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.

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Advanced economies account for the bulk of global insurance. With premium income of $1.62 trillion, Europe was the most important region in 2010, followed by North America $1.409 trillion and Asia $1.161 trillion. Europe has however seen a decline in premium income during the year in contrast to the growth seen in North America and Asia. The top four countries generated more than a half of premiums. The United States and Japan alone accounted for 40% of world insurance, much higher than their 7% share of the global population. Emerging economies accounted for over 85% of the world's population but only around 15% of premiums. Their markets are however growing at a quicker pace.[40] The country expected to have the biggest impact on the insurance share distribution across the world is China. According to Sam Radwan of ENHANCE International LLC, low premium penetration (insurance premium as a % of GDP), an ageing population and the largest car market in terms of new sales, premium growth has averaged 15–20% in the past five years, and China is expected to be the largest insurance market in the next decade or two.[41]
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?

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.
With whole life insurance, you can’t just decide to stop paying premiums. Well, you can, but if you do then the policy lapses and you’re forced to withdraw the cash value, which will subject you to taxes and possibly a surrender charge. And if you haven’t had the policy in place for multiple decades, you will also be left with meager, and possibly negative, returns.
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.
Great article Matt. You provide 8 great reasons as to why whole life insurance isn’t the best option for the majority of people. As you noted, there are times when it is advisable such as if you have a disabled child (also a no-lapse universal life policy is another alternative in this instance), but for most term life insurance and investing the rest is the way to go.
Because brokers work with a variety of insurance companies, they tend to have a broader understanding of companies’ offerings and key benefits. They are commission-based, which is a double-edged sword: they may be more motivated to earn your business year after year by getting you the best deal possible; or they may try to sell you a policy with unnecessary bells and whistles since that would pay them a higher commission. Regarding the double-edged sword: the best way to nail down the best deal possible is the annual review and re-shopping of coverage. The best way to avoid unnecessary “bells and whistles” is to remember that your needs guide what you purchase. If you don’t need “bells and whistles”, don’t purchase them. Approaching insurance this way is always the best way forward. Consider this: having options placed in front of you and explained in detail allows you the opportunity to hear about the newest “bells and whistles,” some of which may be just what you need or were looking for, but simply never asked about. Policies change, and new options are added by carriers all the time.

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It's difficult to apply a rule of thumb because the amount of life insurance you need depends on factors such as your other sources of income, how many dependents you have, your debts, and your lifestyle. However, a general guideline you may find useful is to obtain a policy that would be worth between five and 10 times your annual salary in the event of your death. Beyond that guideline, you may want to consider consulting a financial planning professional to determine how much coverage to obtain.

Any person who uses permanent insurance should be out of debt and have the discipline to maintain a long term approach. There aren’t any get rich quick schemes and any plan can work as long as an investor looks to get the maximum value for the money they pay. Cash Value Life insurance provides values that promises you or I can’t keep unless we partner with one of these companies.

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Well, first of all, I know nothing about how things work in Canada so I’m definitely not qualified to advise you on this. Given the same situation in the US though, I would say that it’s something you could consider. I would just make sure that you work with a fee-only financial planner who specializes in this kind of thing, can evaluate all of your options in the context of your specific goals, and, if this ends up being a good option, can help you find a policy specifically structured to minimize costs and maximize growth. That’s really the only way I would consider it.
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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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.
To "indemnify" means to make whole again, or to be reinstated to the position that one was in, to the extent possible, prior to the happening of a specified event or peril. Accordingly, life insurance is generally not considered to be indemnity insurance, but rather "contingent" insurance (i.e., a claim arises on the occurrence of a specified event). There are generally three types of insurance contracts that seek to indemnify an insured:
An entity which provides insurance is known as an insurer, insurance company, insurance carrier or underwriter. A person or entity who buys insurance is known as an insured or as a policyholder. The insurance transaction involves the insured assuming a guaranteed and known relatively small loss in the form of payment to the insurer in exchange for the insurer's promise to compensate the insured in the event of a covered loss. The loss may or may not be financial, but it must be reducible to financial terms, and usually involves something in which the insured has an insurable interest established by ownership, possession, or pre-existing relationship.

