As one of the highest-rated insurance companies around, Northwestern Mutual offers a number of financial products to customers all over the country. Though policies can only be purchased through approved representatives, Northwestern Mutual provides a healthy menu of life insurance plans to choose from, each offering the ability to grow cash value over time.
- Pros & Cons
- Key Takeaways
- Company Overview
Extensive coverage options to choose from
All policy types (term, whole, and universal life) can earn dividends
Excellent consumer and financial strength ratings
Term-to-universal conversion policy options available
Available in all 50 states
Online information and plan details are very vague
Only agents can build or sell you a policy
Coverage calculator and policy quote tools are limited
Many applicants will be required to take a medical exam
- As the largest life insurer by market share, Northwestern Mutual provides competitive coverage in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
- Customers can choose between 12 different plan options—including term, whole, and universal life, or blended policies—with the potential to earn dividends across the board.
- In order to get a personalized quote or purchase coverage, you’ll need to connect with one of Northwestern Mutual’s 6,400 nationwide advisors.
Organized by a special act of the Wisconsin Legislature in 1857, Northwestern Mutual is a mutual insurance company offering life and long-term care coverage as well as annuities.
The company is based out of Milwaukee, though they provide a variety of different products to over 4.5 million customers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Of course, it’s important to note that not all products, plans, or coverage options are available everywhere.
In order to build or purchase a life insurance policy with Northwestern Mutual, you will need to contact one of their 6,400 nationwide agents. You can find an agent near you through the Find a Financial Advisor form on the company’s website.
- Year Founded 1857
- Kinds of Plans Term life, whole life, universal life, blended
- Number of Plans 12
- Payment Plan Options Monthly, annually, lump sum
- Customer Service (866) 950-4644
- Official Website www.northwesternmutual.com
- Extensive coverage options to choose from: Northwestern Mutual currently offers 12 different life insurance plan options (within seven policy types), making it easy to find one that suits your coverage needs.
- All policy types (term, whole, and universal life) can earn dividends: All three life insurance categories offer the potential to receive dividends or regularly scheduled payouts for policyholders.
- Excellent consumer and financial strength ratings: Northwestern Mutual holds the highest possible ratings from three of the top industry rating firms: AM Best, Moody’s, and Fitch.
- Term-to-universal conversion policy options available: You have the option to convert your term coverage into a whole life policy, which includes guaranteed acceptance and no need for a medical exam.
- Available in all 50 states: While not all plans and riders are available everywhere, Northwestern Mutual provides life insurance coverage in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
- Online information and plan details are very vague: It is very difficult to find detailed policy information online.
- Only agents can build or sell you a policy: The online advisor-finder tool helps connect you with one of Northwestern Mutual’s 6,400 professionals, which is the only way you can build a policy, get a personalized quote, or purchase coverage.
- Coverage calculator and policy quote tools are limited: There is an online coverage calculator available, which can help you decide how large of a policy to buy based on your needs. However, the results are presented as a suggested coverage range (which may not be very helpful) and price quotes offered online for said coverage are very vague (i.e., “Around $2 a day” instead of an exact price). If you want a personalized quote, you’ll need to connect with an agent.
- Many applicants will be required to take a medical exam: While new accelerated underwriting policies allow many approved applicants to skip the paramedical exam altogether, many others will still be required to submit for this exam before being approved for coverage. (Conversely, some insurance companies—like Bestow—don’t require medical exams at all.)
Though Northwestern Mutual doesn’t publicly list all of its life insurance plans, there are quite a few to choose from. Here’s a look at some plan options you have when purchasing coverage.
Level Term 20
This policy is your traditional term life insurance, offering steady coverage for 20 years with level premiums.
Level Term 10
This plan offers coverage for 20 total years but is split into two premium periods. Premiums will be level for the first 10 years, then recalculated based on your age and other factors before remaining level at a new rate for another 10 years.
This plan offers annual term coverage that can be renewed for up to 10 years. Premiums have the potential to increase each year.
This plan offers annual term life insurance that can be renewed until age 80. Coverage renews each year at (potentially) higher premiums.
This whole life insurance policy offers level premiums through age 65. After that, coverage remains but premiums are no longer due.
As with 65 Life, you’ll pay level premiums through age 90. Then, coverage will remain while premiums are no longer required.
