I’ll start with the whole life policy a financial planner is currently trying to sell me on. It does seem to be too good to be true, so I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with it. He claims that I put $1k in it each month for 20 years. At around the 10 year mark, the “cash value” meets the amount of money I’ve put into it, and begins to exceed it. After 20 years, I’ve put $240k in, and it’s worth around $550k. That’s the amount I could take out if I wanted to close the thing. And I *believe* he said that’s tax free, but maybe I’m wrong about that… he also may have said something about instead withdrawing a set amount of around $55k each year and that’s tax free? Not sure. But just looking at these numbers and ignoring the death benefit, is that not a good investment? I’ve been maxing out my 401k and investing in mutual funds for more than 10 years and I’d estimate for every dollar I’ve put in, I now have about $1.20. I’m sure some of that has been poor allocation of funds, but even taking that into consideration, it seems pretty pathetic compared to the option of more than doubling my money in 20 years (looking at the $550k out with $240k in). What am I missing?

Recently, viatical settlements have created problems for life insurance providers. A viatical settlement involves the purchase of a life insurance policy from an elderly or terminally ill policy holder. The policy holder sells the policy (including the right to name the beneficiary) to a purchaser for a price discounted from the policy value. The seller has cash in hand, and the purchaser will realize a profit when the seller dies and the proceeds are delivered to the purchaser. In the meantime, the purchaser continues to pay the premiums. Although both parties have reached an agreeable settlement, insurers are troubled by this trend. Insurers calculate their rates with the assumption that a certain portion of policy holders will seek to redeem the cash value of their insurance policies before death. They also expect that a certain portion will stop paying premiums and forfeit their policies. However, viatical settlements ensure that such policies will with absolute certainty be paid out. Some purchasers, in order to take advantage of the potentially large profits, have even actively sought to collude with uninsured elderly and terminally ill patients, and created policies that would have not otherwise been purchased. These policies are guaranteed losses from the insurers' perspective.
Add to this, when a younger person owns whole life (or cash value fixed universal life) they have the life insurance coverage they need, are building a tax free bond portfolio for the future (which as most people realize is what older investors shift into as the age) but also have a accumulation vehicle that can “self complete” if they become disabled. 401k’s can’t provide this…they don’t even match the long term return of the do nothing stock markets because of the fee’s they charge. That is to say…there is no “alpha”
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.
Nick this was a terrific overview. You didn’t mention the whole life rip-off, i.e., that the Client is paying for 2 things but in the end only gets 1. If the insured dies the death benefit goes to the beneficiary, the cash goes back to the company. Conversely, if the Client takes the cask the contract is terminated and the death benefit is gone. Bad, bad, bad!

Your premise is that whole life insurance is a bad investment. Fine, however, it is not a bad purchase. It is insurance and when thinking about the defined purpose of insurance then it can be a different story. Your electric service is a bad investment but think of the difficulty in living without electricity. Sure you could invest the bill amount each month into a nice Roth IRA but we seek the benefits of the service and willingly pay the bill. I suggest that people look at insurance the same. In my case and for my intent, whole life insurance was prudent. Like any car lease deal or stock purchase, there can be good and bad deals; one should not declare all forms at all points in time to be definitive. I gifted my child a whole life policy. The rates for a young person are as good as they get; she will never have insurance bills nor be without insurance. There is much left to explain but in short her $25,000 baby policy is growing $1,000 per yea. She will never have to pay a premium but will have $225,000-$350,000 payout one day while providing some protection also during the income/mortgage/child rearing adult years because I purchased it for her at the cost of $120.25 per year! No way could a poor farm kid without inheritance or wealth and limited income but high student loan debt create that kind of wealth for his children in the immediate or most vulnerable time period. To leave her in the same boat, as my parents did, is in no way wealth building. I got married and had mortgage, student loans, and large term life insurance bills because to go without any seemed irresponsible having no wealth but whole life was too expensive. So yes, it is far from a great investment but it is the most responsible gift I ever gave my child. It will not depreciate like a car and it is more certain than lottery tickets! Could I really produce that protection for her with liquidity via investing for only $120 per year? Tip: an insurance agent once told me (he should not have mentioned it) they have NEVER paid out on a life insurance policy because people always eventually let them expire and quit paying on them. Rates are so cheap for young healthy people because they are not likely to die. So this is also an exercise in discipline and responsibility not just finding the right stream to pan for gold.


