In his memoir “Am I Being Too Subtle?” Sam Zell, a billionaire investor and chairman of Equity International, writes, “I’m always on the lookout for anomalies or disruptions in an industry, in a market or in a particular company…. Any event or pattern out of the ordinary is like a beacon telling me some new interesting opportunity may be emerging.”
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There are a number of explanations for this difference, including fees and the way in which the interest rate is applied. But the bottom line is that you can’t take that “guaranteed return” at face value. It is incredibly deceptive. Run the numbers for yourself and see if you’re happy with the result. The reality is that you can often get better guaranteed returns from a savings account or CD that’s also FDIC insured.
Hi Matt, I’m a Life Insurance agent and Advisor and I work for New York Life. Some of your points make sense but saying that whole life is bad is a little off. It is good for savings toward your retirement and will do a lot more than a savings account, money market or cd will ever do. So to agree with you to a certain extent I’ll explain what I do for younger individuals, I’ll sell a whole life policy and later it with term insurance. Basically the whole life will build a cash value with guaranteed returns and the term insurance is in the event of an untimely death. $1,000,000 of term can be as low as $50 a month. Also NY Life has never guaranteed dividends but has paid them out for 159 years, even during the Great Depression. Our company is backed by a $180 billion general account and a $19 billion surplus. So yeah, we guarantee your returns. And we don’t just sell life insurance, that’s why our agents like myself have life, series 6,7,63,66,65 licenses, if our clients, not customers want more than life, we diversify for them into brokerage or anything else they want. Just puttin my 2 cents in.

I think that post does a good job of showing how the illustrated (non-guaranteed) return from a whole life insurance policy is comparable to one of the most conservative types of traditional investments you can make IF you end up keeping the policy for 30 years. Of course, that conservative traditional investment doesn’t have most of the other downsides discussed here AND doesn’t require you to hold it for 30 years to see a reasonable return. And, of course, you are allowed to put your money into other, less conservative investments outside of a life insurance policy, some of which may even have special tax advantages (401(k), IRA, HSA, 529, etc.).

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Your point about eventually not having to pay premiums is a common one used by agents, and in some cases that does happen. But in many cases it doesn’t, or at least it doesn’t happen as early as is illustrated and the policyholder is left paying premiums for longer than they had anticipated. The point is that this is not a guarantee, and it’s important for people to understand that.
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Limited risk of catastrophically large losses: Insurable losses are ideally independent and non-catastrophic, meaning that the losses do not happen all at once and individual losses are not severe enough to bankrupt the insurer; insurers may prefer to limit their exposure to a loss from a single event to some small portion of their capital base. Capital constrains insurers' ability to sell earthquake insurance as well as wind insurance in hurricane zones. In the United States, flood risk is insured by the federal government. In commercial fire insurance, it is possible to find single properties whose total exposed value is well in excess of any individual insurer's capital constraint. Such properties are generally shared among several insurers, or are insured by a single insurer who syndicates the risk into the reinsurance market.

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Then, when I was excitedly presenting what I saw at the meeting to my skeptical wife at home in front of my two babies, I began to remember what I learned from my reading all the stuff I googled earlier in the day especially the part about comparing this investment to other types of tax advantaged investments. And all of a sudden the excitement began to die down.
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.
Thanks for reaching out Jean! The truth is that there are a lot of variables in play here that make it hard to give you a direct answer. On the one hand, a $43k surrender value after 25 years is not a great return, assuming that you haven’t taken any loans out and there haven’t been any other interruptions in your premium payments. A guaranteed 7.6% return is also really appealing. But the answer also depends on your overall insurance needs, your other goals, the expected performance of this policy going forward, and other investment opportunities available to you. Those are the things I would look at if I were you. And if you’d like, I would be happy to talk things over in more detail. In any case, I wish you the best of luck!
For term life, I’d agree that it is usually a really bad investment. Why? Because a lot of people only pay in their premiums and never get any return. If you have term, then by the time you are older and your kids are self-sufficient (hopefully), your incentive to keep renewing will be pretty low. You may indeed just stop paying in and let the insurance lapse. Or, also quite possible, you will have to renew your policy but the premiums will be way too high because you are now much older and your health is worse. In some cases, you won’t be able to renew it at all.
It doesn’t really make any sense to me to compare permanent life insurance to another different type of financial instrument like a CD or investment either because those products don’t provide a higher death benefit so there is no cost of insurance. It’s not like those other products don’t factor in overhead like salaries, bonuses, buildings etc. People still get paid to sell those products too even it’s not directly tied to the sale.
Rules of ethics. (You might say this is a simple case of “buyer beware,” but as government investigations have indicated, it’s the misrepresentation that’s the problem. Such investigations have found that brokers do not always consider their clients’ best interests, instead acting primarily in their own interests and those of their favored insurance companies.)

I’ll be up front that I am not an expert on life insurance and long term care for people in your situation and therefore don’t have a great answer for you. I have heard good things about certain hybrid policies like you’re describing, but I would be very careful about who you’re buying it from and how exactly the policy works. If you would like a referral to a fee-only financial planner who specializes in this kind of decision, just let me know and I would be happy to help.

