First of all, it’s important to understand that while the death benefit is certainly valuable, it is not technically an “asset”. The asset that you can include on your balance sheet with a whole life policy is the cash value. The only way you get the death benefit is by dying, so it is not an asset you can actually use today. Again, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless, it’s just not correct to compare it to money in a savings or investment account.

Property insurance provides protection against risks to property, such as fire, theft or weather damage. This may include specialized forms of insurance such as fire insurance, flood insurance, earthquake insurance, home insurance, inland marine insurance or boiler insurance. The term property insurance may, like casualty insurance, be used as a broad category of various subtypes of insurance, some of which are listed below:
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.
As to me, I am a commercial, non-insurance attorney who tries to be an “informed” consumer of financial products. 27 years ago, when I already was carrying no credit card balances and was funding my IRAs and 401ks in appropriate amounts, I, along with other of the partners in our then small law firm, purchased a Universal Life policy on my wife with Manufacturer’s Life (a mutual company) purchased now by John Hancock. Over the next 7 years, I purchased laddered term life insurance policies for my wife and I with terms designed to expire between our ages 55 and 72 (so our coverage would drop as our savings increased). The universal life coverage was for about 8-10% of our total aggregate insurance coverage.

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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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With that said, I honestly think that the best thing you can do for your son is work as hard as you can to put the money you do make to work building a solid financial foundation for yourself and, when he’s old enough, involve him in the process so that he can learn real world money lessons at a young age and be more prepared to deal with it when he’s on his own.
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.
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From a pure insurance standpoint, whole life is generally not a useful product. It is MUCH more expensive than term (often 10-12 times as expensive), and most people don’t need coverage for their entire life. The primary purpose of life insurance is to ensure that your children have the financial resources they need to get themselves to the point where they can provide for themselves, so coverage that lasts your entire life doesn’t make a lot of sense except for a minority of cases that are the subject of another discussion.
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)). 

Base commission is the “normal” commission earned on insurance policies. Base commission is expressed in terms of a percentage of premium and varies by type of coverage. For instance, an agent might earn say, a 10 percent commission on workers compensation policies and 15 percent on general liability policies. Suppose that you purchase a liability policy from the Elite Insurance Company through the Jones Agency, an independent agent. Jones earns a 15 percent commission on general liability policies.
Regarding insuring the pensioner in a spousal benefit enabled pension: Sure, this is a popular strategy. For an identical monthly benefit, you can compare the cost of a Joint-Last-to-Die annuity (basically a pension) vs an individual annuity on the pensioner. Let’s say the difference is $400/month. Well, if you can buy enough life insurance benefit to support the spouse for life (insured is still the pensioner in this case) and the cost is less than $400/month (or whatever the cost differential is between the two scenarios), you may just do an individual annuity for the pensioner and then if he dies first, the insurance proceeds can support the spouse. If the cost of life insurance is greater than $400/month (or whatever the cost differential is between the two scenarios), then do a joint-last annuity and you’re covered for life.

By the time you’re 50-60, either of those may no longer be the case. Either your kids may be old enough to provide for themselves (i.e. out of college), and/or you may already have enough money in your various savings accounts to handle whatever needs they have. That second one seems especially likely given that you’re 22 and already focused on making good financial decisions.

Hi Matt – my 3 kids (now all in their 20’s) had whole life policies opened for them by Grandpa 20 years ago. He has been paying a fixed annual payment of $240, but it’s now up to me (the kids are just starting out and don’t have a cent to spare). My first thought is to have them cancel and take the cash value (~7k each), but in looking at the policies (for the first time) it looks like at this point they are getting a decent cash value return – each of the last 3 years it’s been about 4.2% PLUS the $240. AND the dividend the last few years has been almost as much as the annual payment – but has been buying more insurance (that they don’t need). Is it possible that if you suffer through the first 20 years, it then becomes a good investment? especially if I redirect the dividends to the cash value or a premium reduction? Great article by the way.
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3. I do understand that most investors are earning significantly less than what the market actually returns. That’s from behavioral errors and I don’t have any reason to believe that those errors disappear when you invest in a whole life insurance policy. In fact, my experience seems to show that whole life insurance tends to make the underperforance even worse, as it often takes 1-3 years before someone realizes just how poorly the product is performing. At that point, they’re even further behind than when they started.

First, THE PROBABILITY OF GETTING THE PAYOUT IS SUPPOSED TO BE 100%! It is a GUARANTEED return, so long as your insurer lives up to its obligations (more on that below). So it is a much less risky investment than almost anything other than cash. But CD rates will often look better than the whole life return, so why not invest your money there? Well..

