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…


There is a lot of good information here, however when I think of what my father-n-law did to himself I have to disagree about whole life insurance. My father-n-law use to sell life insurance in the 1960s and only believed in term and that is all that he has ever had. However, now in his 70s, the only thing he is eligible for is a 3 year term policy and I’m sure that once this expires he will age out and no longer be eligible for coverage. He will not admit the exact amount of his monthly premium, but its over then $150 a month. He has contacted many companies for alternatives, but he is either not eligible, or the cost is too high. I’m not looking for “investment”, I’m looking to protect my family, and I refuse to back myself into the corner that he did. We may loose the house in case we can figure something out.
Regarding pension vs registered accounts: It is hard to know what is better, relying on your pension or relying on an individually held mutual fund account (or some variation thereof using other securities). This would require a close reading of the pension and securities legislation in your region. For us in Canada, a defined benefit pension (prescribed benefits upon retirement based on a formula where the employer is responsible for funding any shortfall) can be incredibly enticing due to the guarantees attached to them. It is the preferred pension and stacks up really well against defined contribution pensions (where employers match the contributions of employees to at least a certain degree and where the account grows until retirement and the pensioner draws down the account and is burdened with any shortfall) but defined benefit plans are going the way of the dodo over here. It’s still available to government employees but most private employers don’t want to take on the risk of having to meet funding requirements. That’s a huge liability on the balance sheet. In any case, pensions have a few benefits over individual savings vehicles. First, they benefit from reduced management fee pricing, thereby improving returns marginally over the course of fund accumulation. Second, they benefit from a longer investment horizon since they are always looking many years in the future as their pension liabilities are long-term by definition. Third, actuaries are required to evaluate pensions regularly to make sure funding targets are established and followed.
Great article Matt. You provide 8 great reasons as to why whole life insurance isn’t the best option for the majority of people. As you noted, there are times when it is advisable such as if you have a disabled child (also a no-lapse universal life policy is another alternative in this instance), but for most term life insurance and investing the rest is the way to go.
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“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.”
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]

I really wish you would have stated more clearly the difference between the typical whole life plans with zero overfunding and a participating overfunded whole life policy. But I agree with you: What’s the point of not overfunding? Those policies have such a low cash component that they typically are just a ploy to make money by the agent and it seems as if that was your point all along. Which you should have clarified. Why minimum whole life insurances plans are a scam, especially when sold as a main investment vehicle. But then a little drama drives traffic right?


Yes, backdoor Roths are capped at $5,500 per year. Still, I think they’re a better first option than whole life for all of the reasons mentioned in the post. Exposure to market risk is not an inherent problem, and is also not a characteristic of Roth IRAs. A Roth IRA is just a type of account within which the individual can invest however they want. If they want to be exposed to market risk (something that many people deem desirable), they can be. If not, they don’t have to be. It’s up to them.
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When the market experiences “down years” you will want to used a fixed investment to take your distributions in order to give your market-exposed vehicles time to recoup losses. This is one of the best pieces I have seen regarding “Taming a Bear Market” where one uses whole life insurance to supplement 401(k) distributions in bad years: http://www.becausewearewomen.com/documents/LEGACY10-RETIREMENTSUPP.pdf

As for it being undiversified, NO investment by itself is completely diversified. Cash value life insurance can ADD diversity and security to a portfolio (the top companies have incredible financial strength, good policies can have a solid conservative return while meeting a life insurance need). Diversification is an issue with cash value life insurance if it makes up a good portion of your assets, and if it would, you shouldn’t be buying it.

So let’s do a quick comparison. Let’s take that $527 annual premium and invest it instead. From 1963 to 2013, the US stock market earned a 10.22% annual return (source), but let’s assume that this person also put some money into bonds (smart) and earned a more conservative 8% annual return. Over those 50 years, at that 8% return, that money would have grown to $327,231. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have my money that way than locked inside a whole life insurance policy.
I mentioned investment allocations earlier. There are other ways to get stock market returns with Whole life insurance as well. I am not talking about “Variable Life Insurance” either. Those who purchase these policies loose the benefit of having an insurance company retain some of their investment risk. To obtain market returns, a person simply invests in long call options on the broad market. In doing this, an investor earns stock market returns but transfers their downside risk to the owner of the index (SPY or SPX). The options will be worthless or appreciate (sometimes 500%). Coupled with the guarantees of the over funded cash value life policy, their portfolios will not decrease below a certain point in any given time but they can destroy the market in up years. This all takes 10 minutes to manage and about $20 in cost (compared to an asset manager charging a percentage,) Because life insurance is guaranteed to maintain its value, it protects the remaining money that is not tied up when directly invested in stocks and is available to that an investor can be “greedy when others are fearful” (Warren Buffet) or “buy low while others are selling”.

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