Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Review

Highest dividend payouts with the largest range of products

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Northwestern Mutual

Northwestern Mutual

overall rating
4.5

You should be aware that not all life insurance companies are currently accepting insurance applications due to COVID-19 pandemic. We'll update our reviews as we find more information about what companies are currently accepting new applications.

Our Take

Northwestern Mutual offers the largest range of policy types among the life insurance companies we reviewed. With a focus on versatile policy options like a Blended Term plan, and permanent life options that you can use to build cash values, Northwestern Mutual is a top pick among insurers when you are shopping for life insurance.

  • Pros and Cons
  • Key Takeaways
  • Specifications
Pros and Cons
Pros
  • A strong history of paying dividends 

  • All types of life insurance 

  • Term with conversion options and possibility to earn dividends

  • Combined policy options

  • Service through representatives, advisors and wealth management advisors

  • Level term policy options

  • Online policy estimate with needs calculator

  • No stated maximum capacity

Cons
  • Online quote is very vague

  • You may have to take a medical exam

  • No guaranteed issue

  • No final expense insurance

  • Processing time may be longer due to underwriting

  • Getting quotes/booking time with advisor may take time

  • Must speak to a representative or financial planner for information

Key Takeaways
  • Northwestern Mutual provides a selection of policies that have investment options ranging from very conservative with guaranteed values, to more aggressive if you want to make decisions on market participation yourself. 
  • Advisors help consumers sort out the options to find the right policy.  
  • Combination policies allow you to have both permanent and term insurance at the same time.  
  • Various riders help you customize your policy whether it is to pay premiums in the event of disability or pay benefits early when diagnosed with a terminal illness.  
  • Award-winning customer service with a library of resources that helps consumers understand their options.
Specifications
  • Year Founded 1857
  • Kinds of Plans Term life, whole life, universal life, variable universal life, survivorship life
  • Number of Plans 17
  • Official Website https://www.northwesternmutual.com/

The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company offers a large selection of policy types, including term, permanent life insurance, and a combination policy with term and whole combined. They pay dividends to eligible policyholders and their product range provides a lot of flexibility to help you give security to your family, as well as build cash values and explore life insurance investment strategies with a financial planner. Northwestern Mutual has the capability to provide solid financial advice and life insurance options for both short term and long term planning.

We reviewed Northwestern Mutual’s financial ranking, dividend payout history, policy types, and customer service to help you compare life insurance policy options. We found that their service model is best for people who are not in a rush and are willing to take the time to spend with an advisor to review options. 

Learn More: Read our life insurance methodology to see how we rated each company.

Company Overview

Founded in 1857, Northwestern Mutual is the #1 largest insurer for individual life insurance in the U.S. This is a mutual company which means that they report to their policyholders and not stockholders.  As a mutual company, Northwestern Mutual pays dividends to its policyholders, and although not guaranteed, they have a good track record of doing so.

They have a Better Business Bureau rating of A+, the highest financial stability ranking available to an insurer, and are top-ranked for customer satisfaction. Northwestern Mutual gets top marks in just about every area.

Available Plans 

Northwestern Mutual offers a pretty comprehensive lineup of life insurance plans. There are a total of 17 plans, among seven different categories. You will not be able to find details on all of their policies or features online because their model requires you to speak to an advisor. 

Although this may sound frustrating, due to the complexity and variety of plans, it would be best to go over with an advisor since certain plans will be better for some than others. Getting guidance will maximize your return and help you take advantage of the best life insurance strategy for your family. 

The policy types offered by Northwestern Mutual:

  • Single Life Insurance: This kind of policy insures one life and is available for term, whole life and universal life options.
  • Second-to-Die Life Insurance: This kind of policy insures two lives, but only pays out on the second death, such as survivorship life policies
  • Term: Life insurance for a limited time period, not a lifetime.
  • Traditional Portfolio Based: This is their whole life product, which has cash values, and a death benefit. This is a permanent life policy type.
  • Traditional Portfolio Based CompLife and Blended Whole Life Term: This includes their CompLife product line, which has adjustable insurance features, such as premium flexibility and death benefit.
  • Variable Universal Life: This is a universal life policy with investment elements that has the potential for losses or gains for people comfortable assuming a higher risk.
  • Portfolio-based Universal Life: This is a range of universal life products with flexibility in the premium and death benefit. Less risk than the variable life since it has a minimum interest crediting rate. Death benefit values may or may not be guaranteed depending on the plan.

