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.
Lastly I believe you said your return was only .74% which I agree is low but just because you had a bad experience with a bad policy doesn’t mean all other whole life policies are the same. Different companies provide different returns and even different coverages. You’re being very general when more specific information is much more relevant in my opinion.
I did an in-depth analysis awhile back showing the exact opposite of what you presented here. If you adjust for risk tolerance, and look at the best policies on the market, they’re not only competitive, they’re good. And, what I found corresponds with the research currently available about whole life vs BTID. Namely, sometimes, they’re better than a traditional 60/40 split portfolio (though I’d be hesitant to make that comparison as a blanket rule).
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:

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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:)
Many great points and counterpoints. My two points against cash value in general is the monthly cost and the “investment”. Very few people can afford that monthly premium. It is good that you can borrow from the cash value because you will need to at times to make ends meet. Because once you try to make monthly premiums over and over on cash value, you realize the extra $200 to $300 per month that is going out could be in you pocket helping to pay basic living expenses. Then the investment that does have healthy returns. I can look at historical returns for Invesco, American Funds, Fidelity, etc. that go back to the 1960s and 1970s that return an average of 10% + since inception. Why would I pass that up for returns of 5% or lower? Plus, if the policy holder is not careful, their investment can go back to the insurance company. I want my investment to go to me and then my heirs. I strongly oppose cash value as it only benefits a small percentage of the population. The vast majority of the middle class cannot afford it. Once my investments reach a certain amount, I am dropping my term policy because I am now self-insured. Pay as little for insurance(premiums) and get the most coverage (death benefit). If cash value were so good, the investment portion would pop-up in other types of insurance (automotive, disability, etc.) Life insurance is the only type of insurance where it is located and is oversold to so many people that it will not help. Anybody reading the posts in this forum are already doing them selves a service by seeking to understand. Understand that Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman are on the side of the consumers. Base don the tone of my post, you can determine who I sell life insurance for and I am proud to do it. My commission is 1/10 of what a whole life agent makes. Also, we are the only life insurance company that encourages policy holders to drop their policy with us once they have financial independence. Our whole goal is get people out of insurance premiums and direct them to investment vehicles that build wealth. BTID. Buy term and invest the difference.

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In July 2007, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report presenting the results of a study concerning credit-based insurance scores in automobile insurance. The study found that these scores are effective predictors of risk. It also showed that African-Americans and Hispanics are substantially overrepresented in the lowest credit scores, and substantially underrepresented in the highest, while Caucasians and Asians are more evenly spread across the scores. The credit scores were also found to predict risk within each of the ethnic groups, leading the FTC to conclude that the scoring models are not solely proxies for redlining. The FTC indicated little data was available to evaluate benefit of insurance scores to consumers.[54] The report was disputed by representatives of the Consumer Federation of America, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the National Consumer Law Center, and the Center for Economic Justice, for relying on data provided by the insurance industry.[55]

In most countries, life and non-life insurers are subject to different regulatory regimes and different tax and accounting rules. The main reason for the distinction between the two types of company is that life, annuity, and pension business is very long-term in nature – coverage for life assurance or a pension can cover risks over many decades. By contrast, non-life insurance cover usually covers a shorter period, such as one year.
After reading the entire thread, couldn’t help but add my thoughts. I am a civilian here so no affiliation as an insurance salesman or financial planner in any capacity. I am however, an owner of a WL policy (one year in) which I got through a friend in the business. I admittedly jumped into this without doing the proper due diligence as more of a favor to him. I have had anxiety about this decision since, and am days away from my second annual premium payment and have thus spent a great deal of time researching and thinking about the implications of this asset. I am at a “cut my losses and run crossroads”. Is this a quality asset, or do I cut and run and chalk-up the loss as the cost of a lesson learned in letting others do my independent thinking for me (two implications here are that 1) I do believe that the person who sold me this actually believes in the products and 2) that doesn’t mean that he is right and any person, no matter how financially savvy, who is willing to dedicate the time, can do the research and come up with their own view). I say all of this to admit that I am biased, even if only sub-consciously, as I have tried to think in a balanced manner with regards to this decision. All of that being said, I am currently leaning towards keeping the asset in place and welcome thoughts. My current logic below.

James, be very careful about blanket advice to roll your pension into an IRA. A lot of financial professionals can make money through a transaction like that and you’d likely be giving up guaranteed income for the rest of your life. To be clear, it’s certainly possible that this would be a good move, but you would only know that after a careful and detailed analysis of your specific pension, your specific goals, and the rest of your financial situation.
Question Matt, what are your credentials? On the subject of finance and securities, do you hold any of the licenses I mentioned in my response earlier? Are you in the industry, or were you just sold by an agent and didn’t know what you were buying and now you are having buyers remorse looking at an illustration that was shown to you and figuring how you may have gotten a little less than you bargained for by using a calculator? Because dealing with some of our top clients who are in a tax bracket that you nor I will ever see, they are happy with the level of service we provide and the products we offer, maybe you just had a bad agent that needed to close a deal before the month’ s end and made you a customer and it was very transactional as opposed to assessing your need and making you a client. If you couldn’t afford the policy he should have given you a term policy that you could later convert. People with the money prefer not to “rent” as in a term policy, and people that can afford it get permanent insurance. Some people want their wealth to be managed properly and leave a legacy behind for future generations, that is done through life insurance and the other products we offer.

