Wow, what a great article, Matt. A couple of nights ago, I was listening to Clark Howard on the radio, and to my dismay, heard him start talking about one of the worst investments for college. He continued, and when he actually said whole life insurance, my heart dropped, because about ten years ago, my wife and I were talked into this “investment” for paying for our kids college.
When the market experiences “down years” you will want to used a fixed investment to take your distributions in order to give your market-exposed vehicles time to recoup losses. This is one of the best pieces I have seen regarding “Taming a Bear Market” where one uses whole life insurance to supplement 401(k) distributions in bad years: http://www.becausewearewomen.com/documents/LEGACY10-RETIREMENTSUPP.pdf
4. If you end up wanting permanent life insurance when you get older, you have plenty of options other than buying whole life insurance as an investment when you’re young. You could convert a term policy. You could buy guaranteed no-lapse universal life. There are plenty of options that don’t require you lock yourself into a poorly-performing policy at a young age when that cash flow would be better used elsewhere.

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).


Save your money… don’t invest it… unless you’ve first insured that even if those investments don’t work out. Life is a big enough investment as it is… especially if others are dependent on you and particularly if you become wealthy. Term insurance won’t cut it. It will almost certainly be lapsed by the time you really need it. Too many opportunities over a lifetime to miss a payment and then poof… it’s gone.
Alternatively, you could purchase a whole life policy that will not only pay that policy face value if you should die before your children are through college, but would accrue a cash value that would provide additional benefits to your family or a growing fund of emergency money. You could also consider converting portions of your term life policy over to whole life insurance over time to build a cash portfolio for your retirement as you age.
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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I had a meeting with a friend/part-time insurance salesman and his upper level salesman yesterday. Prior to the meeting I Googled “Is whole life insurance a good investment?” and read all the articles on the first page of results in their entirety both pro and con. This particular article stuck out for me and I read it twice and feel it has helped me in the process of making an informed decision about the product presented. Today, I read the article once again and all of the above posts and I thank you for taking the time to help the lay-person in their important financial life decisions.
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?

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Your comment on term insurance allowing you to convert at anytime is inaccurate. You must read the conversion language as it is designed to protect the insurance company. Met life for example states ” During the conversion period shown in the policy schedule you can convert this policy, while it is in force with all premiums paid, to a new policy–On a plan of permanent insurance, with a level face amount, available on the policy date of the new policy.”. Some term plans won’t let you convert after 10 years or if your over age 65. Imagine having a 20year $1,000,000 term plan and getting cancer in the 19th year. You want to convert but find out the conversion period ended in the 10th year. Also, the company typically determines which plan you can convert to. Maybe its just 2 plans out of the 8 they offer. What is the likelyhood of those being the best 2 plans available? Alas, no one reads the contract or the prospectus for that matter. My dad always said “the big print givith and the small print taketh away.”
Analysis: When a broker says that, it means another broker has made a submission to the insurer in your name. That’s most likely the incumbent broker. In fact, the incumbent may have submitted your name to 10 insurers — often, without your approval or even your knowledge. This is a disguise. The incumbent appears to be shopping for a better deal on your behalf, while the actual motive is to freeze out competitors.
Underfunded whole life insurance may have only performed 4%. However, designed with additional premiums they have actually earned closer to 7% in the 30 years from 1984-2013. Even during the period between 1977 and 1982 where interest rates shot through the roof and bond holders didn’t recapture their losses for several years, over funder whole life returned 35% after the cost of insurance is considered.
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Moreover, with hindsight, because I suspect that the conversion options in the term policies, as I look into them, won’t prove all that attractive, I am thinking that it would have been optimum to have had universal or whole life coverage for closer to 20% of our aggregate, total original insurance coverage, rather than 10%. Still, while I am pretty satisfied that my prior decision-making was close to right, I do wonder if you see this all very differently.
4) Tax diversification. To mitigate tax consequences in retirement, you will want to be taking distributions from vehicles that are taxed differently. A diversification of these tax treated products is very important. 401(k) gets taxed as income, investment accounts pay capital gains tax, and life insurance is distributed tax free. A mixture of these three mitigate your tax consequences.
Hi Christine. First of all, thank your for stopping by. Second of all, please don’t beat yourself up over this. Life insurance salesmen are trained to make these policies sound REALLY attractive and their arguments can be quite persuasive. I actually found myself feeling close to convinced about one of these policies a few years ago before coming to my senses. 

