Best Life Insurance of 2019

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Recently, we spent 40 hours getting life insurance quotes and speaking to industry experts. We got quotes for a variety of policies for a male and a female at different stages in life. 

Every policy is different, but our quotes cover common scenarios and give a good idea of what you can expect to pay. 

Price is probably the biggest consideration when choosing a life insurance policy. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution – your policy is customized to you specifically. 

Insurers factor in your health, your financial situation and what your beneficiaries will need in the event of your passing. To provide some idea of what you can expect to pay, we got quotes from each of the insurers we reviewed. 

Because these policies are customized and complex, you can expect to spend close to a half hour on the phone answering questions about your health and income. Some insurers, like New York Life, prefer face-to-face meetings, so we couldn’t include them.

After comparing costs, plan options and beneficiary assistance, we chose Northwestern Mutual as the best life insurance company overall. Its prices compare well against those at other insurers, and people with less-than-excellent health may find better prices there than at other companies. It also offers a variety of policies and has a long record of financial health.

ProductPriceOverall RatingExample PremiumsPlan OptionsBeneficiary AssistanceMale, 45, Smoker TermMale, 45, Smoker PermanentFemale, 33, Non-Smoker TermFemale, 33, Non-Smoker PermanentWholeUniversalDisability InsuranceFinancial PlanningOnline Claims FilingOne-on-one Claims Assistance
Northwestern MutualView Deal4.5/58.8107.3$101$622$20$239-
AIGView Deal4.5/510102.8$114$398$13$157--
MassMutualView Deal4/58107.3$174$571$17$213-
NationwideView Deal4/59.38.85.8$122$424$20$127--
GuardianView Deal4/57.8107.3$158$570$22$233-
PrudentialView Deal4/58710$154$425$28$113-
TransAmericaView Deal4/588.87.3$148$534$24$189--
State Farm Life InsuranceView Deal4/58.5102.8$130$529$19$234--
Lincoln FinancialView Deal3.5/57.85.87.3$155$228$21No quote yet---
John HancockView Deal3/585.82.8$181$581$18$165----

Best Overall

Northwestern Mutual

Reasons to Buy
Good rates for smokers
Offers disability income insurance
Reasons to Avoid
Expensive whole-life policies
Can’t file claims online

Northwestern Mutual has been issuing life insurance policies since the 1800s and has a long record of financial stability, earning an A++ rating from A.M. Best.

We chose Northwestern as the best life insurance company because of its many plan options and good rates.

To find out how much a policy costs, we contacted Northwestern and had a local agent run us through the quote process. We got quotes for a 45-year-old male who smokes and a 33-year-old female who doesn’t. To eliminate some variables, we used the same income, savings and retirement numbers for each quote.

Our smoker scenario came in at $101 a month for a $250,000, 20-year term policy. This is the lowest price we saw for this scenario. In fact, this Northwestern Mutual policy was $40 less than the average policy we were quoted for the male smoker. Health is a big factor in determining how much your policy costs, and smokers have higher rates.
The quote we got for our 33-year-old woman was around $20 a month for a $250,000, 20-year term policy. This is about average, so while you may find a cheaper policy elsewhere, you’ll still get a good rate through Northwestern.

The costs for a permanent policy were much higher. For a similar face value of $250,000, you can expect to pay a few hundred dollars more per month than the average. As a mutually owned company, permanent policies pay out dividends annually, and Northwestern has paid annually for over a hundred years.

Read the full review

Best Value

AIG

Reasons to Buy
Term plans as low as $13 a month
Smokers and other high-risk people can get good rates
Reasons to Avoid
Doesn’t have financial planning services
Can’t file claims online

Life insurance policies can be quite expensive, and after getting and comparing quotes, we found that AIG offers the lowest prices, making it our pick for the best value.

If you want a term policy to provide security for your family in case you die, finding a low-cost option is a good call. It’s especially important you purchase a policy from a company on sound financial footing like AIG, which has an A rating from A.M. Best.

To compare life insurance companies, we got quotes using a 45-year-old male smoker and a 33-year-old female non-smoker as examples. We used the same income, debt and savings amounts to control other variables. AIG gave us the lowest quotes for term and permanent policies, with one exception.

