The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) is the U.S. standard-setting and regulatory support organization created and governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. Through the NAIC, state insurance regulators establish standards and best practices, conduct peer review, and coordinate their regulatory oversight. NAIC staff supports these efforts and represents the collective views of state regulators domestically and internationally. NAIC members, together with the central resources of the NAIC, form the national system of state-based insurance regulation in the U.S. For more information, visit www.naic.org.

In determining premiums and premium rate structures, insurers consider quantifiable factors, including location, credit scores, gender, occupation, marital status, and education level. However, the use of such factors is often considered to be unfair or unlawfully discriminatory, and the reaction against this practice has in some instances led to political disputes about the ways in which insurers determine premiums and regulatory intervention to limit the factors used.

Insurance policies can be complex and some policyholders may not understand all the fees and coverages included in a policy. As a result, people may buy policies on unfavorable terms. In response to these issues, many countries have enacted detailed statutory and regulatory regimes governing every aspect of the insurance business, including minimum standards for policies and the ways in which they may be advertised and sold.

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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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.
You will find independent insurance agents represent many of the same insurance companies offered by local insurance agents.  The biggest benefit is the time savings individuals and business will find.  Because the selection of insurance companies for personal, commercial and life insurance is so comprehensive you don't have to contact several agents for quotes.  An independent insurance agent may represent 5 to 10 insurance companies. 
3 The above example is based on a scenario for 20‐year term life insurance (domicile state) that includes the following benefit conditions: $50,000 death benefit, $50,000 accidental death benefit, and $12,500 seatbelt benefit. Benefits may vary by state, benefit option, and level of coverage selected. Review your state‐specific brochure below for a “How It Works” scenario customized for your state.
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.
Moreover, with hindsight, because I suspect that the conversion options in the term policies, as I look into them, won’t prove all that attractive, I am thinking that it would have been optimum to have had universal or whole life coverage for closer to 20% of our aggregate, total original insurance coverage, rather than 10%. Still, while I am pretty satisfied that my prior decision-making was close to right, I do wonder if you see this all very differently.
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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 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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If you are in the market for insurance for your business, home, vehicle, or your family, a broker can help you determine what your insurance needs are and what insurance is right for you. Because a broker works for you — not for an insurance company — you can be assured that your insurance broker has your best interests in mind when shopping for insurance policies. Contact an insurance broker today to learn more about how he or she can help you buy the best possible insurance for your needs.


Insurance agents, often referred to as “captive” agents, typically represent one insurance company. Insurance brokers, on the other hand, represent multiple insurance companies to ensure that you are connected with the right insurance for you. An agent acts as a conduit to provide information to insurance buyers. The insurance buyer then has the option to choose from available policies and contracts from the insurer offered through the agent. These policies and contracts are decided through contractual agreements that the insurance agents have with the insurers to meet certain guidelines.
I agree with you, generally. Many of those commenting seem to have forgotten that you focused around whole life as an “investment”. Even though insurance is an investment in it’s own way, it’s shouldn’t be sold as an investment. In my experience, it really only makes sense for more wealthy clients who are doing more elaborate estate planning etc. However, the vast majority of people in their 20’s and 30’s should steer clear of whole life. Selling permanent insurance for “retirement planning” gives the financial services industry a slimy look. The income isn’t “tax-free”. It’s a loan. As you say in the article: if one’s taking it for income are they really going to pay it back…? Plus, if a client is in their 20’s and 30’s their time horizon is perfect for IRAs and the equity markets. May dividend aristocrat stocks have paid high percentages for 50+ years. Lastly, as many agents put their clients first…. others do not. If the premiums on whole life are 10x as high… so are the commissions.
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!

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Universal life insurance addresses the perceived disadvantages of whole life—namely that premiums and death benefits are fixed. With universal life, both the premiums and death benefit are flexible. With the exception of guaranteed-death-benefit universal life policies, universal life policies trade their greater flexibility off for fewer guarantees.

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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!
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.
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.
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.
The comparison for defined contribution vs registered accounts is easier because you are dealing with account values which you can project with a fair degree of certainty, at least within ranges to which you can apply confidence intervals, to the degree market activity can be reliably subjected to statistics (point of contention: this is debatable…otherwise we wouldn’t have return years with standard deviations of 3+). You just project the accumulation and the withdrawal and see which one runs out of money first, then consider the non-financial issues already discussed above. Comparing defined benefit plans vs registered accounts is a little bit tougher. This is where you might want to bring in your accountant or actuary to do the math. They can provide you with the information you need to make the decision.
Your premise is that whole life insurance is a bad investment. Fine, however, it is not a bad purchase. It is insurance and when thinking about the defined purpose of insurance then it can be a different story. Your electric service is a bad investment but think of the difficulty in living without electricity. Sure you could invest the bill amount each month into a nice Roth IRA but we seek the benefits of the service and willingly pay the bill. I suggest that people look at insurance the same. In my case and for my intent, whole life insurance was prudent. Like any car lease deal or stock purchase, there can be good and bad deals; one should not declare all forms at all points in time to be definitive. I gifted my child a whole life policy. The rates for a young person are as good as they get; she will never have insurance bills nor be without insurance. There is much left to explain but in short her $25,000 baby policy is growing $1,000 per yea. She will never have to pay a premium but will have $225,000-$350,000 payout one day while providing some protection also during the income/mortgage/child rearing adult years because I purchased it for her at the cost of $120.25 per year! No way could a poor farm kid without inheritance or wealth and limited income but high student loan debt create that kind of wealth for his children in the immediate or most vulnerable time period. To leave her in the same boat, as my parents did, is in no way wealth building. I got married and had mortgage, student loans, and large term life insurance bills because to go without any seemed irresponsible having no wealth but whole life was too expensive. So yes, it is far from a great investment but it is the most responsible gift I ever gave my child. It will not depreciate like a car and it is more certain than lottery tickets! Could I really produce that protection for her with liquidity via investing for only $120 per year? Tip: an insurance agent once told me (he should not have mentioned it) they have NEVER paid out on a life insurance policy because people always eventually let them expire and quit paying on them. Rates are so cheap for young healthy people because they are not likely to die. So this is also an exercise in discipline and responsibility not just finding the right stream to pan for gold.
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.

Yes.  MetLife’s one year term products (including products underwritten by Metropolitan Tower Life Insurance Company and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ) offer affordable protection when you require insurance for the short term. These products are designed to provide the right amount of protection when it’s needed most, or to supplement a policy you already have. Premium rates can be found here. For more information contact MetLife's Specialized Benefit Resources at 877-638-3932, and press 2 for New Business.
In the United States, brokers are regulated by the state (or states) in which they work. Most brokers are required to have an insurance broker license, which involves taking courses and passing an examination. Each state has different requirements for insurance brokers, which a broker must meet to be licensed in that state. Most states require insurance brokers to take continuing education courses in order to maintain their license.

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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.
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.
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.

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.

But a question for you. Do you have clients that have had an overfunded life policy when markets are tanking and can use that cash to float their business and still earn money while their money is loaned out? Talk about a winner. I have a lot of clients that are in business today because of their policies (and the people still employed). Especially when the interest can be written off. But then again some super conservative clients love them. I guess I’m just bummed you didn’t go any further but I am on a site not geared for my clientele. So here is another free post to build up the conversation and the controversy so you can cash in on the traffic.

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