A blend of term and whole life coverage, CompLife allows you to build a customized policy that accounts for both short- and long-term insurance needs. One portion of your coverage can remain in effect for a specific period of time while the rest can remain permanently as whole life insurance.
CompLife policies offer blended protection that includes a term and permanent benefit, to cover both your short- and long-term financial needs.
Single Premium Universal Life
This universal life insurance policy requires one lump sum payment upfront, without any future premiums needed.
Custom Universal Life (CUL) Accumulator
As a traditional universal life policy, this policy is paid for with regular premiums but also allows you to choose how your cash value grows.
Custom Variable Universal Life
With the ability to choose how your cash value is invested, this policy provides typical universal life coverage.
Executive Variable Universal Life
This policy is typically offered to employers, to cover expenses if certain valuable employees were to pass away.
Survivorship Variable Universal Life
As with most survivorship policies, this coverage is intended for both you and your spouse. The death benefit will only pay out once all named, covered persons on the policy have passed away.
When purchasing life insurance, you are sometimes able to customize your policy with riders. These riders offer added coverage options and protections, though they aren’t available on every policy or in every state.
Waiver of Premium Rider
With this rider, you are able to waive the premium payments on your policy if you are disabled for six months or more due to an accident or illness.
Additional Purchase Benefit
With the additional purchase benefit (APB), you are able to purchase additional life insurance coverage at specific times without needing to submit to another medical exam or otherwise provide new proof of insurability.
With this benefit, you can bump up your coverage limits on the policy anniversaries nearest your 22nd, 25th, 28th, 31st, 34th, 37th, and 40th birthdays. (You do not have to accept additional coverage opportunities at these times, though.) You can also add coverage after certain life events, such as a marriage, the birth of a child, or an adoption.
Accelerated Care Benefit
The accelerated care benefit (ACB) rider is offered on certain Northwestern Mutual policies. It allows policyholders access to a percentage of their policy’s value if they need long-term care in the future. ACB protects a portion of the death benefit for beneficiaries.
Currently, the only option for reaching customer service at Northwestern Mutual is via telephone. Their representatives are available Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. CT by calling (866) 950-4644.
If you are already a life insurance customer, many of your questions can be answered by logging in to the online portal. There you can also make certain changes to your account/policy, like adding a new beneficiary.
Additionally, you can always contact your Northwestern Mutual agent directly with any questions, concerns, or requested changes that you may have.
Unless you’re an existing Northwestern Mutual client (and are able to login to the online portal), customer service is only available by phone.
Each insurance company receives an annual complaint index from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners or NAIC. This index demonstrates the number of complaints that a company received by consumers in said calendar year (adjusted for market share), and how that number compares to the industry as a whole.
The average, or baseline, expected complaint index is always 1.00 for a company. If they score greater than 1.00, it shows that they received more complaints than expected for their size. Conversely, if they score less than 1.00 in a given year, it means they received fewer complaints than expected over the course of that year.
Northwestern Mutual received a complaint index of only 0.05 in 2021, which is significantly lower than the 1.00 baseline. In fact, the company only received eight complaints the entire year.
Northwestern Mutual was awarded the No. 4 spot in J.D. Power’s 2020 U.S. Life Insurance Study of 2020. As the number-one pick, Northwestern Mutual scored 790 out of 1000 possible points and was evaluated on factors such as overall customer satisfaction, communication, products, and pricing, to name a few.
Additionally, Northwestern Mutual holds the highest possible financial strength ratings from AM Best (A++ or Superior), Moody’s (Aaa), and Fitch (AAA). These top-of-the-charts ratings from each company indicate that they anticipate Northwestern Mutual will be able to pay out future approved claims as needed.
Each plan offered by Northwestern Mutual has its own cancellation and surrender guidelines. You’ll want to be sure to read the fine print on your personal policy and/or consult with your agent to understand the terms of your exact contract.
With that said, surrendering a policy that has an established cash value can result in certain tax implications. Upon surrender, this cash value can be received in one lump sum or in a series of scheduled payments, and there may be administrative fees incurred.
Some policies may allow you to cancel within a certain number of days for a full refund. This is the case with the Variable Universal Life Plus policy, for instance, where you have 10 days to void the policy without penalty or cost.