Term Life

Offers Term life on 10-year, 20-year, and 80-year term convertible plans, some of which have level premium options. Non-level-term policies will have increasing premiums. Although Northwestern Mutual does offer conversion, the conversion period has specified timelines, so you will want to be sure to consider this when you choose a plan. 

Northwestern Mutual offers level term, a specified period of level payments with increasing premiums after that, or annually renewable term up to age 80. The annually renewable term option will increase in premium every year.

Level Term Life

Northwestern Mutual offers two level term policies: Level Term 10 and Level Term 20. These policies offer various conversion periods and allow you to lock in a level premium rate so you do not have increasing premiums as you get older. 

Term Conversion Options

Term conversion is available for specified terms on the term life policy. If you convert to a whole life policy during the conversion period, you will benefit from guaranteed acceptance coverage and benefit from the lower rate of being younger as opposed to waiting later in life when life insurance rates increase.

Northwestern Mutual also offers policyholders of eligible term life insurance plans the opportunity to earn dividends.

Whole Life

Whole life insurance is a type of permanent insurance policy that can cover you for your lifetime. Northwestern Mutual offers varying premium payment periods that you can choose from to suit your budget on both the 65-year and 90-year plans. This makes budgeting easier, depending on what your personal plans and financial capability are. Issue ages for whole life plans range from 0 to 80 years old. 

Individual Whole Life

An individual whole life plan covers one person on the policy and pays a death benefit to their beneficiary when they die. These are whole life plans, they do not expire after a certain number of years like term life. Both the 65-Life plan and the 90-Life plan are traditional whole life insurance policies. 

You can choose to pay level premiums up to age 65 or to age 90. These policies are eligible for dividends, have guaranteed cash values, guaranteed minimum death benefits and level premiums to the age you selected.  

Issue ages for 65-Life plan are zero to 55, and issue ages for 95-Life plan are zero to 80. Both policies have a minimum amount of coverage of $25,000 with no upper-end limit mentioned. Higher coverage amounts will be based on underwriting. This means that high limits of coverage may be obtained based on the decisions of the underwriters and insurable interest limits.  

Survivorship Whole life

Survivorship life insurance allows you to insure two people on one policy. It is a type of joint life policy, however unlike joint life insurance that pays out on “first to die,” survivorship life only pays out when both insured’s have died. It is often used as a strategy to transfer wealth to heirs. It also provides the same types of cash value benefits as an individual whole life policy, with the possibility of borrowing against it. Northwestern Mutual also offers survivorship life versions of several of their plans, such as CompLife, Custom Universal Life and Variable Universal Life plans.

Although many of Northwestern Mutual's plans allow access to cash values, different types of access may have different tax consequences. You should also be sure and understand the impact of any loan or withdrawal on the death benefit, or your ability to receive dividends. As with any life insurance policy loan, you will be expected to pay it back. In fact, Northwestern Mutual will expect you to pay back the loan if you cancel your policy, or at the time of death of the insured, so this can impact the death benefit payable to the beneficiaries. It is always important to consult with your tax advisor and your financial advisor before making any decisions.

Whole Life Plus: Blended Whole Life/Term

Northwestern Mutual offers a Whole Life Plus policy option that you can customize to include both term life and whole life elements. The plan is known as a “Blended Term” life insurance policy coverage with riders you can add on such as an accelerated care benefit and a waiver of premium for disability. The advantage of the policy is that you can decide how much you can afford for the term portion and whole life portion, and then gradually increase or shift your benefits to the whole life portion when you can afford it.

CompLife

Northwestern Mutual also offers a whole life series called CompLife. Information about the details of this plan is limited on the site. An advisor would have to review the full options with you, however, we were able to verify the following general information:

CompLife has three different plans:

  • Adjustable CompLife: A combination of whole life and term insurance with dividends increasing cash value and death benefits.
  • Estate CompLife: Another combination policy designed to keep the death benefit consistent regardless of dividend payments used for estate planning purposes.
  • Survivorship CompLife: A combination policy with whole and term life components that is a second-to-die policy.