True, but what’s not accounted for is the rolling geometric average. Trailing returns only assume you invest at the beginning of a period and hold to the end. The rolling average (if done correctly) assumes you invest over time…say monthly…like almost everyone does. I remember reading several pieces by Dan Wiener (who is an advocate for index fund investing, and specifically Vanguard) mention this.
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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.
The upshot is that the taxation of a 401(k)/Traditional IRA down the line is often beneficial to being taxed up front. Certainly not always, but often. And in any case, I would challenge you to find a financial planner who does not make money off the sale of whole life insurance who would recommend it as an investment tool before you have maxed out your dedicated retirement accounts.

Nice write up. I personally have been able to save with an independent agent. A big concern of mine was finding an agent that worked with more reputable insurance carriers. There seems to be alot of agents who will use non-standard insurance carriers to provide cheaper coverage. I've heard some horror stories about customer service, sub-par adjustments, and claims services. I'd definitely do alot of research into the insurance companies the independent agent is appointed with.
Neither insurance consultants nor insurance brokers are insurance companies and no risks are transferred to them in insurance transactions. Third party administrators are companies that perform underwriting and sometimes claims handling services for insurance companies. These companies often have special expertise that the insurance companies do not have.
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.
I wish I could give you direct feedback but it’s really impossible to say Steve. It depends on your specific situation, your goals, and also the state of the policies as they exist now. Evaluating an in-force policy is different than evaluating a yet-to-be-purchased policy, and even a bad policy can perform reasonably well going forward once it’s been in place for a number of years. If you’d like an objective analysis, I would suggest reaching out to a fee-only financial planner. Given that you’re closer to retirement than my typical client, I would try to find one through NAPFA or Garrett Planning Network.
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.
Of course, it’s always more efficient to just save the money themselves. However, many people don’t and people often want to make sure that the money will be there when they are old and can no longer make decisions for themselves. Whole life is one way to do that. We chose term because it made more sense for us and it was so cheap since we were young when we bought. However, I’m just presenting the alternate viewpoint coming from someone who has filed many, many whole life policies on behalf of grateful families.
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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.
In the United States, insurance is regulated by the states under the McCarran-Ferguson Act, with "periodic proposals for federal intervention", and a nonprofit coalition of state insurance agencies called the National Association of Insurance Commissioners works to harmonize the country's different laws and regulations.[42] The National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) also works to harmonize the different state laws.[43]

Example a 30 year male old non-smoker can purchase a small 25,000 policy for 34.97 a month, by adding an additional 10 a month or paying 44.97 a month he will have after the 1st year $25,649 death benefit, this will increase every year. After 20 years he will have $41,492 death benefit non guaranteed death benefit or a $32,258 guaranteed death benefit. The difference in death benefit is the non guaranteed assumes dividends. This company has been around for over 100 years and every year has declared a dividend, which is important to note despite not being guaranteed there is a high probability the person will end up better off than the guaranteed. After 30 years the death benefit will be $52,008 at this point (or any point whatsoever) the person can decide to take reduced paid up insurance,at this 30 year mark if they take RPU they can keep 45,485 of insurance for the rest of their lives, this amount will keep going up as long as the company keeps issuing a dividend. i think this is so cool. The person has paid $16,200 over those 30 years and the coverage is way more than that, a few cents on the dollar.
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]

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.
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.

It’s very true that you don’t own the cash value in anywhere near the same way that you own your other investments. You can only access it in certain circumstances, and even then there are big conditions like surrender charges and interest. And you’re also correct that you can’t get the cash value AND the insurance proceeds. It’s either/or. All good points.
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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.
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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.

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!
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.

Your statements are somewhat misleading. The policies that Kim are describing are likely Universal Life policies, not true whole life policies. True whole life policies have set premiums, not increasing. And the cash value is built off of a dividend being paid by the insurance companies. Many insurance companies (Ohio National Northwestern ?Mutual, ect.) have been around for over 100 years and have literally paid a dividend every single year. Which means that the policy holder is paying the same premium every single year and is also experience growth in their cash value account very single year. When Kim says that her “cash value was not making good returns” she is referring to a policy that is tied to the market, not based off of dividend payments. Whole life is an amazing product that you are confusing with Universal Life
Thanks for reaching out Bob. There’s a lot that goes into this decision with the position that you’re in, and the right choice really depends on your personal financial situation and what you’re trying to achieve. I would lean towards trusting the advice of an advisor who doesn’t get paid to sell whole life, since that advice is likely to be more objective. It sounds like you’re already working with a couple of advisors, but if you’d like another opinion I would search NAPFA and/or Garrett Planning Network to find a fee-only financial planner in your area.

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