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!
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Analysis: When a broker says that, it means another broker has made a submission to the insurer in your name. That’s most likely the incumbent broker. In fact, the incumbent may have submitted your name to 10 insurers — often, without your approval or even your knowledge. This is a disguise. The incumbent appears to be shopping for a better deal on your behalf, while the actual motive is to freeze out competitors.
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It’s very true that you don’t own the cash value in anywhere near the same way that you own your other investments. You can only access it in certain circumstances, and even then there are big conditions like surrender charges and interest. And you’re also correct that you can’t get the cash value AND the insurance proceeds. It’s either/or. All good points.
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.
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.

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The first is that, as you say, no one invests all their money at the beginning of the period and cashes out at the end. Usually you invest some at the beginning and more at various points along the way. For example, someone who contributes part of their monthly paycheck. And since the stock market generally goes up, that means that you will inherently get lower returns than if you had invested all of your money at the beginning, simply because some of your money will not have been invested for the entire ride.
Some insurance agents, such as independent agents, will compare policies from multiple vendors. However, this does not mean that the agent has access to all of the vendor’s policies. As insurance agents represent insurers, they may or may not have the experience and expertise required to advise you regarding the best policy for your particular situation. While independent insurance agents may be able to offer you more choices as they work with companies that are competing for your business, they generally only sell the insurance options that will provide them with the biggest profits. Keep this in mind when choosing between an insurance broker and insurance agent.
“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.”
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.
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Base commission is the “normal” commission earned on insurance policies. Base commission is expressed in terms of a percentage of premium and varies by type of coverage. For instance, an agent might earn say, a 10 percent commission on workers compensation policies and 15 percent on general liability policies. Suppose that you purchase a liability policy from the Elite Insurance Company through the Jones Agency, an independent agent. Jones earns a 15 percent commission on general liability policies.

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Insurance brokers specialize in insurance and risk management. Unlike insurance agents, brokers work for you rather than the insurance companies. An insurance broker uses his knowledge and experience to help you assess your unique insurance needs, find the best coverage and value, and can assist you when making a claim. As insurance brokers work directly with insurance buyers, you can rest assured that an expert is available to receive your calls and answer any insurance questions you have.

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.
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.
Response 1: This has to be the most common objection. I understand it, but I don’t totally agree with it, so please give it a LOT of thought and decide for yourself. Let’s begin with the idea that insurance is not an investment. That is false. It is absolutely an investment. You spend money in expectation of a financial return, the size of which is usually known but the probability of which is oftentimes unknown (because many people cancel term policies or cannot renew them before they pass away).

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Third, yes the cash value of your whole life insurance is less susceptible to swings than the stock market. But it comes with far less upside AND you do not have to invest 100% of your money in the stock market. A smart asset allocation allows you to balance the upside of the stock market with the relatively safety of the bond market without all the negatives of a whole life insurance policy.
Our Employee Benefits team is acutely aware of the need to provide your employees with the appropriate benefits, while simultaneously ensuring the costs remain affordable to both you and your employees. Our experts take a proactive and consultative approach to doing business, and our goal is to not only help you retain your competitive edge, but to make benefit plan administration seamless for you. We go above and beyond for each client, acting as an advocate in price negotiation and dispute resolution in claims and billing scenarios.
The “fixed returns” you talk about from whole life are not the 4-6% you mention in multiple places. Again, as I said in the post, the guaranteed returns are much closer to 1% or less. Yes you might get better returns depending on the dividends the insurance company decides to pay, but that’s not “fixed” or guaranteed. It changes every year. And yes, you can improve those refunds if you vastly overfund the policy in the early years, which again is something I already mentioned in the post. But for 98-99% of the population that really isn’t a viable strategy.
First, you compare whole life as a retirement vehicle to a savings account or CD. I’ll get to whether or not it’s actually better than those vehicles next, but regardless that’s an improper comparison. When people save for retirement, they generally do so with things like stocks, bonds and real estate. Savings accounts and CDs are not very good long-term investment tools. So whether it’s better than those things for retirement or not, the point is irrelevant.

