify members of the Insurance Industry dedicated to strong professional standards.

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