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Property insurance as we know it today can be traced to the Great Fire of London, which in 1666 devoured more than 13,000 houses. The devastating effects of the fire converted the development of insurance "from a matter of convenience into one of urgency, a change of opinion reflected in Sir Christopher Wren's inclusion of a site for 'the Insurance Office' in his new plan for London in 1667."[4] A number of attempted fire insurance schemes came to nothing, but in 1681, economist Nicholas Barbon and eleven associates established the first fire insurance company, the "Insurance Office for Houses," at the back of the Royal Exchange to insure brick and frame homes. Initially, 5,000 homes were insured by his Insurance Office.[5]
In the United States, insurance brokers are regulated by the individual U.S. states. Most states require anyone who sells, solicits, or negotiates insurance in that state to obtain an insurance broker license, with certain limited exceptions. This includes a business entity, the business entity's officers or directors (the "sublicensees" through whom the business entity operates), and individual employees. In order to obtain a broker's license, a person typically must take pre-licensing courses and pass an examination. An insurance broker also must submit an application (with an application fee) to the state insurance regulator in the state in which the applicant wishes to do business, who will determine whether the insurance broker has met all the state requirements and will typically do a background check to determine whether the applicant is considered trustworthy and competent. A criminal conviction, for example, may result in a state determining that the applicant is untrustworthy or incompetent. Some states also require applicants to submit fingerprints.

Insurance agents typically represent only one insurance company. As a result, they are often referred to as "captive" agents. Insurance brokers represent multiple insurance companies. Thus, brokers are free to offer a wider range of products to their clients. They can search the market and obtain multiple price quotes to fit their clients' budgets. You might say that agents work for the insurance company while brokers work for their clients.

Also, it depends on the policy, but for many policies out there the principal does not remain untouched while you have a loan out against the policy. A loan will actually decrease the dividends, and therefore the return, you receive, because you have less equity in the policy. Some policies work differently, but you definitely shouldn’t assume that the policy will continue to grow unchecked while you have an outstanding loan against it.
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.
Just like $1 bill is worth the same as 4 quarters if using it at the grocery, yet they have different features: In a fire the quarters survive, but the dollar bill doesn’t. Same applies if they’re on a table outside and a strong wind blows. If you happen to have a small hole in your pocket, you might lose the quarters, but the dollar bill might stay. And if you have 5 dollar bills in your pocket, that’s insignificant, but you wouldn’t want to keep 20 quarters in your pocket for very long.
Whole life insurance is by definition undiversified. You are investing a large amount of money with a single company and relying entirely on their goodwill to give you good returns. The insurance company will make their own investments and then decide what portion of their returns they would like to pass on to their policyholders. You are completely at their whim. If that one company goes bankrupt, has some bad years, or simply changes their outlook on paying out to customers, your return will suffer.

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Whole life is insurance not an investment. You buy it so the day you pass on your family will have money to ease their grieving by giving them time off, financial security, and most importantly for whole life insurance to pay the cost of your funeral, etc. It can mean a lot to people to have a nice funeral for their loved one as a proper send off. I view whole life as a product, like my house, which I also don’t view as an investment.
Matt, may I ask you a question? I have a 25-year old $100K whole life policy with a surrender value of $43K, of which $21K is taxable. I’m 43 years old. Dividends now more than cover the $900/yr premium. Does it make sense to hold on to this? I am torn! I could surrender it and pay off a second mortgage which is at 7.6%… Thank you in advance. Love your site!

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Any person who uses permanent insurance should be out of debt and have the discipline to maintain a long term approach. There aren’t any get rich quick schemes and any plan can work as long as an investor looks to get the maximum value for the money they pay. Cash Value Life insurance provides values that promises you or I can’t keep unless we partner with one of these companies.
I see what you mean, but it also varies from insurer to insurer. From a purely investment standpoint whole life doesn’t make any sense. Someone’s insurance needs also differ. I’ve been with All state and NYL. With each there were major differences with not just price, but how the cash value accrual and withdrawing worked. I ultimately stuck with NYL as the rate of return had the biggest impact on premium payments. It reached a point where the cash value being added out-weighed the yearly premium. I haven’t had to pay for insurance for a few years but am still insured. My reason for going about it this way is because I don’t want to pay for it for the rest of my life. Plus the death benefit increases over time and the premiums stay the same. I’m running into people outliving the retirement benefits they got at work. You need to think for the future, but not just from one perspective. Are you interested in a rate of return? Than go for investment accounts. If you want something you eventually don’t have to keep paying for, whole life can be a great option but REMEMBER! Not all companies are the same and avoid universal indexed whole life. Those have increasing premiums. I know Dave Ramsey wants us to buy term and invest the difference, but you’re talking about renewing even some of the longest terms available 2 – 3 times before you’re of retirement age resulting in massive premiums to stay insured before you can dip into your investment accounts, unless you want to deal with early withdrawal penalties and huge surrender charges
On your questions about your specific offer, I would both say that most of the points from this post apply and that without knowing the specifics of the policy you’re being offered I can’t really give any concrete feedback. One thing I will say is that you wouldn’t simply be able to withdraw the $550k you mention tax-free. You would have to borrow from the policy, which would come with interest and potentially other fees and conditions. If you chose to surrender the policy and withdraw the money, the amount above what you have put in would be considered taxable income.
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.

