Many people have a 401(k) or other retirement plan with their employer. Just about everyone has the option of contributing to an IRA. Then there are regular taxable accounts. All of these options allow you to choose your investments, control your costs (though employer plans will be more limited here), diversify, and avoid the downsides of whole life insurance we’ve just gone over.

1. Alex hasn’t reviewed your policy, nor does he know anything about your personal goals or situation. Neither do I, which is why I didn’t give any concrete advice in my initial response. All of which is simply to say that any opinion about this policy based on what we know from your comment, whether it’s coming from me, Alex, or anyone else, cannot possibly be informed enough for you to rely on.
The insurance company calculates the policy prices (premiums) at a level sufficient to fund claims, cover administrative costs, and provide a profit. The cost of insurance is determined using mortality tables calculated by actuaries. Mortality tables are statistically based tables showing expected annual mortality rates of people at different ages. Put simply, people are more likely to die as they get older and the mortality tables enable the insurance companies to calculate the risk and increase premiums with age accordingly. Such estimates can be important in taxation regulation.[10][11]
A good agent will figure out how much insurance is needed, and if a whole life policy would make sense without causing the policy to MEC within the constraint of one’s human life value. As for surrenders and loans against the policy, good agents discuss how to structure these options for supplemental retirement income to maintain a reasonable death benefit given a retirement age. There are institution(s) that have always paid a dividend and have been top rated every year.

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!
The first years premiums goes to the insurance agent who sold you the policy…and I’m sure there are plenty of other hidden fees in there. I almost went with whole life insurance as a friend was working as an insurance agent and I had just graduated college. I decided against it though. Read a book that said that I should instead buy term and invest the difference. Another problem with whole life insurance is that the premiums are much more expensive than term life insurance…if someone chooses whole life, they will likely choose a lesser coverage and might be underinsured if something unfortunate were to occurr.

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.

Good question Eski. I would encourage you to look into long-term disability insurance as a potentially more effective way to provide coverage for the exact risk you’re talking about. In general you’ll get better, more comprehensive coverage from a disability insurance policy that’s specifically designed for this than from a life insurance policy that includes it as a limited add-on.


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.


After reading the entire thread, couldn’t help but add my thoughts. I am a civilian here so no affiliation as an insurance salesman or financial planner in any capacity. I am however, an owner of a WL policy (one year in) which I got through a friend in the business. I admittedly jumped into this without doing the proper due diligence as more of a favor to him. I have had anxiety about this decision since, and am days away from my second annual premium payment and have thus spent a great deal of time researching and thinking about the implications of this asset. I am at a “cut my losses and run crossroads”. Is this a quality asset, or do I cut and run and chalk-up the loss as the cost of a lesson learned in letting others do my independent thinking for me (two implications here are that 1) I do believe that the person who sold me this actually believes in the products and 2) that doesn’t mean that he is right and any person, no matter how financially savvy, who is willing to dedicate the time, can do the research and come up with their own view). I say all of this to admit that I am biased, even if only sub-consciously, as I have tried to think in a balanced manner with regards to this decision. All of that being said, I am currently leaning towards keeping the asset in place and welcome thoughts. My current logic below.

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Regarding pension vs registered accounts: It is hard to know what is better, relying on your pension or relying on an individually held mutual fund account (or some variation thereof using other securities). This would require a close reading of the pension and securities legislation in your region. For us in Canada, a defined benefit pension (prescribed benefits upon retirement based on a formula where the employer is responsible for funding any shortfall) can be incredibly enticing due to the guarantees attached to them. It is the preferred pension and stacks up really well against defined contribution pensions (where employers match the contributions of employees to at least a certain degree and where the account grows until retirement and the pensioner draws down the account and is burdened with any shortfall) but defined benefit plans are going the way of the dodo over here. It’s still available to government employees but most private employers don’t want to take on the risk of having to meet funding requirements. That’s a huge liability on the balance sheet. In any case, pensions have a few benefits over individual savings vehicles. First, they benefit from reduced management fee pricing, thereby improving returns marginally over the course of fund accumulation. Second, they benefit from a longer investment horizon since they are always looking many years in the future as their pension liabilities are long-term by definition. Third, actuaries are required to evaluate pensions regularly to make sure funding targets are established and followed.
“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.
“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.”
Policy benefits are reduced by any outstanding loan or loan interest and/or withdrawals. Dividends, if any, are affected by policy loans and loan interest. Withdrawals above the cost basis may result in taxable ordinary income. If the policy lapses, or is surrendered, any outstanding loans considered gain in the policy may be subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy is a Modified Endowment Contract (MEC), loans are treated like withdrawals, but as gain first, subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy owner is under 59 ½, any taxable withdrawal may also be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty.

