^ Berger, Allen N.; Cummins, J. David; Weiss, Mary A. (October 1997). "The Coexistence of Multiple Distribution Systems for Financial Services: The Case of Property-Liability Insurance" (PDF). Journal of Business. 70 (4): 515–46. doi:10.1086/209730. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2000-09-19. (online draft Archived 2010-06-22 at the Wayback Machine)
Thanks Jason! Your question is a good one, and the truth is that it really depends on the specifics of your situation. What are your college savings goals? What does the policy look like now? What is it expected to look like when you need the money? What other funds do you already have in place? I’m not asking you to answer those questions here, just want to give you a sense of the kinds of things I would consider.
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”.
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Good questions. The honest answer is that the only way to know what’s best is to do a review of your personal goals, the policy you have now, the whole life policy you would be changing it to, and the other options available to you. I would highly recommend seeking out a fee-only financial planner who can help you with this, and I would start by looking at the Garrett Planning Network. Their advisors all offer hourly services that would be perfect for this kind of project. NAPFA is another great network of fee-only planners.
First of all, it’s important to understand that while the death benefit is certainly valuable, it is not technically an “asset”. The asset that you can include on your balance sheet with a whole life policy is the cash value. The only way you get the death benefit is by dying, so it is not an asset you can actually use today. Again, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless, it’s just not correct to compare it to money in a savings or investment account.
Anyway, there are many complexities to the whole life insurance variant plan that I was presented with, which make it unattractive to me as an investment option. I would suggest that anyone who is looking at whole life insurance as an option take a close look at the investment results and compare them to other options available on the market. Also take a close look at the fees and the structure of the loans that you will take out in the future. My conclusion is that, I would like to get a term life policy for now and maximize my other tax advantaged investments first prior to delving into the world of whole life insurance. And, by the time I actually get around to maximizing my other investments, I probably will be much older and not get a favorable premium any more.
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?
As for your question, I don’t believe I’ve ever reviewed a USAA whole life policy so I can’t comment on then specifically. I would simply encourage you to start by clarifying your personal goals and to then evaluate each option based on how well it will help you meet them. With that said, of your main goal is investing for retirement then I would typically encourage you to max out traditional retirement accounts before considering any kind of life insurance.

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Second, I would say that it’s debatable whether whole life insurance is actually better than a savings account or CD, in terms of a savings vehicle. You mention the guaranteed return. Well, as I mention in the post, my policy had a “4% guaranteed return”, but when I ran the numbers it only actually amounted to 0.74% event after 40 years. It was less before that. And this was from one of the top mutual life insurers in the country. Not only is that incredibly misleading (and that’s being kind), I can get a better guaranteed rate than that right now from an online savings account, even though interest rates are at an all-time low. And my online savings account doesn’t have any of the other huge drawbacks that are also mentioned in the article.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) is the U.S. standard-setting and regulatory support organization created and governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. Through the NAIC, state insurance regulators establish standards and best practices, conduct peer review, and coordinate their regulatory oversight. NAIC staff supports these efforts and represents the collective views of state regulators domestically and internationally. NAIC members, together with the central resources of the NAIC, form the national system of state-based insurance regulation in the U.S. For more information, visit www.naic.org.
I agree with you, generally. Many of those commenting seem to have forgotten that you focused around whole life as an “investment”. Even though insurance is an investment in it’s own way, it’s shouldn’t be sold as an investment. In my experience, it really only makes sense for more wealthy clients who are doing more elaborate estate planning etc. However, the vast majority of people in their 20’s and 30’s should steer clear of whole life. Selling permanent insurance for “retirement planning” gives the financial services industry a slimy look. The income isn’t “tax-free”. It’s a loan. As you say in the article: if one’s taking it for income are they really going to pay it back…? Plus, if a client is in their 20’s and 30’s their time horizon is perfect for IRAs and the equity markets. May dividend aristocrat stocks have paid high percentages for 50+ years. Lastly, as many agents put their clients first…. others do not. If the premiums on whole life are 10x as high… so are the commissions.
The financial stability and strength of an insurance company should be a major consideration when buying an insurance contract. An insurance premium paid currently provides coverage for losses that might arise many years in the future. For that reason, the viability of the insurance carrier is very important. In recent years, a number of insurance companies have become insolvent, leaving their policyholders with no coverage (or coverage only from a government-backed insurance pool or other arrangement with less attractive payouts for losses). A number of independent rating agencies provide information and rate the financial viability of insurance companies.
Then, when I was excitedly presenting what I saw at the meeting to my skeptical wife at home in front of my two babies, I began to remember what I learned from my reading all the stuff I googled earlier in the day especially the part about comparing this investment to other types of tax advantaged investments. And all of a sudden the excitement began to die down.
Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance designed to provide lifetime coverage. Because of the lifetime coverage period, whole life usually has higher premium payments than term life. Policy premium payments are typically fixed, and, unlike term, whole life has a cash value, which functions as a savings component and may accumulate tax-deferred over time.
Virtually every state mandates that insurance agents and brokers meet licensing requirements, which normally entails the successful completion of a written examination. Prelicensing educational requirements may also apply, which can vary depending on the state and license type. Separate licenses are necessary for each line of insurance, including Life and Health and Property and Casualty. In addition, agents and brokers may have to meet ongoing continuing education requirements to maintain their licenses.
Hey Jordan. I was a little dismissive in my last reply, and I want to apologize for that. You’re absolutely right that the main reason for getting life insurance is often to make sure that your kids would have enough money even if you weren’t around, and it’s honestly great that you’re already thinking that far ahead. It bodes well for you and your family.