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.


I disagree that an insurance policy has to pay for it to be valuable. Its purpose is to provide you with protection from scenarios you couldn’t otherwise handle, not to pay you money no matter what. Is your emergency fund worthless if you never have an emergency? Would you pay extra for an auto insurance policy that guaranteed you money for a brand new car (at the cost of the new car, not the value of your old on) once yours is done? Even if was more cost-efficient to save the money yourself? Again, I do agree that there are situations where the insurance component of a whole life policy can be valuable. I will never argue that it is a worthless product. I just think that many times it is sold to people who have options for meeting their needs in better ways. That doesn’t make it evil, just inefficient for many circumstances.
As for your point about term life insurance, it’s important to keep in mind that the point of insurance is not to pay out no matter what, but to provide protection for the period of time that you need it. The fact that term life insurance doesn’t pay out most of the time is actually a good thing because it means that most people aren’t dying young. And in the meantime, you can use the savings from the cheap premiums to build your financial independence through other, more effective savings avenues.
1. Almost ANYONE can benefit from a well designed overfunded Participating Whole Life policy. Are you saying that the vast majority of the population has no place in their investment portfolio for a guaranteed fixed asset that provides long-bond like returns (coupled with a few other bells and whistles)? I would even argue that single people with no children might benefit from this product in the right amount and the proper structure (not to mention that some policies now have the option to pay for long-term-care). EVERY PERSON that cares for someone or something (be it a spouse, a child, a charity, or anything else) can benefit even more, by virtue of having a guaranteed death benefit. Such a benefit allows the comfort (and better cash flow with lower taxation) of spending down assets, rather than relying solely on returns on assets.
Insurance is offered by Safeco Insurance Company of America and/or its affiliates, with their principal place of business at 175 Berkeley Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 02116. This website provides a simplified description of coverage. Nothing stated herein creates a contract. All statements made are subject to the provisions, exclusions, conditions and limitations of the applicable insurance policy. Please refer to actual policy forms for complete details regarding the coverage discussed. If the information in these materials conflicts with the policy language that it describes, the policy language prevails. Coverages and features not available in all states. Eligibility is subject to meeting applicable underwriting criteria.
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.

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But I love how you talk about it here, being excited by the sales pitch before grounding yourself in some of the things you had read prior to the meeting. Whether it’s insurance, investing, buying a car or anything else, all of us get excited in the moment when we’re being presented with a new opportunity. The real challenge is in doing exactly what you were able to do so successfully: stepping back from the moment and reflecting on your real goals here, what you really set out to do, and then analyzing the facts objectively. You did a terrific job there and in the end were able to make the best decision for you and your family.
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.
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!
However, unlike a house, a Whole Life policy is HIGHLY LIQUID (can be converted to cash in a matter of days, irrespective of market conditions) and has Guaranteed Values (once dividends are paid, they are fully vested and added to the Guaranteed Values, it is only future dividends which are not guaranteed). As such, borrowing against a Whole Life policy is much simpler (can be done without an application, credit report, etc.) Additionally, here again it is not an all or none proposition. One can PARTIALLY surrender a Whole Life policy, or just surrender additions (dividends or client paid Paid-up-additions). Try that with a house, try selling just one room or a few bricks. With a house, unless you decide to borrow, converting the asset into cash is an all or none proposition.

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.
My advice: Load up on Term, especially when you are young and healthy, but make sure it is renewable and convertible. As well, buy some permanent coverage to at least pay for final expenses. When you buy term insurance the premiums are gone forever. Unless you die no one benefits. At least with whole life insurance someone will get back all, and in most cases more, than you ever put in. The most important question to be answered when getting insurance is, how much do you need? Typically, you will need 5 – 10 times your income plus debt coverage, if you have someone financially dependent upon you.
First, there are your regular whole life policies that are non-{articipating and then there are those that are Participating. Participating policices earn dividends which is called a “return of premium” however with that dividend it purchases more insurance and the coverage keeps going on as long as a dividend is paid, the more coverage the more dividend, the more dividend the more coverage etc. After 25-30 years a person can stop paying for the policy and take reduced paid up insurance and keep the insurance enforced for the rest of their lives without paying a single cent. This is one of the features I absolutely love about participating whole life.
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Brokers are licensed by the state or states in which they operate, and they are required to represent their clients’ best interests. This duty helps to ensure that a broker will steer clients to the best insurance for them, rather than to a particular company or to a specific policy. Brokers rely on repeat business from their clients, which also motivates them to make sure that their clients have the best possible coverage. In many cases, brokers may receive an additional commission if you renew your insurance plan — giving brokers an extra incentive to make sure that you have optimal coverage and that you are satisfied with your policies.
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.
In the United States, economists and consumer advocates generally consider insurance to be worthwhile for low-probability, catastrophic losses, but not for high-probability, small losses. Because of this, consumers are advised to select high deductibles and to not insure losses which would not cause a disruption in their life. However, consumers have shown a tendency to prefer low deductibles and to prefer to insure relatively high-probability, small losses over low-probability, perhaps due to not understanding or ignoring the low-probability risk. This is associated with reduced purchasing of insurance against low-probability losses, and may result in increased inefficiencies from moral hazard.[52]

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