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The commissions a life insurance agent earns selling a whole life policy is tiny compared to the ongoing commission a fee based asset manager charges to manage a portfolio. These asset managers use bonds to manage stock market volatility. A consumer who hires one of these managers is paying 1-2% annual fee’s for someone to add an asset that reduces long term stock returns and has the potential to drop 20% or more when interest rates rise. It takes 10 minutes to set an allocation and if an investor can stomach the volatility, they need to let it do its thing. More on this in a minute.
I’m in the process of evaluating a whole life insurance with an Early Critical Illness Advance cover. The reason for doing so is that I’ve come across many cases of colleagues with failing health in my work recently, and was told that there is a 33% that anyone can get cancer. And I fear, I could be in that statistics. So, the insurance is to give me a payout, in the event I can no longer work and earn a salary, so that at least I could still live comfortably.

Many companies separate applicants into four general categories. These categories are preferred best, preferred, standard, and tobacco. Preferred best is reserved only for the healthiest individuals in the general population. This may mean, that the proposed insured has no adverse medical history, is not under medication, and has no family history of early-onset cancer, diabetes, or other conditions.[21] Preferred means that the proposed insured is currently under medication and has a family history of particular illnesses. Most people are in the standard category.
It is your responsibility to evaluate the accuracy, completeness and usefulness of any opinions, advice, services, or other information provided. All information contained on any page is distributed with the understanding that the authors, publishers and distributors are not rendering legal, accounting or other professional advice or opinions on specific facts or matters, and accordingly assume no liability whatsoever in connection with its use. Consult your own legal or tax advisor with respect to your personal situation.

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Deciding whether to purchase whole life or term life insurance is a personal decision that should be based on the financial needs of your beneficiaries as well as your financial goals. Life insurance can be a very flexible and powerful financial vehicle that can meet multiple financial objectives, from providing financial security to building financial assets and leaving a legacy.

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So our financial adviser is telling us we should have whole life insurance because we can use the cash amount, tax free. We have been contributing to Roth IRAs, but will now not be able to due to our AGI. We could contribute to IRAs, but we’ll be in a higher tax bracket. We’ve been maxing out our 401k accounts, and have investments in the stock market. What other options might we have for retirement?

Your “rent” analogy is a classic one used by life insurance salesmen when selling whole life, but it is a poor analogy. After all, insurance has nothing to do with renting vs. owning. Would you say that most people are simply “renting” auto insurance? Do you think people should buy auto insurance policies that will pay them the full price of a new car whenever their car dies, even if they drive it into the ground? Because that’s essentially what whole life insurance is. The main purpose of life insurance is to provide financially for dependents in the case that you die early, just as the main purpose of car insurance (beyond the liability portion) is to provide the financial value of your car in case it dies early. Once that financial protection is no longer needed, the insurance need is gone. Term insurance protects you while you need it and goes away once you don’t. It is insurance in the purest sense of the word and is by far the more effective way to go about it for the vast majority of the population.
Your “rent” analogy is a classic one used by life insurance salesmen when selling whole life, but it is a poor analogy. After all, insurance has nothing to do with renting vs. owning. Would you say that most people are simply “renting” auto insurance? Do you think people should buy auto insurance policies that will pay them the full price of a new car whenever their car dies, even if they drive it into the ground? Because that’s essentially what whole life insurance is. The main purpose of life insurance is to provide financially for dependents in the case that you die early, just as the main purpose of car insurance (beyond the liability portion) is to provide the financial value of your car in case it dies early. Once that financial protection is no longer needed, the insurance need is gone. Term insurance protects you while you need it and goes away once you don’t. It is insurance in the purest sense of the word and is by far the more effective way to go about it for the vast majority of the population.
I have only read the comments so far as Feb 2014 (tho i will read them all), but i have to say thank you for the article, but more so for the objectiveness and courteous mannerism in all your responses. While there may sometimes be cause for snarkiness or sarcasm on your part, I have yet to see it in your responses. And the fact that you actually respond to everyone (as far as I have read) deserves a huge KUDOS as well. You have certainly given me much more insight to my family’s planning goals.

Virtually every state mandates that insurance agents and brokers meet licensing requirements, which normally entails the successful completion of a written examination. Prelicensing educational requirements may also apply, which can vary depending on the state and license type. Separate licenses are necessary for each line of insurance, including Life and Health and Property and Casualty. In addition, agents and brokers may have to meet ongoing continuing education requirements to maintain their licenses.

You can own both whole life and term life policies at the same time. People who are looking at this option typically already have a whole life policy. However, they may find that they want additional short-term insurance coverage such as for 10 years. In this instance, buying a term policy for the amount of life insurance you need for that extra protection can be a good solution.


