UPDATED: Sep 23, 2020
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Originally created to provide retirement funds for teachers, the company has since grown to be a huge force in the financial services world, in spite of being one of the less recognizable names. Certainly, TIAA-CREF is well known in the circles where they provide the greatest portion of their services.
TIAA-CREF is focused on retirement planning and life insurance, and is one of the largest companies providing employer-sponsored retirement savings plans in their particular market. As a non-profit, they share surplus with their customers through annuities, and create an image of helpfulness and service to their customers who are most often working for nonprofits and educational institutions.
This image fits with a company that helps those who care for others and gives back their surplus profits to those very people.
TIAA-CREF stands for Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund. It was founded in 1918 in New York to provide retirement income for professors through annuities, replacing the old Carnegie Foundation pension system that was no longer able to provide enough funds to cover the need. The company survived the Great Depression with careful investing and by 1933 counted Albert Einstein among its plan participants.
In 1950, in response to inflation, the company introduced the first variable annuity, using common stocks to bolster retirement savings. The new fund was named the College Retirement Equities Fund, adding the CREF to the TIAA name. This new investment option would eventually become one of the more popular choices in annuities, and this lesser-known company pioneered it.
In the 1970s the company expanded into global investments, starting in Japan. They have also expanded beyond teachers to provide retirement services and life insurance to those in fields including academics, government, research, medical, and eventually to the public.
This year, TIAA-CREF ranked at number 80 on the Fortune 500 list, and at number 291 on the Global 500 list. They were ranked as the 4th largest life insurance company by assets in the United States as of 2015. For such a large company, they remain less known than their major competitors, and stand out from the crowd because they are not-for-profit.
Products are sold through financial consultants in local offices that work directly for the company, both to individuals and to employers, who provide financial consulting as well as assistance setting up retirement savings plans, and selecting life insurance and annuities. Life insurance products can be purchased directly, with online quoting and purchasing available. They don’t use independent agents or brokers, and this helps to keep rates down as we’ll see later in the review. Products are available across the entire United States.
As of the creation of the TIAA-CREF Life Insurance Company in 1999, polices are available to the general public and not just to the niche market the company has always marketed towards. Much of their business is still in that niche, however, particularly through employer-offered benefits.
TIAA-CREF’s profits go mainly into keeping the company financially strong, but are also used to make disbursements into traditional annuity accounts held by customers.
TIAA-CREF has won multiple awards, including for workplace diversity, and was the first Fortune 500 company to have an African-American CEO. Fortune also named them one of the World’s Most Admired Companies. They are also involved in many charities, including supporting schools – in keeping with their beginnings as a financial company for teachers.
Currently, the company’s head office remains in New York, but they also have major offices in Denver, Charlotte, and Dallas, as well as smaller offices in all of the states they serve, about 70 offices in total. Online quoting is available for term life insurance, and products can be considered direct-buy since they use in-house financial professionals and not agents or brokers to sell products.
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TIAA-CREF is more focused on retirement and financial planning services than on insurance. The only insurance products the company writes are life insurance, as well as annuities, which cross the line between life insurance and investment. Their overall product lineup is aimed at helping people to set up a financial plan for retirement and beyond, to ensure income for a lifetime as well as a legacy for family.
Life insurance policies are sold through TIAA-CREF Life Insurance Company. Not all life insurance products are available in all states, but most can be purchased nationwide. TIAA-CREF writes two main types of life insurance: term and universal. Within those two categories are a few other sub-types of insurance as well. They don’t write traditional whole life policies, offering universal as a permanent option instead.
Although the website doesn’t offer a ton of details on the life insurance products, they do have a lot of tools and resources to help customers with the process of comparing and selecting a life insurance policy.
Is available with benefit amount from $100,000 to $1 million. Coverage is available for 10, 15, 20, or 30 years. These policies offer coverage for a period of time when it is most needed at level and affordable premiums. They are designed to provide coverage for those who need a higher death benefit during a specific period of time without the higher cost of permanent life insurance.
Annual Renewal Term Life
These policies are designed for those who need short-term coverage with the option to renew it as needed. These policies are in place for one year at a time and can be renewed at the end of each year. TIAA-CREF renews the policy each year without the requirement for a medical exam.
It provides permanent life insurance coverage with flexible premiums. TIAA-CREF also offers flexible face value options for policyholders, making their universal life insurance policies a good choice for changing needs over time. Cash accumulation accounts are part of this type of policy, allowing policyholders to create an extra investment.