From a pure insurance standpoint, whole life is generally not a useful product. It is MUCH more expensive than term (often 10-12 times as expensive), and most people don’t need coverage for their entire life. The primary purpose of life insurance is to ensure that your children have the financial resources they need to get themselves to the point where they can provide for themselves, so coverage that lasts your entire life doesn’t make a lot of sense except for a minority of cases that are the subject of another discussion.
One point I would like to counter is the idea that whole life “is insurance that CANNOT BE TAKEN AWAY”. It can be taken away if you are not able to keep up with your premium payments, which is pretty common given that people’s lives and financial situations are constantly changing. With some policies, the premium can even go up depending on the performance of the policy, forcing you to pay more than expected if you want to keep the coverage in place. So it’s not quite as simple as saying that the death benefit is a sure thing.
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.
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.
I have calculated a ~4% average annual ROR if the policy is kept for at least 20 years. This is not an IRR as an IRR gives no credit for the value of the death protection. This assumes the current dividend scale and can be defined as essentially the interest rate that accumulates the premiums, less an estimate of the value of the death protection each year, to the policy’s cash surrender value at the end of the period studied. It attempts to answer the question, “What interest rate would I have to earn on an outside investment of the extra premiums for WL to do as well as investing those extra premiums, in the WL policy?” consumerfed.org is a great resource for this analysis and other literature on this subject.
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.
Well the cash value in life insurance is counted as an asset for Medicaid purposes as well, so unfortunately it doesn’t help you there. If leaving an inheritance is a priority, then buying some type of permanent life insurance policy could be a good way to do that. But only if you but the right type of policy and only if it doesn’t negatively affect the rest of your financial plan.
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.

Thanks for adding to the sea of confusion. Term insurance may be dirt cheap when you are young, but it is deathly expensive by the time you turn 50 or 60. Term or permanent insurance are just tools for different needs. There isn’t a one size fits all solution to life insurance, and just because a few mis-guided and zealous agents have sold the wrong product doesn’t do justice to a great industry that provides a lot of security to families in their time of need.
Insurance brokers play a significant role in helping companies and individuals procure property and casualty (liability) insurance, life insurance and annuities, and accident and health insurance. For example, research shows that brokers play a significant role in helping small employers find health insurance, particularly in more competitive markets. Average small group commissions range from two percent to eight percent of premiums. Brokers provide services beyond procuring insurance, such as providing risk assessments, insurance consulting services, insurance-related regulatory and legislative updates, claims assistance services, assisting with employee enrollment, and helping to resolve benefit issues.[3] However, some states consider the provision of services that are unrelated to the insurance procured through the broker to be an impermissible rebate or inducement.
You’re right, there is a guaranteed portion of these policies. And like I say in the post, that guaranteed portion is nowhere near the illustrated return and is much less attractive than how it’s presented (e.g. a 4% “guaranteed” return is not actually anywhere near 4%). So to say that there’s a guarantee and somehow equate that to the numbers you presented earlier is, in my mind, misleading.
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Response 3: I’m sure that some are. It is up to you who to trust. I’d suggest asking up-front how these people are paid, because some are non-commissioned (e.g. if your employer pays them a flat fee to consult). But also keep in mind that you don’t want to take your advice from people with the opposite bias, either. Financial advisers are often paid on discretionary assets managed. If they are, then their incentive is clearly for you to buy term insurance (or no insurance) and let them invest as much as possible on your behalf. Just be careful and take a long time to think through the issues.
And yes, it is nice for children who develop chronic illnesses to have some amount of life insurance, potentially. But is the amount you purchase going to be enough? Yes they will have that amount but in most cases if they want more their health will still cause it to either be more expensive or unobtainable. So it isn’t exactly guaranteed insurability for life for whatever needs they have. It’s mostly limited to the amount you purchased, which is probably helpful but also probably wouldn’t meet their full needs. And again I would argue that you could buy term to cover their needs for a number of years while additionally saving in other ways if you really want to give them money they can use in the event of a chronic illness. Having it in accessible accounts would actually give them more options in that situation rather than having to wait till death.
Special exclusions may apply, such as suicide clauses, whereby the policy becomes null and void if the insured commits suicide within a specified time (usually two years after the purchase date; some states provide a statutory one-year suicide clause). Any misrepresentations by the insured on the application may also be grounds for nullification. Most US states specify a maximum contestability period, often no more than two years. Only if the insured dies within this period will the insurer have a legal right to contest the claim on the basis of misrepresentation and request additional information before deciding whether to pay or deny the claim.
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Life insurance policies often have hidden costs, such as fees and large commissions, that you may not find out about until after you purchase the policy. There are so many different kinds of life insurance, and so many companies that offer these policies, that you should use a fee-only insurance adviser who, for a fixed fee, will research the various policies available to you and recommend the one that best suits your needs. To ensure objectivity, your adviser should not be affiliated with any particular insurance company and should not receive a commission from any policy.
I have a few whole life policies. I was older when I really started to save and have the ability to pay into these accounts now (one I paid $95,000 right at start) and started late on a 401K. I max out my 401K contributions every year (I’m in the 50+ catch up department) so I believe the thinking was that these policies were the best option given my late start. Is that true? It seems your article is geared toward the young investor.
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Nice write up. I personally have been able to save with an independent agent. A big concern of mine was finding an agent that worked with more reputable insurance carriers. There seems to be alot of agents who will use non-standard insurance carriers to provide cheaper coverage. I've heard some horror stories about customer service, sub-par adjustments, and claims services. I'd definitely do alot of research into the insurance companies the independent agent is appointed with.
Your comment on term insurance allowing you to convert at anytime is inaccurate. You must read the conversion language as it is designed to protect the insurance company. Met life for example states ” During the conversion period shown in the policy schedule you can convert this policy, while it is in force with all premiums paid, to a new policy–On a plan of permanent insurance, with a level face amount, available on the policy date of the new policy.”. Some term plans won’t let you convert after 10 years or if your over age 65. Imagine having a 20year $1,000,000 term plan and getting cancer in the 19th year. You want to convert but find out the conversion period ended in the 10th year. Also, the company typically determines which plan you can convert to. Maybe its just 2 plans out of the 8 they offer. What is the likelyhood of those being the best 2 plans available? Alas, no one reads the contract or the prospectus for that matter. My dad always said “the big print givith and the small print taketh away.”
I’m sorry you’re finding yourself in this situation Debbie, but the good news is that you have options. I would first ask your current insurance company for an in-force illustration. This will show you exactly what your cash surrender value is right now, which is the amount of money you would walk away with today if you canceled the policy. It will also show you how that cash surrender value is expected to grow in the future.

