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 am an agent with one of the top companies and have been for 5 years. The “buy term and invest the rest” sounds like a great idea but here’s what I have found. People don’t actually do it. You cannot change human behavior. I try to hold my clients accountable and want them to do the same for me. If a client is a spender, they will never stop being a spender. For those people we design a savings plan that let’s them spend their money guilt free, as long as they hit their monthly savings goal, they can spend what they wish.

The sale of life insurance in the U.S. began in the 1760s. The Presbyterian Synods in Philadelphia and New York City created the Corporation for Relief of Poor and Distressed Widows and Children of Presbyterian Ministers in 1759; Episcopalian priests organized a similar fund in 1769. Between 1787 and 1837 more than two dozen life insurance companies were started, but fewer than half a dozen survived. In the 1870s, military officers banded together to found both the Army (AAFMAA) and the Navy Mutual Aid Association (Navy Mutual), inspired by the plight of widows and orphans left stranded in the West after the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and of the families of U.S. sailors who died at sea.


Hi Matt, I’m a Life Insurance agent and Advisor and I work for New York Life. Some of your points make sense but saying that whole life is bad is a little off. It is good for savings toward your retirement and will do a lot more than a savings account, money market or cd will ever do. So to agree with you to a certain extent I’ll explain what I do for younger individuals, I’ll sell a whole life policy and later it with term insurance. Basically the whole life will build a cash value with guaranteed returns and the term insurance is in the event of an untimely death. $1,000,000 of term can be as low as $50 a month. Also NY Life has never guaranteed dividends but has paid them out for 159 years, even during the Great Depression. Our company is backed by a $180 billion general account and a $19 billion surplus. So yeah, we guarantee your returns. And we don’t just sell life insurance, that’s why our agents like myself have life, series 6,7,63,66,65 licenses, if our clients, not customers want more than life, we diversify for them into brokerage or anything else they want. Just puttin my 2 cents in.
Life insurance provides a monetary benefit to a decedent's family or other designated beneficiary, and may specifically provide for income to an insured person's family, burial, funeral and other final expenses. Life insurance policies often allow the option of having the proceeds paid to the beneficiary either in a lump sum cash payment or an annuity. In most states, a person cannot purchase a policy on another person without their knowledge.

4. If you end up wanting permanent life insurance when you get older, you have plenty of options other than buying whole life insurance as an investment when you’re young. You could convert a term policy. You could buy guaranteed no-lapse universal life. There are plenty of options that don’t require you lock yourself into a poorly-performing policy at a young age when that cash flow would be better used elsewhere.
I’ll be up front that I am not an expert on life insurance and long term care for people in your situation and therefore don’t have a great answer for you. I have heard good things about certain hybrid policies like you’re describing, but I would be very careful about who you’re buying it from and how exactly the policy works. If you would like a referral to a fee-only financial planner who specializes in this kind of decision, just let me know and I would be happy to help.
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.

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“Whole life has incredible benefits to protect against life events, I.e. disability…” This is what long-term disability insurance is for. A disability policy will cover all of your living expenses not just your life insurance premiums. It can even cover contributions to an IRA or other retirement savings vehicle. It’s much better and more cost effective true disability protection.
Stranger-originated life insurance or STOLI is a life insurance policy that is held or financed by a person who has no relationship to the insured person. Generally, the purpose of life insurance is to provide peace of mind by assuring that financial loss or hardship will be alleviated in the event of the insured person's death. STOLI has often been used as an investment technique whereby investors will encourage someone (usually an elderly person) to purchase life insurance and name the investors as the beneficiary of the policy. This undermines the primary purpose of life insurance, as the investors would incur no financial loss should the insured person die. In some jurisdictions, there are laws to discourage or prevent STOLI.

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None of the below should be taken as actionable advice. You should consult someone who you know and trust before making any important financial decisions. This is just a window into how I made my decision, so you can see some things I considered. I might be wrong about some of these things, but everything I’ve written below is what I believe today based on my current understanding and the guidance of my own advisers. Please note that I do also max out my 401k and IRAs and keep a modest taxable account as well, so whole life is just one piece (albeit a fairly sizable one) of my portfolio.


Universal life insurance addresses the perceived disadvantages of whole life—namely that premiums and death benefits are fixed. With universal life, both the premiums and death benefit are flexible. With the exception of guaranteed-death-benefit universal life policies, universal life policies trade their greater flexibility off for fewer guarantees.

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Terrorism insurance provides protection against any loss or damage caused by terrorist activities. In the United States in the wake of 9/11, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act 2002 (TRIA) set up a federal program providing a transparent system of shared public and private compensation for insured losses resulting from acts of terrorism. The program was extended until the end of 2014 by the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act 2007 (TRIPRA).
Like most small business owners, you probably purchase your insurance policies through an insurance agent or broker. The functions performed by insurance agents are similar, but not identical, to those performed by brokers. This article will explain how they differ. It will also explain how agents and brokers make money from the premiums you pay your insurers. Except where noted, the following discussion applies to agents and brokers selling property/casualty insurance. 

