NerdWallet averaged rates for 40-year-old men and women for 20 ZIP codes in each state and Washington, D.C., from the largest insurers, up to 12 in each state. “Good drivers” had no moving violations on record and credit in the “good” tier as reported to each insurer. For the other two driver profiles, we changed the credit tier to “poor” or added one at-fault accident, keeping everything else the same. Sample drivers had the following coverage limits:
With that said, yes the interest rates are good, but it’s not really appropriate to compare the interest rate on a whole life loan to interest rates from other sources. With whole life, you’re borrowing YOUR OWN money that you already contributed after-tax. That’s very different from borrowing from a bank, where the money was never yours. It’s much more appropriate to compare the long-term, cumulative interest rate to the long-term after-tax returns you could get from other investments. That comparison looks very different and often much less beneficial for whole life.

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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In any case, once when I was younger, I used to think like the author, that you can overcome your risk tolerance and become a better investor if only you can control yourself and learn to love the equities roller coaster ride…now that I am in my mid-40s, I realize that I’m old school and conservative. I am happy with 5-6% return that is tax free risk free and doesn’t involve me making any decisions except how much I want to save this year.
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. 

As for it being undiversified, NO investment by itself is completely diversified. Cash value life insurance can ADD diversity and security to a portfolio (the top companies have incredible financial strength, good policies can have a solid conservative return while meeting a life insurance need). Diversification is an issue with cash value life insurance if it makes up a good portion of your assets, and if it would, you shouldn’t be buying it.
A very good article. Congruent to the philosophy in which our company was built: Buy Term, Invest the Difference. I am a crusader at heart and I am peeved every time I see these products in the hands of people who can barely afford it and whose life will be completely damaged for merely owning it because they are grossly under-insured when they could have well purchase a proper term amount for the time they need it.
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Because brokers work with a variety of insurance companies, they tend to have a broader understanding of companies’ offerings and key benefits. They are commission-based, which is a double-edged sword: they may be more motivated to earn your business year after year by getting you the best deal possible; or they may try to sell you a policy with unnecessary bells and whistles since that would pay them a higher commission. Regarding the double-edged sword: the best way to nail down the best deal possible is the annual review and re-shopping of coverage. The best way to avoid unnecessary “bells and whistles” is to remember that your needs guide what you purchase. If you don’t need “bells and whistles”, don’t purchase them. Approaching insurance this way is always the best way forward. Consider this: having options placed in front of you and explained in detail allows you the opportunity to hear about the newest “bells and whistles,” some of which may be just what you need or were looking for, but simply never asked about. Policies change, and new options are added by carriers all the time.
However, there may be areas where your pension doesn’t stack up to individual plans. For example you can leave your individual account to a beneficiary but that may not be possible with your pension. Also, survivor benefits may be insufficient or altogether absent. The nice thing about transferring your pension to an individual account today is that with interest rates at all-time lows, the amount the pension has to provide you on exit (the commuted value) is inflated to reflect the larger pool of capital required to fund your retirement years. This means you can leave with a bigger pool of dough than you could in an era where interest rates were much higher and so if things turn around and we find ourselves in a rising rate environment with improved fixed income opportunities, you can make out like a bandit. Of course, things could slide into negative interest rate territory and you could be left years left to live and no cash to live it on.
Naturally, the float method is difficult to carry out in an economically depressed period. Bear markets do cause insurers to shift away from investments and to toughen up their underwriting standards, so a poor economy generally means high insurance premiums. This tendency to swing between profitable and unprofitable periods over time is commonly known as the underwriting, or insurance, cycle.[25]
If someone really does want and need permanent insurance, and that may be especially relevant for those in Canada who own corporations, there are a variety of strategies to which the Minister of Finance is taking the axe for policies issued after January 1, 2017. As it stands now, the absurd inflation of surrender charges in the early years of a policy allow for a maximum funded LCOI (level cost of insurance) Universal Life policy to sock away a small fortune, tax-sheltered. That’s on the way out. But until it’s gone, there are some great applications that take advantage of a policy’s ability to pay out the investment portion of a policy tax free to a beneficiary upon the first death on a joint-last-to-die contract. That’s just one application…this is but one way insurance companies have adapted permanent insurance products to benefit the wealthy and there are many others, but these strategies tend to be offensive to the Canada Revenue Agency and as such their existence is always under threat. Life insurance companies tend to engage in games of cat and mouse in terms of finding and exploiting holes in the Income Tax Act in Canada, such as 10/8 policies or triple back to back arrangements, then the authorities shutter them. Rinse and repeat. This is probably not a bad thing…it exposes and then closes holes in the income taxa act. Frankly, the best use of an insurance policy is as INSURANCE. The death benefit is where the juice was always supposed to be. Not in engaging in elaborate tactics to skirt the rules. This is especially true as what is legal today may not necessarily be legal tomorrow. A lot of highly beneficial strategies amount to playing with fire.
