I think everyone here that is naysaying Matt’s article needs to realize he is speaking generally to the masses and not the upper middle class/affluent. Matt, perhaps move that paragraph I highlight to the front of the article to disarm some of these people and clarify you are speaking to people whom buying whole life would come at the expense of maxing their 401k, owning their home, having emergency savings, stocks etc… For those that have the aforementioned AND have a life insurance need, a good policy with a quality company may be worth considering. But for young people especially with limited assets, term insurance products are preferable. Perhaps re-title the article “Why Whole Life Is Not Appropriate For Most People”.
People in the tobacco category typically have to pay higher premiums due to the higher mortality. Recent US mortality tables predict that roughly 0.35 in 1,000 non-smoking males aged 25 will die during the first year of a policy.[22] Mortality approximately doubles for every extra ten years of age, so the mortality rate in the first year for non-smoking men is about 2.5 in 1,000 people at age 65.[22] Compare this with the US population male mortality rates of 1.3 per 1,000 at age 25 and 19.3 at age 65 (without regard to health or smoking status).[23]
With that out of the way, I’ll point out that I would not even consider selling my best friend whole life. It’s a rip-off in his hands and I value my friendships too strongly to alienate those I love by selling them whole life. I would however sell it to my wife! Why is that? Well, because the commissions on these policies are HUGE. Between the First Year Commission and the override, if I buy the policy for myself or my wife and just roll the commission into additional whole life, it begins to look attractive. That compounding makes it attractive for insurance salespeople in a way that is simply not available for the average consumer. So when your insurance guy says “oh yeah, I own this policy” it’s probably true…but the value proposition is very different for each of you. Beyond this particular case, I’m not a fan of whole life in just about any situation. Go figure then that half the people who attend the Million Dollar Round Table conferences generally sell a lot of this crap. Take from that what you will…
I have only read the comments so far as Feb 2014 (tho i will read them all), but i have to say thank you for the article, but more so for the objectiveness and courteous mannerism in all your responses. While there may sometimes be cause for snarkiness or sarcasm on your part, I have yet to see it in your responses. And the fact that you actually respond to everyone (as far as I have read) deserves a huge KUDOS as well. You have certainly given me much more insight to my family’s planning goals.

As a financial planner I find this article very misleading. Whole life insurance can be an excellent way for someone to save for the long term. If you earn too much for a Roth IRA especially (180K plus for a household roughly) then whole life insurance is literally the only place to get tax free savings on growth  (tax free municipal bonds also but these have a lot of risk especially with interest rates going up). A properly designed whole life insurance policy with a good company like a New York Life,  Mass Mutual,  Northwestern etc which have always paid dividends since the mid 1800s can easily earn NET of fees and taxes 4-5% over a 25-30 year period. Which means in a taxable brokerage account for example or a bank account you would have to GROSS 6% or so to match this over that same period every year on average? On a virtually guaranteed basis this is tough to do. This doesn’t even speak to the point that you have a tax free permanent death benefit. When a client’s 20 year term runs up they almost always still want and need some life insurance,  and what if they aren’t insurable anymore? Getting some whole life when young and healthy,  savings/cash value aside,  assures them they’ll always have coverage which can someday go to kids,  grandkids etc which is a nice option. Whatever cash you pull out reduces the death benefit dollar for dollar, but if set up properly there will always be more than enough death benefit even after most of cash is taken out tax free in retirement, when the stock market is down (this is especially when you appreciate having a non correlated asset like whole life for when the market crashes and you can tap into your whole life cash so you don’t have to touch your investments in that downturn OR take advantage of the opportunity and but stocks when things are down with cars value). Interest does accrue on policy loan which is why the tax is cash free and the loop hole exists. But often the dividend more than offsets the policy loan interest which doesn’t have to be repaid and just comes off of the death benefit which is often just a bonus anyways. A client should make sure they have enough coverage of course which is why people often get a large term life insurance which is “cheap”  in addition to a smaller whole life which is a dual savings,  dual coverage to be in place when the term expires.

