Insurance agents typically represent only one insurance company. As a result, they are often referred to as "captive" agents. Insurance brokers represent multiple insurance companies. Thus, brokers are free to offer a wider range of products to their clients. They can search the market and obtain multiple price quotes to fit their clients' budgets. You might say that agents work for the insurance company while brokers work for their clients.

Also, it depends on the policy, but for many policies out there the principal does not remain untouched while you have a loan out against the policy. A loan will actually decrease the dividends, and therefore the return, you receive, because you have less equity in the policy. Some policies work differently, but you definitely shouldn’t assume that the policy will continue to grow unchecked while you have an outstanding loan against it.

I certainly don’t think that an insurance policy has to pay out to be valuable and that isn’t necessarily what I meant. We have term insurance now and I certainly find value in it even though it (hopefully) will never pay. What I meant was that the value to other family members is immeasurable. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve seen a whole life policy swoop in and save the day when family members were struggling to cover the cost of a $10,000 or more funeral. I’ve just seen it happen too many times. Nobody thinks their 90 year old mom whose been in a nursing home for ten years would have life insurance and trust me when I say that people are pleasantly surprised when they find out that that’s the case.
When you say “If you earn too much for a Roth IRA especially (180K plus for a household roughly) then whole life insurance is literally the only place to get tax free savings on growth”, I assume you mean other than a 401(k), health savings account, Backdoor Roth IRA, 529 savings plan, or self-employed retirement accounts. Otherwise that’s a pretty misleading/misinformed comment.

This article was 100% devoted to the investment component, but I do agree that there are circumstances where the insurance component can be very valuable. I was actually recently thinking about your previous comment, which was along the same lines as this one. I haven’t run the numbers, as it’s very difficult, if not impossible to find online quotes for whole life insurance where you don’t have to give out your contact information. But if you’re truly worried about having money available for funeral expenses, I wonder if it would be more cost efficient to set up an irrevocable trust with terms that the money in the trust could only be used for funeral expenses. Anything left over could go to the estate. I have a hunch that the one-time cost involved there would in most cases be less than the ongoing cost of a whole life policy. Like I said, I haven’t run the numbers to be sure, but it would certainly be worth considering. This is actually something I could find out pretty easily with a couple of emails. Sounds like a future post!
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It’s a great point about the cost causing people to be underinsured. I have no idea if there are any statistics on that, but intuitively it would seem to make sense. It’s a shame if someone with a real need for life insurance is under-protected because a salesman could make a bigger commission off the more expensive product. But I’m sure it happens.
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Second, I used the policy illustration I received as an example of the kinds of policies I see all the time. Of course every policy is different and needs to be evaluated on its own merits, but the truth is that most of these policies behave similarly. The policy I evaluated personally was actually one of the good ones and was backed by one of the companies that many people look to as the “gold standard”. So it was not a “bad policy”. It was typical of one of the “better” policies.
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Hi Matt, I have a question for you. I was sold a whole life policy by a friend 4.5 years ago (before I was married) with the promise that it is a good investment tool. I’ve learned a lot about investing since then. The accumulation value is $6700 the surrender value is about $2700. I’m wondering if I should get out now and take the $2700 and run, or wait until I can pull out what I’ve paid into it which I hear is 10 years.
As a financial planner I find this article very misleading. Whole life insurance can be an excellent way for someone to save for the long term. If you earn too much for a Roth IRA especially (180K plus for a household roughly) then whole life insurance is literally the only place to get tax free savings on growth  (tax free municipal bonds also but these have a lot of risk especially with interest rates going up). A properly designed whole life insurance policy with a good company like a New York Life,  Mass Mutual,  Northwestern etc which have always paid dividends since the mid 1800s can easily earn NET of fees and taxes 4-5% over a 25-30 year period. Which means in a taxable brokerage account for example or a bank account you would have to GROSS 6% or so to match this over that same period every year on average? On a virtually guaranteed basis this is tough to do. This doesn’t even speak to the point that you have a tax free permanent death benefit. When a client’s 20 year term runs up they almost always still want and need some life insurance,  and what if they aren’t insurable anymore? Getting some whole life when young and healthy,  savings/cash value aside,  assures them they’ll always have coverage which can someday go to kids,  grandkids etc which is a nice option. Whatever cash you pull out reduces the death benefit dollar for dollar, but if set up properly there will always be more than enough death benefit even after most of cash is taken out tax free in retirement, when the stock market is down (this is especially when you appreciate having a non correlated asset like whole life for when the market crashes and you can tap into your whole life cash so you don’t have to touch your investments in that downturn OR take advantage of the opportunity and but stocks when things are down with cars value). Interest does accrue on policy loan which is why the tax is cash free and the loop hole exists. But often the dividend more than offsets the policy loan interest which doesn’t have to be repaid and just comes off of the death benefit which is often just a bonus anyways. A client should make sure they have enough coverage of course which is why people often get a large term life insurance which is “cheap”  in addition to a smaller whole life which is a dual savings,  dual coverage to be in place when the term expires.

