“In the policy that was attempted to be sold to me, the “guaranteed return” was stated as 4%. But when I actually ran the numbers, using their own growth chart for the guaranteed portion of my cash value, after 40 years the annual return only amounted to 0.74%. There are a number of explanations for this difference, including fees and the way in which the interest rate is applied.” 

We got our insurance through a broker and it's been kind of an annoyance. When they were taken over by another company after having the policy for decades we got a non renewal notice which was fine because we were not interested in doing business through them anyway until we found out that non renewal meant no other insurance wanted us and we were forced to buy a new policy through the broker.
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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Good question. My first response is that if you’re looking for pure life insurance protection, it’s likely that term insurance will be a better product for you than whole life. It can depend on exactly what kind of protection you need, but that’s generally the case. Second, I have an entire series on life insurance that will help you figure out how much you need, and it does factor in inflation. Here’s the link: New Parent’s Guide to Life Insurance.
A very good article. Congruent to the philosophy in which our company was built: Buy Term, Invest the Difference. I am a crusader at heart and I am peeved every time I see these products in the hands of people who can barely afford it and whose life will be completely damaged for merely owning it because they are grossly under-insured when they could have well purchase a proper term amount for the time they need it.

Weiner was talking about rolling returns for Vanguard. So, it’s his argument, not mine. And, this is a different issue from what you’re talking about anyway regarding annual returns based on monthy savings. So I’m not sure where you’re going with this or why you think it’s misleading. I believe Weiner got his figures from Vanguard…so…that would mean Vanguard is misleading itself? Doesn’t make sense man.
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Just like $1 bill is worth the same as 4 quarters if using it at the grocery, yet they have different features: In a fire the quarters survive, but the dollar bill doesn’t. Same applies if they’re on a table outside and a strong wind blows. If you happen to have a small hole in your pocket, you might lose the quarters, but the dollar bill might stay. And if you have 5 dollar bills in your pocket, that’s insignificant, but you wouldn’t want to keep 20 quarters in your pocket for very long.
Agents and brokers act as intermediaries between you (the insurance buyer) and your insurers. Each has a legal duty to help you obtain appropriate coverage at a reasonable price. Each must have a license to distribute the type of insurance he or she is selling. An agent or broker must also adhere to the regulations enforced by your state insurance department.
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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.”
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.
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.

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”

To say a life insurance company is not a diversified portfolio is a hard statement to agree with. Life insurance companies own 18% of the corporate bonds issued in the United States. These a multi-billion dollar diversified portfolio’s of fixed income securities WITH NO INTEREST RATE Risk. It is true that it takes time to accumulate cash value, however, there isn’t a passive investment strategy that doesn’t take time to create wealth.


We provide comprehensive business insurance, personal insurance, employee benefits and financial services products to a wide range of businesses and individuals nationwide. With a commitment to people, we value a culture dedicated to serving our clients’ needs in an effort to protect their valuable assets and assist in making smart decisions for their business or family.

However, unlike a house, a Whole Life policy is HIGHLY LIQUID (can be converted to cash in a matter of days, irrespective of market conditions) and has Guaranteed Values (once dividends are paid, they are fully vested and added to the Guaranteed Values, it is only future dividends which are not guaranteed). As such, borrowing against a Whole Life policy is much simpler (can be done without an application, credit report, etc.) Additionally, here again it is not an all or none proposition. One can PARTIALLY surrender a Whole Life policy, or just surrender additions (dividends or client paid Paid-up-additions). Try that with a house, try selling just one room or a few bricks. With a house, unless you decide to borrow, converting the asset into cash is an all or none proposition.
The sale of life insurance in the U.S. began in the 1760s. The Presbyterian Synods in Philadelphia and New York City created the Corporation for Relief of Poor and Distressed Widows and Children of Presbyterian Ministers in 1759; Episcopalian priests organized a similar fund in 1769. Between 1787 and 1837 more than two dozen life insurance companies were started, but fewer than half a dozen survived. In the 1870s, military officers banded together to found both the Army (AAFMAA) and the Navy Mutual Aid Association (Navy Mutual), inspired by the plight of widows and orphans left stranded in the West after the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and of the families of U.S. sailors who died at sea.
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Your post on why whole life insurance is a bad investment was extremely informative. My father in law is deciding whether to buy a whole life policy because his term life premium is going up and he only has 5 years left until the policy expires. After reading your post and looking closely at the insurance companies offer my wife and I are advising to do something else with their money. Thanks and keep it up!
Backdoor Roths – 1) These vehicles are still capped at $5,500 on an annual basis (LI has no restrictions on contribution amounts.) 2) Roth IRAs are still exposed to market risk and can experience losses in account value (whole life policies are not and cannot). 3) Doing a backdoor conversion year after year is an administrative pain in the ass and will have tax implications if you hold a traditional IRA.

