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
Like any other type of insurance, you're in control of your life insurance policy. You determine how much coverage you need (from $50,000 up to a $1 million policy), how long you need it, who's covered and when you make your payments (called premiums). Usually, you can choose to pay monthly, annually or quarterly for 10, 20, 30 years or over your lifetime to maintain the coverage. When you die, if your policy is still active, the people you've listed on your policy (called your beneficiaries) get paid the death benefit. In most cases, this payment is paid in one lump sum to an individual or family.
I had a meeting with a friend/part-time insurance salesman and his upper level salesman yesterday. Prior to the meeting I Googled “Is whole life insurance a good investment?” and read all the articles on the first page of results in their entirety both pro and con. This particular article stuck out for me and I read it twice and feel it has helped me in the process of making an informed decision about the product presented. Today, I read the article once again and all of the above posts and I thank you for taking the time to help the lay-person in their important financial life decisions.
1) I believe that when done correctly, it is insurance that CANNOT BE TAKEN AWAY. One of the most important things about whole life is that the annual premium is FIXED at a constant level FOREVER and the death benefit cannot be taken away if you continue paying in (these are the basics but I think worth repeating). I bought my policy at age 32. If I get heart disease, diabetes, or any of thousands of exclusionary conditions over the rest of my life, it does not matter. My insurance will not go away. If you rely on term insurance, then even if you get a 20 year policy as a 30 year old, then at age 50 there is a good chance you will either i) have to pay MUCH higher premiums to continue your coverage or ii) not be able to get coverage at all. It is just like health insurance before ACA. If you think you can keep rolling over term life, you are taking a very big gamble. This is probably fine if you are only insuring to protect your family in your early working years. But if you want to make sure your heirs eventually get a benefit on your death, term life is a bad gamble. Which leads into #2…
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!
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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This shift to universal life by insurance companies has made premiums cheaper but removed many of the guarantees that came with traditional whole life insurance like guaranteed face amounts, guaranteed premiums and guaranteed cash values. The result is that there are a lot of underfunded universal life insurance policies out there which aren’t really permanent policies anymore since they can’t support themselves and will lapse instead of paying out.

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

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I wish I did my research 6 years ago before getting a $2 Million Dollar NYLIFE Whole Life policy. I was paying $1,000/month into it and 2 years ago lowered it to a 1.5M policy and was paying $500/month. In total my Cost Basis is $55K and my Cash Value is just $24k. A LOSS of over $30K! **CRINGE** And there is nothing I can do about it so I’m going to cash out and put towards my existing index funds. This $h!t should be ILLEGAL! My research shows that the insurance agent ate up 90% of my monthly premiums for the first couple years. Family/friends referred him for this ‘Investment’. He ate up all their premiums as well even though their policies were lower than mine. He passed away last year at the age of 60 due to a heart attack. Karma?

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When shopping for insurance, there are several key things that customers look at, including cost, speed, ease, security of personal data, and peace of mind that all essentials are covered. Working with an insurance broker can help get you the insurance you need at the best price. Brokers deal with a wide range of products and services and have the qualifications needed to recommend the policies that best suit your needs. As most brokers work for smaller companies that represent big insurance companies, the service is typically more personalized, meaning better quality support.

1. Almost ANYONE can benefit from a well designed overfunded Participating Whole Life policy. Are you saying that the vast majority of the population has no place in their investment portfolio for a guaranteed fixed asset that provides long-bond like returns (coupled with a few other bells and whistles)? I would even argue that single people with no children might benefit from this product in the right amount and the proper structure (not to mention that some policies now have the option to pay for long-term-care). EVERY PERSON that cares for someone or something (be it a spouse, a child, a charity, or anything else) can benefit even more, by virtue of having a guaranteed death benefit. Such a benefit allows the comfort (and better cash flow with lower taxation) of spending down assets, rather than relying solely on returns on assets.
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First, a term life insurance policy will cost much less than a whole life insurance policy with the same death benefit, often around 12 times less. So your example of a $30,000 whole life policy with a $20 premium compared to a $30,000 term life policy with that same $20 premium is not a valid comparison. The term life premium would be a fraction of the whole life premium.
The first years premiums goes to the insurance agent who sold you the policy…and I’m sure there are plenty of other hidden fees in there. I almost went with whole life insurance as a friend was working as an insurance agent and I had just graduated college. I decided against it though. Read a book that said that I should instead buy term and invest the difference. Another problem with whole life insurance is that the premiums are much more expensive than term life insurance…if someone chooses whole life, they will likely choose a lesser coverage and might be underinsured if something unfortunate were to occurr. 