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I am looking into different investment options to start a retirement plan. What i have learned thus far, is that the majority of people seem to be looking at the total amount of the investment at the time of retirement. One of my primary concerns is the amount of taxation incurred once the funds start to be distributed. Deferred taxed 401K does not seem to be a viable option when you consider the taxation in say 30 years (even with the employer match) VS post-tax investments at the current tax rate. A Roth IRA seems to be a better option. I recently spoke to an advisor who recommended Whole Life as an investment option due to the non-taxable nature of the investment – i am currently researching how this may work. To your knowledge, has anyone performed a apples to apples comparison of the differing investment strategies to include estimated taxation at the time of disbursement?
To be completely honest, I didn’t go into more detail about the things you talk about here because I don’t personally believe it’s relevant for the vast majority of the population, and certainly not for my audience. I am aware that if you have a certain level of income and net worth, an overfunded policy may be a good decision for you, which is why I even mention it at all. But for most people, even an overfunded policy would represent far too big a percentage of their overall asset allocation to make sense. You’d get into the lack of diversification issue, so it’s just not worth it.
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!
Holly, I just turned seventy years old and retired and constantly looking and applying for jobs because my monthly income is only 1,206.00. I am divorce for only twenty eight years and have a learning disabled adult son who has never work. I need a life insurance policy to be around $30,000 to cover funeral expenses and some money for my son to cope. What life insurance company should I chose and should I chose term or whole life? I would greatly appreciate your response. I have no savings. Thank you. Diahann Cambridge

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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!
I really wish you would have stated more clearly the difference between the typical whole life plans with zero overfunding and a participating overfunded whole life policy. But I agree with you: What’s the point of not overfunding? Those policies have such a low cash component that they typically are just a ploy to make money by the agent and it seems as if that was your point all along. Which you should have clarified. Why minimum whole life insurances plans are a scam, especially when sold as a main investment vehicle. But then a little drama drives traffic right?
I have a Dividend Option Term Rider that will expire soon. I am 57 years old. New York life wrote to me stating I can change over to whole life insurance without having to answer health questions or take a physical exam. What are the advantages or disadvantages of this for someone of my age? I currently have a 401K. Would my money be better invested in that or elsewhere? Thanks.
So what happens at 65 or so after the term policy ends? It will renew but at what rate? What if the payout isnt enough to cover funeral costs and any remaining debt? The average American can barely retire and be comfortable let alone have enough money stashed away in a bank or in investments to help with any costs or debts after he/she has passed away. Term life is great for those who have had good careers most of their life and have a nice savings and investments to cash in on in the later stages of life. Unfortunately, that is not the average American. You only presented one side of the coin.

Whole life insurance is by definition undiversified. You are investing a large amount of money with a single company and relying entirely on their goodwill to give you good returns. The insurance company will make their own investments and then decide what portion of their returns they would like to pass on to their policyholders. You are completely at their whim. If that one company goes bankrupt, has some bad years, or simply changes their outlook on paying out to customers, your return will suffer.
Finally, the loan that I mentioned in my above post as interest free and tax free after the 11th year are a little more complicated than a “free loan”. First, the rate may increase in the future (at the discretion of the management) to a max 0.25% so that over time would add up if you took out a loan for retirement and had no intention of paying it back. Also, the loan balance is actually transferred to a loan reserve account where interest is charged at 2%, but at the same time the money in the loan reserve account earns interest of 2% which is credited to the Policy Value. So this is how they achieve an “interest and tax free” loan. I actually did not understand the specifics of this transaction or any IRS consequences that you could potentially have.
Thanks Jason! Your question is a good one, and the truth is that it really depends on the specifics of your situation. What are your college savings goals? What does the policy look like now? What is it expected to look like when you need the money? What other funds do you already have in place? I’m not asking you to answer those questions here, just want to give you a sense of the kinds of things I would consider.
1) I believe that when done correctly, it is insurance that CANNOT BE TAKEN AWAY. One of the most important things about whole life is that the annual premium is FIXED at a constant level FOREVER and the death benefit cannot be taken away if you continue paying in (these are the basics but I think worth repeating). I bought my policy at age 32. If I get heart disease, diabetes, or any of thousands of exclusionary conditions over the rest of my life, it does not matter. My insurance will not go away. If you rely on term insurance, then even if you get a 20 year policy as a 30 year old, then at age 50 there is a good chance you will either i) have to pay MUCH higher premiums to continue your coverage or ii) not be able to get coverage at all. It is just like health insurance before ACA. If you think you can keep rolling over term life, you are taking a very big gamble. This is probably fine if you are only insuring to protect your family in your early working years. But if you want to make sure your heirs eventually get a benefit on your death, term life is a bad gamble. Which leads into #2…
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.