CompLife provides moderate flexibility in the management of premiums and the death benefit. CompLife products do not guarantee level premiums and may be subject to premium increases during the lifetime of the plan. This policy includes cash values, the underlying cash values are invested in Northwestern Mutual’s general account. 

Our Expert Says

Northwestern Mutual offers a combined “blended policy” that lets you combine term and whole life death benefit coverage in one plan, with cash values and living benefits options.

Universal Life Insurance

Northwestern Mutual offers two categories of universal life insurance: custom and variable. Universal life insurance provides you with a death benefit for a lifetime, and allows you to build tax-deferred cash values that you can access later in life if you need it, as well as flexible premium options, including a lump sum option.

Single-Premium Universal Life

Single-premium universal allows you to make a lump-sum premium payment on your universal life policy. The advantage of doing this is to accumulate cash values more quickly and use it as an estate planning strategy to transfer wealth to your heirs as a tax-free lump sum death benefit.  

Custom Universal Life

Northwestern Mutual’s Custom Universal Life policy provides the greatest flexibility to manage the death benefit and premium payments for your plan. As with other universal life insurance policies, there are various options for how you manage the cash value in the plan. Your choice of plan will allow you to make decisions on the death benefit options, investment, and interest features. These plans include level or increasing premium options. The full details and financial strategy around these plans should be discussed with a Northwestern financial professional:

  • Custom Universal Life - Accumulator: This plan has no death benefit guarantee period, cash values are not guaranteed.
  • Custom Universal Life - Protector: This plan has a limited death benefit guarantee period, cash values are not guaranteed.
  • Custom Universal Life - Survivorship: Insures two lives and only pays after the second has died, however cash values may be accessed during the lifetime. Access to the cash values could decrease the death benefit and overall policy value. This policy has a limited death benefit guarantee period.

Variable Universal Life

Northwestern Mutual offers three options for variable universal life plans, providing you with great flexibility in customizing the premium payments and death benefit amounts.

The variable universal life policy includes investment elements with the cash value. There are no cash value guarantees and, as the policy owner, you are responsible for your investment choices.  

These are the plans available to choose from:

  • Custom Variable Universal Life: A consumer policy designed to build cash value with flexible premium options.
  • Executive Variable Universal Life: Designed as keyman insurance for businesses seeking to protect the financial interest of owners, partners, or key executives.
  • Survivorship Variable Universal Life: A second-to-die permanent policy that pays benefits when the second party passes – often used for estate planning.

Due to the risky nature of the investment portions and the lack of information about the policy options publicly available, it is important to discuss this type of policy with a licensed advisor if you are comparing it to other life insurance options. Not all Northwestern Mutual representatives are advisors, so you want to be sure and speak to a representative with the title of Financial Advisor or Wealth Management Advisor with Northwestern Mutual when seeking to purchase these products. 

Riders or Benefits with Northwestern Mutual

Riders are ways to add certain specific coverage to your life insurance policies. Northwestern Mutual offers many riders as optional benefits you can add to your policy. They refer to their riders as benefits in some of their documentation (whereas other companies may refer to these as riders if you are shopping around and comparing). Some of them have age limitations, some may carry an additional cost. At the time of choosing a policy, your financial advisor will review your options with you. Some riders are only available in certain states due to local laws. 

Here is a list of riders we found, when researching the Northwestern Mutual plans that include:

Early Payment Benefit (EPB)  

You can apply for an early payment benefit on a limited number of policy types and in certain states if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness with less than six months left to live. Not available in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, or Vermont.

Waiver of Premium: Ages 0 to 59 years

This benefit has two payment structures based on the age of disability:

  • Disability before age 60: If the disability is due to sickness or accident, premium payments will be waived during the total disability of the insured.
  • Disability after age 60: After age 60 the disability will only be paid during the term of total disability up until the policy renewal nearest the 65th birthday. 

Indexed Protection Benefit: Ages 0 to 75 years

This rider will provide an increase in the death benefit for a limited time period, for example, in years two to 10 with a maximum cap of 8% based on the consumer price index. 