Although Northwestern Mutual does offer an online coverage calculator, this tool is limited in nature. It will offer you a range of recommended coverage as well as a general price range; if you want a more specific cost, you will need to speak with an agent to build the policy that best suits you.
The cost you will pay depends on not only the type of policy you purchase—term versus whole life, for example—but also your own personal factors. Things like your age, gender, medical history, location, tobacco use, and height/weight can all factor into pricing. And of course, the more coverage you want, the more you can expect to pay.
While you can calculate a coverage recommendation and get a general quote through the online calculator, you’ll need to contact a Northwestern Mutual agent to personalize your coverage or buy a policy.
With that said, we found that a healthy 33-year-old woman could purchase $1,640,000 in term life insurance from Northwestern Mutual for around $2 a day.
If you are non-binary, you can expect most insurance companies to base your pricing on the gender you were assigned at birth. While there are some exceptions, and being non-binary won’t prevent you from buying coverage, you’ll still want to speak with your insurance agent to learn exactly what to expect from the underwriting process.
Competition: Northwestern Mutual vs. State Farm
As with any life-changing financial product, it’s important to shop around when buying life insurance coverage. You not only want to compare each plan offered by an insurer, but you also want to see how that company measures up to its competitors.
When it comes to life insurance, this is imperative. After all, you’re carrying this policy for years (or decades) to come and expect it to protect your loved ones in the event of your death. You want to be sure that it’s the right policy for you in terms of features, pricing, and reliability.
To help make the life insurance shopping process a bit easier, we wanted to pit Northwestern Mutual up against one of its closest competitors: State Farm. While there are some key differences between the two companies, they both offer a robust plan lineup, provide coverage in almost all states, and connect you with trusted agents in order to build your personalized policy.
|Northwestern Mutual||State Farm|
|Market Share||Largest in the U.S., 8.52%||Fifth-largest in the U.S., 2.9%|
|Number of Plans||12||10|
|Dividends for 2020||$6.2 billion||$600 million|
|Wellness Program Discounts/ Quit Smoking Incentives||Not applicable||Not applicable|
|Service Method||Agents and Advisors||Agents|
|AM Best Rating||A++||A|
|J.D. Power’s Price Rank||Above Average||Above Average|
|Complaints Trend||0.05 Excellent||0.14 Excellent|
Both insurers hold the same financial strength rating and offer competitive pricing. Both also host a sales model that requires you to obtain quotes and purchase a policy through one of their agents.
Northwestern Mutual slightly edges past State Farm in this case, though, mostly because of their exceptional complaints trend and impressive dividends. Additionally, they offer a couple more plan options and the company overall is larger, which may provide you with more coverage flexibility. Lastly, State Farm is not licensed in all 50 states, whereas Northwestern Mutual is available across the country.
Northwestern Mutual is one of the oldest, largest, and best-rated life insurance companies around. They provide coverage in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, making them accessible to customers all across the country.
The company does make it difficult to see your exact coverage options online, get a personalized quote, or build a policy. For all of that, you’ll need to get in touch with one of their 6,400+ agents, which could make some customers hesitant (especially if you’re the buy-online type).
However, the juice may be worth the squeeze: With a near-zero complaint index, a number-one J.D. Power rating, and the highest possible ratings from companies like AM Best and Moody’s, your experience is likely to be a very positive one.
Our reviews of life insurance companies are based on a quantitative approach that analyzes each insurer on their stability and reliability, customer service, claims experience, diversity of product lines, and cost. We compare the terms of each type of policy offered—including available coverage amounts, optional riders, and premium payment options—with that of other major life insurance companies. Lastly, we look at how the company is rated by third-party organizations to determine its reliability and overall reputation.
Correction, November 11, 2021 - A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the complaint trend number for Northwestern Mutual in the comparison table.
Northwestern Mutual. "Who We Are." Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.
Northwestern Mutual. “Our Commitment to Financial Strength.” Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.
Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking. "Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company." Accessed August 22, 2020.
NAIC. "Northwestern Mutual Complaint Index Trend." Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.
J.D. Power. "2020 U.S. Life Insurance Study." Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.
SEC. "Northwestern Mutual Variable CompLife," Page 16. Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.