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Limited Pay Whole Life Insurance [Advantages vs Disadvantages]

limited pay whole life insurance

Limited-pay life insurance is a great asset that is often used by those interested in infinite banking or using it for a life insurance retirement plan.

One massive advantage of whole life insurance compared to other permanent life insurance products is fixed premiums. When you buy a policy, you know your premiums will never increase, no matter how long you need to keep the coverage in place.

Fixed Premiums

Having a policy with fixed premiums makes budgeting easier and prevents a situation in which a sudden premium increase later in life might force you to give up coverage.

However, there’s an even better option than knowing your premiums won’t increase – not having to pay premiums at all.

“Paid Up”

Whole-life policies are designed so that, after making a sufficient number of premium payments, the policy becomes “paid up.” This means that you can retain the coverage (and the cash value), but you’re no longer obligated to pay any more premiums.

An Asset

For financial planning and budgeting purposes, a paid-up policy is purely an “asset” without any corresponding “liability” to pay premiums.

The “catch” (if you want to call it that) is that most ordinary whole-life policies are set up to achieve paid-up status when the insured reaches an age they will probably never see—often 100 or 121 years old.

Except for the small minority of people who live past 100, that means premiums for most ordinary whole-life policies are effectively paid for life.

Insurance companies recognize that there are many good reasons to want a policy paid up before your 100th or 121st birthday.

And, with that in mind, some carriers offer an option that lets you pay a life insurance policy in full much earlier.

It’s called “limited pay life insurance,” and it’s designed for people willing to pay more early on to avoid further premiums later in life.

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What is Limited Pay Life Insurance?

Limited pay policies are (usually whole) life insurance policies that schedule premium payments over a finite period.

Rather than paying premiums for as long as you live, you make payments over a predetermined period—most often, 10, 15, or 20 years or until you reach age 65.

When the premium period ends, the policy is paid up. Coverage stays in place, cash value continues to grow, but payments from you to the insurance company are no longer necessary.

Limited pay policies are sometimes called “short pay,” “10-pay,” “20-pay,” etc. (however many years the premium term lasts).

Along similar lines, some insurers offer limited pay policies with premiums owed through a specific age (most commonly 65 years old). So, instead of paying premiums for ten or twenty years, you pay until you reach age 65.

A few companies allow policyholders to tailor limited pay policies even further. For instance, if an insured’s retirement plan contemplates retiring at age 72, a whole life policy could be set up to be paid up at precisely that age. Not all insurers allow this level of fine-tuning, though.

7 Years

As a general rule, the shortest premium period available for limited pay policies is seven years.

Suppose a policy is paid in full earlier than that. In that case, the IRS considers it a “modified endowment contract” (as opposed to a life insurance policy), and the policy misses out on some of the valuable tax advantages afforded to life insurance.

Single Premium

Some carriers offer single-premium whole-life policies, which can be very beneficial under the right conditions. However, a single-premium whole life serves different purposes and is generally considered a separate creature from limited pay.

“limited pay” refers to whole-life insurance policies with shortened premium periods in the insurance industry.

Like with any other whole life, you get fixed premiums, a permanent death benefit, and cash value that earns tax-deferred interest.

Guaranteed Universal Life (“GUL”) policies are also “limited pay” in the sense that coverage is permanent, while premium obligations often cease during the insured’s life. GUL, though, is focused almost exclusively on the death benefit and lacks some of the cash value advantages of limited-pay whole life.

Limited Pay Whole Life VS Term Insurance?

Although limited pay whole life and term life insurance have pre-defined premium periods, the two types have significant, fundamental differences.

For one, the coverage provided by a limited pay policy never expires.

For another, limited pay life insurance accrues cash value—term policies don’t.

Term Insurance Ends

When a term life policy’s term ends, you no longer have to pay premiums, which is nice as far as it goes. But you also no longer have life insurance coverage—at least, not under that particular policy.

Conversely, when a limited-pay policy’s premium period ends, the policy is paid up, and premium obligations cease—but the coverage stays in place.

Unless you voluntarily surrender a policy, the death benefit remains effective for as long as you need it.

Regardless of how long the insured lives, policy proceeds will be paid tax-free to the designated beneficiary when death occurs.

Term life insurance is more like a lease because you have to give up the leased “property” (i.e., the death benefit) when the term ends.

Limited pay is more like an installment contract. When the payment term concludes, you own the “free and clear policy.”

How Does Limited Pay Life Insurance Work?

The short answer is that limited-pay whole-life policies operate like ordinary whole-life policies, except you don’t have to pay the premiums as long.

Limited pay policies are guaranteed to reach paid-up status on a specific date (provided all premiums are paid).

So, you’re not relying on investment performance or market conditions, like with some universal life policies.

As long as all payments are made, a limited-pay whole-life policy will be paid in full when it’s supposed to be.

Cash Value Accumulation

Like other whole-life policies, limited pay policies accumulate a cash value that steadily increases the longer the policy remains in place. The existing cash value then earns compound interest that grows tax-deferred.

Some limited-pay policies issued by mutual insurers are also eligible for dividends, which can boost a policy’s death benefit and cash value.


