We were sold a whole life policy from Mass Mutual for my husband, but we also have term insurance on both of us. We are on a 10 year track to pay off the policy and have three years left. Is it still a “bad investment” once the policy is paid off? Should we be expecting those 0.74% yearly returns for a fully paid-off policy? Or does that apply only if one is paying premiums on it for the next 30+ years? Whole life insurance appealed to me because I am extremely squeamish about the stock market and don’t want to pay a financial planner on a regular basis. I’d rather have low (but not 0.74%), steady returns than high risk/high reward investments. Did we still make a mistake by buying whole life?
You may find that your out-of-pocket costs for whole life insurance seem daunting compared to term life insurance. This is because the dollars you pay into term life insurance premiums are only there to provide a death benefit to your beneficiaries if you die during a specified term, while money you invest in whole life insurance premiums builds cash value that you can use later in life or that will add to the death benefit payout. The percentage of your costs that go into your cash accrual account increases with passing years, as many of the administrative costs associated with setting up the policy and associated investments occurs early in the life of the policy.
Insurance policies can be complex and some policyholders may not understand all the fees and coverages included in a policy. As a result, people may buy policies on unfavorable terms. In response to these issues, many countries have enacted detailed statutory and regulatory regimes governing every aspect of the insurance business, including minimum standards for policies and the ways in which they may be advertised and sold.
Your “rent” analogy is a classic one used by life insurance salesmen when selling whole life, but it is a poor analogy. After all, insurance has nothing to do with renting vs. owning. Would you say that most people are simply “renting” auto insurance? Do you think people should buy auto insurance policies that will pay them the full price of a new car whenever their car dies, even if they drive it into the ground? Because that’s essentially what whole life insurance is. The main purpose of life insurance is to provide financially for dependents in the case that you die early, just as the main purpose of car insurance (beyond the liability portion) is to provide the financial value of your car in case it dies early. Once that financial protection is no longer needed, the insurance need is gone. Term insurance protects you while you need it and goes away once you don’t. It is insurance in the purest sense of the word and is by far the more effective way to go about it for the vast majority of the population.

A very good article. Congruent to the philosophy in which our company was built: Buy Term, Invest the Difference. I am a crusader at heart and I am peeved every time I see these products in the hands of people who can barely afford it and whose life will be completely damaged for merely owning it because they are grossly under-insured when they could have well purchase a proper term amount for the time they need it.
And if you’re worried about some day wanting the permanent life insurance coverage, know that any good term insurance policy will allow you to convert some or all of it to whole life at any point during the life of the policy. This means that you can save money now by buying term, but still have the option open to get some permanent coverage later. There is no need to lock yourself in now.

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Also a comment on the “non-guaranteed” argument. Yes if you do business with a company not named Mass Mutual, Northwestern Mutual, or New York Life, you are likely getting ripped off. But if you work with a reputable company, they have paid dividends every year for 150+ years. So yes, legally speaking, returns are not guaranteed, but every year for 150 years sounds pretty good to me. Just as asset class diversification is important, so is tax and risk diversification, which permanent insurance provides.

Whole life is insurance not an investment. You buy it so the day you pass on your family will have money to ease their grieving by giving them time off, financial security, and most importantly for whole life insurance to pay the cost of your funeral, etc. It can mean a lot to people to have a nice funeral for their loved one as a proper send off. I view whole life as a product, like my house, which I also don’t view as an investment.


Any person who uses permanent insurance should be out of debt and have the discipline to maintain a long term approach. There aren’t any get rich quick schemes and any plan can work as long as an investor looks to get the maximum value for the money they pay. Cash Value Life insurance provides values that promises you or I can’t keep unless we partner with one of these companies.
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Whole life insurance is by definition undiversified. You are investing a large amount of money with a single company and relying entirely on their goodwill to give you good returns. The insurance company will make their own investments and then decide what portion of their returns they would like to pass on to their policyholders. You are completely at their whim. If that one company goes bankrupt, has some bad years, or simply changes their outlook on paying out to customers, your return will suffer.
Defense Base Act (DBA) insurance provides coverage for civilian workers hired by the government to perform contracts outside the United States and Canada. DBA is required for all U.S. citizens, U.S. residents, U.S. Green Card holders, and all employees or subcontractors hired on overseas government contracts. Depending on the country, foreign nationals must also be covered under DBA. This coverage typically includes expenses related to medical treatment and loss of wages, as well as disability and death benefits.

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Add to this, when a younger person owns whole life (or cash value fixed universal life) they have the life insurance coverage they need, are building a tax free bond portfolio for the future (which as most people realize is what older investors shift into as the age) but also have a accumulation vehicle that can “self complete” if they become disabled. 401k’s can’t provide this…they don’t even match the long term return of the do nothing stock markets because of the fee’s they charge. That is to say…there is no “alpha”
Medicare Brokers like Boomer Benefits also often provide simple and easy education to you about how Medicare works. Every year, thousands of Medicare beneficiaries feel frustrated after trying to read the Medicare handbook. At Boomer Benefits, we will educate you by breaking Medicare down into pieces that are easier to understand. This is why we are so well known as the baby boomer’s favorite insurance agency.

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Response 1: This has to be the most common objection. I understand it, but I don’t totally agree with it, so please give it a LOT of thought and decide for yourself. Let’s begin with the idea that insurance is not an investment. That is false. It is absolutely an investment. You spend money in expectation of a financial return, the size of which is usually known but the probability of which is oftentimes unknown (because many people cancel term policies or cannot renew them before they pass away). 

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Thanks for adding to the sea of confusion. Term insurance may be dirt cheap when you are young, but it is deathly expensive by the time you turn 50 or 60. Term or permanent insurance are just tools for different needs. There isn’t a one size fits all solution to life insurance, and just because a few mis-guided and zealous agents have sold the wrong product doesn’t do justice to a great industry that provides a lot of security to families in their time of need.
Thanks for the insightful article. I agree with the general statement that, in a vacuum, it is better to “buy term and invest the difference.” However, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on using whole life insurance as an investment vehicle in the context of the infinite banking model (assuming you are familiar with the concept). From what I understand, it sounds like a good way to achieve predictable and guarenteed growth on a compounded basis while allowing you to borrow money from your own policy and pay yourself the interest, all while always having access to the funds. I think it might be wise for people, like myself, are looking for guaranteed growth with little risk.
Hi Christine. First of all, thank your for stopping by. Second of all, please don’t beat yourself up over this. Life insurance salesmen are trained to make these policies sound REALLY attractive and their arguments can be quite persuasive. I actually found myself feeling close to convinced about one of these policies a few years ago before coming to my senses. 

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