Term vs. Permanent Insurance: Get the Best of Both

Life Insurance

Term vs. Permanent Insurance: Get the Best of Both

Term insurance is popular because almost everyone can afford plenty of it. Some young people buy the amount of permanent insurance that fits their budget, rather than the protection they need. That's not smart.

But it can make sense to combine term and permanent insurance with multiple policies or by buying a convertible-term policy and making a series of conversions over the years. One advantage of a convertible-term policy is that insurers don't require a new medical exam when you make the conversions. That essentially gives you a pass if you gain weight, develop high blood pressure or even survive a bout with cancer.

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Northwestern Mutual Life provided this example for a 27-year-old man who starts by paying $317 for $500,000 of term insurance, and then gradually converts it to whole life $100,000 at a time. If you shift $100,000 to whole-life at age 28, your annual premium would jump to $1,300. If you shift another $100,000 at age 31, your premium would rise to $2,600. Your premium would gradually increase whenever you shift money to the whole-life policy, topping out at $7,200 at age 40, for the entire $500,000 of whole-life insurance.

As long as the insurer remains strong and solvent, the policy's cash value will rise every year, as will the death benefit. By age 65, in this example, the benefit is projected to be $990,000 and the cash value $475,000, which can be borrowed, withdrawn or tapped to keep the policy in force without paying additional premiums.


This kind of flexibility is attractive to Nirmal Bivek, a 32-year-old banker in Atlanta, who bought slightly more than $1 million in life-insurance coverage when his 3-year-old daughter, Sarina, was born. Bivek has already converted some of the coverage to whole life and expects to convert more of it as his income grows.

He added more insurance when he and his wife, Vijal, were expecting a second child and when they bought a vacation home. "I'm in good health now and term is cheap," says Bivek, "so I'm buying as much as I can now and converting it over time."