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An early form of life insurance dates to Ancient Rome; "burial clubs" covered the cost of members' funeral expenses and assisted survivors financially. The first company to offer life insurance in modern times was the Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office, founded in London in 1706 by William Talbot and Sir Thomas Allen.[3][4] Each member made an annual payment per share on one to three shares with consideration to age of the members being twelve to fifty-five. At the end of the year a portion of the "amicable contribution" was divided among the wives and children of deceased members, in proportion to the number of shares the heirs owned. The Amicable Society started with 2000 members.[5][6]
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.
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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As for it being undiversified, NO investment by itself is completely diversified. Cash value life insurance can ADD diversity and security to a portfolio (the top companies have incredible financial strength, good policies can have a solid conservative return while meeting a life insurance need). Diversification is an issue with cash value life insurance if it makes up a good portion of your assets, and if it would, you shouldn’t be buying it.
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I agree that it isn’t a good investment. However, that doesn’t make whole life a bad insurance policy. As I mentioned before, I realized a lot of things in my years working for a mortuary. First, the vast majority of life insurance policies that we filed were whole life (I would guess 80-90%). Why? Because people who are in their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s don’t have term policies anymore. And I’ve seen all kinds of things happen to people who have planned well financially. Getting old and having to go into a nursing home generally means depleting one’s assets. With nursing homes in my area costing $5000 per month (and more in some areas), it may not take long to go through someone’s savings. Once they go through all of their assets, Medicaid will pick up the tab for the nursing home bill. Having whole life leaves money at the end regardless of what unforeseen circumstances happen. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times….I’m guessing that those families didn’t think it was such a bad deal.
Although available before April 2006, from this date pension term assurance became widely available in the UK. Most UK insurers adopted the name "life insurance with tax relief" for the product. Pension term assurance is effectively normal term life assurance with tax relief on the premiums. All premiums are paid at a net of basic rate tax at 22%, and higher-rate tax payers can gain an extra 18% tax relief via their tax return. Although not suitable for all, PTA briefly became one of the most common forms of life assurance sold in the UK until, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced the withdrawal of the scheme in his pre-budget announcement on 6 December 2006.
The “fixed returns” you talk about from whole life are not the 4-6% you mention in multiple places. Again, as I said in the post, the guaranteed returns are much closer to 1% or less. Yes you might get better returns depending on the dividends the insurance company decides to pay, but that’s not “fixed” or guaranteed. It changes every year. And yes, you can improve those refunds if you vastly overfund the policy in the early years, which again is something I already mentioned in the post. But for 98-99% of the population that really isn’t a viable strategy.
2. You have to borrow your own money @ 6-12% and wait up to 6 months contractually to get it. Whhich now increases your already high monthly premiums. If you don’t pay back the loan, they add interest on interest! 3.It takes 3 years to build a dollar of cash value giving you a 0% rate of return for the first 3 years. 4.Any dividends you get back is a return of the money that they over charged you. Bottom Line: Horrible Product that is good for the Whole Life Company and Agent and Bad for the Consumer!
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I agree with you, generally. Many of those commenting seem to have forgotten that you focused around whole life as an “investment”. Even though insurance is an investment in it’s own way, it’s shouldn’t be sold as an investment. In my experience, it really only makes sense for more wealthy clients who are doing more elaborate estate planning etc. However, the vast majority of people in their 20’s and 30’s should steer clear of whole life. Selling permanent insurance for “retirement planning” gives the financial services industry a slimy look. The income isn’t “tax-free”. It’s a loan. As you say in the article: if one’s taking it for income are they really going to pay it back…? Plus, if a client is in their 20’s and 30’s their time horizon is perfect for IRAs and the equity markets. May dividend aristocrat stocks have paid high percentages for 50+ years. Lastly, as many agents put their clients first…. others do not. If the premiums on whole life are 10x as high… so are the commissions.
The second is that I’ve heard enough horror stories about indexed life insurance in general to be skeptical. It’s not that it can’t work, it’s that there are plenty of examples of it underperforming, having a catch that wasn’t made clear up front, and other instances where it just doesn’t work the way it was sold to work. Any time something is sold as being able to pay for any financial goal no matter the market conditions, it’s usually too good to be true.
I agree that it isn’t a good investment. However, that doesn’t make whole life a bad insurance policy. As I mentioned before, I realized a lot of things in my years working for a mortuary. First, the vast majority of life insurance policies that we filed were whole life (I would guess 80-90%). Why? Because people who are in their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s don’t have term policies anymore. And I’ve seen all kinds of things happen to people who have planned well financially. Getting old and having to go into a nursing home generally means depleting one’s assets. With nursing homes in my area costing $5000 per month (and more in some areas), it may not take long to go through someone’s savings. Once they go through all of their assets, Medicaid will pick up the tab for the nursing home bill. Having whole life leaves money at the end regardless of what unforeseen circumstances happen. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times….I’m guessing that those families didn’t think it was such a bad deal.

