Indexed universal life insurance lasts forever, and it can grow value over time through stocks and options

  • Indexed universal life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance, meaning it never expires.
  • In addition to a death benefit, there’s a cash value component invested in indexed stocks and options.
  • Compared to similar policies, this is riskier — but there’s also the most potential to grow your money.
  • Policygenius can help you compare life insurance policies to find the right coverage for you, at the right price »

There are two types of life insurance: permanent life and term life. Term life insurance only lasts for a specific timeframe, while permanent life insurance never expires and has a cash value component in addition to the death benefit. You can take a loan on the cash value or use it as collateral during your lifetime. This is why permanent life insurance is considerably more expensive than term life insurance.

Although whole life insurance is often used synonymously with permanent life insurance, whole life, universal life, and variable life are actually types of permanent life insurance. Other permanent life insurance policies are a variation of these three products, like indexed universal life.

What is indexed universal life insurance?

Indexed universal life, referred to as IUL, is a variety of universal life insurance, which is a permanent policy (it never expires). Unlike universal life insurance, indexed universal life insurance’s cash value is invested in indexed stock markets and bonds based on S&P and Nasdaq.

Mark Williams, CEO of Brokers International, said an indexed universal life policy is like an indexed annuity that feels like universal life, but instead of interest rates you are dealing with options on the stock market. 

Types of permanent life insuranceBest forWhere is money invested?
Whole lifeGuaranteeing exact same premium for the life of the policyIn your insurance company’s portfolio
Universal lifeThe flexibility to change your premium, death benefit, and cash value over timeIn your insurance company’s portfolio
Guaranteed UniversalFlexibility of a universal life policy with guaranteed rates of whole lifeIn your insurance company’s portfolio
Indexed UniversalLike universal life instead of interest rates in fixed indexed marketFixed index stocks and options
Variable lifeInvesting your cash value in the stock market rather than your insurance companyStock market
Variable universal lifeThe flexibility to change your death benefit, investing in the stock market rather than your insurance companyStock market

How indexed universal life insurance compares to other policies

Universal life insurance was created in the 1980s when interest rates were high, and this policy has a cash value like other types of permanent life insurance. Universal life’s cash value earns interest based on current money market rates, but interest rates fluctuate with the market. It gives you the flexibility to increase or decrease your death benefit. If you lose your job, you can call the insurance company to decrease your death benefit in half so your payment can go down. It also gives you the ability to change if circumstances change. 

Guaranteed universal life, also referred to as GUL, is a mix of whole life and universal life insurance. Guaranteed universal life gives the guaranteed premium of a whole life policy, so your premium rates won’t go up, but it also has the same flexibility to adjust your policy that you get with a universal life policy. Guaranteed life policies don’t have the same cash value growth rate as whole life policies, which makes the premiums less expensive.

Indexed universal life (IUL) operates like universal life, except instead of being based on interest rates invested in the insurance company’s portfolio, it’s based on indexed stocks and options on the Nasdaq and other exchanges. This makes indexed universal life a riskier investment than other permanent life products like variable and whole life. Additionally, this is for a person sophisticated about index funds and options on the Nasdaq. If the market does well, you do well, but if it goes south, so does your cash value.

Indexed Universal Life (IUL)Universal LifeGuaranteed Universal Life (GUL)
  • A variant of universal life insurance
  • Guaranteed minimum interest rate, but rates are not fixed
  • Cash value is invested in stocks and options indexes
  • Riskiest investment tool
  • Cash value is based on current money market interest rates invested in the insurance company’s portfolio
  • Flexibility to increase or decrease death benefit
  • Premium depends on interest rates
  • A hybrid of whole and universal life
  • Guaranteed premium
  • Flexibility to increase or decrease death benefit
  • Cheaper than whole life because cash value doesn’t grow at same rate

You can add riders to your indexed universal life insurance policy

All types of permanent life insurance policies, including indexed universal life insurance, offer optional riders that you can choose to add. This can’t be done with term life insurance policies.

Some riders include:

  • Waiver of premium — allows you to pause your premium payments if you are sick, hurt, or disabled
  • Long-term care — lets you use the policy’s death benefit toward assisted living during your lifetime (such as in-home care or a nursing facility)
  • Family rider — puts the entire family under one policy

Every rider is an additional cost that increases the premium on your policy, and you need to add any riders up front, when you first get your policy.

Quick Tip: Before purchasing a life insurance policy, you should speak with a financial advisor — and your accountant — to make sure it’s providing the benefits and coverage you need.

How to use life insurance cash value

You can use the cash value of a variable life insurance policy during your lifetime, for things such as paying your children’s college tuition, funding a business, or purchasing a second home. Most people use the cash value to fund their retirement — paying themselves a monthly income when they stop working. Due to these features, permanent life insurance can function as an investment and wealth-building tool.

Who needs permanent life insurance?

High-net-worth wealth individuals — those with at least $1 million in liquid assets — often have permanent life insurance policies for tax benefits, endowments, and gifts. The cost is considerably more than term life insurance because permanent life insurance is also a wealth-building tool. 

Indexed universal life is the riskiest than other permanent life policies because it invests in indexed stocks and options. You need to be a savvy investor and have a solid understanding of how the S&P and Nasdaq indexes work. 

The average person may not be able to afford a $1 million variable life insurance policy. Think of permanent life insurance coverage amount like equity in a home. You may not be able to get your dream home right off the bat, but you can get a starter home that also builds you wealth. With permanent life insurance, start with a smaller death benefit and increase it over time. And if you can’t afford a permanent life insurance policy, get a term life policy that can be converted to a permanent policy.

Williams also suggests a combination of permanent and term life insurance. For example, if you have $200,000 in permanent life and $300,000 in term for 20 years, at the end of 20 years the term life insurance policy goes away but you still have your $200,000 permanent policy that has earned cash value.

If you’re considering indexed universal life insurance, it’s wise to consult an accountant and financial advisor to determine which policy is best for you and advise you of the tax benefits and implications. It’s worth taking the time to find the best policy for you, because once you’ve signed on the dotted line, it’s a lot more difficult to make changes if you need to adjust your coverage.

Ronda Lee is an associate editor for insurance at Personal Finance Insider covering life, auto, homeowners, and renters insurance for consumers. She is also a licensed attorney who practiced litigation and insurance defense.

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