In the 1980s and 1990s, the SOA 1975–80 Basic Select & Ultimate tables were the typical reference points, while the 2001 VBT and 2001 CSO tables were published more recently. As well as the basic parameters of age and gender, the newer tables include separate mortality tables for smokers and non-smokers, and the CSO tables include separate tables for preferred classes.[12]
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?
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.

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.

The IRS regulation on how much can be put in over 7 year period to not cause a whole life policy to be considered a Modified Endowment Contract. Additionally, many long standing highly rated institutions will limit the amount of OPP that can be dumped into the policy over a given period. Why is that? Because people will use whole life in low interest environments with the intention of withdrawing in the event of a market change.

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Also, you said whole life is not an investment. But by definition, it is an investment. An investment is simply where you put money into something expecting a return in the future. And whole life insurance does provide that. Plus if it is a mutual company as mine is then you become a partial owner which means you get to vote and help the business make good business decisions.
In the United States, the tax on interest income on life insurance policies and annuities is generally deferred. However, in some cases the benefit derived from tax deferral may be offset by a low return. This depends upon the insuring company, the type of policy and other variables (mortality, market return, etc.). Moreover, other income tax saving vehicles (e.g., IRAs, 401(k) plans, Roth IRAs) may be better alternatives for value accumulation.
Premiums paid by a policyholder are not deductible from taxable income, although premiums paid via an approved pension fund registered in terms of the Income Tax Act are permitted to be deducted from personal income tax (whether these premiums are nominally being paid by the employer or employee). The benefits arising from life assurance policies are generally not taxable as income to beneficiaries (again in the case of approved benefits, these fall under retirement or withdrawal taxation rules from SARS). Investment return within the policy will be taxed within the life policy and paid by the life assurer depending on the nature of the policyholder (whether natural person, company-owned, untaxed or a retirement fund).
I on the other hand, got married and moved to England,I m not working at the moment, since I have to wait for my spouse documents to be legalized before looking for work, about 6, 7 months, and don t think it s useful for me over there, my husband or even for my son, since I didn t realize that it s only for him to collect it if i die, I would be more open to having something for ME while living, I m not worried about my son so much anymore now that I am married to a wonderful man and through his job, I m fully covered on a number of things.Would u mind replying to my email and letting me know if I should stop payments,and if so, do I get penalized, do I pay any fee for canceling it,surprising enough, I can t reach anyone at the Insurance co that will give me any straight answer or honest, easy to understand reply, and I just don t want to pay another month if I don t have to.Thank you so much for all of your input, clarity and dedication to everyone, you are obviously in love with your work,your calling!All my best!
It is not a valid argument to me to say that the “administrative pain in the ass” is a reason to ignore the tactic. It’s a pretty simple procedure and certainly not worth paying all the extra costs of a whole life approach just to avoid. Yes, you have to be careful if you have Traditional IRAs, but there are ways around that too. No, it’s not for everyone, but I would much rather try to make the backdoor Roth work first than immediately jump to whole life.
A few comments… You shouldn’t ever be buying whole life insurance for purely for the reason of investing, you buy any life insurance because you need life insurance, the investment component is secondary. So not sure why we are analyzing it purely as an investment (I actually do know why, because some agents try to sell it this way, and Matt is trying to help them avoid a pitfall).

A Roth IRA certainly gives you a lot more investment options, with the added benefit of not starting with an account balance of essentially $0. It’s important to understand though that there are always risks involved with investing, and you could lose money within a Roth IRA too. Still, while I don’t know the specifics of your situation it will generally be a good idea to go with something like a Roth IRA before considering any kind of life insurance.