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
Second, when it comes to investing, my experience shows that most insurance companies charge MUCH higher fees than are necessary. And since cost is quite possibly the most important factor when it comes to investing, that matters a lot. I would much rather see people using a simple, low-cost index investing strategy that’s both easy to implement and backed by all the best research we have as the most likely route to success.

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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. 

The first years premiums goes to the insurance agent who sold you the policy…and I’m sure there are plenty of other hidden fees in there. I almost went with whole life insurance as a friend was working as an insurance agent and I had just graduated college. I decided against it though. Read a book that said that I should instead buy term and invest the difference. Another problem with whole life insurance is that the premiums are much more expensive than term life insurance…if someone chooses whole life, they will likely choose a lesser coverage and might be underinsured if something unfortunate were to occurr.
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).
Hi Christine. First of all, thank your for stopping by. Second of all, please don’t beat yourself up over this. Life insurance salesmen are trained to make these policies sound REALLY attractive and their arguments can be quite persuasive. I actually found myself feeling close to convinced about one of these policies a few years ago before coming to my senses.
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.

Home insurance, also commonly called hazard insurance or homeowners insurance (often abbreviated in the real estate industry as HOI), provides coverage for damage or destruction of the policyholder's home. In some geographical areas, the policy may exclude certain types of risks, such as flood or earthquake, that require additional coverage. Maintenance-related issues are typically the homeowner's responsibility. The policy may include inventory, or this can be bought as a separate policy, especially for people who rent housing. In some countries, insurers offer a package which may include liability and legal responsibility for injuries and property damage caused by members of the household, including pets.[31]
Upon termination of a given policy, the amount of premium collected minus the amount paid out in claims is the insurer's underwriting profit on that policy. Underwriting performance is measured by something called the "combined ratio", which is the ratio of expenses/losses to premiums.[23] A combined ratio of less than 100% indicates an underwriting profit, while anything over 100 indicates an underwriting loss. A company with a combined ratio over 100% may nevertheless remain profitable due to investment earnings.
I’m honestly not 100% sure about this, but I haven’t heard of someone paying more in premiums than they get in death benefit. With a whole life policy, there will typically there will be a point at which the cash value is sufficient to pay the premiums itself, though when that might occur is a big question market. Also, in the illustrations I’ve seen the death benefit itself will also increase as the cash value increases.
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.
The benefit to you is enormous. Boomer Benefits provides back-end policy support that you cannot get directly from an insurance company and that none of our competitors offer: a dedicated Client Service Team for our existing policyholders only with 10 full-time employees on call to immediately fix very common Medicare hiccups which are otherwise stressful for you.

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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.
Life insurance provides a monetary benefit to a decedent's family or other designated beneficiary, and may specifically provide for income to an insured person's family, burial, funeral and other final expenses. Life insurance policies often allow the option of having the proceeds paid to the beneficiary either in a lump sum cash payment or an annuity. In most states, a person cannot purchase a policy on another person without their knowledge.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) is the U.S. standard-setting and regulatory support organization created and governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. Through the NAIC, state insurance regulators establish standards and best practices, conduct peer review, and coordinate their regulatory oversight. NAIC staff supports these efforts and represents the collective views of state regulators domestically and internationally. NAIC members, together with the central resources of the NAIC, form the national system of state-based insurance regulation in the U.S. For more information, visit www.naic.org.

The financial stability and strength of an insurance company should be a major consideration when buying an insurance contract. An insurance premium paid currently provides coverage for losses that might arise many years in the future. For that reason, the viability of the insurance carrier is very important. In recent years, a number of insurance companies have become insolvent, leaving their policyholders with no coverage (or coverage only from a government-backed insurance pool or other arrangement with less attractive payouts for losses). A number of independent rating agencies provide information and rate the financial viability of insurance companies.
Insurance companies have in recent years developed products for niche markets, most notably targeting seniors in an aging population. These are often low to moderate face value whole life insurance policies, allowing senior citizens to purchase affordable insurance later in life. This may also be marketed as final expense insurance and usually have death benefits between $2,000 and $40,000. One reason for their popularity is that they only require answers to simple "yes" or "no" questions, while most policies require a medical exam to qualify. As with other policy types, the range of premiums can vary widely and should be scrutinized prior to purchase, as should the reliability of the companies.
Finally, IF you decide that these are not the right policies for you, it’s generally better to cancel sooner rather than later in order to minimize the amount of premiums you pay. You should even look at your policy to see whether you’re still within an initial period where you could get all your payments back. Again, I’m not saying that you should cancel, just that if you do want to cancel it’s better to act quickly.