Universal Life with Long-Term Care
Provide all of the benefits of a universal life policy with the added value of a long-term care endorsement. That gives the coverage of two policies in one, as most companies sell long-term care separately. These policies include coverage for things like:
- Adult day care
- Assisted living
- Home care
- Hospice care
- Nursing home costs
Variable Universal Life
These policies have added investment opportunities over standard Universal life. These policies include all of the benefits of permanent life insurance coverage, and also offer over 60 different investment options for the cash account to allow more growth opportunities.
TIAA-CREF offers a variety of annuities to provide long-term income in retirement. Pretax and tax-deferred contributions make these investments a stable choice.
CREF Variable Annuities were the first variable annuities in the world and are still available today with several options. CREF has eight diversified accounts to choose from for investment purposes.
TIAA Real Estate Accounts are a variable annuity choice that invests directly in commercial real estate. Assets can be either transferred or withdrawn each quarter if desired.
TIAA Traditional Annuities are basic, fixed annuities. They offer a guaranteed minimum interest rate.
TIAA Stable Value Annuities have a separate account, earn a guaranteed minimum interest rate, and allow for transfers and withdrawals.
TIAA-CREF offers a variety of choices for investment in IRAs for retirement savings. IRA types available include:
Investment in a variety of different types of mutual funds is offered to help individuals reach their financial goals and save for the future. Mutual fund choices include:
- U.S. Equities
- International Equities
- Fixed Income
- Lifestyle Funds
- Asset Allocation
- Money Markets
TIAA-CREF offers investments for college through tax-deferred 529 college savings plans.
In addition to individual retirement plan options such as IRAs and annuities, TIAA-CREF offers employer-sponsored and small business retirement plan options.
Employer-sponsored plans are one of the company’s biggest programs, and they serve more than 15,000 institutions including colleges and universities, research centers, medical centers, and others.
The main part of these is defined contribution plans, in which the employer enters their contribution for each employee. These plans allow employers to determine a selection of investment choices and contribution schedules, but give employees freedom to make investment choices and determine how benefits will be taken.
Contributions are pre-tax and there are annual limits on contributions. Flexible plan options allow each employee to create a plan that will provide lifelong income in retirement.
Supplemental Retirement Plans are also available for each employee to add additional contributions and grow retirement savings further.
Small Business Retirement plans are also available offering a variety of IRAs and Keough plans. These are designed to help small business owners provide tax-deferred retirement savings for both their employees and for themselves.
In addition to these financial products, TIAA-CREF can assist with a variety of other financial planning services. Additional offerings include managed account and brokerage services, as well as banking and even home loan services. These round out the product and service lineup to create a fairly comprehensive financial planning program that suits nearly anyone.
Who Can Buy From TIAA-CREF
Being a niche company that has traditionally marketed its products towards particular groups can leave people confused as to whether or not they are eligible for products from a company like TIAA-CREF. It’s worth taking a moment to make that clear.
TIAA-CREF sells their financial planning products mainly to those within a specific list of industries, as noted in this review above. Most of those products are sold through employers, but individuals can buy or invest as well separate from what is offered through employers. Although the company originally worked with very specific customer groups, that is no longer the case.
TIAA-CREF offers a wide range of investment and retirement products to the general public. They also write life insurance for the general public, both term and universal, and annuities as well.
The company remains very closely associated with their niche market, and a large portion of their customers come from this base. Unlike a company like USAA, however, there is no specific list of membership criteria or requirements for where you are employed in order to purchase products from this company.
So while they are indeed in the niche market, they are not limited to that market and anyone can purchase the majority of their products. Therefore there is no need to write them off your list simply because you don’t work in one of the listed fields, everyone is welcome.
TIAA-CREF offers a very simple and quick quoting service for life insurance products. The system requires slightly more information than some, asking for height and weight, but a little less information than others. It’s easy to use and returns a rate after only one screen and a few questions. There is also not a request for any personal or contact information, so you’re unlikely to receive a lot of solicitation from the company, which is important for many insurance shoppers.
Our rate test brings this company in at slightly lower premiums than we have seen at other companies.
A $1,000,000 20-year term life insurance policy for a 30-year-old nonsmoking male in California comes out to $44.63 a month. This rate is directly in line with our rate tests in previous years and keeps the company at just over 5% below the average rate for this particular policy.