AIG’s quote for the 45-year-old’s term policy was only second lowest, although still $30 less than average. We got the lowest quote for a permanent policy from AIG – at about $398, it was nearly $100 below average. As such, it may be a good choice if you’re cost conscious but want to take advantage of the wealth-building benefits of permanent life insurance.

Our healthy 33-year-old got a term quote of $13 a month, which is about $7 lower than the average. Our quoted rate for a permanent policy was $157, about $30 below average. These costs can vary depending on where you live, your health and the amount of insurance you choose to buy.

Read the full review

Best Permanent Policies

MassMutual

Reasons to Buy
Multiple permanent policy options
High dividend percentages
Reasons to Avoid
Health affects premium costs more than at other insurers
Term policies are more expensive than average

A life insurance policy can do more than provide money for your family in the event of your passing. Permanent life insurance policies can build wealth, and MassMutual has some of the best permanent policy options we saw.

Because they build value over time, permanent policies are more expensive than term life insurance, and MassMutual’s offerings are no exception.

Your policy’s price depends a lot on your age and health. We got quotes for a 45-year-old male smoker and a healthy 33-year-old female non-smoker. The smoker’s permanent policy cost about $100 above the average for the life insurance companies we reviewed, while the non-smoker’s policy was only $30 above average. So, if you smoke or have other health complications, you may want to explore other options.

MassMutual offers whole and universal life insurance options, both of which are different types of permanent life insurance. Universal life insurance policies have flexible premiums, and you can borrow some of the money the policy accrues.

Both whole and universal policies earn dividends. MassMutual has consistently issued dividends since the late 1800s. In 2018, its dividend interest rate was 6.40 percent, which compares favorably with the highest yielding permanent life insurance policies.

Read the full review

Best Policies for Women

Nationwide

Reasons to Buy
Low rates for women, especially for permanent policies
Reasons to Avoid
No financial planning services

When we compared policy premiums, we found that Nationwide offered the best rates for women, especially for permanent policies.

Our quote for a 20-year term policy worth $250,000 came in at $20 a month, which is about average. In addition, Nationwide quoted us one of the lowest prices for a $250,000 permanent policy – $127 per month. The company is rated A+ by A.M. Best, an organization that evaluates life insurance companies. This rating means Nationwide has the stability to pay out claims in the future. As with all life insurance policies, age, value and health do a lot to determine how much you pay in premiums. If you’re looking for other financial planning services, you may want to use another company – Nationwide doesn’t offer them.

Read the full review

Best for Financial Planning

Guardian

Reasons to Buy
Offers many additional financial services
Reasons to Avoid
Life insurance policies tend to be more expensive

If you want to plan for your future beyond just a life insurance policy, Guardian is one of the best companies to work with.

In addition to life insurance, it offers investment advice, IRAs and annuities. Through its subsidiary Park Avenue Securities, you can invest in stocks and mutual funds. Guardian is rated A++ by A.M. Best, meaning it’s financially stable and can pay out claims. The company’s main drawback is it was one of the more expensive life insurance companies we reviewed. Premiums for both its term and permanent policies were more expensive than average.

Read the full review

Why Trust Us 

At Top Ten Reviews, we’ve been writing about life insurance for nine years. To ensure we include the best companies, we look for insurers with ratings of A or above from A.M. Best, an organization that grades companies on their financial health. Because life insurance has such a far-off horizon, you want to work with a company that can pay claims in 20 years. You should avoid any insurer with a grade below a B. You can find companies’ life insurance ratings on A.M. Best’s website.

Because there are so many life insurance companies, we couldn’t possibly include every insurer. We looked at those with a relatively high market share and name recognition. We also excluded companies that operate as brokers – for example, companies like GEICO and Progressive who don’t offer their own life insurance policies and instead connect you with a third party. If you do use a broker, check its rating and consult your state insurance commission to see if any complaints have been made about the agent.

How We Tested

Price is probably the biggest consideration when choosing a life insurance policy. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution – your policy is customized to you specifically. Insurers factor in your health, your financial situation and what your beneficiaries will need in the event of your passing. To provide some idea of what you can expect to pay, we got quotes from each of the insurers we reviewed. 