Any person acting as an insurance agent or broker must be licensed to do so by the state or jurisdiction that the person is operating in. Whereas states previously would issue separate licenses for agents and brokers, most states now issue a single producer license regardless if the person is acting on behalf of the insured or insurer. The term insurance producers is used to reference both insurance agents and brokers.
Premiums paid by the policy owner are normally not deductible for federal and state income tax purposes, and proceeds paid by the insurer upon the death of the insured are not included in gross income for federal and state income tax purposes.[28] However, if the proceeds are included in the "estate" of the deceased, it is likely they will be subject to federal and state estate and inheritance tax.

There is no right or wrong answer. Buying term insurance is as stated a pure play, cheap when young, expensive when old or with medical issues. Whole life from a bad insurance company is bad. However, one of the best ways to invest money is to diversify. Often, customers buy “Universal” whole life policies that are underfunded, meaning as they get old, these policies become expensive and are often cancelled. Not good. What I have done was term policies when young along with a small (50k) whole life policy. Having a whole life policy allows forced savings and a build up of capital. With the right policy with guaranteed returns, my whole life police has doubled in value and will be inherited tax and probate free to my dependents. If I had no money, it would pay for my funeral and leave funds to my spouse. I have saved and invested money, have multiple 401K’s, and no longer need the insurance. However, 30 years ago, I could not predict the future, and if I had to do it all over again, I would still buy the same policies. However, times have changed, interest rates are low, and the future is uncertain. I still believe, a small whole life policy with a great company (constant, unchanging premium) for a young family just starting out is a good way to provide some security while forcing one to save and invest capital. Is it the best way to invest? No. But many young do not know where to start and it is a great start. Also note, that often as the cash value increases, the death benefit also increases in many policies. Hindsight is always 2020, but one cannot predict the future, that is why we buy insurance. I also found that converting a term insurance police into whole life can be very expensive. Would a whole life policy be my only investment. No. I buy stocks, bonds, CD’s, have 401K, IRA, bank deposits, etc. A whole life policy is a small slice of the pie; diversity. In summary, both policies have merit.
Virtually every state mandates that insurance agents and brokers meet licensing requirements, which normally entails the successful completion of a written examination. Prelicensing educational requirements may also apply, which can vary depending on the state and license type. Separate licenses are necessary for each line of insurance, including Life and Health and Property and Casualty. In addition, agents and brokers may have to meet ongoing continuing education requirements to maintain their licenses.
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.
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.
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).

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.
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.
In other words, if you put a dollar into the market, and then the market drops resulting in a panic and you pull out what you put in, you’re more than likely pulling out .65 cents as opposed to the dollar. You’ve lost money, because you pulled out in a low market. However, if you have 3 to 4 years worth of living expenses in a non-correlated asset (I.E. Whole Life) you can use that as an effective way to bridge the gap until the market comes back up again. Sure it may cost a little more, but in the end you’re making a lot more money, since you’re selling your dollar for a dollar or more, as opposed to selling it for .65 cents.
Premiums paid by the policy owner are normally not deductible for federal and state income tax purposes, and proceeds paid by the insurer upon the death of the insured are not included in gross income for federal and state income tax purposes.[28] However, if the proceeds are included in the "estate" of the deceased, it is likely they will be subject to federal and state estate and inheritance tax.
Captive Agents - Captive insurance agents represent just one insurance carrier. In essence, they are employees of the carrier. The upside of working with a captive agent is that he or she has exceptionally thorough product knowledge. The downside is that he/she cannot provide access to products or pricing from outside their respective company. For this reason, you must have a high tolerance for carrier-specific terms, since each carrier and its in-house representatives may use language that is tough to compare across several companies that you encounter. Nevertheless, tap into that exceptional product knowledge and get smarter along the way as you search. The surge in online insurance websites offers consumers yet another option to use as part of their selection strategy. It is easy to find an insurance agent online, particularly one from a national insurance provider. Moreover, with 24-7 online access and quick comparison of policies, these web services are convenient, quick and a great way to ballpark quotes and to give you exposure to a wide variety of insurance providers. When you find one that is appealing to you, give them a call or fill out an agent request online.
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.
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”
The IRS regulation on how much can be put in over 7 year period to not cause a whole life policy to be considered a Modified Endowment Contract. Additionally, many long standing highly rated institutions will limit the amount of OPP that can be dumped into the policy over a given period. Why is that? Because people will use whole life in low interest environments with the intention of withdrawing in the event of a market change.

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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.
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.

In the United States, economists and consumer advocates generally consider insurance to be worthwhile for low-probability, catastrophic losses, but not for high-probability, small losses. Because of this, consumers are advised to select high deductibles and to not insure losses which would not cause a disruption in their life. However, consumers have shown a tendency to prefer low deductibles and to prefer to insure relatively high-probability, small losses over low-probability, perhaps due to not understanding or ignoring the low-probability risk. This is associated with reduced purchasing of insurance against low-probability losses, and may result in increased inefficiencies from moral hazard.[52]

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