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.


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Affordable premium: If the likelihood of an insured event is so high, or the cost of the event so large, that the resulting premium is large relative to the amount of protection offered, then it is not likely that the insurance will be purchased, even if on offer. Furthermore, as the accounting profession formally recognizes in financial accounting standards, the premium cannot be so large that there is not a reasonable chance of a significant loss to the insurer. If there is no such chance of loss, then the transaction may have the form of insurance, but not the substance (see the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board pronouncement number 113: "Accounting and Reporting for Reinsurance of Short-Duration and Long-Duration Contracts").

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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Second, I used the policy illustration I received as an example of the kinds of policies I see all the time. Of course every policy is different and needs to be evaluated on its own merits, but the truth is that most of these policies behave similarly. The policy I evaluated personally was actually one of the good ones and was backed by one of the companies that many people look to as the “gold standard”. So it was not a “bad policy”. It was typical of one of the “better” policies.
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Protected self-insurance is an alternative risk financing mechanism in which an organization retains the mathematically calculated cost of risk within the organization and transfers the catastrophic risk with specific and aggregate limits to an insurer so the maximum total cost of the program is known. A properly designed and underwritten Protected Self-Insurance Program reduces and stabilizes the cost of insurance and provides valuable risk management information.

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I have a few whole life policies. I was older when I really started to save and have the ability to pay into these accounts now (one I paid $95,000 right at start) and started late on a 401K. I max out my 401K contributions every year (I’m in the 50+ catch up department) so I believe the thinking was that these policies were the best option given my late start. Is that true? It seems your article is geared toward the young investor.
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This shift to universal life by insurance companies has made premiums cheaper but removed many of the guarantees that came with traditional whole life insurance like guaranteed face amounts, guaranteed premiums and guaranteed cash values. The result is that there are a lot of underfunded universal life insurance policies out there which aren’t really permanent policies anymore since they can’t support themselves and will lapse instead of paying out.
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The proceeds of a life policy will be included in the estate for death duty (in the UK, inheritance tax) purposes. Policies written in trust may fall outside the estate. Trust law and taxation of trusts can be complicated, so any individual intending to use trusts for tax planning would usually seek professional advice from an Independent Financial Adviser and/or a solicitor.
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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).

And if you want protection from premature death, then you get term life insurance. Very few people have a need for life insurance protection throughout their entire lives. And if you do end up needing it, you can convert your term policy at any time. So no, whole life is not a good option for this kind of protection for the vast majority of people.


Are you asking about people with terminal illnesses? If so, then I’ll admit that my knowledge in that particular area is limited. But my understanding is that a term policy would be very difficult if not impossible to find and there are some special kind of whole life policies you may be able to get. If that’s the situation you’re asking about, then it’s really not a whole life vs. IRA decision. It’s a decision on whether you should invest or whether you should insure. That’s a very different question than what’s being discussed in this article.

4. If the monthly premium is within your budget and and individual has saved money into other forms of retirement savings. Then why not get the benefit of having the safety net that the whole life insurance gives you then Surrendering that policy when you no longer need it and receiving (what I believe to be tax free) money for having that safety net in place


Good questions. The honest answer is that the only way to know what’s best is to do a review of your personal goals, the policy you have now, the whole life policy you would be changing it to, and the other options available to you. I would highly recommend seeking out a fee-only financial planner who can help you with this, and I would start by looking at the Garrett Planning Network. Their advisors all offer hourly services that would be perfect for this kind of project. NAPFA is another great network of fee-only planners.
I have worked in the Banking Business for over 7 years. After years of working for a company/corporation, I decided to start my own business in the same business field. I am now a Financial specialist with New York Life Insurance Company for almost 2 years. I get to do the same thing as before but now I’m running my own business. Trust is everything and I make it my mission to earn my clients trust.

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.


“In the policy that was attempted to be sold to me, the “guaranteed return” was stated as 4%. But when I actually ran the numbers, using their own growth chart for the guaranteed portion of my cash value, after 40 years the annual return only amounted to 0.74%. There are a number of explanations for this difference, including fees and the way in which the interest rate is applied.”
Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance designed to provide lifetime coverage. Because of the lifetime coverage period, whole life usually has higher premium payments than term life. Policy premium payments are typically fixed, and, unlike term, whole life has a cash value, which functions as a savings component and may accumulate tax-deferred over time.
Collision and comprehensive only cover the market value of your car, not what you paid for it—and new cars depreciate quickly. If your car is totaled or stolen, there may be a “gap” between what you owe on the vehicle and your insurance coverage. To cover this, you may want to look into purchasing gap insurance to pay the difference. Note that for leased vehicles, gap coverage is usually rolled into your lease payments.