3. I would recommend that they talk to a fee-only financial planner before they make any decisions. This is someone who would be paid only to give them advice, not to sell them a product, and should therefore be able to be more objective. They should be able to find one who would be willing to work with them for a one-time flat fee (others will try to take over managing their assets for a regular fee. They can evaluate whether that’s something they want on their own, but know that the option for a one-time flat fee is available, and is likely all they need at this point).

How do you feel about Single Premium Index Life? I am 65 years old with no need for life insurance as my grown son will already be well taken care of with my other assets. The ability to care for myself in my retirement outweighs my desire for an additional legacy. this policy is being sold to me more like a long-term care policy where I can use the death benefit, if needed, for nursing home or chronic care. The single premium is $100K with the death benefit to go no lower than $182K. This is money sitting in saving accounts now because I value the feeling of liquidity. I may, or may not, need part of this money during my retirement. This policy is being presented to me by an insurance salesman who presented himself in a seminar as an expert in Social Security to target his audience. Thanks.
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.

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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.).
Second, I would say that it’s debatable whether whole life insurance is actually better than a savings account or CD, in terms of a savings vehicle. You mention the guaranteed return. Well, as I mention in the post, my policy had a “4% guaranteed return”, but when I ran the numbers it only actually amounted to 0.74% event after 40 years. It was less before that. And this was from one of the top mutual life insurers in the country. Not only is that incredibly misleading (and that’s being kind), I can get a better guaranteed rate than that right now from an online savings account, even though interest rates are at an all-time low. And my online savings account doesn’t have any of the other huge drawbacks that are also mentioned in the article.
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.
And yes, it is nice for children who develop chronic illnesses to have some amount of life insurance, potentially. But is the amount you purchase going to be enough? Yes they will have that amount but in most cases if they want more their health will still cause it to either be more expensive or unobtainable. So it isn’t exactly guaranteed insurability for life for whatever needs they have. It’s mostly limited to the amount you purchased, which is probably helpful but also probably wouldn’t meet their full needs. And again I would argue that you could buy term to cover their needs for a number of years while additionally saving in other ways if you really want to give them money they can use in the event of a chronic illness. Having it in accessible accounts would actually give them more options in that situation rather than having to wait till death.