Additional Purchase Benefit: Ages 0 to 38 years

The additional purchase benefit guarantees you the right to purchase an additional amount of life insurance without proof of insurability. 

Dividend Options: What Can You Do With Them?

Northwestern Mutual offers several options to receive dividends. Dividends are basically a refund of premium based on good company results paid out to eligible policyholders. Dividends are not guaranteed, but Northwestern Mutual has a good track record of paying them. These are the various options you would have as an eligible policy owner to receive the dividend payment:

  • Purchase paid-up options: Use your dividends to purchase additional life insurance
  • Reduce premium payments: Use the dividends to get a break on your payments
  • Accumulate interest: Use the extra money you receive as dividends to add to the cash value of your policy. By doing this, you build higher cash values earlier on. This will allow you to make more money on interest in the long term.
  • Receive in cash: If you prefer to receive your share of dividends as cash instead of using it to add to your policy in any of the aforementioned methods, then you may request your dividend be paid directly to you to do whatever you would like with.
Our expert says

In 2020, Northwestern Mutual estimates policy owners are expected to receive the largest dividend payout in company history totaling $6 billion.

Customer Service: Award-Winning Rank

Northwestern Mutual offers service to clients through professional advisors or agents. They work from a model of building a relationship with you in order to help guide long term plans and strategies for using your life insurance. Northwestern Mutual has a lot of resources on their website to help you understand the basics of life insurance. Among their resources, there are videos and a helpful life insurance calculator. Once you have a policy with them, they have online tools for policy management and a pretty extensive FAQ.  

The process to get insurance may be longer because you must meet with a representative.

Complaints: Almost Non-Existent

Northwestern Mutual had a very low complaint index score of 0.02 for 2019. A total of seven complaints with over 11 billion in premium. We looked back over the past three years and found similar results year after year: An incredibly low complaints index score showing consistent performance for little to no complaints with the state regulators in the National Association of Insurance Commissioner’s (NAIC) National Complaint Index report.

Customer Satisfaction: #1 Top-Ranked Life Insurance Company

Northwestern Mutual was the top-scoring Life Insurance Company for Customer Satisfaction Overall in the 2019 J.D. Power Life Insurance Study, which ranks life insurance companies for customer experience and satisfaction. Here is the breakdown of by customer service category: 

Customer Service Category Rank
Overall Satisfaction Among the best
Product Offerings Among the best
Price Among the best
Statements Better than most
Interaction Better than most
Communication Among the best
Application and Orientation Better than most

Financial Strength: Highest Ranking A++ (Superior)

Northwestern Mutual has a financial strength rating of A++ Superior, by AM Best, the highest possible financial strength rating. In 2020, Northwestern Mutual announced record-breaking financial results from 2019.

Cancelation of a Policy with Northwestern Mutual

If you want to cancel your Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, it is best to contact your financial advisor or a representative to discuss the cancelation, conversion, or surrender of the policy. It is mentioned on the Northwestern Mutual website that there may be surrender charges incurred.

Price of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance 

Northwestern Mutual scored high points in the customer satisfaction for price with a rating of “Among the Best” by J.D. Power.

Although there are no detailed online quotes available, there is an online price estimate available by completing the needs calculator. However, we ran several samples and found similar results each time, stating that the cost of the insurance may be available for as little as $1 a day for most age ranges. 

Information used to obtain the quote was male or female, living in California, at the various ages, with an annual income of $80,000, less than $50,000 of debts, less than $50,000 of investments or assets, no dependents and a mortgage of $200,000 to $300,000. This generated estimates in all age ranges for a need of between $180,000 and $380,000 in life insurance. The price estimates we listed were for $380,000 of life insurance.

Estimate for $380,000 of Coverage (Good Health Rating)
Age Male Female
25 $1 a day $1 a day
35 $1 a day $1 a day
45 $1 a day $1 a day
55 $3 a day $2 a day
60 $4 a day $3 a day

Quotes were not provided when we entered age 65 and above, however, policies may still be available, just not estimated online.

Northwestern also provides similar examples on the site, such as “Term insurance for as little as $1 a day. Based on a healthy male in the premier class, age 35, purchasing Northwestern Mutual's Term to Age 80 for $500,000 with a premium starting at $306 per year (increasing annually).” 

