A handful of life insurance companies rise to the top in reviews, but one company emerges as the very best: Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance. It gets the highest grades for financial stability at raters like Moody's and Standard & Poor's, and its customers are happy: In 2009, state insurance commissioners upheld only 18 individual life insurance customer complaints nationwide in which Northwestern Mutual was found to be at fault, despite its huge number of customers (it's the nation's sixth-biggest life insurer). Its trustworthiness has earned it Better Business Bureau-accredited status since 1939, and it enjoys an A+ rating from the BBB. Northwestern Mutual offers a full array of life insurance products, but experts say it's best to get preliminary quotes from several good companies to make sure you get the best rate. Some alternatives with impeccable ratings -- nearly as good as Northwestern Mutual -- include Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., New York Life Insurance Co. and TIAA-CREF.
The Better Business Bureau rates Northwestern Mutual's trustworthiness, based partly on customer complaints; we also found customer complaint data at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and FreeAdvice.com. Northwestern Mutual gets high marks for financial stability at all five major ratings agencies: Weiss, A.M. Best, Fitch, Moody's and Standard & Poor's.
1. Better Business Bureau
Northwestern Mutual has been an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau since 1939. It earns the highest grade of A+ for being trustworthy, with a good history of resolving customer complaints. This report gives general information about the 12 complaints Northwestern Mutual's headquarters location has had filed with the BBB during the past three years, and how they were resolved.
Review: BBB Reliability Report for Northwestern Mutual, Editors of Better Business Bureau
2. National Association of Insurance Commissioners
Customer complaints filed with state insurance commissions are summarized here, where you can look up companies by name. The "closed complaint ratio report" shows how many complaints were upheld against a company in a year per market share (so you can compare big companies with small ones and compare them against the national median). For Northwestern Mutual, the number of upheld complaints is extremely low.
Review: Northwestern Mut Life Ins Co, Editors of National Association of Insurance Commissioners
3. Weiss Ratings
Weiss Ratings is considered by some consumer advocates to be the most stringent of the financial raters, and it doesn't accept payments from the companies it rates. Ratings look ups are free but require registration.
Review: Strongest and Weakest Lists, Editors of Weiss Ratings
4. Best's Review
This report honors insurance companies that have maintained stellar financial ratings at A.M. Best for 50 or 75 years. Northwestern Mutual is one of 14 insurers to make the 75-year list, and it currently enjoys A.M. Best's highest rating of A++.
Review: Standing the Test of Time, Editors of Best's Review, July 2009
5. Fitch Ratings
When we checked, Northwestern Mutual was one of only five life insurers to earn the highest AAA insurer financial strength rating from Fitch. This rating is "assigned only in the case of exceptionally strong capacity" to meet financial obligations, which is "highly unlikely to be adversely affected by foreseeable events." Ratings are free to view, but registration is required.
Review: Fitch Ratings, Editors of Fitch Ratings
At Moody's, only three U.S. life insurers -- including Northwestern Mutual -- earn the highest financial strength rating of Aaa. These companies offer "exceptional financial security." Free registration is required to access the site, however.
Review: Insurance Financial Strength Ratings, Editors of Moody's
7. Standard & Poor's
Northwestern Mutual earns Standard & Poor's highest rating for long-term financial strength -- AAA. As at other ratings agencies, this rating means the company is one of the most likely to meet its financial obligations.
Review: Insurance Rating List: Life, Editors of Standard & Poor's
Sixty-six people post reviews of their Northwestern Mutual life insurance policies on this website (a handful also have health or other policies with the company). Three out of four say they're extremely satisfied -- a much higher approval rating than most other insurance companies get here.
Review: Review: Northwestern Mutual Life, Contributors to FreeAdvice.com