A few comments… You shouldn’t ever be buying whole life insurance for purely for the reason of investing, you buy any life insurance because you need life insurance, the investment component is secondary. So not sure why we are analyzing it purely as an investment (I actually do know why, because some agents try to sell it this way, and Matt is trying to help them avoid a pitfall).
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Matt, the illustration does have a guaranteed element to it, the guaranteed keeps going up every year whether the company issues a dividend or not, obviously the guarantees are less. Like I said the purpose of this type of life insurance is not to “invest” its to have something that you wont other wise have. with 30 year term, the term is guaranteed to expire in 30 years. anyhow I wont debate you on that as I can see where you are coming from. I understand that when a person gets into a plan to pay off debt and invest heavily they will have “no need” for life insurance after they’ve paid debt and their children have grown. I’m more conservative therefore I like to make sure I have something despite having debt paid for etc.. I’d like to leave an article for you to read, its an actual case study of a gentlemen who opened a small 29000 participating whole life policy back in the mid 60’s. in 2013 he now had $166,424 in Coverage and had only paid $26,186. Anywho not bad for the guy. heres the article for anyone interested in reading the case study.
Advanced economies account for the bulk of global insurance. With premium income of $1.62 trillion, Europe was the most important region in 2010, followed by North America $1.409 trillion and Asia $1.161 trillion. Europe has however seen a decline in premium income during the year in contrast to the growth seen in North America and Asia. The top four countries generated more than a half of premiums. The United States and Japan alone accounted for 40% of world insurance, much higher than their 7% share of the global population. Emerging economies accounted for over 85% of the world's population but only around 15% of premiums. Their markets are however growing at a quicker pace.[40] The country expected to have the biggest impact on the insurance share distribution across the world is China. According to Sam Radwan of ENHANCE International LLC, low premium penetration (insurance premium as a % of GDP), an ageing population and the largest car market in terms of new sales, premium growth has averaged 15–20% in the past five years, and China is expected to be the largest insurance market in the next decade or two.[41]
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.
2. My analogy to a house wasn’t intended to compare the merits of an investment. It was simply a way to explain the Cash Value of a policy, in terms that people could understand better. We many times hear the argument about Whole Life Cash value: “It’s my money. Why do I have to borrow against it?” Giving the analogy of a home (or for that matter any asset of value, be it real estate, or stocks, bonds or mutual funds held in an account that allows for margin loans) helps people understand the difference between an asset that has value, to actual cash. It also helps people understand why sometimes it is preferable to borrow against an asset, rather than liquidate the asset.
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.
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.

Thank you for all your articles…very insightful. My husband and I had a very similar situation as you and your wife when you first met with a “financial planner” (aka insurance salesman). Now, we look at having paid 8 years of adjustable comp life for our policies plus policies for both of our children (5 and 2). We feel like we made a mistake and, as you know, were swayed by the talk of retirement investment and “throwing money away”. So now, we wonder…should we go paid up on our policies, which would drop them both down substantially, but we no longer would have to pay into them (and get more term to cover the difference) and cancel our kids policies?


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.
1) I believe that when done correctly, it is insurance that CANNOT BE TAKEN AWAY. One of the most important things about whole life is that the annual premium is FIXED at a constant level FOREVER and the death benefit cannot be taken away if you continue paying in (these are the basics but I think worth repeating). I bought my policy at age 32. If I get heart disease, diabetes, or any of thousands of exclusionary conditions over the rest of my life, it does not matter. My insurance will not go away. If you rely on term insurance, then even if you get a 20 year policy as a 30 year old, then at age 50 there is a good chance you will either i) have to pay MUCH higher premiums to continue your coverage or ii) not be able to get coverage at all. It is just like health insurance before ACA. If you think you can keep rolling over term life, you are taking a very big gamble. This is probably fine if you are only insuring to protect your family in your early working years. But if you want to make sure your heirs eventually get a benefit on your death, term life is a bad gamble. Which leads into #2…
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Contingent or incentive commissions reward agents and brokers for achieving volume, profitability, growth or retention goals established by the insurer. For example, Elite Insurance promises to pay the Jones Agency an extra 3 percent commission if Jones writes $10 million in new property policies within a certain time frame. If Jones renews 90 percent of those policies when they expire, Elite will pay Jones an addition 2 percent commission.

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