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Agents and brokers act as intermediaries between you (the insurance buyer) and your insurers. Each has a legal duty to help you obtain appropriate coverage at a reasonable price. Each must have a license to distribute the type of insurance he or she is selling. An agent or broker must also adhere to the regulations enforced by your state insurance department.
Large number of similar exposure units: Since insurance operates through pooling resources, the majority of insurance policies are provided for individual members of large classes, allowing insurers to benefit from the law of large numbers in which predicted losses are similar to the actual losses. Exceptions include Lloyd's of London, which is famous for insuring the life or health of actors, sports figures, and other famous individuals. However, all exposures will have particular differences, which may lead to different premium rates.
3This feature is accessible through the accelerated death benefit rider on some life insurance policies. Please see riders for terms, conditions and restrictions. Additional costs may apply. Subject to state-specific terms and availability. A disclosure form must be completed prior to receiving benefits under these riders. An administrative expense may be charged if the benefit is used. Receipt of accelerated benefits may be taxable. Tax laws relating to accelerated benefits are complex. Please consult a tax advisor. Receipt of accelerated benefits may also impact eligibility for public assistance programs.
Accidental death and AD&D policies very rarely pay a benefit, either because the cause of death is not covered by the policy or because death occurs well after the accident, by which time the premiums have gone unpaid. To know what coverage they have, insureds should always review their policies. Risky activities such as parachuting, flying, professional sports, or military service are often omitted from coverage.

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.
In the United States, the underwriting loss of property and casualty insurance companies was $142.3 billion in the five years ending 2003. But overall profit for the same period was $68.4 billion, as the result of float. Some insurance industry insiders, most notably Hank Greenberg, do not believe that it is forever possible to sustain a profit from float without an underwriting profit as well, but this opinion is not universally held.

Accidental death and AD&D policies very rarely pay a benefit, either because the cause of death is not covered by the policy or because death occurs well after the accident, by which time the premiums have gone unpaid. To know what coverage they have, insureds should always review their policies. Risky activities such as parachuting, flying, professional sports, or military service are often omitted from coverage.


The ~4% ROR initially feels like an acceptable return given limited principal risk, tax advantages and the current returns on alternative safe investments. I personally feel that the market will be more susceptible to bouts of volatility and higher levels of inter-asset correlation in the future. The idea of a fixed investment with stable returns in the distribution phase of retirement is important to me.
A corollary to the liquidity issue is the concept of flexibility of your contributions. Even with a 401(k) or IRA, where you can’t access your money without penalty, you can always choose to stop contributing for a period of time if you need that money for other purposes. In the meantime, your account stays intact, steadily earning tax-deferred returns on the money you’ve already put in.

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Universal life insurance addresses the perceived disadvantages of whole life—namely that premiums and death benefits are fixed. With universal life, both the premiums and death benefit are flexible. With the exception of guaranteed-death-benefit universal life policies, universal life policies trade their greater flexibility off for fewer guarantees.
Notes No risk of losing coverage, but no cash value when term ends No risk compared to other permanent types, but there are probably better investment options Refunds your premiums at the end of the term if you outlive the policy - Risk of holding expensive insurance policy with little ot no cash value Risk of holding expensive insurance policy with little to no cash value

