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…
Thanks for the insightful article. I agree with the general statement that, in a vacuum, it is better to “buy term and invest the difference.” However, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on using whole life insurance as an investment vehicle in the context of the infinite banking model (assuming you are familiar with the concept). From what I understand, it sounds like a good way to achieve predictable and guarenteed growth on a compounded basis while allowing you to borrow money from your own policy and pay yourself the interest, all while always having access to the funds. I think it might be wise for people, like myself, are looking for guaranteed growth with little risk.
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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Your post on why whole life insurance is a bad investment was extremely informative. My father in law is deciding whether to buy a whole life policy because his term life premium is going up and he only has 5 years left until the policy expires. After reading your post and looking closely at the insurance companies offer my wife and I are advising to do something else with their money. Thanks and keep it up!

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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.

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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.
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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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Thanks so much for the great article! My husband has a whole life insurance plan that was set up for him by his dad when he was a teenager, so he’s always had it. It’s expensive, though, and we’ve often talked about discontinuing it because it’s so pricey. Still not sure what the best route to take is, but I appreciate the very informative article!
1. Cash Value. Yes, you can borrow it. Bad Idea. But did you know that if you die, you do not get your cash value, only the Face Amount of the Policy? If you live to age 100, your cash value is paid up and the policy is matured. If you die, again, your heirs do not get the cash value. It disappears magically. You cannot get both the cash value and the face amount of the policy. If you borrow it and don’t pay it back, it is subtracted from the amount paid to heirs at death.
Fifth, if you have maxed out all your tax-advantaged investment accounts, you are on track for all your other financial goals, you are able to enjoy a lifestyle that makes you happy, and you still have money leftover, then yes, some kind of permanent life insurance policy could possibly make sense. But it would need to be a policy that was specially designed to minimize fees and maximize growth, and you need to work with a certain kind of agent in order to have that done.
Full Circle, one time I thought whole life insurance was great. Then I cashed it in, bought at least 5 new automobiles, a house, a couple motorcycles and more bullshit. Then I learned how to properly use life insurance as a bank, instead of borrowing money from a bank, I borrow the money from myself and pay myself back what I would have paid banks. I get to collect all the interest I would have paid the banks. I get to grow my money tax free. I get to pass my hard earned money on to my family tax free. The key is understanding Whole life vs creating your own banking system.
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.
In Jordan’s case, assuming that all those numbers will stay consistent and that there aren’t any scenarios in which he might need to put significantly more into the policy in order to keep it active (which is possible), then it’s a relatively small price to pay for security that sounds like is important to him. I wouldn’t personally take out the policy because I would rather put that money to work elsewhere, but I could understand the appeal.
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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.
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.
Then, for whatever year you want to calculate the return for, you enter the projected cash surrender value on that date as the cash flow on that line (as a positive number). Keep in mind that your projected cash value at the start of year 10 is actually the cash value they show on the year 9 row (that’s the projected cash value at the END of year 9, which is equivalent to the start of year 10).
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Premiums paid by a policyholder are not deductible from taxable income, although premiums paid via an approved pension fund registered in terms of the Income Tax Act are permitted to be deducted from personal income tax (whether these premiums are nominally being paid by the employer or employee). The benefits arising from life assurance policies are generally not taxable as income to beneficiaries (again in the case of approved benefits, these fall under retirement or withdrawal taxation rules from SARS). Investment return within the policy will be taxed within the life policy and paid by the life assurer depending on the nature of the policyholder (whether natural person, company-owned, untaxed or a retirement fund).
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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. 

It’s a very fair point, especially coming from someone with so much first-hand experience. Your earlier point about long-term care diminishing assets, even if you’ve saved for those expenses, is a good one too. Thanks for the input. I’m going to do some digging on the cost of a trust vs. the cost of whole life. I definitely think it’s important to make sure you don’t leave your family members with a huge bill when you die.

When I was at the meeting yesterday with my parents also present, I was really impressed at the product, which was basically a variation of whole life insurance called FFIUL. I was also impressed with the upper level salesman and the presentation. I saw the simulation that was shown and the resulting table of yearly returns looked impressive at first. I left the meeting with a smile on my face and was really thinking about making the investment especially considering that my friend (an accountant whose house I was at) said that he had invested in the same product.

