Life insurance can be very confusing. What is term life insurance? What is whole life insurance? How can you get the information you need and make the right decision about life insurance for you and your family or other beneficiaries? We’ll provide an overview of these two popular types of life insurance so you can get an idea of what might be a good fit for you. Find out more by contacting an insurance agent in your area.

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.


I am a fairly wealthy Canadian professional with a corporation. I have indeed maxed out all my tax-deferred savings options. I am nearing 50 years old. I only have one child. By the time I retire I will probably have more money than I could use , but my daughter will probably already inherit more money than she will ever need when I pass away. Do I bother with all of this complicated permanent insurance stuff, or just forget it and try to spend as much as I can ?!! Your article makes me want to forget the whole thing is I am not usually comfortable investing in things I don’t understand very well especially when everyone seems to be pushing it due to high commissions. However I seem to be in that 1% group you say would actually benefit from this. What do you think?
Universal life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance designed to provide lifetime coverage. Unlike whole life insurance, universal life insurance policies are flexible and may allow you to raise or lower your premium payment or coverage amounts throughout your lifetime. Additionally, due to its lifetime coverage, universal life typically has higher premium payments than term.
“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.
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.

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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.
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

I am Also current working toward my CFP as well and I do see some good points. However, what weaken your argument is that you need to include instances where WL is a valuable tool. Your article is bias (as Dave Ramsey is also quite bias) because it is just as easy for me to argue term life insurance is always bad. If that is the case, then no one will buy life insurance and every family will be in financial trouble. You claimed that you are a CFP, and you should know better that you have the obligation to ensure the public is given both pros and cons about all products.
3. I do understand that most investors are earning significantly less than what the market actually returns. That’s from behavioral errors and I don’t have any reason to believe that those errors disappear when you invest in a whole life insurance policy. In fact, my experience seems to show that whole life insurance tends to make the underperforance even worse, as it often takes 1-3 years before someone realizes just how poorly the product is performing. At that point, they’re even further behind than when they started.
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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Brokers are not appointed by insurers. They solicit insurance quotes and/or policies from insurers by submitting completed applications on behalf of buyers. Brokers don't have the authority to bind coverage. To initiate a policy, a broker must obtain a binder from the insurer. A binder is a legal document that serves as a temporary insurance policy. It usually applies for a short period, such as 30 or 60 days. A binder is not valid unless it has been signed by a representative of the insurer. A binder is replaced by a policy.
Ally or Matt, Can I ask what you used(formula?) to calculate their colorful presentation of the long term growth plan? I was recently presented with this Whole life idea from a Salesman or “Wealth Planner” and he made it sound really good but deep down inside, I don’t feel right, i felt the need to research more because i know there’s more to it than pretty graphs and colorful numbers…until i found this article which explains A LOT so thanks Matt:)
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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What you are telling people in this post is irresponsible and bad advice. You are correct that term is a lot cheaper than whole life, but you are leaving out the problems with term insurance that whole life policy can fix at any age. Did you know only 2% of term policies are ever paid a death benefit on? You can buy a 20 year term at age 30 but what happens when you turn 51? Buy more term at your current health at 51? What if you get cancer or other health problems that cause you to become uninsurable? Would you rather pay $100 a month for a $100,000 permanent policy and earn cash value, or would you rather pay $40 a month for 20 years on the same policy and then have to buy a new term policy at age 51 that will be $200-$300 a month and even then if you don’t die during that term then what do you have when your 80? Nothing, because no one is going to sale you life insurance at age 80. I don’t think buying term at a young age is a bad idea, but the longer you wait to transfer some of that to permanent insurance you are digging yourself and your family a deeper hole when you live past that term policy and have nothing to leave them with.
One other point. You emphasize the “tax free” nature of whole life here. I feel like I was pretty clear about that in the post and would be interested to hear your thoughts. Just blindly calling it “tax free” ignores the presence of interest (on your own money, by the way) which over extended periods of time can actually be more detrimental than taxes.
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?
The above is meant as general information and as general policy descriptions to help you understand the different types of coverages. These descriptions do not refer to any specific contract of insurance and they do not modify any definitions, exclusions or any other provision expressly stated in any contracts of insurance. We encourage you to speak to your insurance representative and to read your policy contract to fully understand your coverages.
Maximum-funding a corporate owned UL policy only long enough that it can go on premium offset, where the policy returns are enough to pay the premium indefinitely, can be attractive as well. The internal rate of return on such policies inside corporations can make a corporate UL an alternative to fixed income in an era where yield is sparse. Again, not for everyone, but there are applications out there for those with significant estates.
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.
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).
I chose not to discuss the difference between stock and mutual companies here because I don’t think it’s very relevant to the conversation. You aren’t clear why you think it’s important, but my best guess is that you think your returns are more guaranteed with a mutual company. I would agree that you’re better off with a mutual company, but you’re still hinging a large amount of money on the prospects and policies of a single company. It is still undiversified and still exposes you to a lot of unnecessary risk. If you have a different reason for bringing up this distinction I would be interested to hear it.