Brokers may be either retail or wholesale. A retail broker interacts directly with insurance buyers. If you visited a broker, who then obtained insurance coverages on your behalf, he or she is a retail broker. In some cases, your agent or broker may be unable to obtain insurance coverage on your behalf from a standard insurer. In that event, he or she may contact a wholesale broker. Wholesale brokers specialize in certain types of coverage. Many are surplus lines brokers, who arrange coverages for risks that are unusual or hazardous.
Almost too much false information/lack of understanding here to even try to tackle. You do realize participating whole life/phantom loans are one of the MAIN ways that the wealthy keep their wealth, avoid taxation and funnel income into an investment vehicle right? The hiltons have been doing it for years as well as virtually every wealthy family manager out there. The lack of understanding most people have regarding these policies, is why they advise against them. They themselves do not understand.
Our Employee Benefits team is acutely aware of the need to provide your employees with the appropriate benefits, while simultaneously ensuring the costs remain affordable to both you and your employees. Our experts take a proactive and consultative approach to doing business, and our goal is to not only help you retain your competitive edge, but to make benefit plan administration seamless for you. We go above and beyond for each client, acting as an advocate in price negotiation and dispute resolution in claims and billing scenarios.
Protected self-insurance is an alternative risk financing mechanism in which an organization retains the mathematically calculated cost of risk within the organization and transfers the catastrophic risk with specific and aggregate limits to an insurer so the maximum total cost of the program is known. A properly designed and underwritten Protected Self-Insurance Program reduces and stabilizes the cost of insurance and provides valuable risk management information.
Nice write up. I personally have been able to save with an independent agent. A big concern of mine was finding an agent that worked with more reputable insurance carriers. There seems to be alot of agents who will use non-standard insurance carriers to provide cheaper coverage. I've heard some horror stories about customer service, sub-par adjustments, and claims services. I'd definitely do alot of research into the insurance companies the independent agent is appointed with.
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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Weiner was talking about rolling returns for Vanguard. So, it’s his argument, not mine. And, this is a different issue from what you’re talking about anyway regarding annual returns based on monthy savings. So I’m not sure where you’re going with this or why you think it’s misleading. I believe Weiner got his figures from Vanguard…so…that would mean Vanguard is misleading itself? Doesn’t make sense man.
Good question Lisa. I’m not an expert on Northwestern Mutual’s policies so I can’t give you a precise answer. But I believe that their adjustable comp life insurance policies allow you to combine term and whole life insurance in various proportions based on your desired outcome. In other words, it’s a more flexible policy than typical whole life insurance.
Collision and comprehensive only cover the market value of your car, not what you paid for it—and new cars depreciate quickly. If your car is totaled or stolen, there may be a “gap” between what you owe on the vehicle and your insurance coverage. To cover this, you may want to look into purchasing gap insurance to pay the difference. Note that for leased vehicles, gap coverage is usually rolled into your lease payments.
Our Management Liability specialists average 15 years of experience in structuring risk management programs that protect against various types of executive risk and management liability. Strong relationships with insurance carriers and familiarity with current government legislation and case law mean we can effectively manage your risks in real time—an imperative in this ever-changing business environment.
Large number of similar exposure units: Since insurance operates through pooling resources, the majority of insurance policies are provided for individual members of large classes, allowing insurers to benefit from the law of large numbers in which predicted losses are similar to the actual losses. Exceptions include Lloyd's of London, which is famous for insuring the life or health of actors, sports figures, and other famous individuals. However, all exposures will have particular differences, which may lead to different premium rates.
I have calculated a ~4% average annual ROR if the policy is kept for at least 20 years. This is not an IRR as an IRR gives no credit for the value of the death protection. This assumes the current dividend scale and can be defined as essentially the interest rate that accumulates the premiums, less an estimate of the value of the death protection each year, to the policy’s cash surrender value at the end of the period studied. It attempts to answer the question, “What interest rate would I have to earn on an outside investment of the extra premiums for WL to do as well as investing those extra premiums, in the WL policy?” consumerfed.org is a great resource for this analysis and other literature on this subject.
1. It can help with estate taxes. As of 2014, married couples can pass on up to $10.68 million to their heirs without any estate taxes due (there are some nuances, but they’re besides the point here). An individual can pass on $5.34 million estate tax-free. For people who will be passing on more that those amounts, they could be facing significant estate taxes that would leave their heirs with less money. Permanent life insurance can be a good way to provide the funds to pay those taxes and allow their heirs to receive the full amount of the inheritance.
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Global insurance premiums grew by 2.7% in inflation-adjusted terms in 2010 to $4.3 trillion, climbing above pre-crisis levels. The return to growth and record premiums generated during the year followed two years of decline in real terms. Life insurance premiums increased by 3.2% in 2010 and non-life premiums by 2.1%. While industrialised countries saw an increase in premiums of around 1.4%, insurance markets in emerging economies saw rapid expansion with 11% growth in premium income. The global insurance industry was sufficiently capitalised to withstand the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 and most insurance companies restored their capital to pre-crisis levels by the end of 2010. With the continuation of the gradual recovery of the global economy, it is likely the insurance industry will continue to see growth in premium income both in industrialised countries and emerging markets in 2011.

Coverage that suits you. Comprehensive and collision coverage is just the beginning. Our policies also give you the flexibility to dial up (or down) your peace of mind. Choose from new car replacement2, special parts replacement3, enhanced rental car damage coverage4, and more. And because there’s only one you, receive identity theft protection5 at no extra cost.


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.
Hi Matt, Enjoyed the article. I agree with a lot of what I have seen up here, both by you and other commenters. I believe that a lot of the typical Dave Ramsey advice applies to the vast majority of the population, who can’t afford to pay $500 month premiums w/$500 month overfunds. Yeah, if you’re in a position where that amount is no more than 20% of your savings, wow & congrats, and it could possibly be a good idea. But that’s like 50% of mine. As someone who is new to investing and just a year out of school, I recently sat down with a guy from one of the more respectable companies in the WLI market. I truly believe it would have been a good deal for a very select group of individuals, but for me, there were two main turn-offs. First, I simply couldn’t commit to send such a large portion of my savings for the next 10, 20, or 30 years. But secondly, I just didn’t fully understand the policy. From other comments, I think others are in the same boat. These things are confusing, I asked lots of questions but still it just didn’t make sense what was going on with every level. I’ve done my research on saving/investing, and gotten a pretty good grasp so far of my strategy, but my mind still just hasn’t fully grasped WLI. So I backed off. And I’d encourage everyone to do the same – if you don’t know exactly what it is that you’re doing and can’t understand or explain it, then don’t get in to it.

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