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Matt; Thank you for the thought provoking information you have taken the time to post here. My question: I am 66 and my wife 54. We got a whole life policy several years ago. We wanted insurance that would extend into our 70’s and 80’s (if we are so blessed), because we experienced how end of life costs for elderly parents can add up and be a possible burden to the children. we also want the surviving spouse to be assured of not being cleaned out financially. When I looked at the numbers; Cash value plus death benefit plus a long-term care rider, it seems to be a pretty good return, after all, we know for sure that we will die. I am not aware of term insurance policies for people much past the age of 70 for $200,000 or more. Am I looking in the wrong places or is my think askew?
Full Circle, one time I thought whole life insurance was great. Then I cashed it in, bought at least 5 new automobiles, a house, a couple motorcycles and more bullshit. Then I learned how to properly use life insurance as a bank, instead of borrowing money from a bank, I borrow the money from myself and pay myself back what I would have paid banks. I get to collect all the interest I would have paid the banks. I get to grow my money tax free. I get to pass my hard earned money on to my family tax free. The key is understanding Whole life vs creating your own banking system.
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I recently reviewed my mother’s life insurance policy. Someone sold her a whole life policy with a 35K death benefit for $197.00 per month. She was 71 years old when she bought it! She brought it to my attention last month after being diagnosed with lung cancer, explaining she could no longer afford the payments. She requested I review/change the policy to pay less so she would have lower payments. Of course, no one will insure her now! My mother does not have a lot of money and I think the guy that sold it to her is a jerk as she already had a term policy – which she cancelled after buying this one. Is there an ethical recourse?
Hi Matt, I have a question for you. I was sold a whole life policy by a friend 4.5 years ago (before I was married) with the promise that it is a good investment tool. I’ve learned a lot about investing since then. The accumulation value is $6700 the surrender value is about $2700. I’m wondering if I should get out now and take the $2700 and run, or wait until I can pull out what I’ve paid into it which I hear is 10 years.
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Liability insurance is a very broad superset that covers legal claims against the insured. Many types of insurance include an aspect of liability coverage. For example, a homeowner's insurance policy will normally include liability coverage which protects the insured in the event of a claim brought by someone who slips and falls on the property; automobile insurance also includes an aspect of liability insurance that indemnifies against the harm that a crashing car can cause to others' lives, health, or property. The protection offered by a liability insurance policy is twofold: a legal defense in the event of a lawsuit commenced against the policyholder and indemnification (payment on behalf of the insured) with respect to a settlement or court verdict. Liability policies typically cover only the negligence of the insured, and will not apply to results of wilful or intentional acts by the insured.

Notes No risk of losing coverage, but no cash value when term ends No risk compared to other permanent types, but there are probably better investment options Refunds your premiums at the end of the term if you outlive the policy - Risk of holding expensive insurance policy with little ot no cash value Risk of holding expensive insurance policy with little to no cash value
To echo what everyone else has said, great article! My wife and I were pitched this idea earlier today and I thought it sounded great until she made me read this article. I then returned to the paperwork they had given me to find it riddled with “these values are not guaranteed”. The footnotes even went as far as to say these projections were based on their dividend schedule for 2014 and that future years could be “higher or lower” and the went on to recommend looking at a hypothetical lower schedule illustration available upon request. My question for you is in regards to your conclusion. I’m self employed and put 30k into a sep-Ira and also utilize a tIRA->Roth conversion for my wife. You said this might be worth it if it was ossicle to front load the plan, the one I was presented with called for 15k/yr. are you saying it would be worth hit if I could put say 30-45k into each of the first few years? I’d still be a little skeptical after reading the brochure where it says the dividends are essentially at the discretion of he carrier
You do write that “some of our top clients who are in a tax bracket that you nor I will ever see” enjoy the benefits of whole life. As I say in the post, there is a small percent of the population with a very large amount of money that can benefit from whole life. That is not who I’m writing for here. For 98% of the population, it is not a useful tool.
To echo what everyone else has said, great article! My wife and I were pitched this idea earlier today and I thought it sounded great until she made me read this article. I then returned to the paperwork they had given me to find it riddled with “these values are not guaranteed”. The footnotes even went as far as to say these projections were based on their dividend schedule for 2014 and that future years could be “higher or lower” and the went on to recommend looking at a hypothetical lower schedule illustration available upon request. My question for you is in regards to your conclusion. I’m self employed and put 30k into a sep-Ira and also utilize a tIRA->Roth conversion for my wife. You said this might be worth it if it was ossicle to front load the plan, the one I was presented with called for 15k/yr. are you saying it would be worth hit if I could put say 30-45k into each of the first few years? I’d still be a little skeptical after reading the brochure where it says the dividends are essentially at the discretion of he carrier

