Term life insurance covers you for a certain period, such as 10, 15 or 20 years.  A term life policy pays out if you die during the term while the coverage is in effect. Then your beneficiary collects the proceeds, called the "death benefit."

Permanent life insurance, such as whole life or universal life, covers you for the rest of your life.

Permanent life insurance also includes an investment component, known as "cash value." The cash value of the policy starts off small and then gradually grows tax-free. If you hold onto the policy for many years, the cash account becomes a nest egg. You can borrow from the cash value -- the policy stays in effect as long as you repay the money, plus interest -- or surrender the policy for the cash.