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Hi Matt. Read your posts and comments on Whole Life and the overfunding options available. I have a different situation involving a policy with Prudential called Variable Appreciable Life. I am looking for a safe haven for some available cash with a minimum return of 4%. Agent/Financial Planner has suggested I overfund the balance of that VAL policy. Yes, I am quite conservative but have enough invested in 401k, Stocks, Funds etc. Policy is 50K and issued in 1990. Wife and I are in mid seventies and looking to have 30-40K of available liquid cash. Can add/withdraw the overfunding $ at any time. Interest guarantee is 4.0%.
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”
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.

In my experience it is rare to find a policy for which the cash value growth by year 6 doesn’t exceed the annual premium (except for policies purchased at older ages, or policies of low face amounts, which have inherently higher costs), that is more than likely to hold true by year 9 or 10! Catching onto some words in my statement, while ignoring the facts presented, doesn’t make you more credible. I challenge you to post images of inforce illustrations where cash value growth is less that the annual premium by year 6.
As to me, I am a commercial, non-insurance attorney who tries to be an “informed” consumer of financial products. 27 years ago, when I already was carrying no credit card balances and was funding my IRAs and 401ks in appropriate amounts, I, along with other of the partners in our then small law firm, purchased a Universal Life policy on my wife with Manufacturer’s Life (a mutual company) purchased now by John Hancock. Over the next 7 years, I purchased laddered term life insurance policies for my wife and I with terms designed to expire between our ages 55 and 72 (so our coverage would drop as our savings increased). The universal life coverage was for about 8-10% of our total aggregate insurance coverage.

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Several comments……first, I didn’t read all the posts so I apologize if this has already been discussed/addressed………you mentioned loans on a whole life policy is the means by which “tax free” income is distributed and that makes for the equivalent of double taxation, however the first monies coming out of a whole life policy would be your own contributions and therefore no taxation would be in effect as those monies, when contributed, had already been taxed…….the loan process would kick in when the policy detects taxable growth and would switch to loans instead of withdrawals………..also, let me just mention the insidious monster called “sequence of returns” and how it pertains to “returns” in the market……..returns in the market are reported by averages…….once you look at the “real rate of return” of a stock or mutual fund you might find the long term return of a whole life policy much more palatable……….example: what is the average rate of return in this example and real rate of return……..you have a $1,000,000 home and in the first year it goes down by 40%……….your home is worth $600,000…….the very next year your home goes up by 60%……..your home is now worth $960,000…….but what is going to be your reported average rate of return?……….10%, yet you are still under water; the “real rate of return is -4%…….this is a very eye opening expose on how the “market” makes things look…..it is the downs in the market that kill an investments return…….there are no downs in a whole life policy………..I hope this helps in perspective.
Insurance policies can be complex and some policyholders may not understand all the fees and coverages included in a policy. As a result, people may buy policies on unfavorable terms. In response to these issues, many countries have enacted detailed statutory and regulatory regimes governing every aspect of the insurance business, including minimum standards for policies and the ways in which they may be advertised and sold.
Assuming you’re already maxing out your regular retirement accounts, have a full emergency fund, are comfortably saving for other short and medium-term goals, are able to spend money comfortably on things you enjoy, AND still have money left over to save, AND expect that to continue indefinitely without any big risk of disruption, then you don’t have to worry too much about the slow growth in the beginning, the complications of accessing the money, or the rigidity of having to pay the premium.
As for actually wanting coverage in case of the death of a child, I would say that the choice is here slightly more personal preference. You are of course correct that children can die and that there would be costs involved. Whole life insurance can help with that. I would personally prefer to insure against these unlikely scenarios with regular savings and investments because I think it’s less costly and also gives you more options for what to do with the money.
The mortality tables provide a baseline for the cost of insurance, but the health and family history of the individual applicant is also taken into account (except in the case of Group policies). This investigation and resulting evaluation is termed underwriting. Health and lifestyle questions are asked, with certain responses possibly meriting further investigation. Specific factors that may be considered by underwriters include:

Death benefits are generally received income tax-free by your beneficiaries. In the case of permanent life insurance policies, cash values accumulate on an income tax-deferred basis. That means you would not have to pay income tax on any of the policy’s earnings as long as the policy remains in effect. In addition, most policy loans and withdrawals are not taxable (although withdrawals and loans will reduce the cash value and death benefit).2

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