As far as buying term and investing the difference the company I bought from has produced far better risk adjusted returns when compared to my analysis over the last twenty years of buying term and investing the difference in the S&P. I don’t mean to say we should not invest but I view my permanent policy as a great place to take some risk off the table and also to have some long term safe dollars. I agree that unless you die early, this is not a good short term idea. Also the fact that is not considered an asset as you mention, gives it very favorable treatment. I asked myself, if I were a beneficiary would I want to inherit a portfolio worth 2.5 million a house worth a million or a 3.5 million tax free check. For me, it was the latter. For high net worth people I would argue it is better than a muni allocation. I don’t view the discussion as one or the other invest and buy term or just buy whole life but rather as a synergy of assets that can produce a great value. As you say, it’s all quite subjective. Is whole life your best “investment”? No, but I do think it is a fantastic tool.
Hi James. Sorry for the late reply! So I’ll be honest that I’m not an expert on this exact strategy, but my understanding is that it’s generally something you might look to implement later in life, closer to when you’re actually making the decision about what type of pension payout you want. That’s simply because there are a lot of variables involved that could make it either more or less advantageous, and if you’re in your early 30s it’s just hard to know what all of those variables will look like 30 years down the line.
A corollary to the liquidity issue is the concept of flexibility of your contributions. Even with a 401(k) or IRA, where you can’t access your money without penalty, you can always choose to stop contributing for a period of time if you need that money for other purposes. In the meantime, your account stays intact, steadily earning tax-deferred returns on the money you’ve already put in.
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.
Calculable loss: There are two elements that must be at least estimable, if not formally calculable: the probability of loss, and the attendant cost. Probability of loss is generally an empirical exercise, while cost has more to do with the ability of a reasonable person in possession of a copy of the insurance policy and a proof of loss associated with a claim presented under that policy to make a reasonably definite and objective evaluation of the amount of the loss recoverable as a result of the claim.
Therein lies the problem. The asset you are securing is not the cash and too many people sell it that way and then the client views it that way. The asset is the death benefit. I know of no other asset where you can essentially secure a million dollar tax free asset at a 60% discount with about 2% down. The cash value build up is a an added bonus as I see it which provides great liquidity later on and also provides for quite a bit of optionality. With respect to term insurance, most people outlive their term so I would argue term is more expensive. I own both, but when I look at my term, if I pay premiums and outlive my term, I will have sunken about 250,000 into the contract and will have gotten zero for it. My permanent insurance will be paid to a beneficiary no matter what. Also people die including children. We need to take a cold look at what would happen if ine of our children died. How do you pay for the funeral? Do you need counseling? Will you go back to work immediately? Would you want to give it to charity or start one in your child’s name? I bought them for each of my kids. They are my favorite asset because I guaranteed their insurability. I have a few friends who have children with diabetes. Most carriers will not insure diabetics. My friends thankfully bought their children policies before they were diagnosed. I would agree permanent insurance is not for everyone, but more people should use at least a small piece of it S part of their plan. I also think they are extremely valuable when a person has the capacity to shrink down the insurance and load it with cash, as you mentioned above. Anytime the IRS puts limits on a vehicle as they do on permanent vehicles or any vehicle for that matter, I tend to think that is a good asset or vehicle for your money.
The insurance company calculates the policy prices (premiums) at a level sufficient to fund claims, cover administrative costs, and provide a profit. The cost of insurance is determined using mortality tables calculated by actuaries. Mortality tables are statistically based tables showing expected annual mortality rates of people at different ages. Put simply, people are more likely to die as they get older and the mortality tables enable the insurance companies to calculate the risk and increase premiums with age accordingly. Such estimates can be important in taxation regulation.[10][11]
Well, first of all, I know nothing about how things work in Canada so I’m definitely not qualified to advise you on this. Given the same situation in the US though, I would say that it’s something you could consider. I would just make sure that you work with a fee-only financial planner who specializes in this kind of thing, can evaluate all of your options in the context of your specific goals, and, if this ends up being a good option, can help you find a policy specifically structured to minimize costs and maximize growth. That’s really the only way I would consider it.
An entity seeking to transfer risk (an individual, corporation, or association of any type, etc.) becomes the 'insured' party once risk is assumed by an 'insurer', the insuring party, by means of a contract, called an insurance policy. Generally, an insurance contract includes, at a minimum, the following elements: identification of participating parties (the insurer, the insured, the beneficiaries), the premium, the period of coverage, the particular loss event covered, the amount of coverage (i.e., the amount to be paid to the insured or beneficiary in the event of a loss), and exclusions (events not covered). An insured is thus said to be "indemnified" against the loss covered in the policy.
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.
Home insurance, also commonly called hazard insurance or homeowners insurance (often abbreviated in the real estate industry as HOI), provides coverage for damage or destruction of the policyholder's home. In some geographical areas, the policy may exclude certain types of risks, such as flood or earthquake, that require additional coverage. Maintenance-related issues are typically the homeowner's responsibility. The policy may include inventory, or this can be bought as a separate policy, especially for people who rent housing. In some countries, insurers offer a package which may include liability and legal responsibility for injuries and property damage caused by members of the household, including pets.[31]
For all of the above advantages, I believe the actual returns seen were far less then the 8% a year on the simulation. The reason was probably fees similar to Reason#2 in the above article. I wish I had the tables that were presented so I could verify this (I have asked my friend for the tables). At any rate, after my reading, I am leaning toward not purchasing this product because it seems to give weaker results (after fees) compared to other tax advantaged and non tax advantaged investment accounts which I have barely begun to invest in. It may be useful in some cases if all the better investments have been maximized and one is looking for a tax free long term low yield conservative investment account that allows one to withdraw tax and interest free and provides a life insurance payout in the event of death.
In the United States, brokers are regulated by the state (or states) in which they work. Most brokers are required to have an insurance broker license, which involves taking courses and passing an examination. Each state has different requirements for insurance brokers, which a broker must meet to be licensed in that state. Most states require insurance brokers to take continuing education courses in order to maintain their license.

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