In the United States, the underwriting loss of property and casualty insurance companies was $142.3 billion in the five years ending 2003. But overall profit for the same period was $68.4 billion, as the result of float. Some insurance industry insiders, most notably Hank Greenberg, do not believe that it is forever possible to sustain a profit from float without an underwriting profit as well, but this opinion is not universally held.
Insurance terms, definitions and explanations are intended for informational purposes only and do not in any way replace or modify the definitions and information contained in individual insurance contracts, policies or declaration pages, which are controlling. Such terms and availability may vary by state and exclusions may apply. Discounts may not be applied to all policy coverages.
Insurance brokers represent the insurance buyer – you the consumer or business owner.  They are appointed or contracted with multiple insurance companies.  They have the flexibility to discuss many options and companies that meet your needs and budget. Insurance brokers have been around as long as insurance agents.  In many cases people will refer to insurance brokers as independent insurance agents.
The upshot is that the taxation of a 401(k)/Traditional IRA down the line is often beneficial to being taxed up front. Certainly not always, but often. And in any case, I would challenge you to find a financial planner who does not make money off the sale of whole life insurance who would recommend it as an investment tool before you have maxed out your dedicated retirement accounts.
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3 The above example is based on a scenario for 20‐year term life insurance (domicile state) that includes the following benefit conditions: $50,000 death benefit, $50,000 accidental death benefit, and $12,500 seatbelt benefit. Benefits may vary by state, benefit option, and level of coverage selected. Review your state‐specific brochure below for a “How It Works” scenario customized for your state.

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Good question Pixley. Evaluating a policy that’s been in place for 7 years, as it sounds like yours has, is very different from evaluating a new policy. The key is to ignore everything that’s happened in the past and evaluate it only based on how you expect it to perform going forward. I would suggest getting an in-force illustration and running the numbers for yourself based on both the guarantees and projections. Every policy is different, especially those that have been in place for a while, so I really can’t say what you should expect.

I am Also current working toward my CFP as well and I do see some good points. However, what weaken your argument is that you need to include instances where WL is a valuable tool. Your article is bias (as Dave Ramsey is also quite bias) because it is just as easy for me to argue term life insurance is always bad. If that is the case, then no one will buy life insurance and every family will be in financial trouble. You claimed that you are a CFP, and you should know better that you have the obligation to ensure the public is given both pros and cons about all products.

MetLife Auto & Home is a brand of Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company and its affiliates: Economy Fire & Casualty Company, Economy Premier Assurance Company, Economy Preferred Insurance Company, Metropolitan Casualty Insurance Company, Metropolitan Direct Property and Casualty Insurance Company (CA Certificate of Authority: 6730; Warwick, RI), Metropolitan General Insurance Company, Metropolitan Group Property and Casualty Insurance Company (CA COA: 6393; Warwick, RI), and Metropolitan Lloyds Insurance Company of Texas, all with administrative home offices in Warwick, RI. Coverage, rates, discounts, and policy features vary by state and product, and are available in most states to those who qualify. Policies have exclusions, limitations, and terms under which the policy may be continued in force or discontinued. For costs and complete details of coverage, contact your local MetLife Auto & Home representative or the company.  


Neither insurance consultants nor insurance brokers are insurance companies and no risks are transferred to them in insurance transactions. Third party administrators are companies that perform underwriting and sometimes claims handling services for insurance companies. These companies often have special expertise that the insurance companies do not have.
Point Three: One of the catches of the whole life agent is “Whole life insurance never expires!” Okay let us imagine a house insurance agent selling you an addon savings plan to your house fire insurance. Say you eventually sell the house and move to an apartment. Now would you want to keep paying house insurance when you DO NOT HAVE A HOUSE ANYMOFE ??? 🙂 Or paying for car insurance when you no longer have a car??? So why would you want to keep paying for a poor savings plan that only saves the life insurance company any money??? 🙂
As to the universal life policy, I don’t have data as to how much I paid in the early years before the premium vanished. But the premium reappeared around 2011. Still, over the past 4 years (for which I have full records that enabled these calculations), paying the premium has increased the cash value each year by over 5% in addition to the premium amount itself, and has increased the death benefit by 120% or more of the annual premium, making it worthwhile to me, at this point, to keep paying the premium on this policy.
Stranger-originated life insurance or STOLI is a life insurance policy that is held or financed by a person who has no relationship to the insured person. Generally, the purpose of life insurance is to provide peace of mind by assuring that financial loss or hardship will be alleviated in the event of the insured person's death. STOLI has often been used as an investment technique whereby investors will encourage someone (usually an elderly person) to purchase life insurance and name the investors as the beneficiary of the policy. This undermines the primary purpose of life insurance, as the investors would incur no financial loss should the insured person die. In some jurisdictions, there are laws to discourage or prevent STOLI. 

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Now that you have a better picture of the difference between term and whole life policies, you probably want to compare term life versus whole life insurance costs. To do so, you will need to directly compare the short and long term costs of a whole life policy and a term policy, based on factors like your age, the face value of the policy you want to buy, and whether or not you are a smoker. 

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