None of the below should be taken as actionable advice. You should consult someone who you know and trust before making any important financial decisions. This is just a window into how I made my decision, so you can see some things I considered. I might be wrong about some of these things, but everything I’ve written below is what I believe today based on my current understanding and the guidance of my own advisers. Please note that I do also max out my 401k and IRAs and keep a modest taxable account as well, so whole life is just one piece (albeit a fairly sizable one) of my portfolio.
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The first is that, as you say, no one invests all their money at the beginning of the period and cashes out at the end. Usually you invest some at the beginning and more at various points along the way. For example, someone who contributes part of their monthly paycheck. And since the stock market generally goes up, that means that you will inherently get lower returns than if you had invested all of your money at the beginning, simply because some of your money will not have been invested for the entire ride.
That’s a healthy viewpoint and I wish more agents shared it. However, I still don’t believe that it’s a helpful product for most people. There are many ways that those premiums could be put to use that would provide the flexibility to use the money for a funeral, etc., or to use it for other needs along the way, all without the rigidness of having to continue paying the premiums or else see the entire benefit disappear.
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We are both in our 40’s with 2-young children and already have term life policies. We are a single income family who relies on my husband’s commissions (he is in sales)which are not guaranteed year to year. While he has had a few good years where we have managed to max out his yearly 401k contribution, have money in stocks/mutual funds, Roth IRA and at least a years worth of savings set aside in the event of no income we were recommended to invest in whole life as another investment vehicle. Basically, transferring the money in our less than %1 savings account into the whole life policy over the course of 24-years. It seemed very attractive at the time. We simply wanted a better vehicle for investment than our poorly performing savings account. Our advisor (who does work for a big insurance company) came up with whole life ins. We kept asking what other low risk investments that kept our cash flow flexible we could do and he kept coming back to this one. We are currently trying to get more information from our advisor on how to cancel our policy or do you think it is worth it to leave the $20,000 in the policy and just not make any more contributions? Also, any recommendations on what to do with the rest of our savings rather than keeping it in a low earning savings account, but maintaining cash flow flexibility?

After reading the entire thread, couldn’t help but add my thoughts. I am a civilian here so no affiliation as an insurance salesman or financial planner in any capacity. I am however, an owner of a WL policy (one year in) which I got through a friend in the business. I admittedly jumped into this without doing the proper due diligence as more of a favor to him. I have had anxiety about this decision since, and am days away from my second annual premium payment and have thus spent a great deal of time researching and thinking about the implications of this asset. I am at a “cut my losses and run crossroads”. Is this a quality asset, or do I cut and run and chalk-up the loss as the cost of a lesson learned in letting others do my independent thinking for me (two implications here are that 1) I do believe that the person who sold me this actually believes in the products and 2) that doesn’t mean that he is right and any person, no matter how financially savvy, who is willing to dedicate the time, can do the research and come up with their own view). I say all of this to admit that I am biased, even if only sub-consciously, as I have tried to think in a balanced manner with regards to this decision. All of that being said, I am currently leaning towards keeping the asset in place and welcome thoughts. My current logic below.

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Whole life is permanent insurance — you’re insured throughout your lifetime, or until the policy matures, as long as you continue to pay your premiums per terms of the contract. And those premiums will stay level as long as the policy remains in force. Over time, permanent insurance typically accumulates a cash value that can be accessed2 for a variety of purposes while you’re still alive.
Your statements are somewhat misleading. The policies that Kim are describing are likely Universal Life policies, not true whole life policies. True whole life policies have set premiums, not increasing. And the cash value is built off of a dividend being paid by the insurance companies. Many insurance companies (Ohio National Northwestern ?Mutual, ect.) have been around for over 100 years and have literally paid a dividend every single year. Which means that the policy holder is paying the same premium every single year and is also experience growth in their cash value account very single year. When Kim says that her “cash value was not making good returns” she is referring to a policy that is tied to the market, not based off of dividend payments. Whole life is an amazing product that you are confusing with Universal Life

