I agree with you, generally. Many of those commenting seem to have forgotten that you focused around whole life as an “investment”. Even though insurance is an investment in it’s own way, it’s shouldn’t be sold as an investment. In my experience, it really only makes sense for more wealthy clients who are doing more elaborate estate planning etc. However, the vast majority of people in their 20’s and 30’s should steer clear of whole life. Selling permanent insurance for “retirement planning” gives the financial services industry a slimy look. The income isn’t “tax-free”. It’s a loan. As you say in the article: if one’s taking it for income are they really going to pay it back…? Plus, if a client is in their 20’s and 30’s their time horizon is perfect for IRAs and the equity markets. May dividend aristocrat stocks have paid high percentages for 50+ years. Lastly, as many agents put their clients first…. others do not. If the premiums on whole life are 10x as high… so are the commissions.
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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.
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.

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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.
In his memoir “Am I Being Too Subtle?” Sam Zell, a billionaire investor and chairman of Equity International, writes, “I’m always on the lookout for anomalies or disruptions in an industry, in a market or in a particular company…. Any event or pattern out of the ordinary is like a beacon telling me some new interesting opportunity may be emerging.”

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And your conclusion at the end is spot on: the insurance industry ABSOLUTELY knows about the negative stigma associated with these kinds of products and is ALWAYS looking for new ways to package things to make them sound attractive. Whether it’s variable life, universal life, equity-indexed universal life, or whatever this new thing is that they were trying to sell to you (I’ve honestly never heard of FFIUL), there’s always a new angle and the sales pitch is always going to sound good.

Industries with a higher percentage of companies that have Beat (Positively Surprised) usually means that something good is happening to that group as a whole for so many companies to be positively surprising. And studies have shown that companies that positively surprise have a greater likelihood of positively surprising in the future (or missing if they've recently missed).


Typically, life insurance is chosen based on the needs and goals of the owner. Term life insurance generally provides protection for a set period of time, while permanent insurance, such as whole and universal life, provides lifetime coverage. It's important to note that death benefits from all types of life insurance are generally income tax-free.1
I am looking at it all from the perspective of an inheritance. In my line of work, I see pensions and IRA’s taken by healthcare and Medicaid all the time. Heirs are left with nothing and it is sad. Im researching and researching but cannot find something that is safe enough, can grow to at least $100,000 for thirty so years, and cannot be taken touched aside from….life insurance. I have elderly grandfathers who left their families w/ something because of life insurance. My veteran grandfathers
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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.

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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.”

Backdoor Roths – 1) These vehicles are still capped at $5,500 on an annual basis (LI has no restrictions on contribution amounts.) 2) Roth IRAs are still exposed to market risk and can experience losses in account value (whole life policies are not and cannot). 3) Doing a backdoor conversion year after year is an administrative pain in the ass and will have tax implications if you hold a traditional IRA.


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.
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I have a joint term life insurance policy with my husband and a universal life insuranc for my self. The term life face value is $100,000 and the uni is $25,000. The latter cash value is $761.00 apparently they were taking the monthly premiumout of it without my knowledge. They asked me if I would like to close it out and take the closed out value of $700.00. I need advice on what to do. I am paying $135.00 a month for the joint policy and I also have a whole life insurance on my 22 years old child in college. I pay $50.00 a month for that. I think the term life is too expensive and I am concerned that with my husband an I whom are in our fifties that we may need to die just before we reach 80 so that our child can have some financial stability times are tough and we are poor people. Poor people take out insurance to cover their death and to leave something for their children. There just aren’t enough money to invest in stocks and bonds or other things and the little retirement money is needed to live off.
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.
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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.
There are a number of explanations for this difference, including fees and the way in which the interest rate is applied. But the bottom line is that you can’t take that “guaranteed return” at face value. It is incredibly deceptive. Run the numbers for yourself and see if you’re happy with the result. The reality is that you can often get better guaranteed returns from a savings account or CD that’s also FDIC insured.
Nick this was a terrific overview. You didn’t mention the whole life rip-off, i.e., that the Client is paying for 2 things but in the end only gets 1. If the insured dies the death benefit goes to the beneficiary, the cash goes back to the company. Conversely, if the Client takes the cask the contract is terminated and the death benefit is gone. Bad, bad, bad!

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I have a Dividend Option Term Rider that will expire soon. I am 57 years old. New York life wrote to me stating I can change over to whole life insurance without having to answer health questions or take a physical exam. What are the advantages or disadvantages of this for someone of my age? I currently have a 401K. Would my money be better invested in that or elsewhere? Thanks. 

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