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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The best thing to compare permanent life insurance policy to is to another similar type permanent life insurance policy. And you don’t want to focus on the interest rate specifically but on the actual values in each policy that are “guaranteed” – not projected. All things being equal, this tells you which permanent policy is less expensive and provides a higher net interest rate instead.
Anyway, there are many complexities to the whole life insurance variant plan that I was presented with, which make it unattractive to me as an investment option. I would suggest that anyone who is looking at whole life insurance as an option take a close look at the investment results and compare them to other options available on the market. Also take a close look at the fees and the structure of the loans that you will take out in the future. My conclusion is that, I would like to get a term life policy for now and maximize my other tax advantaged investments first prior to delving into the world of whole life insurance. And, by the time I actually get around to maximizing my other investments, I probably will be much older and not get a favorable premium any more.
Most of the time people selling against whole life state ” the guaranteed portions never materialize so assume no dividends are paid and let’s assumes you’ll get a 9 percent return in a mutual fund had you invested the difference”. This reasoning is total BS , all major mutuals have paid dividends over the last 150 + years and if you are in a mutual fund getting a higher return than 6 percent it is incredibly high risk and unrealistic long term. Also whole life tends to do much better in market downturns. they also make their money on forfeited policies, loans and pool payouts so their returns are not “totally” tied to the market performance.
Good question Steve. The full answer is that I don’t know exactly what options you have and it likely makes sense to talk to a good independent agent. But you are right that it is much harder to find affordable term life insurance as you get older, and in your case some kind of permanent insurance may make sense if you have an insurance need. Just make sure that you are only getting the features you need, and none that you don’t, so that your premium is being used as efficiently as possible. For example, if you are only buying it for the death benefit, do you need the cash value?
Brokers - Because a broker is solely focused on your unique needs, he or she can help with comparison-shopping, honing in on the best prices for the coverage you need. They can even advise you on how to best bundle or customize your policies in ways that agents might not be able to do (either because they are restricted in their policy offerings, or simply because they lack the insight into your specific needs).
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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.
An agent or broker is a person or business who can help you apply for help paying for coverage and enroll in a Qualified Health Plan (QHP) through the Marketplace. They can make specific recommendations about which plan you should enroll in. They’re also licensed and regulated by states and typically get payments, or commissions, from health insurers for enrolling a consumer into an issuer's plans. Some brokers may only be able to sell plans from specific health insurers.
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.
It’s a great point about the cost causing people to be underinsured. I have no idea if there are any statistics on that, but intuitively it would seem to make sense. It’s a shame if someone with a real need for life insurance is under-protected because a salesman could make a bigger commission off the more expensive product. But I’m sure it happens.
Hi Matt, I have a question for you. I was sold a whole life policy by a friend 4.5 years ago (before I was married) with the promise that it is a good investment tool. I’ve learned a lot about investing since then. The accumulation value is $6700 the surrender value is about $2700. I’m wondering if I should get out now and take the $2700 and run, or wait until I can pull out what I’ve paid into it which I hear is 10 years.
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!
2) With a portfolio of risky assets, the LONG-TERM RETURN is expected to be higher, but the variability around that is MUCH higher. In pretty much all of the “expected return” analyses that people on the internet show to compare whole life to term life + investing the difference, they are just comparing annualized returns or an IRR on a zero-volatility return stream. What they don’t account for are situations where the market crashes and you panic, wanting to move money into cash, or having to draw down on assets because they’re liquid and you can. This is normal behavioral stuff that occurs all the time, and reduces the power of your compounding. If you and your adviser are sure you can avoid these common pitfalls, then that is great and you might want to go for it. But don’t dismiss the reality. Also when running your simulations, make SURE to tax all of your realized capital gains and interest income along the way, and unrealized cap gains at the end. It can make a big difference.

An early form of life insurance dates to Ancient Rome; "burial clubs" covered the cost of members' funeral expenses and assisted survivors financially. The first company to offer life insurance in modern times was the Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office, founded in London in 1706 by William Talbot and Sir Thomas Allen.[3][4] Each member made an annual payment per share on one to three shares with consideration to age of the members being twelve to fifty-five. At the end of the year a portion of the "amicable contribution" was divided among the wives and children of deceased members, in proportion to the number of shares the heirs owned. The Amicable Society started with 2000 members.[5][6]
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).
1 The Banking Benefits – Deposit Introductory program offers a high yield fixed Introductory Rate during the first 12 statement cycles after opening a new Consumer Money Market Savings account with State Farm Bank. A new Consumer Money Market Savings account means you cannot have an existing Money Market Savings with the same ownership currently open or which closed within the last 12 months. Your Benefit account balance must remain below $5,000,000 to earn the Introductory Rate. If the account balance is $5,000,000 or above, you will earn the Standard Rate on your entire balance. The new Money Market Savings must be a Personal or Trust account. IRA Money Market, Estate, Uniform Transfer to Minors, and Business accounts are NOT eligible.