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Contingent commissions are controversial. For one thing, brokers represent insurance buyers. Some people contend that brokers shouldn't accept contingent commissions. Moreover, some brokers have collected contingent commissions without the knowledge of their clients. Another problem is that contingent commissions may give brokers (and agents) an incentive to steer insurance buyers into policies that are particularly lucrative for the broker. If agents and brokers accept contingent commissions, they should disclose this fact to policyholders.

Insurance is underwritten by The Travelers Indemnity Company and its property casualty affiliates, One Towers Square, Hartford, CT 06183. In TX: Automobile insurance is offered by Travelers Texas MGA, Inc. and underwritten by Consumers County Mutual Insurance Company (CCM). CCM is not a Travelers Company. In CA: Travelers Commercial Insurance Company, One Tower Square, Hartford, CT 06183. Certificate of Authority # 6519; State of Domicile: Connecticut and Travelers Property Casualty Insurance Company, One Tower Square, Hartford, CT 06183. Certificate of Authority # 6521; State of Domicile: Connecticut. In CA: Boat and Yacht insurance is underwritten by The Standard Fire Insurance Company, One Tower Square, Hartford, CT 06183, Certificate of Authority #0335-0, State of Domicile: Connecticut.©2017 The Travelers Indemnity Company.
In the United States, the tax on interest income on life insurance policies and annuities is generally deferred. However, in some cases the benefit derived from tax deferral may be offset by a low return. This depends upon the insuring company, the type of policy and other variables (mortality, market return, etc.). Moreover, other income tax saving vehicles (e.g., IRAs, 401(k) plans, Roth IRAs) may be better alternatives for value accumulation.
Using a broker can also simplify the process of picking insurance. There are so many different choices for insurance, with different limits and exclusions for each policy. It can be difficult to know which insurance and what level of coverage is right for you or your business. This is where an insurance broker can help. Using their experience in the field, a broker can analyze your risks and liabilities to determine exactly what coverage you need. With access to a variety of technology-based tools, brokers can make it simple to compare various options to determine which policies would best fit your needs. Using a broker eliminates the stress of learning about different types of insurance, and makes it easy to figure out what insurance will work for you.
If she still needs the insurance, then you’re right that she may just be stuck between a rock and a hard place. I have some independent insurance experts that I work with and could potentially run it by them just to see what the options might be. If you’d like to talk things over in more detail, please feel free to email me directly at matt@momanddadmoney.com, or you can call me at 850-426-4034.
Universal life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance designed to provide lifetime coverage. Unlike whole life insurance, universal life insurance policies are flexible and may allow you to raise or lower your premium payment or coverage amounts throughout your lifetime. Additionally, due to its lifetime coverage, universal life typically has higher premium payments than term.

Point Two: There is NO SAVINGS in literally 99% of all whole life or cash value policies! In the event of the death of the insured, the LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY TAKES THE SAVINGS TO PAY OFF THE FACE VALUE OF THE INSURANCE!!! The only person who saves money is the agent and the insurance company. The insured or beneficiaries saves nothing! There may be a few divergent exceptions with cumbersome addons, but NO SAVINGS TO YOU is the result.

Keep in mind though that the interest rate on these insurance loans are among the best rates you can get anywhere for access to money like prime plus 1 or 2 percent, and your principal is untouched and continues to grow. Who would you rather borrow from? Yourself/insurance co at prime plus 1% or 2% or from the bank at prime plus 6%+ So I think it is more misleading to harp on the minimal interest rate your paying on a fraction of the value of the cash value…which again is growing at the rate of the dividends.
Interesting read, I certainly agreed with the lack of transparency and fees associated with some policies. I would disagree though that it is undiversified. Take Northwestern Mutual, an almost 300 billion dollar general portfolio that you participate in as a policy owner. Most is bonds, like all other companies, but the remaining investments are private equity deals that as individual investors, we would have no access to. Also keep in mind that the equity in policies are extremely safe. Look at any market crash, and compare what dividends we’re paid out by the top companies. The equity in the policies do not go backwards which makes it very attractive when you’re retired because you’ll have no other sources of money so well protected and still growing at 4%.

Except for the very wealthy, most people could benefit from a combination of a highly overfunded Whole Life Insurance policy, and a term policy to make up for the difference. For example, let’s say a 25 year old determines that he needs $3,000,000 of insurance. He might purchase a $1,000,000 Whole Life with an annual premium of $12,000, but overfund it buy paying $30,000. He would also get a term policy of $2,000,0000, which he might convert partially down the road, after the first Whole Life policy is well seasoned.
I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such a frustrating experience with your policy Jeanette. If I’m understanding correctly, it sounds like you originally took out a term life insurance policy before switching to a whole life insurance policy a few years later, and since then you’ve seen the value of your whole life insurance policy increase. Is that correct?

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*This material is for informational purposes only. In general, partial or full surrenders from a permanent life insurance policy in excess of the policy’s basis are taxable, and limited circumstances exist where death proceeds will be taxable. Neither Farmers New World Life Insurance Company, nor its employees nor its agents provide legal or tax advice. Always consult your own attorney, accountant or tax adviser as to the legal, financial or tax consequences and advice on any particular transaction.
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. 

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