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Whole life is a type of permanent life insurance, meaning it lasts for the duration of your life, as long as you continue paying your premiums on time.
The premiums in whole life insurance stay level for the entire duration of the policy. This means that they start at a higher rate than term life policies, but will eventually be lower at later stages of life, as term premiums increase each time you renew your policy.
There are some whole life policies that will allow you to pay premiums, sometimes increased, for a set period of years or to a certain age, with no more premiums required after that.
Whole life insurance, along with universal life insurance, has an investment component, separate from your insurance component. This is called a participating policy, meaning you may participate in the profits of the insurance company through investment.
In whole life, the insurer decides how the investment component is invested, but it is typically a steady rate of return with low volatility. The investments are in a tax shelter, meaning all investment income earned in a whole life insurance policy is tax-free when left to a beneficiary. (The investment income is taxed if borrowed from the policy.)
Also, permanent policies feature a cash value, also called a “cash surrender value" or CSV, which grows the longer you've had the policy. This amount exists if you want to borrow against your policy or cancel it to redeem the CSV, also called "surrendering." This amount, once withdrawn, is not shielded from tax, so surrendering your policy to collect that amount can lead to a substantial chunk taken away from your insurance payout that you’d have worked for a long time to earn. There may also be other consequences, like having to repay the borrowed amount back into your policy within a set time, so be sure to understand your policy.