A base-level 10-year term policy at $100,000 for the same person comes in at $9.11, which is a very good price even for such a basic policy.
Of course, as with all such life insurance quotes, actual premiums can vary greatly based on medical and lifestyle issues that may come up during the application process.
TIAA-CREF doesn’t offer any quotes for other types on insurance, just their term, which is pretty standard for most such insurance companies, although some do offer whole life quotes – a product this company doesn’t write. Universal life generally has a more complex quoting and application process, and it’s not unusual for insurance companies not to offer online quotes for these policies.
TIAA-CREF doesn’t pay commissions to their representatives, simply paying them a salary instead, which means those commissions won’t affect premium prices. That also helps to keep rates lower and it shows.
Overall, pricing is very reasonable and a little under average, making TIAA-CREF a good value in life insurance. It’s not the least expensive life insurance on the market, but when it comes to purchasing insurance the premium is far from the only factor. Great customer services and backing of products are equally, if not more important, so we’ll take a look at TIAA-CREF’s reputation next in this review.
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TIAA-CREF life insurance contact number found here is 800-842-2252.
There is no option for filing a claim online. Although this has become standard for most major insurance companies for auto and home insurance claims, few companies offer this service for life insurance. These claims tend to be more delicate in nature and as a result most insurance companies accept claims only over the phone or through an agent; TIAA-CREF is certainly not alone there.
That said, it is very difficult to locate the appropriate line to call for claims on the website – we found it on a brochure after searching for claim information on Google. This is something that we would like to see rectified, as the last thing anyone should have to deal with when already dealing with the death of a loved one is a hunt for the right phone number to begin the claim.
At the risk of repetition, that’s again not particularly unusual for a life insurance company. Since claims are not nearly as frequent as with auto or home, many companies don’t have a claims section or page on their website. However, easier access to the phone number would be nice; hopefully clients are provided with that information, but might still find it hard to locate in a time of difficulty.
There is no information on the website that we could find on how claims are handled or the length of time for processing, again not unusual for life insurance. That said, the site in general is overwhelming and difficult to navigate, so it’s possible the information is there but not easily accessible. Again, a cleaner look and easier to navigate website would be helpful, if a bit of a small issue.
Consumer Research and Complaints
TIAA-CREF is not Better Business Bureau accredited, but they carry an A+ rating. There are 45 complaints in record against the company in the past three years, 18 of which were closed in the past 12 months. That is a low number of complaints for such a big company, however it is in line with what we generally see with life insurance and financial services companies.
Life insurance companies in general tend to see fewer complaints because they have less interaction with customers and claims are not as frequent. Add to that the fact that many of this company’s products are sold through employers, and that leads to even fewer complaints, at least online, since people generally approach their HR department when they have problems rather than complaining online.
That said, you’d be hard pressed to find much at all in the way of complaints about this company; usually there are at least a few people complaining about service. TIAA-CREF seems to have one of the cleanest reputations we have seen for any large insurance company.
As a side note, we weren’t able to dig up much in the way of positive reviews from consumers either, but that’s not much of a surprise – happy people don’t write Internet reviews for the most part. We did, however, find the company popping up on recommended lists from multiple different sources in terms of professional advice for insurance and financial services. That’s very encouraging to see and certainly cements the company’s positive impression.
TIAA-CREF didn’t appear on any of the rating comparison lists showing rankings of major life insurance companies, which is surprising; still the overall impression is positive enough to feel pretty confident in this company.
Is TIAA-CREF good? TIAA-CREF has a distinguished history, a strong financial rating and has very few complaints to speak of. While they are one of the less recognized names in life insurance and financial services, they have a reputation that is as good, if not better than most and have a comprehensive product lineup.
With excellent rates and a strong program, as well as surplus returned to customers through traditional annuities thanks to the company’s nonprofit status, they are well worth considering for anyone. Even more so for anyone who works in the fields towards which the company has catered for nearly 100 years.
Those being offered benefits through an employer for this company should feel pretty confident in their investment capabilities, and they are also a solid choice for life insurance. Although they don’t stand next to the other big names like MetLife and Prudential in terms of fame, they certainly do compete well in terms of products, service, and price. If you’re shopping around for life insurance or a reputable company to help with retirement planning, and particularly if you are a part of their target niche market, TIAA-CREF should definitely be on the list.
For a list of companies that we recommend, visit our Best Insurance Companies page.