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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.
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.
Gap insurance covers the excess amount on your auto loan in an instance where your insurance company does not cover the entire loan. Depending on the company's specific policies it might or might not cover the deductible as well. This coverage is marketed for those who put low down payments, have high interest rates on their loans, and those with 60-month or longer terms. Gap insurance is typically offered by a finance company when the vehicle owner purchases their vehicle, but many auto insurance companies offer this coverage to consumers as well.
Hi Matt. Read your posts and comments on Whole Life and the overfunding options available. I have a different situation involving a policy with Prudential called Variable Appreciable Life. I am looking for a safe haven for some available cash with a minimum return of 4%. Agent/Financial Planner has suggested I overfund the balance of that VAL policy. Yes, I am quite conservative but have enough invested in 401k, Stocks, Funds etc. Policy is 50K and issued in 1990. Wife and I are in mid seventies and looking to have 30-40K of available liquid cash. Can add/withdraw the overfunding $ at any time. Interest guarantee is 4.0%.
4. If the monthly premium is within your budget and and individual has saved money into other forms of retirement savings. Then why not get the benefit of having the safety net that the whole life insurance gives you then Surrendering that policy when you no longer need it and receiving (what I believe to be tax free) money for having that safety net in place
This article was 100% devoted to the investment component, but I do agree that there are circumstances where the insurance component can be very valuable. I was actually recently thinking about your previous comment, which was along the same lines as this one. I haven’t run the numbers, as it’s very difficult, if not impossible to find online quotes for whole life insurance where you don’t have to give out your contact information. But if you’re truly worried about having money available for funeral expenses, I wonder if it would be more cost efficient to set up an irrevocable trust with terms that the money in the trust could only be used for funeral expenses. Anything left over could go to the estate. I have a hunch that the one-time cost involved there would in most cases be less than the ongoing cost of a whole life policy. Like I said, I haven’t run the numbers to be sure, but it would certainly be worth considering. This is actually something I could find out pretty easily with a couple of emails. Sounds like a future post!

