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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

As for your question, USAA is a fantastic company and I would happily recommend them for many things, like auto, home, and umbrella insurance. With that said, I have never reviewed one of their whole life insurance policies and therefore can’t really comment on that specifically. I will say that I would be careful about taking that 4.5% return at face value, as I describe in the post. I would encourage you to run the numbers for yourself to see what it really comes out to.
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Hey Mark. Thanks for the kind words and you make a great point! That’s a big reason for #5 in the article. With the speed at which life can change, locking yourself into paying those premiums for decades is just so limiting. And you go even further than that here with simply wanting to invest the money you’ve already put in differently, and I couldn’t agree with you more. It adds a lot of inflexibility to your planning which can make figuring out the other pieces a lot more difficult.
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.).

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For term life, I’d agree that it is usually a really bad investment. Why? Because a lot of people only pay in their premiums and never get any return. If you have term, then by the time you are older and your kids are self-sufficient (hopefully), your incentive to keep renewing will be pretty low. You may indeed just stop paying in and let the insurance lapse. Or, also quite possible, you will have to renew your policy but the premiums will be way too high because you are now much older and your health is worse. In some cases, you won’t be able to renew it at all.
I bought a whole life policy in 1998 at the age of 50. It is has a face value of 150k with double iindemnity, living needs and disability waivers. This policy has been a lifesaver for me over the years, especially when I became disabled, I am so happy that the salesperson gave me what I said I wanted “a plan that would help me live as well as leave something for my children.” He gave me whole life
Term life insurance pays a specific lump sum to your loved ones for a specified period of time – usually from one to 20 years. If you stop paying premiums, the insurance stops. Term policies pay benefits if you die during the period covered by the policy, but they do not build cash value. They may also give you the option to port. That is, you can take the coverage with you if you leave your company.

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OK, I made the mistake of getting whole life insurance policy for $25000 when I was in my late 20’s. I’m now 63 & have been paying $126/month since then. What happens to the amount over the $25000 I’ve already paid in? Do my beneficiaries get back more than the $25000 death benefit? Should I quit making payments &, if so, what does that mean for my death benefit?
“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.”
Lastly I believe you said your return was only .74% which I agree is low but just because you had a bad experience with a bad policy doesn’t mean all other whole life policies are the same. Different companies provide different returns and even different coverages. You’re being very general when more specific information is much more relevant in my opinion.
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3. Why don’t you mention the 4-5% ROR on CV to premium? You state it’s a bad investment – it’s not it’s life insurance. But what bond does 4-5% now? And did you know the pubic’s ACTUAL ROR in the market is less than 4%? Look it up – google will work – try “Why Investors May be Fooling Themselves” – from the Wall Street Journal – I think they know what they speak!!!
Many institutional insurance purchasers buy insurance through an insurance broker. While on the surface it appears the broker represents the buyer (not the insurance company), and typically counsels the buyer on appropriate coverage and policy limitations, in the vast majority of cases a broker's compensation comes in the form of a commission as a percentage of the insurance premium, creating a conflict of interest in that the broker's financial interest is tilted towards encouraging an insured to purchase more insurance than might be necessary at a higher price. A broker generally holds contracts with many insurers, thereby allowing the broker to "shop" the market for the best rates and coverage possible.
The proceeds of a life policy will be included in the estate for death duty (in the UK, inheritance tax) purposes. Policies written in trust may fall outside the estate. Trust law and taxation of trusts can be complicated, so any individual intending to use trusts for tax planning would usually seek professional advice from an Independent Financial Adviser and/or a solicitor.
2) With whole life, if you keep paying your premiums, your heirs will ALMOST DEFINITELY GET PAID. For instance, if you have a $1mn policy at $10k/year of premium, you know with near certainty that your spouse and kids will one day get $1mn. Even if you are paying in $10k per year which is a lot of money, then if you start at age 30, you will pay in $500k cumulatively by age 80. If you die at 80, your heirs get $1mn. Also keep in mind that this benefit is generally NON-TAXABLE!