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.
The beneficiary receives policy proceeds upon the insured person's death. The owner designates the beneficiary, but the beneficiary is not a party to the policy. The owner can change the beneficiary unless the policy has an irrevocable beneficiary designation. If a policy has an irrevocable beneficiary, any beneficiary changes, policy assignments, or cash value borrowing would require the agreement of the original beneficiary.
The person responsible for making payments for a policy is the policy owner, while the insured is the person whose death will trigger payment of the death benefit. The owner and insured may or may not be the same person. For example, if Joe buys a policy on his own life, he is both the owner and the insured. But if Jane, his wife, buys a policy on Joe's life, she is the owner and he is the insured. The policy owner is the guarantor and he will be the person to pay for the policy. The insured is a participant in the contract, but not necessarily a party to it.

You’re welcome Helen. If you have already surrendered the policy, the best thing you can do is simply make a good decision with the money you get back. If you are still considering whether or not you should surrender the policy, you need to ignore what the policy has done for you (or not done) in the past and focus only on what it should do going forward and compare that to the other options available to you. That’s something I can help you with if you’d like, and you can email me at matt@momanddadmoney.com if you want to learn more about that.
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?
Thanks for the insightful article. I agree with the general statement that, in a vacuum, it is better to “buy term and invest the difference.” However, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on using whole life insurance as an investment vehicle in the context of the infinite banking model (assuming you are familiar with the concept). From what I understand, it sounds like a good way to achieve predictable and guarenteed growth on a compounded basis while allowing you to borrow money from your own policy and pay yourself the interest, all while always having access to the funds. I think it might be wise for people, like myself, are looking for guaranteed growth with little risk.

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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)).
In the United States, the underwriting loss of property and casualty insurance companies was $142.3 billion in the five years ending 2003. But overall profit for the same period was $68.4 billion, as the result of float. Some insurance industry insiders, most notably Hank Greenberg, do not believe that it is forever possible to sustain a profit from float without an underwriting profit as well, but this opinion is not universally held.

1. Almost ANYONE can benefit from a well designed overfunded Participating Whole Life policy. Are you saying that the vast majority of the population has no place in their investment portfolio for a guaranteed fixed asset that provides long-bond like returns (coupled with a few other bells and whistles)? I would even argue that single people with no children might benefit from this product in the right amount and the proper structure (not to mention that some policies now have the option to pay for long-term-care). EVERY PERSON that cares for someone or something (be it a spouse, a child, a charity, or anything else) can benefit even more, by virtue of having a guaranteed death benefit. Such a benefit allows the comfort (and better cash flow with lower taxation) of spending down assets, rather than relying solely on returns on assets.

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.
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Good question Pixley. Evaluating a policy that’s been in place for 7 years, as it sounds like yours has, is very different from evaluating a new policy. The key is to ignore everything that’s happened in the past and evaluate it only based on how you expect it to perform going forward. I would suggest getting an in-force illustration and running the numbers for yourself based on both the guarantees and projections. Every policy is different, especially those that have been in place for a while, so I really can’t say what you should expect.
Contingent or incentive commissions reward agents and brokers for achieving volume, profitability, growth or retention goals established by the insurer. For example, Elite Insurance promises to pay the Jones Agency an extra 3 percent commission if Jones writes $10 million in new property policies within a certain time frame. If Jones renews 90 percent of those policies when they expire, Elite will pay Jones an addition 2 percent commission.

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