In the United States, the tax on interest income on life insurance policies and annuities is generally deferred. However, in some cases the benefit derived from tax deferral may be offset by a low return. This depends upon the insuring company, the type of policy and other variables (mortality, market return, etc.). Moreover, other income tax saving vehicles (e.g., IRAs, 401(k) plans, Roth IRAs) may be better alternatives for value accumulation.

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4. The guaranteed dividend or return rate was 0.75% and the last time the company had to resort to this rate was in 2008. In 2013 and 2014 the return was 12%. The average return was 8% and the return was capped at 15%. This average return seemed better than whole life policies that I had read about. Your money was invested similar to any other moderate risk investment account and this was different from the conservative approach that I thought most whole life policies took.
Hi Matt – my 3 kids (now all in their 20’s) had whole life policies opened for them by Grandpa 20 years ago. He has been paying a fixed annual payment of $240, but it’s now up to me (the kids are just starting out and don’t have a cent to spare). My first thought is to have them cancel and take the cash value (~7k each), but in looking at the policies (for the first time) it looks like at this point they are getting a decent cash value return – each of the last 3 years it’s been about 4.2% PLUS the $240. AND the dividend the last few years has been almost as much as the annual payment – but has been buying more insurance (that they don’t need). Is it possible that if you suffer through the first 20 years, it then becomes a good investment? especially if I redirect the dividends to the cash value or a premium reduction? Great article by the way.
Our Management Liability specialists average 15 years of experience in structuring risk management programs that protect against various types of executive risk and management liability. Strong relationships with insurance carriers and familiarity with current government legislation and case law mean we can effectively manage your risks in real time—an imperative in this ever-changing business environment.
The sale of life insurance in the U.S. began in the 1760s. The Presbyterian Synods in Philadelphia and New York City created the Corporation for Relief of Poor and Distressed Widows and Children of Presbyterian Ministers in 1759; Episcopalian priests organized a similar fund in 1769. Between 1787 and 1837 more than two dozen life insurance companies were started, but fewer than half a dozen survived. In the 1870s, military officers banded together to found both the Army (AAFMAA) and the Navy Mutual Aid Association (Navy Mutual), inspired by the plight of widows and orphans left stranded in the West after the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and of the families of U.S. sailors who died at sea.
Your point is valid in that everyone has different risk tolerances objectives etc. so what is good for me is not good for someone else. As for, is the insurance enough for my children; I added an additional purchase benefit where they can add ten times as much coverage no matter what health issues they have. They don’t have to go through a medical. So of they develop juvenile diabetes and they want to add more coverage when they are 18, the company still looks at them in perfect health. They don’t need a medical exam when they add more coverage.
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.
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 

4. If you end up wanting permanent life insurance when you get older, you have plenty of options other than buying whole life insurance as an investment when you’re young. You could convert a term policy. You could buy guaranteed no-lapse universal life. There are plenty of options that don’t require you lock yourself into a poorly-performing policy at a young age when that cash flow would be better used elsewhere.

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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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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.
But here is the key: the most astute line in the article is “If you have a large amount of money, have already maxed out all of your tax-deferred savings, and you can afford to front-load your policy with large payments in the first several years, it can provide better returns than was discussed above. It is a useful product in a limited number of cases.”

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?


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.
We got our insurance through a broker and it's been kind of an annoyance. When they were taken over by another company after having the policy for decades we got a non renewal notice which was fine because we were not interested in doing business through them anyway until we found out that non renewal meant no other insurance wanted us and we were forced to buy a new policy through the broker.

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In Australia, all insurance brokers are required under the Financial Services Reform Act 2001[10] to be licensed by the federal government’s Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).[11] Reputable and experienced insurance brokers in Australia will generally also hold additional qualifications such as a certificate or diploma in financial services which requires the completion of in depth studies in a specific area, the most common being general insurance or insurance brokering.
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

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.
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]
It is not a valid argument to me to say that the “administrative pain in the ass” is a reason to ignore the tactic. It’s a pretty simple procedure and certainly not worth paying all the extra costs of a whole life approach just to avoid. Yes, you have to be careful if you have Traditional IRAs, but there are ways around that too. No, it’s not for everyone, but I would much rather try to make the backdoor Roth work first than immediately jump to whole life.
I disagree that an insurance policy has to pay for it to be valuable. Its purpose is to provide you with protection from scenarios you couldn’t otherwise handle, not to pay you money no matter what. Is your emergency fund worthless if you never have an emergency? Would you pay extra for an auto insurance policy that guaranteed you money for a brand new car (at the cost of the new car, not the value of your old on) once yours is done? Even if was more cost-efficient to save the money yourself? Again, I do agree that there are situations where the insurance component of a whole life policy can be valuable. I will never argue that it is a worthless product. I just think that many times it is sold to people who have options for meeting their needs in better ways. That doesn’t make it evil, just inefficient for many circumstances.

Save your money… don’t invest it… unless you’ve first insured that even if those investments don’t work out. Life is a big enough investment as it is… especially if others are dependent on you and particularly if you become wealthy. Term insurance won’t cut it. It will almost certainly be lapsed by the time you really need it. Too many opportunities over a lifetime to miss a payment and then poof… it’s gone.
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.

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.

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.

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