First of all, it’s important to understand that while the death benefit is certainly valuable, it is not technically an “asset”. The asset that you can include on your balance sheet with a whole life policy is the cash value. The only way you get the death benefit is by dying, so it is not an asset you can actually use today. Again, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless, it’s just not correct to compare it to money in a savings or investment account.
In the United States, insurance is regulated by the states under the McCarran-Ferguson Act, with "periodic proposals for federal intervention", and a nonprofit coalition of state insurance agencies called the National Association of Insurance Commissioners works to harmonize the country's different laws and regulations.[42] The National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) also works to harmonize the different state laws.[43]
With that said, I honestly think that the best thing you can do for your son is work as hard as you can to put the money you do make to work building a solid financial foundation for yourself and, when he’s old enough, involve him in the process so that he can learn real world money lessons at a young age and be more prepared to deal with it when he’s on his own.
2)The lack of cash flow flexibility is troubling in that the largest assumption driving my analysis is that I am able to continue paying the premiums and keeping my policy current. If I want to take time off for travel (which is a near-term goal) or lose my job before this becomes self-funding, the policy can lapse and I would get only the cash surrender value at what is most likely a loss depending on timing
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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.
Shoes are great but if the statement is “size six shoes are great” makes the question more difficult to answer. If you were born with size six feet then size six shoes could be excellent for you. If you’re a size 13 – then, maybe not so much. See? The answer is subject to your personal needs/requirements. Same is true with whole life insurance. Next time you’re pondering the subject ask yourself what should a grandfather do if he wants to insure his grandchild has something from him when his children are irresponsible and will most likely either outright steal the grandchild’s inheritance or just blow through it if they could? Or understand that the family has a history of illness and by purchasing the policy at an early stage the baby will be abler to get life permanent insurance. But to do what I ask requires real thought, not someone shooting from the hip.
Thank you Phil. One thing to keep in mind with any investment strategy, whole life or otherwise, is that the word “guaranteed” needs to be treated with a huge amount of skepticism. There’s very rarely anything that’s truly guaranteed, and whatever really is guaranteed is often much smaller than you think. I would look again at the “results are not guaranteed” part of this article.
Add to this, when a younger person owns whole life (or cash value fixed universal life) they have the life insurance coverage they need, are building a tax free bond portfolio for the future (which as most people realize is what older investors shift into as the age) but also have a accumulation vehicle that can “self complete” if they become disabled. 401k’s can’t provide this…they don’t even match the long term return of the do nothing stock markets because of the fee’s they charge. That is to say…there is no “alpha”
This shift to universal life by insurance companies has made premiums cheaper but removed many of the guarantees that came with traditional whole life insurance like guaranteed face amounts, guaranteed premiums and guaranteed cash values. The result is that there are a lot of underfunded universal life insurance policies out there which aren’t really permanent policies anymore since they can’t support themselves and will lapse instead of paying out.
Each type of life insurance product has its advantages and disadvantages. You can’t say term life is the best, whole life is the best or universal life is the best. It depends on what an individual client need and his or her situation. As a client, they should know all the advantages and disadvantages but of course, they are under the supervision of a certain type of insurance agent that can be biased and try to sell what they have to offer to form their companies. Avoid an agent that focuses on selling one type of product. Talk to an agent who can provide the knowledge of each type and you can choose what best for you.
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3 The above example is based on a scenario for 20‐year term life insurance (domicile state) that includes the following benefit conditions: $50,000 death benefit, $50,000 accidental death benefit, and $12,500 seatbelt benefit. Benefits may vary by state, benefit option, and level of coverage selected. Review your state‐specific brochure below for a “How It Works” scenario customized for your state.
As a financial planner I find this article very misleading. Whole life insurance can be an excellent way for someone to save for the long term. If you earn too much for a Roth IRA especially (180K plus for a household roughly) then whole life insurance is literally the only place to get tax free savings on growth  (tax free municipal bonds also but these have a lot of risk especially with interest rates going up). A properly designed whole life insurance policy with a good company like a New York Life,  Mass Mutual,  Northwestern etc which have always paid dividends since the mid 1800s can easily earn NET of fees and taxes 4-5% over a 25-30 year period. Which means in a taxable brokerage account for example or a bank account you would have to GROSS 6% or so to match this over that same period every year on average? On a virtually guaranteed basis this is tough to do. This doesn’t even speak to the point that you have a tax free permanent death benefit. When a client’s 20 year term runs up they almost always still want and need some life insurance,  and what if they aren’t insurable anymore? Getting some whole life when young and healthy,  savings/cash value aside,  assures them they’ll always have coverage which can someday go to kids,  grandkids etc which is a nice option. Whatever cash you pull out reduces the death benefit dollar for dollar, but if set up properly there will always be more than enough death benefit even after most of cash is taken out tax free in retirement, when the stock market is down (this is especially when you appreciate having a non correlated asset like whole life for when the market crashes and you can tap into your whole life cash so you don’t have to touch your investments in that downturn OR take advantage of the opportunity and but stocks when things are down with cars value). Interest does accrue on policy loan which is why the tax is cash free and the loop hole exists. But often the dividend more than offsets the policy loan interest which doesn’t have to be repaid and just comes off of the death benefit which is often just a bonus anyways. A client should make sure they have enough coverage of course which is why people often get a large term life insurance which is “cheap”  in addition to a smaller whole life which is a dual savings,  dual coverage to be in place when the term expires.

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Also, you said whole life is not an investment. But by definition, it is an investment. An investment is simply where you put money into something expecting a return in the future. And whole life insurance does provide that. Plus if it is a mutual company as mine is then you become a partial owner which means you get to vote and help the business make good business decisions.

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