One quote was for a 45-year-old man who smokes and is in good, but not excellent, health. Our male subject was married with a 12-year-old child. Our other quote was for a 33-year-old woman in excellent health with a 2-year-old child. To have some measure of uniformity, both our hypotheticals had similar financial situations. 

We got quotes for a 20-year term policy and a permanent insurance policy. We’ll explain the difference below, but briefly, a term policy provides a single benefit for a set number of years, while a permanent policy lasts indefinitely and includes an investment portion that builds value over time. Permanent policies tend to have much higher premiums than term policies.

Because these policies are customized and complex, you can expect to spend close to a half hour on the phone answering questions about your health and income. Some insurers, like New York Life, prefer face-to-face meetings, so we couldn’t include them.

How Much Does Life Insurance Cost?

This question is always followed by another: How much coverage do you need? The amount of coverage you need determines how much you pay in monthly premiums. For example, a $250,000 term life insurance policy can cost close to five times less than a $1,000,000 policy. Your premium also depends on your gender, age and health. A healthy woman can expect to pay around $20 a month for a $250,000 policy, while a healthy man can expect to pay around $25 a month. Whole life policies, which include a savings account that builds value, are more expensive and cost between $100 and $500 a month.

How to choose a life insurance policy

Life insurance is a grim subject – no one wants to think about dying, much less how their family will be provided for when they’re gone. But when you get a life insurance policy, your family will continue to receive an income as well as have money to pay for funeral expenses and your children’s future educational expenses.

How much do you need?

According to the American Council of Life Insurers, most experts recommend getting a policy that pays between seven and 10 times your annual income. Depending on your age, income, savings and other factors, you may need more or less. There are many online calculators that can help you figure out how much you need in insurance as well as how many years your policy should last. 


Generally, the older you are, the more likely it is a shorter policy will be useful. If you have enough savings, a good retirement plan and low debt, a lower limit policy is a good option. When you call for a quote, the agent will ask you questions about your financial situation, health and plans for beneficiaries before making recommendations.

What type of policy should you get?

There are two main types of life insurance policies: term and permanent. A term policy is the most common and most affordable. It covers you for a certain amount, called the face value or death benefit, for a set period of time. A $250,000 policy with a 20-year term will pay your beneficiaries $250,000 if you die at any time during the 20 years the policy lasts.


A permanent policy doesn’t expire and instead lasts for as long as you pay the premium. A permanent policy is guaranteed to pay out the claim. It’s not an if – it’s a when. In addition to the death benefit, a permanent policy has a living benefit that builds value each year. A portion of your premium is put toward building the value of the living benefit. A permanent policy is much more expensive than a term policy, often costing up to 10 times as much.


A good way to think about the differences between term and permanent life insurance is to compare it to renting versus owning a home. Renting can be cheaper, but it’s temporary and doesn’t build any value. Owning a home is more expensive, but you build equity and long-term value.

Pros & Cons of Permanent Life Insurance

When you shop for life insurance, you’re asked to choose between a term and a permanent policy. There’s a lot of confusing terminology, and different types of permanent policies can be complicated. A term policy is straightforward – it pays out a certain amount if you die during the length of the policy. If you’re considering a permanent policy instead, here are some pros and cons to consider:

Pro: These policies never expire. Unlike term life insurance, which lasts up to 20 years, a permanent policy does exactly what the name suggests and doesn’t expire. It lasts for either as long as you live or as long as you make payments. If you do miss payments, you may end up relinquishing some of the policy’s cash value.

Con: These policies are expensive. When we got quotes, the permanent policies were two to five times more expensive than the term policies. Yes, much of your payment goes toward increasing your policy’s long-term value, but the higher monthly payments may be outside your budget. Keep in mind that factors like age, gender and health help determine your monthly premiums.

Pro: There are savings benefits in addition to policy payout. Term life insurance pays out a set amount if something happens to you during the policy’s term. Permanent life insurance has a savings element that accrues value over the life of the policy. This can increase the death benefit paid out to your beneficiaries, and you may be able to access it in other ways, depending on your policy.

Con: The policies are complicated and confusing. Permanent life insurance is complicated, and it can be hard to comparison shop because there’s a lot of variance between providers. In addition, there are many subtypes, such as whole, universal, variable and indexed universal, that have different ways of building your policy’s cash value.