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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As far as buying term and investing the difference the company I bought from has produced far better risk adjusted returns when compared to my analysis over the last twenty years of buying term and investing the difference in the S&P. I don’t mean to say we should not invest but I view my permanent policy as a great place to take some risk off the table and also to have some long term safe dollars. I agree that unless you die early, this is not a good short term idea. Also the fact that is not considered an asset as you mention, gives it very favorable treatment. I asked myself, if I were a beneficiary would I want to inherit a portfolio worth 2.5 million a house worth a million or a 3.5 million tax free check. For me, it was the latter. For high net worth people I would argue it is better than a muni allocation. I don’t view the discussion as one or the other invest and buy term or just buy whole life but rather as a synergy of assets that can produce a great value. As you say, it’s all quite subjective. Is whole life your best “investment”? No, but I do think it is a fantastic tool.
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And yes, it is nice for children who develop chronic illnesses to have some amount of life insurance, potentially. But is the amount you purchase going to be enough? Yes they will have that amount but in most cases if they want more their health will still cause it to either be more expensive or unobtainable. So it isn’t exactly guaranteed insurability for life for whatever needs they have. It’s mostly limited to the amount you purchased, which is probably helpful but also probably wouldn’t meet their full needs. And again I would argue that you could buy term to cover their needs for a number of years while additionally saving in other ways if you really want to give them money they can use in the event of a chronic illness. Having it in accessible accounts would actually give them more options in that situation rather than having to wait till death.
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!
Admitted insurance companies are those in the United States that have been admitted or licensed by the state licensing agency. The insurance they sell is called admitted insurance. Non-admitted companies have not been approved by the state licensing agency, but are allowed to sell insurance under special circumstances when they meet an insurance need that admitted companies cannot or will not meet.[39]
If she still needs the insurance, then you’re right that she may just be stuck between a rock and a hard place. I have some independent insurance experts that I work with and could potentially run it by them just to see what the options might be. If you’d like to talk things over in more detail, please feel free to email me directly at matt@momanddadmoney.com, or you can call me at 850-426-4034.
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.

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.


Insurance is just a risk transfer mechanism wherein the financial burden which may arise due to some fortuitous event is transferred to a bigger entity called an Insurance Company by way of paying premiums. This only reduces the financial burden and not the actual chances of happening of an event. Insurance is a risk for both the insurance company and the insured. The insurance company understands the risk involved and will perform a risk assessment when writing the policy. As a result, the premiums may go up if they determine that the policyholder will file a claim. If a person is financially stable and plans for life's unexpected events, they may be able to go without insurance. However, they must have enough to cover a total and complete loss of employment and of their possessions. Some states will accept a surety bond, a government bond, or even making a cash deposit with the state.[citation needed]

One point I would like to counter is the idea that whole life “is insurance that CANNOT BE TAKEN AWAY”. It can be taken away if you are not able to keep up with your premium payments, which is pretty common given that people’s lives and financial situations are constantly changing. With some policies, the premium can even go up depending on the performance of the policy, forcing you to pay more than expected if you want to keep the coverage in place. So it’s not quite as simple as saying that the death benefit is a sure thing.


It doesn’t really make any sense to me to compare permanent life insurance to another different type of financial instrument like a CD or investment either because those products don’t provide a higher death benefit so there is no cost of insurance. It’s not like those other products don’t factor in overhead like salaries, bonuses, buildings etc. People still get paid to sell those products too even it’s not directly tied to the sale.
An early form of life insurance dates to Ancient Rome; "burial clubs" covered the cost of members' funeral expenses and assisted survivors financially. The first company to offer life insurance in modern times was the Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office, founded in London in 1706 by William Talbot and Sir Thomas Allen.[3][4] Each member made an annual payment per share on one to three shares with consideration to age of the members being twelve to fifty-five. At the end of the year a portion of the "amicable contribution" was divided among the wives and children of deceased members, in proportion to the number of shares the heirs owned. The Amicable Society started with 2000 members.[5][6]