Use the online resources to get a better understanding of your options before you meet with a representative to maximize your time with them.

The Competition

Northwestern is a solid choice for a life insurance company considering all the various policy types they offer, and the rankings and reviews we verified during our research. Here’s how Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance stacks up against some of the other companies we reviewed and what makes them our top pick (or not) in each case.

Northwestern Mutual vs. New York Life

Northwestern Mutual and New York Life are both reputable and financially strong mutual life insurance companies. They both offer personalized service by making sure you speak to a representative in order to get a quote, both have a good track record of paying dividends, and both offer a full array of life insurance options. 

However, even though New York Life has some interesting riders, like a “Money Back Option” on some plans, or premium payments for the entire term of a disability (vs. other companies that may limit the length of payment), Northwestern Mutual has a much wider range of products than with New York Life. If you are looking to explore these options before making your decision and are interested in a range of life insurance options with investment opportunities, Northwestern Mutual is a solid choice. 

Northwestern Mutual vs. State Farm

Both Northwestern Mutual and State Farm are top-ranked insurance companies, each with a great selection of policy types. State Farm was second by only a few points to Northwestern for overall customer satisfaction. State Farm offers personalized service through local agents in a similar way to how Northwestern Mutual offers their life insurance through financial advisors which can be a strong advantage in both cases. 

All things compared over our extensive review process, State Farm offered two things that Northwestern Mutual did not: 

  • State Farm offered a very fast response time to reach (and actually speak to) an agent who was able to answer questions about options, policies and products quickly and get personalized quotes
  • State Farm also offered the ability to combine multiple policies in one place, such as home and auto insurance. 

If having a strong relationship with the agent is a key part of what you want to get out of your life insurance, and you don’t have complex financial goals or requirements, then State Farm is the better option when it comes to getting basic life insurance, fast service, and an agent who can take care of several of your insurance needs. 

If you have more time and want to really dig deeper into the savings options and investment side of life insurance to use it as a vessel to generate cash values that you can access over time, then we like the solid package of what Northwestern has to offer. A Northwestern Mutual advisor may also represent several insurance companies and be able to run comparisons between life insurers for you. This will save you time from having to shop around with several life insurance companies on your own.

Northwestern has a lot of value to offer when it comes to whole life and universal life policy options. They have products that can cater to both younger and older clients, and they have a solid history in the insurance business, for outstanding customer satisfaction, low complaints and they also pay dividends which can be another financial advantage. All of these aspects make Northwestern our top-ranked pick for building value and protecting your family with smart and versatile life insurance options (like their Blended Policy) compared to New York Life and State Farm.

Here’s a side by side comparison of some of the key factors that make Northwestern Mutual a top pick.

Northwestern Mutual vs. New York Life vs. State Farm Life Insurance
  Northwestern Mutual New York Life State Farm
Market share Largest in U.S., 8.2% Third largest in U.S., 5.7% Eighth largest in U.S., 3.5%
Number of Plans 17 10 10
Dividends for 2020 $6 billion $1.9 billion Not applicable
Service Method Financial Advisors and Agents Agents Agents
Customer Satisfaction (J.D. Power) Score 810 out of 1000 (Award winner, #1 out of 25) Score 770 out of 1000 (#8 out of 25) Score 808 out of 1000 (#2 out of #25)
Price Rank Among the best Better than most Better than most
Complaints Trend 0.02 0.15 0.36
Final Verdict

Northwestern Mutual offers policy types and options to compete with most of the life insurance products out there. Understanding life insurance options is important when making such important decisions. Northwestern Mutual's forces you to take the time to speak with a financial advisor who will work with you to compare plans and help make financial decisions as part of your life insurance purchase. Additionally, Northwestern Mutual is a top pick with options for all budgets, high capacity limits, and policies that can help build wealth and cash values over time. 

Methodology

All of our reviews of life insurance companies are based on extensive research and analysis of each company based on offerings, customer service, financial stability, cost, and more. For each company, we compared the life insurance products offered, as well as available features, and reported customer experiences. Visit our life insurance review methodology for a full breakdown of what we evaluated.

Article Sources

The Balance requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy .
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