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There is no right or wrong answer. Buying term insurance is as stated a pure play, cheap when young, expensive when old or with medical issues. Whole life from a bad insurance company is bad. However, one of the best ways to invest money is to diversify. Often, customers buy “Universal” whole life policies that are underfunded, meaning as they get old, these policies become expensive and are often cancelled. Not good. What I have done was term policies when young along with a small (50k) whole life policy. Having a whole life policy allows forced savings and a build up of capital. With the right policy with guaranteed returns, my whole life police has doubled in value and will be inherited tax and probate free to my dependents. If I had no money, it would pay for my funeral and leave funds to my spouse. I have saved and invested money, have multiple 401K’s, and no longer need the insurance. However, 30 years ago, I could not predict the future, and if I had to do it all over again, I would still buy the same policies. However, times have changed, interest rates are low, and the future is uncertain. I still believe, a small whole life policy with a great company (constant, unchanging premium) for a young family just starting out is a good way to provide some security while forcing one to save and invest capital. Is it the best way to invest? No. But many young do not know where to start and it is a great start. Also note, that often as the cash value increases, the death benefit also increases in many policies. Hindsight is always 2020, but one cannot predict the future, that is why we buy insurance. I also found that converting a term insurance police into whole life can be very expensive. Would a whole life policy be my only investment. No. I buy stocks, bonds, CD’s, have 401K, IRA, bank deposits, etc. A whole life policy is a small slice of the pie; diversity. In summary, both policies have merit.
I’m glad those policies worked out for you, and I agree that the simple act of saving money is more important than the specific investments you choose, especially at the beginning. With that said, it’s also a good idea to invest that money as efficiently as possible and I do not think that whole life insurance provides that efficiency for the vast majority of people.
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Brokers - Because a broker is solely focused on your unique needs, he or she can help with comparison-shopping, honing in on the best prices for the coverage you need. They can even advise you on how to best bundle or customize your policies in ways that agents might not be able to do (either because they are restricted in their policy offerings, or simply because they lack the insight into your specific needs).

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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.
Hi Jim. A couple of corrections. She’s actually secured a $36,250 asset for $25,000, as that’s what she would walk away with today if she decided to stop paying the premiums. And it would not be tax-free if she surrendered the policy today. Yes she could take tax-free withdrawals from the $36,250 today, but as I discuss above they would be subject to interest which is essentially the same effect as taxation.
It’s a great point about the cost causing people to be underinsured. I have no idea if there are any statistics on that, but intuitively it would seem to make sense. It’s a shame if someone with a real need for life insurance is under-protected because a salesman could make a bigger commission off the more expensive product. But I’m sure it happens.
This isn’t entirely accurate. Whole life insurance isn’t a product designed to replace term insurance. It wouldn’t make sense to have a retirement account disappear in the event of someone passing early. This would be irresponsible on the part of an agent to suggest this. Whole life has to be used with the intent of using it as collateral for loans, enhanced retirement and for leaving a legacy. In the early years it should be set up with a term rider to ensure a family’s needs will be met. Yes this is more expensive but it is a tool with an objective and if that’s not the objective then whole life makes no sense at all. It is not right for everyone.
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.
Know when to cut coverage. Don’t strip away coverage just for the sake of a lower price. You’ll need full coverage car insurance to satisfy the terms of an auto loan, and you’ll want it as long as your car would be a financial burden to replace. But for older cars, you can drop comprehensive and collision coverage, which only pay out up to your car’s current value, minus the deductible.
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.  
Contingent or incentive commissions reward agents and brokers for achieving volume, profitability, growth or retention goals established by the insurer. For example, Elite Insurance promises to pay the Jones Agency an extra 3 percent commission if Jones writes $10 million in new property policies within a certain time frame. If Jones renews 90 percent of those policies when they expire, Elite will pay Jones an addition 2 percent commission.
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
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.
Thank you for all your articles…very insightful. My husband and I had a very similar situation as you and your wife when you first met with a “financial planner” (aka insurance salesman). Now, we look at having paid 8 years of adjustable comp life for our policies plus policies for both of our children (5 and 2). We feel like we made a mistake and, as you know, were swayed by the talk of retirement investment and “throwing money away”. So now, we wonder…should we go paid up on our policies, which would drop them both down substantially, but we no longer would have to pay into them (and get more term to cover the difference) and cancel our kids policies?
Accidental death and AD&D policies very rarely pay a benefit, either because the cause of death is not covered by the policy or because death occurs well after the accident, by which time the premiums have gone unpaid. To know what coverage they have, insureds should always review their policies. Risky activities such as parachuting, flying, professional sports, or military service are often omitted from coverage.
It’s a great point about the cost causing people to be underinsured. I have no idea if there are any statistics on that, but intuitively it would seem to make sense. It’s a shame if someone with a real need for life insurance is under-protected because a salesman could make a bigger commission off the more expensive product. But I’m sure it happens.

