There have been enough people screwed over by stock insurance company agents to justify this article. However, before jumping to conclusions about Whole Life, I would recommend everyone research the business structure of a “Mutual Insurance Company” such as MassMutual or Northwest Mutual. These companies are literally owned by the policyholders and have historically paid dividends that equal the premiums of a whole life policy within 1.5 decades. They also typically perform better than the illustrations. It’s not necessarily an “Investment,” but sacrificing higher returns for security in the form of liquid cash and life insurance coverage seems like a wise decision to me.
With whole life insurance, you can’t just decide to stop paying premiums. Well, you can, but if you do then the policy lapses and you’re forced to withdraw the cash value, which will subject you to taxes and possibly a surrender charge. And if you haven’t had the policy in place for multiple decades, you will also be left with meager, and possibly negative, returns.
The problem a lot of people run into is that they sink all of their money into an over the top whole life policy and use that as their sole investment property which is insane. HOWEVER, I thoroughly believe that whole life insurance is a powerful tool when it comes to funding a comfortable retirement, because whole life’s cash value helps serve as a way to hedge the down markets as a non-correlated asset.
Large loss: The size of the loss must be meaningful from the perspective of the insured. Insurance premiums need to cover both the expected cost of losses, plus the cost of issuing and administering the policy, adjusting losses, and supplying the capital needed to reasonably assure that the insurer will be able to pay claims. For small losses, these latter costs may be several times the size of the expected cost of losses. There is hardly any point in paying such costs unless the protection offered has real value to a buyer.
Insurance companies have in recent years developed products for niche markets, most notably targeting seniors in an aging population. These are often low to moderate face value whole life insurance policies, allowing senior citizens to purchase affordable insurance later in life. This may also be marketed as final expense insurance and usually have death benefits between $2,000 and $40,000. One reason for their popularity is that they only require answers to simple "yes" or "no" questions, while most policies require a medical exam to qualify. As with other policy types, the range of premiums can vary widely and should be scrutinized prior to purchase, as should the reliability of the companies.
Thanks for reaching out Bob. There’s a lot that goes into this decision with the position that you’re in, and the right choice really depends on your personal financial situation and what you’re trying to achieve. I would lean towards trusting the advice of an advisor who doesn’t get paid to sell whole life, since that advice is likely to be more objective. It sounds like you’re already working with a couple of advisors, but if you’d like another opinion I would search NAPFA and/or Garrett Planning Network to find a fee-only financial planner in your area.
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!

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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??? 🙂
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4The monthly rate shown is for Preferred Elite based on a Male, age 37, and a 20-year level term period. Terms and limitations will apply. Rates shown are monthly as of January 1, 2018. Allstate TrueFit® is a term life insurance to age 95 policy issued by Allstate Assurance Company, 3075 Sanders Rd., Northbrook IL 60062 and is available in most states with contract/series ICC14AC1/ AC14-1. In New York, issued by Allstate Life Insurance Company of New York, Hauppauge, NY with contract/series NYLU818. The premiums will be the same for the level term period selected. Beginning with the anniversary following the level term period, the company reserves the right to change premium rates each policy year, but rates cannot be more than the maximum guaranteed amounts stated in the policy.
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.
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.
Actually, there is one case which I use which is beneficial for whole life. As you get older, if you set up a Charitable Remainder Trust along with an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust for your children, it is a win-win. You get the income from the trust, the charity/charities gets the benefit of the assets upon your death, and the ILIT (Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust) pays your kids while removing these assets from your estate. I think this particular situation is a win for all. Early in life though, I would definitely not do this and choose a Level Term Policy instead.
The bottom line is that I feel that the insurance industry has adapted to the negative stigma attached to whole life insurance polices and are introducing some variants that do not look at all like the whole life insurance that is described in the above article. They have found ways to counter some of the Reasons not to invest in whole life insurance mentioned in the article above (such as the interest rate). I read about another variant called EIULs and I think there are many other similar products out there. But they can not counter all of the Reasons mentioned in the article above. So buyer beware and do your due diligence!
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Good question Steve. The full answer is that I don’t know exactly what options you have and it likely makes sense to talk to a good independent agent. But you are right that it is much harder to find affordable term life insurance as you get older, and in your case some kind of permanent insurance may make sense if you have an insurance need. Just make sure that you are only getting the features you need, and none that you don’t, so that your premium is being used as efficiently as possible. For example, if you are only buying it for the death benefit, do you need the cash value?

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However, unlike a house, a Whole Life policy is HIGHLY LIQUID (can be converted to cash in a matter of days, irrespective of market conditions) and has Guaranteed Values (once dividends are paid, they are fully vested and added to the Guaranteed Values, it is only future dividends which are not guaranteed). As such, borrowing against a Whole Life policy is much simpler (can be done without an application, credit report, etc.) Additionally, here again it is not an all or none proposition. One can PARTIALLY surrender a Whole Life policy, or just surrender additions (dividends or client paid Paid-up-additions). Try that with a house, try selling just one room or a few bricks. With a house, unless you decide to borrow, converting the asset into cash is an all or none proposition.
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?
^ 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)
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Limited risk of catastrophically large losses: Insurable losses are ideally independent and non-catastrophic, meaning that the losses do not happen all at once and individual losses are not severe enough to bankrupt the insurer; insurers may prefer to limit their exposure to a loss from a single event to some small portion of their capital base. Capital constrains insurers' ability to sell earthquake insurance as well as wind insurance in hurricane zones. In the United States, flood risk is insured by the federal government. In commercial fire insurance, it is possible to find single properties whose total exposed value is well in excess of any individual insurer's capital constraint. Such properties are generally shared among several insurers, or are insured by a single insurer who syndicates the risk into the reinsurance market.
Good question Steve. The full answer is that I don’t know exactly what options you have and it likely makes sense to talk to a good independent agent. But you are right that it is much harder to find affordable term life insurance as you get older, and in your case some kind of permanent insurance may make sense if you have an insurance need. Just make sure that you are only getting the features you need, and none that you don’t, so that your premium is being used as efficiently as possible. For example, if you are only buying it for the death benefit, do you need the cash value?

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Insurance broker became a regulated term under the Insurance Brokers (Registration) Act 1977[2] which was designed to thwart the bogus practices of firms holding themselves as brokers but in fact acting as representative of one or more favoured insurance companies. The term now has no legal definition following the repeal of the 1977 Act. The sale of general insurance was regulated by the Financial Services Authority from 14 January 2005 until 31 March 2013 and by the Financial Conduct Authority since 1 April 2013. Any person or firm authorized by the Authority can now call themselves an insurance broker.

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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.
Using a broker can also simplify the process of picking insurance. There are so many different choices for insurance, with different limits and exclusions for each policy. It can be difficult to know which insurance and what level of coverage is right for you or your business. This is where an insurance broker can help. Using their experience in the field, a broker can analyze your risks and liabilities to determine exactly what coverage you need. With access to a variety of technology-based tools, brokers can make it simple to compare various options to determine which policies would best fit your needs. Using a broker eliminates the stress of learning about different types of insurance, and makes it easy to figure out what insurance will work for you.
Life insurance can be very confusing. What is term life insurance? What is whole life insurance? How can you get the information you need and make the right decision about life insurance for you and your family or other beneficiaries? We’ll provide an overview of these two popular types of life insurance so you can get an idea of what might be a good fit for you. Find out more by contacting an insurance agent in your area.
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.
Unlike GEICO, Esurance, and other “direct writers”, independent agents are a part of your community and are there to help whenever you need it. Unlike American Family Insurance, Farmers Insurance, State Farm Insurance, and other “captive” agents, an independent insurance agent works with many different insurance companies. Atlas agents automatically compare quotes from up to 50, which saves you time & money.
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.
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
Insurance is underwritten by The Travelers Indemnity Company and its property casualty affiliates, One Towers Square, Hartford, CT 06183. In TX: Automobile insurance is offered by Travelers Texas MGA, Inc. and underwritten by Consumers County Mutual Insurance Company (CCM). CCM is not a Travelers Company. In CA: Travelers Commercial Insurance Company, One Tower Square, Hartford, CT 06183. Certificate of Authority # 6519; State of Domicile: Connecticut and Travelers Property Casualty Insurance Company, One Tower Square, Hartford, CT 06183. Certificate of Authority # 6521; State of Domicile: Connecticut. In CA: Boat and Yacht insurance is underwritten by The Standard Fire Insurance Company, One Tower Square, Hartford, CT 06183, Certificate of Authority #0335-0, State of Domicile: Connecticut.©2017 The Travelers Indemnity Company.
“In the policy that was attempted to be sold to me, the “guaranteed return” was stated as 4%. But when I actually ran the numbers, using their own growth chart for the guaranteed portion of my cash value, after 40 years the annual return only amounted to 0.74%. There are a number of explanations for this difference, including fees and the way in which the interest rate is applied.”
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.

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.
You’re typically asked about your current and past health conditions, and your family health history. The insurer may ask for your consent to get your medical records and may ask you to take a life insurance medical exam. Insurers will also check other data sources to determine term life insurance quotes. More: What you need to apply for term life insurance
In the United States, insurance brokers are regulated by the individual U.S. states. Most states require anyone who sells, solicits, or negotiates insurance in that state to obtain an insurance broker license, with certain limited exceptions. This includes a business entity, the business entity's officers or directors (the "sublicensees" through whom the business entity operates), and individual employees. In order to obtain a broker's license, a person typically must take pre-licensing courses and pass an examination. An insurance broker also must submit an application (with an application fee) to the state insurance regulator in the state in which the applicant wishes to do business, who will determine whether the insurance broker has met all the state requirements and will typically do a background check to determine whether the applicant is considered trustworthy and competent. A criminal conviction, for example, may result in a state determining that the applicant is untrustworthy or incompetent. Some states also require applicants to submit fingerprints.

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First, yes there is a surrender value. It’s right there in any illustration you look at. Second, it takes much longer than 5 years for what you’re talking about to happen, excluding the premium paid in. In fact, it usually isn’t until about year 6-7 where the cash value starts increasing by even as much as the premium paid. Before then, every premium payment is losing you money.

Insurance brokers are professionals in the insurance industry who sell, solicit, and negotiate insurance for a living. They are regulated by the state and must meet certain licensing requirements to do business in their state. Insurance brokers are professional advisers, representing and working on behalf of their clients. Brokers help clients understand their risks and advise them on which assets merit insurance and which do not. Insurance brokers may have industry specializations as well. Keep in mind that insurance brokers are not actual insurers; they are the liaisons between the insurance companies and clients and work on the client’s behalf.
In other words, if you put a dollar into the market, and then the market drops resulting in a panic and you pull out what you put in, you’re more than likely pulling out .65 cents as opposed to the dollar. You’ve lost money, because you pulled out in a low market. However, if you have 3 to 4 years worth of living expenses in a non-correlated asset (I.E. Whole Life) you can use that as an effective way to bridge the gap until the market comes back up again. Sure it may cost a little more, but in the end you’re making a lot more money, since you’re selling your dollar for a dollar or more, as opposed to selling it for .65 cents.

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Any risk that can be quantified can potentially be insured. Specific kinds of risk that may give rise to claims are known as perils. An insurance policy will set out in detail which perils are covered by the policy and which are not. Below are non-exhaustive lists of the many different types of insurance that exist. A single policy that may cover risks in one or more of the categories set out below. For example, vehicle insurance would typically cover both the property risk (theft or damage to the vehicle) and the liability risk (legal claims arising from an accident). A home insurance policy in the United States typically includes coverage for damage to the home and the owner's belongings, certain legal claims against the owner, and even a small amount of coverage for medical expenses of guests who are injured on the owner's property.
The insurance industry in China was nationalized in 1949 and thereafter offered by only a single state-owned company, the People's Insurance Company of China, which was eventually suspended as demand declined in a communist environment. In 1978, market reforms led to an increase in the market and by 1995 a comprehensive Insurance Law of the People's Republic of China[48] was passed, followed in 1998 by the formation of China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC), which has broad regulatory authority over the insurance market of China.[49]
In determining premiums and premium rate structures, insurers consider quantifiable factors, including location, credit scores, gender, occupation, marital status, and education level. However, the use of such factors is often considered to be unfair or unlawfully discriminatory, and the reaction against this practice has in some instances led to political disputes about the ways in which insurers determine premiums and regulatory intervention to limit the factors used.

James, be very careful about blanket advice to roll your pension into an IRA. A lot of financial professionals can make money through a transaction like that and you’d likely be giving up guaranteed income for the rest of your life. To be clear, it’s certainly possible that this would be a good move, but you would only know that after a careful and detailed analysis of your specific pension, your specific goals, and the rest of your financial situation.


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.  
And yes, the “guaranteed” cash value is the minimum growth that the insurance company is promising. When they tell you that there is a guaranteed interest rate, this cash value is the result of that guaranteed interest rate. The non-guaranteed cash value is their projection based on their expected returns, which as the name suggests are not guaranteed.