Thanks Paul. I 100% agree that it’s important to read the fine print and know the terms of your contract before signing on. Convertibility is an option that most quality term policies will have, but you should understand the specifics ahead of time. So I don’t think my statement was inaccurate, as much as you made the smart added comment to “read the fine print”. Thanks for the input!
My argument is based on the fact that whole life insurance is often sold as an investment, and therefore many people buy it as an investment. I am well aware that there are other reasons people buy it, and those are explicitly acknowledged in the article. The rest of your questions have already been addressed in both the article and other comments.
Therein lies the problem. The asset you are securing is not the cash and too many people sell it that way and then the client views it that way. The asset is the death benefit. I know of no other asset where you can essentially secure a million dollar tax free asset at a 60% discount with about 2% down. The cash value build up is a an added bonus as I see it which provides great liquidity later on and also provides for quite a bit of optionality. With respect to term insurance, most people outlive their term so I would argue term is more expensive. I own both, but when I look at my term, if I pay premiums and outlive my term, I will have sunken about 250,000 into the contract and will have gotten zero for it. My permanent insurance will be paid to a beneficiary no matter what. Also people die including children. We need to take a cold look at what would happen if ine of our children died. How do you pay for the funeral? Do you need counseling? Will you go back to work immediately? Would you want to give it to charity or start one in your child’s name? I bought them for each of my kids. They are my favorite asset because I guaranteed their insurability. I have a few friends who have children with diabetes. Most carriers will not insure diabetics. My friends thankfully bought their children policies before they were diagnosed. I would agree permanent insurance is not for everyone, but more people should use at least a small piece of it S part of their plan. I also think they are extremely valuable when a person has the capacity to shrink down the insurance and load it with cash, as you mentioned above. Anytime the IRS puts limits on a vehicle as they do on permanent vehicles or any vehicle for that matter, I tend to think that is a good asset or vehicle for your money.

However, there may be areas where your pension doesn’t stack up to individual plans. For example you can leave your individual account to a beneficiary but that may not be possible with your pension. Also, survivor benefits may be insufficient or altogether absent. The nice thing about transferring your pension to an individual account today is that with interest rates at all-time lows, the amount the pension has to provide you on exit (the commuted value) is inflated to reflect the larger pool of capital required to fund your retirement years. This means you can leave with a bigger pool of dough than you could in an era where interest rates were much higher and so if things turn around and we find ourselves in a rising rate environment with improved fixed income opportunities, you can make out like a bandit. Of course, things could slide into negative interest rate territory and you could be left years left to live and no cash to live it on.
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.
Benefit insurance – as it is stated in the study books of The Chartered Insurance Institute, the insurance company does not have the right of recovery from the party who caused the injury and is to compensate the Insured regardless of the fact that Insured had already sued the negligent party for the damages (for example, personal accident insurance)
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.”
Although available before April 2006, from this date pension term assurance became widely available in the UK. Most UK insurers adopted the name "life insurance with tax relief" for the product. Pension term assurance is effectively normal term life assurance with tax relief on the premiums. All premiums are paid at a net of basic rate tax at 22%, and higher-rate tax payers can gain an extra 18% tax relief via their tax return. Although not suitable for all, PTA briefly became one of the most common forms of life assurance sold in the UK until, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced the withdrawal of the scheme in his pre-budget announcement on 6 December 2006.
While you won’t be able to pinpoint the amount you’ll need to the penny, you can make a sound estimate.  Your goal should be to develop a life insurance plan that, following your death, will allow your family to live comfortably without your economic contribution. Also consider the effect of inflation over time. The amount needed for retirement or college 20 years from now is likely to be significantly higher than today.
Second, I would say that it’s debatable whether whole life insurance is actually better than a savings account or CD, in terms of a savings vehicle. You mention the guaranteed return. Well, as I mention in the post, my policy had a “4% guaranteed return”, but when I ran the numbers it only actually amounted to 0.74% event after 40 years. It was less before that. And this was from one of the top mutual life insurers in the country. Not only is that incredibly misleading (and that’s being kind), I can get a better guaranteed rate than that right now from an online savings account, even though interest rates are at an all-time low. And my online savings account doesn’t have any of the other huge drawbacks that are also mentioned in the article.

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Matt, may I ask you a question? I have a 25-year old $100K whole life policy with a surrender value of $43K, of which $21K is taxable. I’m 43 years old. Dividends now more than cover the $900/yr premium. Does it make sense to hold on to this? I am torn! I could surrender it and pay off a second mortgage which is at 7.6%… Thank you in advance. Love your site!
In any case, I thought I might chime in given that I disagree with your statement about all of these policies being legal robbery. As a disclaimer, I should point out that I agree that unscrupulous life insurance agents definitely do have a tendency to oversell these policies where term life would do, and I do not disagree that commissions are often the likely motivation in many of these cases.
Ally or Matt, Can I ask what you used(formula?) to calculate their colorful presentation of the long term growth plan? I was recently presented with this Whole life idea from a Salesman or “Wealth Planner” and he made it sound really good but deep down inside, I don’t feel right, i felt the need to research more because i know there’s more to it than pretty graphs and colorful numbers…until i found this article which explains A LOT so thanks Matt:)
Protected self-insurance is an alternative risk financing mechanism in which an organization retains the mathematically calculated cost of risk within the organization and transfers the catastrophic risk with specific and aggregate limits to an insurer so the maximum total cost of the program is known. A properly designed and underwritten Protected Self-Insurance Program reduces and stabilizes the cost of insurance and provides valuable risk management information.

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