We were sold a whole life policy from Mass Mutual for my husband, but we also have term insurance on both of us. We are on a 10 year track to pay off the policy and have three years left. Is it still a “bad investment” once the policy is paid off? Should we be expecting those 0.74% yearly returns for a fully paid-off policy? Or does that apply only if one is paying premiums on it for the next 30+ years? Whole life insurance appealed to me because I am extremely squeamish about the stock market and don’t want to pay a financial planner on a regular basis. I’d rather have low (but not 0.74%), steady returns than high risk/high reward investments. Did we still make a mistake by buying whole life?
Lastly I believe you said your return was only .74% which I agree is low but just because you had a bad experience with a bad policy doesn’t mean all other whole life policies are the same. Different companies provide different returns and even different coverages. You’re being very general when more specific information is much more relevant in my opinion.
The primary purpose of life insurance is to protect the people who are financially dependent upon you. Once those people are no longer dependent upon you (e.g. your kids grow up), you no longer have the need for that protection. Term life insurance is like having car insurance for as long as you own a car. Whole life insurance is like having car insurance forever, even when you no longer own a car.
A Roth IRA certainly gives you a lot more investment options, with the added benefit of not starting with an account balance of essentially $0. It’s important to understand though that there are always risks involved with investing, and you could lose money within a Roth IRA too. Still, while I don’t know the specifics of your situation it will generally be a good idea to go with something like a Roth IRA before considering any kind of life insurance.
Now, it turns out that we have higher, broader family obligations than I anticipated 20-27 years ago. My wife and I plan to possibly keep working past 65 (which I hadn’t anticipated) and would like to be able to fund these obligations even if we were to die before our now planned time to stop working (that goes past the periods anticipated by the terms of our term policies). Our term policies and term coverage are beginning to expire and due to certain issues, at best, we would have to pay very high premiums for anything I would try to purchase now, if we would qualify at all.
1. You are correct that the death benefit is untaxed. But that will not benefit you, only the person receiving it. Beyond that, the savings component within the policy is not taxed as it grows, which is what most salesmen are likely referring to. Any loans you take out are also “tax-free”, but of course there is interest to pay (on YOUR money that YOU contributed). And of course there would first need to be significant growth for any of that to make a difference.
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.
Insurance involves pooling funds from many insured entities (known as exposures) to pay for the losses that some may incur. The insured entities are therefore protected from risk for a fee, with the fee being dependent upon the frequency and severity of the event occurring. In order to be an insurable risk, the risk insured against must meet certain characteristics. Insurance as a financial intermediary is a commercial enterprise and a major part of the financial services industry, but individual entities can also self-insure through saving money for possible future losses.[15]
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.

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Often a commercial insured's liability insurance program consists of several layers. The first layer of insurance generally consists of primary insurance, which provides first dollar indemnity for judgments and settlements up to the limits of liability of the primary policy. Generally, primary insurance is subject to a deductible and obligates the insured to defend the insured against lawsuits, which is normally accomplished by assigning counsel to defend the insured. In many instances, a commercial insured may elect to self-insure. Above the primary insurance or self-insured retention, the insured may have one or more layers of excess insurance to provide coverage additional limits of indemnity protection. There are a variety of types of excess insurance, including "stand-alone" excess policies (policies that contain their own terms, conditions, and exclusions), "follow form" excess insurance (policies that follow the terms of the underlying policy except as specifically provided), and "umbrella" insurance policies (excess insurance that in some circumstances could provide coverage that is broader than the underlying insurance).[32]
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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.
Insurance brokers are paid a commission based on the product you purchase.  It can vary, depending on the type of insurance like: home , auto or business insurance.  Commercial insurance may pay a higher commission since they have complex underwriting requirements and time consuming to find the right company.  They are paid for new and renewal business.  The service is generally FREE to you, but they are required to disclose any potential brokerage fee before making a purchase.  InsuranceBrokers.com does not charge a fee for our service.
At the most basic level, initial ratemaking involves looking at the frequency and severity of insured perils and the expected average payout resulting from these perils. Thereafter an insurance company will collect historical loss data, bring the loss data to present value, and compare these prior losses to the premium collected in order to assess rate adequacy.[22] Loss ratios and expense loads are also used. Rating for different risk characteristics involves at the most basic level comparing the losses with "loss relativities"—a policy with twice as many losses would therefore be charged twice as much. More complex multivariate analyses are sometimes used when multiple characteristics are involved and a univariate analysis could produce confounded results. Other statistical methods may be used in assessing the probability of future losses.

Any reputable source will report mutual fund and stock returns as “annualized” figures, which takes the sequence of returns into account. Another term for this is “geometric average”, which again accounts for the order in which returns are received. So while there are some financial “experts” out there touting average returns (cough, Dave Ramsey), for the most part what you’re talking about here is not a factor.

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