Anyone with dependents is wise to get life insurance, and millions of people do – everything from plain vanilla term policies that simply pay a death benefit, to fancier products such as whole life or universal life policies that build up a “cash value” that can be withdrawn or borrowed.

What’s the best way to manage this asset? Should you tap it only in an emergency? Use it to pay the policy’s premiums? Or feel free to spend it on things you couldn’t otherwise afford, like a new car or vacation?

“Cash value in a life insurance policy can really come in handy,” says Matthew Grove, senior vice president of New York Life. “Our clients use cash value to pay for everything from household repairs to weddings to retirement. Unexpected health or household emergencies are where the benefits of the fast access to cash value really prove important.”

Life insurance policies that build cash value can be complex, but many allow the policyholder to borrow against the policy or to withdraw cash permanently (a “surrender”), or to use the cash value to pay premiums, Grove says.

Read More: