I bought a whole life insurance policy for my daughter when she was 4! What a mistake to make! Now that the policy is 21 years old, I am undecided whether to continue paying the annual premium or surrender the policy.I have paid $25,126 over the years, and will walk away with $36,250 if I surrender it now. The policy covers has a $100,000 coverage and the annual premium is now $1179. I would appreciate your advice!

^ Anzovin, Steven, Famous First Facts 2000, item # 2422, H. W. Wilson Company, ISBN 0-8242-0958-3 p. 121 The first life insurance company known of record was founded in 1706 by the Bishop of Oxford and the financier Thomas Allen in London, England. The company, called the Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office, collected annual premiums from policyholders and paid the nominees of deceased members from a common fund.


Although insurance brokers work for their clients, they aren’t paid by them. Instead, they make commissions based on their sales. The commission is a percentage of the premium cost and varies by state law. It usually is between two and eight percent of the premium. If you work with a broker to buy homeowners, automobile, health, business, life or any other type of insurance, you will not pay them a fee for the services they provide.
What you are telling people in this post is irresponsible and bad advice. You are correct that term is a lot cheaper than whole life, but you are leaving out the problems with term insurance that whole life policy can fix at any age. Did you know only 2% of term policies are ever paid a death benefit on? You can buy a 20 year term at age 30 but what happens when you turn 51? Buy more term at your current health at 51? What if you get cancer or other health problems that cause you to become uninsurable? Would you rather pay $100 a month for a $100,000 permanent policy and earn cash value, or would you rather pay $40 a month for 20 years on the same policy and then have to buy a new term policy at age 51 that will be $200-$300 a month and even then if you don’t die during that term then what do you have when your 80? Nothing, because no one is going to sale you life insurance at age 80. I don’t think buying term at a young age is a bad idea, but the longer you wait to transfer some of that to permanent insurance you are digging yourself and your family a deeper hole when you live past that term policy and have nothing to leave them with.

Your premise is that whole life insurance is a bad investment. Fine, however, it is not a bad purchase. It is insurance and when thinking about the defined purpose of insurance then it can be a different story. Your electric service is a bad investment but think of the difficulty in living without electricity. Sure you could invest the bill amount each month into a nice Roth IRA but we seek the benefits of the service and willingly pay the bill. I suggest that people look at insurance the same. In my case and for my intent, whole life insurance was prudent. Like any car lease deal or stock purchase, there can be good and bad deals; one should not declare all forms at all points in time to be definitive. I gifted my child a whole life policy. The rates for a young person are as good as they get; she will never have insurance bills nor be without insurance. There is much left to explain but in short her $25,000 baby policy is growing $1,000 per yea. She will never have to pay a premium but will have $225,000-$350,000 payout one day while providing some protection also during the income/mortgage/child rearing adult years because I purchased it for her at the cost of $120.25 per year! No way could a poor farm kid without inheritance or wealth and limited income but high student loan debt create that kind of wealth for his children in the immediate or most vulnerable time period. To leave her in the same boat, as my parents did, is in no way wealth building. I got married and had mortgage, student loans, and large term life insurance bills because to go without any seemed irresponsible having no wealth but whole life was too expensive. So yes, it is far from a great investment but it is the most responsible gift I ever gave my child. It will not depreciate like a car and it is more certain than lottery tickets! Could I really produce that protection for her with liquidity via investing for only $120 per year? Tip: an insurance agent once told me (he should not have mentioned it) they have NEVER paid out on a life insurance policy because people always eventually let them expire and quit paying on them. Rates are so cheap for young healthy people because they are not likely to die. So this is also an exercise in discipline and responsibility not just finding the right stream to pan for gold.

I think that post does a good job of showing how the illustrated (non-guaranteed) return from a whole life insurance policy is comparable to one of the most conservative types of traditional investments you can make IF you end up keeping the policy for 30 years. Of course, that conservative traditional investment doesn’t have most of the other downsides discussed here AND doesn’t require you to hold it for 30 years to see a reasonable return. And, of course, you are allowed to put your money into other, less conservative investments outside of a life insurance policy, some of which may even have special tax advantages (401(k), IRA, HSA, 529, etc.).

Awesome article Matt! Couldn’t agree more – unfortunately not enough people know that whole life insurance should only be purchased in very limited circumstances and should not be considered for investment purposes. Thanks for joining the #wholeliferebellion. I created a Term v. Whole Life Insurance comparison calculator so people can crunch the numbers: http://www.insuranceblogbychris.com/term-vs-whole-life-insurance-comparison-calculator/
My advice: Load up on Term, especially when you are young and healthy, but make sure it is renewable and convertible. As well, buy some permanent coverage to at least pay for final expenses. When you buy term insurance the premiums are gone forever. Unless you die no one benefits. At least with whole life insurance someone will get back all, and in most cases more, than you ever put in. The most important question to be answered when getting insurance is, how much do you need? Typically, you will need 5 – 10 times your income plus debt coverage, if you have someone financially dependent upon you.

At the most basic level, initial ratemaking involves looking at the frequency and severity of insured perils and the expected average payout resulting from these perils. Thereafter an insurance company will collect historical loss data, bring the loss data to present value, and compare these prior losses to the premium collected in order to assess rate adequacy.[22] Loss ratios and expense loads are also used. Rating for different risk characteristics involves at the most basic level comparing the losses with "loss relativities"—a policy with twice as many losses would therefore be charged twice as much. More complex multivariate analyses are sometimes used when multiple characteristics are involved and a univariate analysis could produce confounded results. Other statistical methods may be used in assessing the probability of future losses.
Insurance is offered by Safeco Insurance Company of America and/or its affiliates, with their principal place of business at 175 Berkeley Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 02116. This website provides a simplified description of coverage. Nothing stated herein creates a contract. All statements made are subject to the provisions, exclusions, conditions and limitations of the applicable insurance policy. Please refer to actual policy forms for complete details regarding the coverage discussed. If the information in these materials conflicts with the policy language that it describes, the policy language prevails. Coverages and features not available in all states. Eligibility is subject to meeting applicable underwriting criteria.
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Analysis: That just means that your incumbent insurer’s underwriter won’t approve that coverage. The broker isn’t willing to do what’s needed to get the deal done, which is shopping the coverage to other insurers — exactly what brokers are supposed to do. It’s clear that this is the case, because on occasions when a second broker appears to bid on your business, you’ll find that suddenly the coverage you wanted becomes available after all.
I think that post does a good job of showing how the illustrated (non-guaranteed) return from a whole life insurance policy is comparable to one of the most conservative types of traditional investments you can make IF you end up keeping the policy for 30 years. Of course, that conservative traditional investment doesn’t have most of the other downsides discussed here AND doesn’t require you to hold it for 30 years to see a reasonable return. And, of course, you are allowed to put your money into other, less conservative investments outside of a life insurance policy, some of which may even have special tax advantages (401(k), IRA, HSA, 529, etc.).
1. Alex hasn’t reviewed your policy, nor does he know anything about your personal goals or situation. Neither do I, which is why I didn’t give any concrete advice in my initial response. All of which is simply to say that any opinion about this policy based on what we know from your comment, whether it’s coming from me, Alex, or anyone else, cannot possibly be informed enough for you to rely on.
Unless you truly need permanent life insurance, then you’re likely looking at these policies purely as an investment. In most cases it makes sense to max out at least other tax-advantaged accounts first (like your IRA, but also a 401(k) and others). Are you already doing that? You can read more about which accounts to consider here: How to Choose the Right Investment Account.
We were sold a whole life policy from Mass Mutual for my husband, but we also have term insurance on both of us. We are on a 10 year track to pay off the policy and have three years left. Is it still a “bad investment” once the policy is paid off? Should we be expecting those 0.74% yearly returns for a fully paid-off policy? Or does that apply only if one is paying premiums on it for the next 30+ years? Whole life insurance appealed to me because I am extremely squeamish about the stock market and don’t want to pay a financial planner on a regular basis. I’d rather have low (but not 0.74%), steady returns than high risk/high reward investments. Did we still make a mistake by buying whole life?
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; 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?
Hi, Matt. My parents are actually talking to an agent to get the whole life insurance and their premium monthly is about $1000 so which makes them to pay $120000 (since it’s the 10 yr plan) and the agent presented that the guaranteed value will be $250000. I have very little knowledge about the whole life insurance plan but wouldn’t it be easier for them to just get it and be insured with that guaranteed value if they are not the type to find where to invest and all that? or is it something that they shouldn’t relay on.. they are doing it for more their retirement and asked me for help but i am very confused about this whole life plan. Thanks!
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…
Most of the time people selling against whole life state ” the guaranteed portions never materialize so assume no dividends are paid and let’s assumes you’ll get a 9 percent return in a mutual fund had you invested the difference”. This reasoning is total BS , all major mutuals have paid dividends over the last 150 + years and if you are in a mutual fund getting a higher return than 6 percent it is incredibly high risk and unrealistic long term. Also whole life tends to do much better in market downturns. they also make their money on forfeited policies, loans and pool payouts so their returns are not “totally” tied to the market performance.

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?
What will you need the life insurance for at that point? Would you be able to save $10,000 in a savings account between now and age 70 instead of paying for whole life insurance? If you take the $26.50 difference in premiums that you mention here and put it into a savings account each month, you’ll have about $7,782 by age 70, assuming 1.5% interest. If you can increase that monthly contribution to $34.25, you’ll reach just over $10,000 by age 70. And that money will be available for whatever you or your family need, any time you want.
Several comments……first, I didn’t read all the posts so I apologize if this has already been discussed/addressed………you mentioned loans on a whole life policy is the means by which “tax free” income is distributed and that makes for the equivalent of double taxation, however the first monies coming out of a whole life policy would be your own contributions and therefore no taxation would be in effect as those monies, when contributed, had already been taxed…….the loan process would kick in when the policy detects taxable growth and would switch to loans instead of withdrawals………..also, let me just mention the insidious monster called “sequence of returns” and how it pertains to “returns” in the market……..returns in the market are reported by averages…….once you look at the “real rate of return” of a stock or mutual fund you might find the long term return of a whole life policy much more palatable……….example: what is the average rate of return in this example and real rate of return……..you have a $1,000,000 home and in the first year it goes down by 40%……….your home is worth $600,000…….the very next year your home goes up by 60%……..your home is now worth $960,000…….but what is going to be your reported average rate of return?……….10%, yet you are still under water; the “real rate of return is -4%…….this is a very eye opening expose on how the “market” makes things look…..it is the downs in the market that kill an investments return…….there are no downs in a whole life policy………..I hope this helps in perspective.
Analysis: You’ll likely get better services from outside specialists, but that’s not the overriding factor here. The real problem is that tying services to insurance products makes it disruptive for you to leave your broker. The products and services should be unbundled so that there’s real competition for the big-ticket item: the insurance itself.

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.
A good agent will figure out how much insurance is needed, and if a whole life policy would make sense without causing the policy to MEC within the constraint of one’s human life value. As for surrenders and loans against the policy, good agents discuss how to structure these options for supplemental retirement income to maintain a reasonable death benefit given a retirement age. There are institution(s) that have always paid a dividend and have been top rated every year.
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.
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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