The problem is that it takes a long time for the returns to reach that level. There will be many years at the start of the policy where your return will be negative, and many more years where the return will be only slightly positive. If you stick with it for a long time, you eventually get into a reasonable range of returns. But if at any point before that you decide you want to do something different, you will have spent many years and a lot of money getting very poor returns.
That’s a great point. While flexibility can certainly be helpful, these policies are often sold as if they will help you achieve all of your financial goals. And while in the right situations they can be available for multiple needs, they are still a limited resource and can, in the end, typically only be used for one thing (or a couple of things on a small basis).
Here is my analagy of the whole life deal. I am 53 the whole life minimum quaranty is 4%. if the guaranty says I pay $8,000 a year for 15 years and stop making payments I’ve paid $120,000. if this policy is for $400,000 then I have that policy to leave as a legacy for my 2 children tax free. If the past gains from the last 30 years happen then I would pay $120,000 for $550,000 of legacy that is also at this time tax free. That would be closer to $700,000 to the kids. I am going to price term for 30 years at my age but have a feeling its pricey but probably less than $8,000 per year. Thoughts from a young person?
But here is the key: the most astute line in the article is “If you have a large amount of money, have already maxed out all of your tax-deferred savings, and you can afford to front-load your policy with large payments in the first several years, it can provide better returns than was discussed above. It is a useful product in a limited number of cases.”

The “fixed returns” you talk about from whole life are not the 4-6% you mention in multiple places. Again, as I said in the post, the guaranteed returns are much closer to 1% or less. Yes you might get better returns depending on the dividends the insurance company decides to pay, but that’s not “fixed” or guaranteed. It changes every year. And yes, you can improve those refunds if you vastly overfund the policy in the early years, which again is something I already mentioned in the post. But for 98-99% of the population that really isn’t a viable strategy.
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Hi Matt, Enjoyed the article. I agree with a lot of what I have seen up here, both by you and other commenters. I believe that a lot of the typical Dave Ramsey advice applies to the vast majority of the population, who can’t afford to pay $500 month premiums w/$500 month overfunds. Yeah, if you’re in a position where that amount is no more than 20% of your savings, wow & congrats, and it could possibly be a good idea. But that’s like 50% of mine. As someone who is new to investing and just a year out of school, I recently sat down with a guy from one of the more respectable companies in the WLI market. I truly believe it would have been a good deal for a very select group of individuals, but for me, there were two main turn-offs. First, I simply couldn’t commit to send such a large portion of my savings for the next 10, 20, or 30 years. But secondly, I just didn’t fully understand the policy. From other comments, I think others are in the same boat. These things are confusing, I asked lots of questions but still it just didn’t make sense what was going on with every level. I’ve done my research on saving/investing, and gotten a pretty good grasp so far of my strategy, but my mind still just hasn’t fully grasped WLI. So I backed off. And I’d encourage everyone to do the same – if you don’t know exactly what it is that you’re doing and can’t understand or explain it, then don’t get in to it.
There are also companies known as "insurance consultants". Like a mortgage broker, these companies are paid a fee by the customer to shop around for the best insurance policy amongst many companies. Similar to an insurance consultant, an 'insurance broker' also shops around for the best insurance policy amongst many companies. However, with insurance brokers, the fee is usually paid in the form of commission from the insurer that is selected rather than directly from the client.
I mentioned investment allocations earlier. There are other ways to get stock market returns with Whole life insurance as well. I am not talking about “Variable Life Insurance” either. Those who purchase these policies loose the benefit of having an insurance company retain some of their investment risk. To obtain market returns, a person simply invests in long call options on the broad market. In doing this, an investor earns stock market returns but transfers their downside risk to the owner of the index (SPY or SPX). The options will be worthless or appreciate (sometimes 500%). Coupled with the guarantees of the over funded cash value life policy, their portfolios will not decrease below a certain point in any given time but they can destroy the market in up years. This all takes 10 minutes to manage and about $20 in cost (compared to an asset manager charging a percentage,) Because life insurance is guaranteed to maintain its value, it protects the remaining money that is not tied up when directly invested in stocks and is available to that an investor can be “greedy when others are fearful” (Warren Buffet) or “buy low while others are selling”.

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