These participating life insurance policies pay policyholders an annual dividend, which can be used to buy paid-up additional insurance, growing both your cash value and death benefit.

Higher Premiums

Limited pay policies generally require higher payments because you’re making fewer total premium payments by shortening the premium period. The shorter the period, the higher the payments.

A 10-pay policy will have higher premiums than a 20-pay, for example.

Of course, younger and healthier insureds typically qualify for lower premiums. Still, the key factors with limited pay are how many payments you will make and how much coverage you are purchasing.

If a policy sets up premiums to conclude at a certain age, the payments depend on the insured’s age when the policy is issued.

For example, a 40-year-old insured who purchases a policy with premiums lasting through age 65 would have 25 years of premiums, but a 50-year-old who purchased the same policy would only pay 15 years of premiums.

In this example, the 50-year-old’s premium payments will obviously have to be higher.

Faster Cash Value Growth

Simply arriving at paid-up status earlier than ordinary whole-life policies isn’t the only advantage of limited pay.   Because the premiums increase, limited pay also results in faster cash-value accumulation—often, significantly.

Since more money is being paid into the policy early on, more gets allocated to cash value.

Because cash value accrues compounding interest, the increase is greater than a simple dollar-for-dollar comparison of limited pay premiums to ordinary whole life.

Higher Payments = Larger Dividends

Moreover, if a limited pay whole life policy is dividend-eligible, the dividend payments received early in the life of a policy are usually increased, too—because current cash value is one of the factors insurers use to calculate dividends.

If those dividends are invested back into the policy, the growth potential is increased even further.


After a limited pay policy is fully paid-up, the difference in growth starts to balance out. No additional premiums are being paid into the policy, so cash value is no longer increasing due to contributions of “principal.”

However, cash value will continue to earn interest, and eligible paid-up policies still receive dividends when issued by the insurer. And, by that point, policyholders are often ready to use accrued cash value to help fund retirement.


Limited pay policies are eligible for many, but not all, of the same coverage-enhancing riders offered with ordinary whole-life policies.

One popular option is combining a limited pay whole-life policy with a long-term care rider.

When the rider is purchased, policy proceeds can be applied toward necessary long-term care costs, with amounts used for long-term care deducted from the eventual death benefit.

Advantages of Limited Pay Life Insurance

The most basic advantage of limited pay for a whole life is what you might call “peace of mind.”

You get the death benefit fully paid-up sooner, thereby eliminating the risk of losing coverage due to a policy lapse.

If a policy has already been paid, you don’t need to worry about being unable to afford premiums later in life.

This benefit can be particularly important for individuals who need to be certain a policy’s death benefit will be available for loved ones.

Retirement Plan

Limited pay policies are also attractive for people who want coverage that fits within a retirement plan.

By timing a limited pay policy to reach paid-up status around when you plan to retire, you avoid paying premiums after retirement—which can be a huge help when adapting to a new retirement budget.

Just as importantly, limited pay policies offer significant advantages if you intend to use policy value to help fund retirement—especially if you’re purchasing a policy later in your career.

Ordinary whole life assumes a long-term timetable. Returns aren’t all that remarkable early in the life of a policy, but over twenty or thirty years, policy growth looks a lot more impressive.

Because larger early premiums boost cash value and facilitate much quicker growth, limited pay returns start to look good much sooner.

Throw in dividends, and a limited pay policy’s cash value can be a solid source of retirement funding, even if you don’t purchase the coverage until later in your career.

Using Cash Value

Policyholders using cash value for retirement have multiple options.

An outright surrender lets you get all the value at once. The downside is that all of the policy growth (the surrender value minus total premiums paid) will be taxable for the year of the surrender.

Alternatively, the cash value can be rolled into an annuity so that taxable growth is gradually received over time and undistributed amounts continue earning interest.

Or, if you want to keep at least some coverage, you can make partial withdrawals of cash value or take tax-free policy loans.

Life Insurance Loans

Tax-free policy loans accrue interest, but your policy still receives interest on its cash value plus dividends. So, depending on how much cash you borrow against, your policy’s cash value may grow even with an outstanding loan.

Further, the death benefit remains effective, with unpaid loan balances deducted from the policy’s eventual death benefit.

Life Insurance for Kids

On the other side of the age spectrum, limited pay policies can also be a good option for insuring children.

You get to take advantage of the extra-low premiums available with kids’ policies while securing lifetime coverage for the child.

Upon adulthood, the insured can keep coverage with no premiums or surrender the policy for its cash value.

Limited Pay Drawbacks

The most obvious, significant disadvantage of limited-pay whole life is that you have to pay higher premiums. Depending on the premium term and the insured’s age, the payments can sometimes be much higher.

Suppose your budget doesn’t allow you to afford a limited-pay policy with the death benefit level you need. In that case, you may have to sacrifice some coverage, stretch the premiums out longer, or cut expenses elsewhere to make up the difference.

In that scenario, many people are better off considering an ordinary whole-life policy or one of the many available universal life options—depending on individual circumstances.

Notably, some insurers offer limited-pay whole-life policies with term riders that provide supplemental coverage for a defined period (often ten years) after a policy is issued.

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