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.
Insurable interest – the insured typically must directly suffer from the loss. Insurable interest must exist whether property insurance or insurance on a person is involved. The concept requires that the insured have a "stake" in the loss or damage to the life or property insured. What that "stake" is will be determined by the kind of insurance involved and the nature of the property ownership or relationship between the persons. The requirement of an insurable interest is what distinguishes insurance from gambling.
In any case, I thought I might chime in given that I disagree with your statement about all of these policies being legal robbery. As a disclaimer, I should point out that I agree that unscrupulous life insurance agents definitely do have a tendency to oversell these policies where term life would do, and I do not disagree that commissions are often the likely motivation in many of these cases.
Adjusting liability insurance claims is particularly difficult because there is a third party involved, the plaintiff, who is under no contractual obligation to cooperate with the insurer and may in fact regard the insurer as a deep pocket. The adjuster must obtain legal counsel for the insured (either inside "house" counsel or outside "panel" counsel), monitor litigation that may take years to complete, and appear in person or over the telephone with settlement authority at a mandatory settlement conference when requested by the judge.
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.
Did someone say convenient? Life can be complicated, which is why we make insurance so easy. Our customer service is accessible and personal. You can choose from different payment options, and you’re able to manage your account online for anytime, anywhere access. Just in case you want to view your policy at 2 a.m. while on vacation. Not that you would, but you could.
So I’ll start by saying that evaluating a policy that’s been in place for a while, like yours has, is different from evaluating a new policy. It’s possible that at this point keeping the policy may actually be a good idea, but you will need more information from your insurance company before making the decision. Here are some questions you’d want to have the answers to:
Life insurance can be very confusing. What is term life insurance? What is whole life insurance? How can you get the information you need and make the right decision about life insurance for you and your family or other beneficiaries? We’ll provide an overview of these two popular types of life insurance so you can get an idea of what might be a good fit for you. Find out more by contacting an insurance agent in your area.
5. And you adise on how much someone should have? Please!!!! If you have a house and it’s worth $500k you insure to for that. If you make $100k/year at age 35 and the insurance company will cover you for $2.5 million then that’s what you are worth and that is what you should own. And if an agent doesn’t show a client that amount and the client dies they will be sued for malpractice for not showing the client their full replacement value.
Now that you have a better picture of the difference between term and whole life policies, you probably want to compare term life versus whole life insurance costs. To do so, you will need to directly compare the short and long term costs of a whole life policy and a term policy, based on factors like your age, the face value of the policy you want to buy, and whether or not you are a smoker.
In any case, once when I was younger, I used to think like the author, that you can overcome your risk tolerance and become a better investor if only you can control yourself and learn to love the equities roller coaster ride…now that I am in my mid-40s, I realize that I’m old school and conservative. I am happy with 5-6% return that is tax free risk free and doesn’t involve me making any decisions except how much I want to save this year.

2. How come you don’t mention that the GUARANTEED Cash Value on most WL polices increase GREATER that the premium in about year 5-8 depending on product? And typically that begins with a 5% cash to cash return increasing to double digits quite quickly. Why? Because all the insurance costs are up front. And yes you lose if you get out in 1-5 years – It’s insurance and that needs to be accounted for.


