Comparing Indexed Universal Life vs Whole Life

Written by: Steven Gibbs | Last Updated on: May 7, 2024
Fact Checked by Jason Herring and Barry Brooksby (licensed insurance experts)

Insurance and Estates, a strategic life insurance provider composed of life insurance professionals, is committed to integrity in our editorial standards and transparency in how we receive compensation from our insurance partners.

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Whether you’re leaning towards the predictable nature of Whole Life Insurance or the potential higher returns of Indexed Universal Life Insurance (IUL), this guide offers valuable insights and expert recommendations to guide you in selecting the policy that aligns best with your unique financial needs and goals.

Whole Life vs Indexed Universal Life Insurance

Both indexed universal life insurance and whole life insurance are permanent life insurance, a/k/a cash value life insurance. The term cash value refers to the benefit of each type of coverage where a portion of the premium payment goes into a cash value account that can be accessed through withdrawals and policy loans. Let’s take a closer look at each of these types of permanent life insurance.

Indexed Universal Life (IUL) Explained

Indexed universal life insurance policies offer a combination of death benefit protection and cash value growth linked to market indices, such as the S&P 500. However, unlike variable universal life insurance, IULs do not directly invest in the stock market.

➽Market gains are used to determine IUL policy gains, but returns are subject to a participation rate and cap rate.

➽Although growth in an IUL is not guaranteed,  a 0% floor protects the indexed universal life insurance policy from market losses.

➽IUL insurance offers flexibility in premium payments and cash value growth options.

➽IULs require active management, particularly in later years, to maintain the policy amid the rising cost of insurance.

Whole Life Insurance Explaine:

➽Whole Life Insurance offers 3 primary guarantees: guaranteed growth, guaranteed level premium, and guaranteed death benefit.

Dividend Paying Whole Life Insurance include a non-guaranteed dividend component, which is paid to policyowners, who share in the profits of the company.

➽Premiums are not as flexible as IULs but premium flexibility is increased when designed with paid up additions.

Whole Life & IUL Similarities

Whole life insurance and Indexed Universal Life Insurance have many similarities.

Permanent Coverage:

Both are permanent life insurance and offer lifelong coverage as long as premiums are paid, offering death benefit coverage and a growing cash value account.

Growing Tax-Free Death Benefit:

The death benefit for both IUL and Whole life is income tax-free to the beneficiary. And both policies can be designed so that the death benefit grows over time, providing a larger death benefit down the road versus what it was initially.

Potential Cash Value:

Cash value can accumulate and grow tax-deferred inside the life insurance policy, which can be used for various goals like supplemental retirement income through policy loans or withdrawals.

Tax-Free Policy Loans & Tax-Free Withdrawals (Up to Basis):

Life insurance loans can be taken against the cash value of both types of policies, tax-free. And partial withdrawals of the cash value account are tax-free up to the basis of premiums paid into the life insurance policy.

Asset Protection:

Both whole life insurance and indexed universal life insurance offer protections against legal judgments and creditors in most states.

Whole Life vs IUL Differences

Cash Value Growth:

➯Whole life insurance offers guaranteed growth; predictable cash value useful for critical goals.

➼Indexed Universal Life insurance offers cash value growth linked to a market index (e.g., S&P 500) with caps and floors; offers potential for higher returns but comes with the risk of needing to pay higher premiums for policy maintenance if cash value doesn’t grow as expected.

Interest Crediting:

➯Whole life insurance dividends add value, though not guaranteed.

➼Indexed universal life insurance offers different options for growing cash value, including fixed and indexed segments.

Premium Payments:

➯Whole life insurance offers fixed premium schedule; consistent payments guarantee coverage and cash value growth.

➼Indexed universal life insurance offers flexible premiums; possibility to skip premiums temporarily if sufficient cash value exists, but may require higher premiums later if cash value decreases.


➯Whole life insurance generally fixed premiums, although policy design can increase flexibility through the use of paid up additions.

➼Indexed universal life insurance offers more flexibility in premium payments and the option to alter the death benefit.

Potential Returns:

➯Whole life insurance offers more predictable returns with fixed premiums and guaranteed death benefits.

➼Indexed universal life insurance has the potential for higher returns linked to stock market indexes, but with capped gains and participation rates.

Predictability and Guarantees:

➯Whole life insurance offers more predictable and consistent returns with guaranteed death benefit and cash value growth,

➼Indexed universal life insurance returns depend on stock market performance.

Equity Market Linkage:

➯Whole life insurance is non-correlated, i.e. not directly tied to the stock market.

➼Indexed universal life insurance is inked to stock market indexes, subject to market fluctuations and cap/participation rates,

Policy Performance Risks:

➯Whole life insurance offers more stability and less risk of policy lapse.

➼Indexed universal life insurance may under perform if market returns are lower than expected, potentially leading to policy lapse.

Differences Between IUL vs Whole Life

IULWhole Life
Market Based ReturnsGuaranteed Growth
Flexible PremiumsFixed Premiums
Fixed and Indexed CreditingDividends (Not Guaranteed)
Flexible Premiums & Death BenefitNot Flexible (Although Paid Up Additions Do Provide More Flexibility)
Unpredictable Market Based ReturnsNon-Correlated Predictable Returns Based on Guarantees and Potential Dividends
Unpredictable Market Based ReturnsPredictable Cash Value and Death Benefit Growth
Rising Cost of InsuranceFixed Costs

Choosing the Right Policy

After reviewing the information in this article, the question remains on how to choose the right policy for you. Consider the following summary.

Whole Life Insurance:

  • Suitable if you prefer predictability in premiums and cash value.
  • Consistent, guaranteed returns, less risk of policy under performance or lapse.

Indexed Universal Life Insurance:

  • Better if you need flexibility and can tolerate the risk of variable premiums based on cash value performance.
  • Potential for higher returns in favorable market conditions, benefit from market gains without direct exposure to losses.

IUL vs Whole Life Recommendations

  • Be Cautious with IUL Illustrations: Illustrations showing returns greater than 6% should be viewed with caution.
  • Whole Life as a Safe Asset: Offers consistent returns and peace of mind, unaffected by stock market volatility.
  • Overfunding IUL Policies: Overfunding can mitigate risks of poor subaccount performance in IUL policies.
  • Infinite Banking Concept: Whole life is often preferred for Infinite Banking due to its guaranteed growth and greater access to early cash value, though IUL may be more attractive to those who have the discipline to effectively manage the policy and are seeking potentially higher returns.

IUL vs Whole Life Conclusion

Choosing between Indexed Universal Life (IUL) and Whole Life insurance depends on your individual financial goals, risk tolerance, and the need for flexibility.

An IUL policy offers the potential for higher returns tied to market performance, with the flexibility in premium payments and the option to adjust the death benefit, but it also carries the risk of market based returns and potentially higher premiums if market performs below expectations.

Whole Life provides more predictability with guaranteed growth, fixed premiums, and cash value, making it a safer asset if you  are seeking consistency and less risk of your policy not performing as expected.

Both IUL and Whole Life offer tax-advantaged growth and loans, and are valuable assets, providing a solid financial foundation.

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