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Methods for transferring or distributing risk were practiced by Chinese and Babylonian traders as long ago as the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, respectively.[1] Chinese merchants travelling treacherous river rapids would redistribute their wares across many vessels to limit the loss due to any single vessel's capsizing. The Babylonians developed a system which was recorded in the famous Code of Hammurabi, c. 1750 BC, and practiced by early Mediterranean sailing merchants. If a merchant received a loan to fund his shipment, he would pay the lender an additional sum in exchange for the lender's guarantee to cancel the loan should the shipment be stolen, or lost at sea.
I have been paying into a whole life for 8 years, do I get out of it? What do I do after? My love ones outlived their term policies and the burden of burial fell on the family. I had a term life for 5 years before getting a whole life. I lost my job and they dropped me in two months for lack of payments. All that money I paid into the term was lost and getting insurance when older was more expensive. So the next time I went with whole. They don’t drop you as fast if you can’t pay the premiums during a job loss and if they do you get at least some money back. After reading this I feel I still made the wrong decision.
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.
Your “rent” analogy is a classic one used by life insurance salesmen when selling whole life, but it is a poor analogy. After all, insurance has nothing to do with renting vs. owning. Would you say that most people are simply “renting” auto insurance? Do you think people should buy auto insurance policies that will pay them the full price of a new car whenever their car dies, even if they drive it into the ground? Because that’s essentially what whole life insurance is. The main purpose of life insurance is to provide financially for dependents in the case that you die early, just as the main purpose of car insurance (beyond the liability portion) is to provide the financial value of your car in case it dies early. Once that financial protection is no longer needed, the insurance need is gone. Term insurance protects you while you need it and goes away once you don’t. It is insurance in the purest sense of the word and is by far the more effective way to go about it for the vast majority of the population. 

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Still, although I believe that persons without adequate income either to fund adequately retirement vehicles or to pay monthly bills without using a home equity line of credit or leaving any credit card balances unpaid, should probably only purchase term insurance, if you earn more than that, I am thinking that purchasing 15% to 25% of needed life insurance coverage though whole life policies may be a way to mitigate against the needed guessing that goes into picking the length and amount of term policies. Do you agree?
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
Unlike insurance agents, brokers typically have access to many different policies offered by various companies — not just a few policies offered by a single company. They may also have access to policies that are not available to most consumers. Having a wide selection of policies to choose from can ensure that clients have the best possible coverage and the best rates. It may also make the process more complicated, as more choices can lead to confusion over which policies will provide the best coverage. A broker can assist clients in choosing the right policies for their home, business, family or automobile to make sure that they are adequately protected. This includes more than simply looking at the premium rates or policy limits; it involves a thorough analysis of what exactly each policy covers and excludes to ensure that it is the right policy for the client.
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.
Contingent commissions are controversial. For one thing, brokers represent insurance buyers. Some people contend that brokers shouldn't accept contingent commissions. Moreover, some brokers have collected contingent commissions without the knowledge of their clients. Another problem is that contingent commissions may give brokers (and agents) an incentive to steer insurance buyers into policies that are particularly lucrative for the broker. If agents and brokers accept contingent commissions, they should disclose this fact to policyholders.
Your “rent” analogy is a classic one used by life insurance salesmen when selling whole life, but it is a poor analogy. After all, insurance has nothing to do with renting vs. owning. Would you say that most people are simply “renting” auto insurance? Do you think people should buy auto insurance policies that will pay them the full price of a new car whenever their car dies, even if they drive it into the ground? Because that’s essentially what whole life insurance is. The main purpose of life insurance is to provide financially for dependents in the case that you die early, just as the main purpose of car insurance (beyond the liability portion) is to provide the financial value of your car in case it dies early. Once that financial protection is no longer needed, the insurance need is gone. Term insurance protects you while you need it and goes away once you don’t. It is insurance in the purest sense of the word and is by far the more effective way to go about it for the vast majority of the population.
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.
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!
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. 

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Any reputable source will report mutual fund and stock returns as “annualized” figures, which takes the sequence of returns into account. Another term for this is “geometric average”, which again accounts for the order in which returns are received. So while there are some financial “experts” out there touting average returns (cough, Dave Ramsey), for the most part what you’re talking about here is not a factor.

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