Definite loss: The loss takes place at a known time, in a known place, and from a known cause. The classic example is death of an insured person on a life insurance policy. Fire, automobile accidents, and worker injuries may all easily meet this criterion. Other types of losses may only be definite in theory. Occupational disease, for instance, may involve prolonged exposure to injurious conditions where no specific time, place, or cause is identifiable. Ideally, the time, place, and cause of a loss should be clear enough that a reasonable person, with sufficient information, could objectively verify all three elements.
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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Actually I’m satisfied with your response. Because it makes sense, people without the money shouldn’t purchase whole life. We only tell our clients if they can afford it to purchase it. That’s common sense. And if you need something that will take care of your expenses when you are gone and don’t have a lot of money, then term is the way to go. If you have the money whole life is a good tool for tax diversification. But there is too much to talk about that those of us that are in the industry and are actually licensed to help people in these areas and it would take up too much space. We’d be having this discussion for months. But you make valid points, but to say whole life is a bad investment just seems wrong, because of the percentage of people that can use it, it works perfect. I have a friend who makes $80,000 a month who recently came into oil and was discouraged by blogs like this. After I explained to her how ridiculous blogs like this are for her situation she was actually calm and more receptive. I appreciate you informing the public. And in our jobs we do that well enough, I think instead of trying to be Dave Ramsey, you should just title it, “Why Whole Life is a Bad investment for the average Joe or 98% of the population.


Many institutional insurance purchasers buy insurance through an insurance broker. While on the surface it appears the broker represents the buyer (not the insurance company), and typically counsels the buyer on appropriate coverage and policy limitations, in the vast majority of cases a broker's compensation comes in the form of a commission as a percentage of the insurance premium, creating a conflict of interest in that the broker's financial interest is tilted towards encouraging an insured to purchase more insurance than might be necessary at a higher price. A broker generally holds contracts with many insurers, thereby allowing the broker to "shop" the market for the best rates and coverage possible.
My parents had a whole life insurance policy with Colonial Penn since the late 80’s. My father was handling my mother and his financial affairs until he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Little did I know his policy lapsed. I contacted the company to find out how much in the rear they were. Well, I was told that my dad could be reinstated if the payments were brought up to date but I would have to fill out a health questionnaire for my mom. Unfortunately my mom was recently diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer so I’m quite sure they will not accept her again. At this point neither has any life insurance. I honestly do not know what else to do. Can a policy that has lapse be paid out? Do you have any suggestions? Is there anything that I can do?

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.


In cases where the policy owner is not the insured (also referred to as the celui qui vit or CQV), insurance companies have sought to limit policy purchases to those with an insurable interest in the CQV. For life insurance policies, close family members and business partners will usually be found to have an insurable interest. The insurable interest requirement usually demonstrates that the purchaser will actually suffer some kind of loss if the CQV dies. Such a requirement prevents people from benefiting from the purchase of purely speculative policies on people they expect to die. With no insurable interest requirement, the risk that a purchaser would murder the CQV for insurance proceeds would be great. In at least one case, an insurance company which sold a policy to a purchaser with no insurable interest (who later murdered the CQV for the proceeds), was found liable in court for contributing to the wrongful death of the victim (Liberty National Life v. Weldon, 267 Ala.171 (1957)).
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2Partial withdrawals and surrenders from life policies are generally taxed as ordinary income to the extent the withdrawal exceeds your investment in the contract, which is also called the "basis." In some situations, partial withdrawals during the first 15 policy years may result in taxable income prior to recovery of the investment in the contract. Loans are generally not taxable if taken from a life insurance policy that is not a modified endowment contract. However, when cash values are used to repay a loan, the transaction is treated like a withdrawal and taxed accordingly. If a policy is a modified endowment contract, loans are treated as a taxable distribution to the extent of policy gain. On a modified endowment contract, loans, withdrawals and surrenders are treated first as distributions of the policy gain subject to ordinary income taxation, and may be subject to an additional 10% federal tax penalty if made prior to age 59½. Loans, if not repaid, and withdrawals reduce the policy's death benefit and cash value.
Accidental loss: The event that constitutes the trigger of a claim should be fortuitous, or at least outside the control of the beneficiary of the insurance. The loss should be pure, in the sense that it results from an event for which there is only the opportunity for cost. Events that contain speculative elements such as ordinary business risks or even purchasing a lottery ticket are generally not considered insurable.
Now that you have a better picture of the difference between term and whole life policies, you probably want to compare term life versus whole life insurance costs. To do so, you will need to directly compare the short and long term costs of a whole life policy and a term policy, based on factors like your age, the face value of the policy you want to buy, and whether or not you are a smoker.

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