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Permanent insurance (specifically maximum funded participating Whole Life and Indexed Universal Life) is the most versatile product that I have ever analyzed, but it needs to be designed to optimize cash accumulation if you’re going to be going in that direction. If not designed optimally from a short list of insurers, then yes…it’ll probably suck as a place to put money and earn a decent rate of return.
Permanent insurance (specifically maximum funded participating Whole Life and Indexed Universal Life) is the most versatile product that I have ever analyzed, but it needs to be designed to optimize cash accumulation if you’re going to be going in that direction. If not designed optimally from a short list of insurers, then yes…it’ll probably suck as a place to put money and earn a decent rate of return.
When insured parties experience a loss for a specified peril, the coverage entitles the policyholder to make a claim against the insurer for the covered amount of loss as specified by the policy. The fee paid by the insured to the insurer for assuming the risk is called the premium. Insurance premiums from many insureds are used to fund accounts reserved for later payment of claims – in theory for a relatively few claimants – and for overhead costs. So long as an insurer maintains adequate funds set aside for anticipated losses (called reserves), the remaining margin is an insurer's profit.

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.

Hey Jordan. I was a little dismissive in my last reply, and I want to apologize for that. You’re absolutely right that the main reason for getting life insurance is often to make sure that your kids would have enough money even if you weren’t around, and it’s honestly great that you’re already thinking that far ahead. It bodes well for you and your family.
Alternatively, you could purchase a whole life policy that will not only pay that policy face value if you should die before your children are through college, but would accrue a cash value that would provide additional benefits to your family or a growing fund of emergency money. You could also consider converting portions of your term life policy over to whole life insurance over time to build a cash portfolio for your retirement as you age.

Hi, Matt. My parents are actually talking to an agent to get the whole life insurance and their premium monthly is about $1000 so which makes them to pay $120000 (since it’s the 10 yr plan) and the agent presented that the guaranteed value will be $250000. I have very little knowledge about the whole life insurance plan but wouldn’t it be easier for them to just get it and be insured with that guaranteed value if they are not the type to find where to invest and all that? or is it something that they shouldn’t relay on.. they are doing it for more their retirement and asked me for help but i am very confused about this whole life plan. Thanks! 

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I have to agree with Bilal. While this article is very insightful for a very specific audience (young workers), it does not fully take into consideration the needs of older retirees. I had term life for 35+ years; as I approached 70, it got ridiculously expensive. It wound up being just under $1000 per quarter, which I could obviously not afford. I had to cancel the policy, with nothing to show for all of the years of payments. Now I have no life insurance, although I am in exceptional health. Whole life offers me a good way to have a $10,000 policy, which will cover funeral expenses so my kids won’t have to worry with that. I think it is a good deal for my circumstance, and suspect it is for many other older people, as these policies are generally available with no medical questions OR exam.
Did you mention anywhere that the cash value of “permanent” insurance is owned by the insurance company? Did you mention that you don’t own it; the insurance oompany does. Did you mention that the only way the client ever gets the cash value is to cancel his policy? If the client dies, then the cash value is taken to pay off part of the face value of the insurance.

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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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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 financial stability and strength of an insurance company should be a major consideration when buying an insurance contract. An insurance premium paid currently provides coverage for losses that might arise many years in the future. For that reason, the viability of the insurance carrier is very important. In recent years, a number of insurance companies have become insolvent, leaving their policyholders with no coverage (or coverage only from a government-backed insurance pool or other arrangement with less attractive payouts for losses). A number of independent rating agencies provide information and rate the financial viability of insurance companies.
Pre-need life insurance policies are limited premium payment, whole life policies that are usually purchased by older applicants, though they are available to everyone. This type of insurance is designed to cover specific funeral expenses that the applicant has designated in a contract with a funeral home. The policy's death benefit is initially based on the funeral cost at the time of prearrangement, and it then typically grows as interest is credited. In exchange for the policy owner's designation, the funeral home typically guarantees that the proceeds will cover the cost of the funeral, no matter when death occurs. Excess proceeds may go either to the insured's estate, a designated beneficiary, or the funeral home as set forth in the contract. Purchasers of these policies usually make a single premium payment at the time of prearrangement, but some companies also allow premiums to be paid over as much as ten years.

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