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I am looking into different investment options to start a retirement plan. What i have learned thus far, is that the majority of people seem to be looking at the total amount of the investment at the time of retirement. One of my primary concerns is the amount of taxation incurred once the funds start to be distributed. Deferred taxed 401K does not seem to be a viable option when you consider the taxation in say 30 years (even with the employer match) VS post-tax investments at the current tax rate. A Roth IRA seems to be a better option. I recently spoke to an advisor who recommended Whole Life as an investment option due to the non-taxable nature of the investment – i am currently researching how this may work. To your knowledge, has anyone performed a apples to apples comparison of the differing investment strategies to include estimated taxation at the time of disbursement?

5The monthly rate shown is for Preferred Elite based on a Male, age 37. Whole Life Advantage® is a whole life insurance policy issued by Allstate Life Insurance Company, 3075 Sanders Rd, Northbrook IL 60062. Whole Life Advantage is available in most states with series LU11040 or form ICC12A1. In New York, issued by Allstate Life Insurance Company of New York, Hauppauge, NY, and is available with contract NYLU796. 

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).
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And your conclusion at the end is spot on: the insurance industry ABSOLUTELY knows about the negative stigma associated with these kinds of products and is ALWAYS looking for new ways to package things to make them sound attractive. Whether it’s variable life, universal life, equity-indexed universal life, or whatever this new thing is that they were trying to sell to you (I’ve honestly never heard of FFIUL), there’s always a new angle and the sales pitch is always going to sound good.
In the United States, insurance brokers are regulated by the individual U.S. states. Most states require anyone who sells, solicits, or negotiates insurance in that state to obtain an insurance broker license, with certain limited exceptions. This includes a business entity, the business entity's officers or directors (the "sublicensees" through whom the business entity operates), and individual employees. In order to obtain a broker's license, a person typically must take pre-licensing courses and pass an examination. An insurance broker also must submit an application (with an application fee) to the state insurance regulator in the state in which the applicant wishes to do business, who will determine whether the insurance broker has met all the state requirements and will typically do a background check to determine whether the applicant is considered trustworthy and competent. A criminal conviction, for example, may result in a state determining that the applicant is untrustworthy or incompetent. Some states also require applicants to submit fingerprints.

“Whole life has incredible benefits to protect against life events, I.e. disability…” This is what long-term disability insurance is for. A disability policy will cover all of your living expenses not just your life insurance premiums. It can even cover contributions to an IRA or other retirement savings vehicle. It’s much better and more cost effective true disability protection.
Maximum-funding a corporate owned UL policy only long enough that it can go on premium offset, where the policy returns are enough to pay the premium indefinitely, can be attractive as well. The internal rate of return on such policies inside corporations can make a corporate UL an alternative to fixed income in an era where yield is sparse. Again, not for everyone, but there are applications out there for those with significant estates.
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For example, most insurance policies in the English language today have been carefully drafted in plain English; the industry learned the hard way that many courts will not enforce policies against insureds when the judges themselves cannot understand what the policies are saying. Typically, courts construe ambiguities in insurance policies against the insurance company and in favor of coverage under the policy.

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Term life is a type of life insurance policy where premiums remain level for a specified period of time —generally for 10, 20 or 30 years. After the end of the level premium period, premiums will generally increase. Coverage continues as long as the premiums are paid. Perhaps this is an option you may want to consider when you’re on a more limited budget and will have significant expenses over a shorter period of time.

My argument is based on the fact that whole life insurance is often sold as an investment, and therefore many people buy it as an investment. I am well aware that there are other reasons people buy it, and those are explicitly acknowledged in the article. The rest of your questions have already been addressed in both the article and other comments.

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