You’re right, there is a guaranteed portion of these policies. And like I say in the post, that guaranteed portion is nowhere near the illustrated return and is much less attractive than how it’s presented (e.g. a 4% “guaranteed” return is not actually anywhere near 4%). So to say that there’s a guarantee and somehow equate that to the numbers you presented earlier is, in my mind, misleading.
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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.

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The problem is that it takes a long time for the returns to reach that level. There will be many years at the start of the policy where your return will be negative, and many more years where the return will be only slightly positive. If you stick with it for a long time, you eventually get into a reasonable range of returns. But if at any point before that you decide you want to do something different, you will have spent many years and a lot of money getting very poor returns.
As for your question, USAA is a fantastic company and I would happily recommend them for many things, like auto, home, and umbrella insurance. With that said, I have never reviewed one of their whole life insurance policies and therefore can’t really comment on that specifically. I will say that I would be careful about taking that 4.5% return at face value, as I describe in the post. I would encourage you to run the numbers for yourself to see what it really comes out to.
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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).

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.

I am attracted to the asset based on 1) The tax diversification advantages 2) The idea of a death benefit for my family after I pass 3) the physiological trigger of forced savings 4) The “relative” liquidity/ flexibility of being able to access the money 5) The, what I view as, an acceptable rate of return “ROR” vs. the “buy term and invest the rest option” based on the relatively low risks 6) The idea of treating this as a fixed income asset that does not get taxed annually in my overall asset allocation and therefore adjusting my 401K bucket towards more equity and finally 7) The idea of a fixed investment with stable returns in the distribution phase of retirement is important to me.

One point I would like to counter is the idea that whole life “is insurance that CANNOT BE TAKEN AWAY”. It can be taken away if you are not able to keep up with your premium payments, which is pretty common given that people’s lives and financial situations are constantly changing. With some policies, the premium can even go up depending on the performance of the policy, forcing you to pay more than expected if you want to keep the coverage in place. So it’s not quite as simple as saying that the death benefit is a sure thing.

Any reputable source will report mutual fund and stock returns as “annualized” figures, which takes the sequence of returns into account. Another term for this is “geometric average”, which again accounts for the order in which returns are received. So while there are some financial “experts” out there touting average returns (cough, Dave Ramsey), for the most part what you’re talking about here is not a factor.

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