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Then your example of paying $16,200 for $45,585 in coverage is interesting for a few reasons. First, I just want people to understand that again these numbers are simply illustrations, NOT guarantees. Second, using the site term4sale.com I see that a 40 year old male can purchase a $50,000, 30-year term policy right now for $135 per year, or $4,050 for the full 30 years. That’s 1/4 of what you quote for whole life, and the extra money is then available for whatever else that person might want to do, like investing, saving for college, or maybe even leaving a gift as you mention.
2. For people who have already maxed out all of their tax-deferred space and have a sizable investment portfolio built up, permanent insurance can potentially offer some diversification along with some benefits of tax-deferral. These people could invest in a permanent insurance product specifically designed to maximize the investment opportunity, which would include significant up-front contributions and a few other bells and whistles. These are not the run-of-the-mill whole life insurance policies sold by your local agent, and they are generally not right for people who don’t already have significant wealth.
Typically, life insurance is chosen based on the needs and goals of the owner. Term life insurance generally provides protection for a set period of time, while permanent insurance, such as whole and universal life, provides lifetime coverage. It's important to note that death benefits from all types of life insurance are generally income tax-free.1
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The second is that I’ve heard enough horror stories about indexed life insurance in general to be skeptical. It’s not that it can’t work, it’s that there are plenty of examples of it underperforming, having a catch that wasn’t made clear up front, and other instances where it just doesn’t work the way it was sold to work. Any time something is sold as being able to pay for any financial goal no matter the market conditions, it’s usually too good to be true.

I agree that it isn’t a good investment. However, that doesn’t make whole life a bad insurance policy. As I mentioned before, I realized a lot of things in my years working for a mortuary. First, the vast majority of life insurance policies that we filed were whole life (I would guess 80-90%). Why? Because people who are in their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s don’t have term policies anymore. And I’ve seen all kinds of things happen to people who have planned well financially. Getting old and having to go into a nursing home generally means depleting one’s assets. With nursing homes in my area costing $5000 per month (and more in some areas), it may not take long to go through someone’s savings. Once they go through all of their assets, Medicaid will pick up the tab for the nursing home bill. Having whole life leaves money at the end regardless of what unforeseen circumstances happen. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times….I’m guessing that those families didn’t think it was such a bad deal.

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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).
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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My parents had been paying into a whole life policy for many years and did not pay much attention to the cash balance over that time. When they finally had evaluated what they had in the policy, they discovered the ‘cost of insurance’ on the now older policy had increased so much that the premium they had been paying no longer covered the costs of the policy and the balance needed was being withdrawn FROM THEIR CASH VALUE. Needless to say, the insurance company or their agent did not notify them of this, so a policy that they had paid $75,000 into had a cash value of just $12,000 and was actually decreasing in value. Whole life policies are advertised as you paying the same premium amount for the entire life of the policy, but in the small print they are apparently allowed to adjust for the ‘cost of insurance’. It’s a brilliant scam. Pay attention to the policies you have.


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Good question Eski. I would encourage you to look into long-term disability insurance as a potentially more effective way to provide coverage for the exact risk you’re talking about. In general you’ll get better, more comprehensive coverage from a disability insurance policy that’s specifically designed for this than from a life insurance policy that includes it as a limited add-on.
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.
“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.”

7Variable universal life products are long-term investments designed to provide life insurance protection and flexibility in connection with premium payments and death benefits. You should carefully consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses of the investment alternatives before purchasing a policy. These policies have limitations and are sold by prospectus only. The prospectus contains details on the investment alternatives, policy features, the underlying portfolios, fees, charges, expenses, and other pertinent information. To obtain a prospectus or a copy of the underlying portfolio prospectuses, please contact Allstate Assurance Company. Please read the prospectuses carefully before purchasing a contract.
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.

I, 22 year old male, can pay ~$13,000 into a universal life policy throughout the next 20 years (~$650/yr, ~55/mo), never touch it again, and that will provide a death benefit of $100,000 until I’m at least 75 years old (I will put more money in of course since I plan on living past 75). That’s also a flexible premium policy with one of the most financially stable companies, so I would say that’s a good investment for my future children/grandchildren. Maybe not for myself, but at least my premiums won’t be more than $100/month when I’m old, assuming I still have excellent health and am insurable. With term I can get it insanely cheap now, but what about when I’m 50-60 and closing in on retirement? My premiums would hopefully be under $200/mo. at that point assuming I have excellent health or guaranteed insurability.

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