Rules of ethics. (You might say this is a simple case of “buyer beware,” but as government investigations have indicated, it’s the misrepresentation that’s the problem. Such investigations have found that brokers do not always consider their clients’ best interests, instead acting primarily in their own interests and those of their favored insurance companies.)


Insurance can be a complex concept that is not always easy to understand. While we know that we need insurance to protect our health, our house and car, and to ensure that our loved ones are protected, the finer details often become blurred. An insurance broker can help you navigate the process of finding, comparing, and acquiring insurance by breaking it down into terms and conditions the average Joe can understand. Insurance brokers pride themselves on providing their clients with the best value in insurance coverage. Having an experienced insurance broker represent you is also a wise way to safeguard yourself and your business.
Mores also gave the name actuary to the chief official—the earliest known reference to the position as a business concern. The first modern actuary was William Morgan, who served from 1775 to 1830. In 1776 the Society carried out the first actuarial valuation of liabilities and subsequently distributed the first reversionary bonus (1781) and interim bonus (1809) among its members.[7] It also used regular valuations to balance competing interests.[7] The Society sought to treat its members equitably and the Directors tried to ensure that policyholders received a fair return on their investments. Premiums were regulated according to age, and anybody could be admitted regardless of their state of health and other circumstances.[9]

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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.
Additionally, this can be a great way to compliment a financial plan that is linked to the markets performance. When I am in my 60’s nearing retirement and have a good amount of cash value in my policy–I will not be terribly worried about the market performance (401(k)s/mutual funds/ IRA/ stocks). I know that flucuations in the market will occur and if a recession happens when I am 62, I will use my cash and policy cash value to hold me over until the markets recover. Again, my aim is not to buy high and sell low, it is to buy low and sell high.

Thanks for reaching out Jean! The truth is that there are a lot of variables in play here that make it hard to give you a direct answer. On the one hand, a $43k surrender value after 25 years is not a great return, assuming that you haven’t taken any loans out and there haven’t been any other interruptions in your premium payments. A guaranteed 7.6% return is also really appealing. But the answer also depends on your overall insurance needs, your other goals, the expected performance of this policy going forward, and other investment opportunities available to you. Those are the things I would look at if I were you. And if you’d like, I would be happy to talk things over in more detail. In any case, I wish you the best of luck!
This is so true, and even more so for personal insurance such as auto, home, and life. Everyone should be aware that unlike your financial advisor (who is heavily regulated) your insurance broker has NO fiduciary responsibility to act in your best interest. What I find amazing about this contradiction is that a large percentage of families in this county likely send more annually on insurance products than put into savings and retirement accounts.
I have whole life that I’m not understanding . I’m under the understanding I pay $401 for 7 years I’m done paying on a &135,000 policy that they tell me the more I borrow from the more it grows.But I’m starting to question if the interested charged doesn’t go back to me how it’s it growing. I’m very confused suopose to sit down with agent so he can explain it better. But from talking to other insurance people like my house and car insurance agent he says this is not possible about it growing. HELP
Additionally, this can be a great way to compliment a financial plan that is linked to the markets performance. When I am in my 60’s nearing retirement and have a good amount of cash value in my policy–I will not be terribly worried about the market performance (401(k)s/mutual funds/ IRA/ stocks). I know that flucuations in the market will occur and if a recession happens when I am 62, I will use my cash and policy cash value to hold me over until the markets recover. Again, my aim is not to buy high and sell low, it is to buy low and sell high.

Almost too much false information/lack of understanding here to even try to tackle. You do realize participating whole life/phantom loans are one of the MAIN ways that the wealthy keep their wealth, avoid taxation and funnel income into an investment vehicle right? The hiltons have been doing it for years as well as virtually every wealthy family manager out there. The lack of understanding most people have regarding these policies, is why they advise against them. They themselves do not understand.
In the United States, economists and consumer advocates generally consider insurance to be worthwhile for low-probability, catastrophic losses, but not for high-probability, small losses. Because of this, consumers are advised to select high deductibles and to not insure losses which would not cause a disruption in their life. However, consumers have shown a tendency to prefer low deductibles and to prefer to insure relatively high-probability, small losses over low-probability, perhaps due to not understanding or ignoring the low-probability risk. This is associated with reduced purchasing of insurance against low-probability losses, and may result in increased inefficiencies from moral hazard.[52]

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