Agents and brokers act as intermediaries between you (the insurance buyer) and your insurers. Each has a legal duty to help you obtain appropriate coverage at a reasonable price. Each must have a license to distribute the type of insurance he or she is selling. An agent or broker must also adhere to the regulations enforced by your state insurance department.
Wow, what a great article, Matt. A couple of nights ago, I was listening to Clark Howard on the radio, and to my dismay, heard him start talking about one of the worst investments for college. He continued, and when he actually said whole life insurance, my heart dropped, because about ten years ago, my wife and I were talked into this “investment” for paying for our kids college.
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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?
1. Almost ANYONE can benefit from a well designed overfunded Participating Whole Life policy. Are you saying that the vast majority of the population has no place in their investment portfolio for a guaranteed fixed asset that provides long-bond like returns (coupled with a few other bells and whistles)? I would even argue that single people with no children might benefit from this product in the right amount and the proper structure (not to mention that some policies now have the option to pay for long-term-care). EVERY PERSON that cares for someone or something (be it a spouse, a child, a charity, or anything else) can benefit even more, by virtue of having a guaranteed death benefit. Such a benefit allows the comfort (and better cash flow with lower taxation) of spending down assets, rather than relying solely on returns on assets.
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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.
Any death benefit of the policy will not be payable if the named insured commits suicide or if anyone covered by additional riders commits suicide, while sane or insane, within two years from the policy or rider effective date. All premiums paid will be refunded, less any indebtedness. The following information only applies to the Accelerated Death Payment, Waiver of Premium Benefit Rider, and Accidental-Death Benefit Rider:
“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.”
All points have merit but, like any service, unprofessional service can be punished by walking. However, point #4, “market blocking” is a particularly confounding practice in P&C (I don’t think this occurs in LIfe & Health). Market blocking is a matter which Insurance Commissioners could easily correct nationwide to the immediate benefit of the customer.
Good question Pixley. Evaluating a policy that’s been in place for 7 years, as it sounds like yours has, is very different from evaluating a new policy. The key is to ignore everything that’s happened in the past and evaluate it only based on how you expect it to perform going forward. I would suggest getting an in-force illustration and running the numbers for yourself based on both the guarantees and projections. Every policy is different, especially those that have been in place for a while, so I really can’t say what you should expect.
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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Weiner was talking about rolling returns for Vanguard. So, it’s his argument, not mine. And, this is a different issue from what you’re talking about anyway regarding annual returns based on monthy savings. So I’m not sure where you’re going with this or why you think it’s misleading. I believe Weiner got his figures from Vanguard…so…that would mean Vanguard is misleading itself? Doesn’t make sense man.
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.

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One other point. You emphasize the “tax free” nature of whole life here. I feel like I was pretty clear about that in the post and would be interested to hear your thoughts. Just blindly calling it “tax free” ignores the presence of interest (on your own money, by the way) which over extended periods of time can actually be more detrimental than taxes.
2. Term life insurance WILL cover funeral expenses, but only for as long as it is in place. Whereas whole life insurance does not expire and could therefore cover those costs indefinitely. But in most cases it’s more prudent to simply build up your general savings, which could then be used for anything, including funeral expenses, and only keep the insurance around as long as you really need it. It’s not an incredibly cost efficient way to pay for final expenses.
In any case, I thought I might chime in given that I disagree with your statement about all of these policies being legal robbery. As a disclaimer, I should point out that I agree that unscrupulous life insurance agents definitely do have a tendency to oversell these policies where term life would do, and I do not disagree that commissions are often the likely motivation in many of these cases. 

My current blended Whole Life policy breaks even with premium paid in year 5, and together with my Indexed Universal Life policies, my permanent insurance policies constitute my entire fixed income allocation. No need for bonds, as these policies give me a decent long-term growth of between 4.5-6% that is virtually risk free, tax free and dummy proof…and provides a giant tax free death benefit upon my passing.
In his memoir “Am I Being Too Subtle?” Sam Zell, a billionaire investor and chairman of Equity International, writes, “I’m always on the lookout for anomalies or disruptions in an industry, in a market or in a particular company…. Any event or pattern out of the ordinary is like a beacon telling me some new interesting opportunity may be emerging.”
Hey Jordan. I was a little dismissive in my last reply, and I want to apologize for that. You’re absolutely right that the main reason for getting life insurance is often to make sure that your kids would have enough money even if you weren’t around, and it’s honestly great that you’re already thinking that far ahead. It bodes well for you and your family.
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.
This shift to universal life by insurance companies has made premiums cheaper but removed many of the guarantees that came with traditional whole life insurance like guaranteed face amounts, guaranteed premiums and guaranteed cash values. The result is that there are a lot of underfunded universal life insurance policies out there which aren’t really permanent policies anymore since they can’t support themselves and will lapse instead of paying out.

Also a comment on the “non-guaranteed” argument. Yes if you do business with a company not named Mass Mutual, Northwestern Mutual, or New York Life, you are likely getting ripped off. But if you work with a reputable company, they have paid dividends every year for 150+ years. So yes, legally speaking, returns are not guaranteed, but every year for 150 years sounds pretty good to me. Just as asset class diversification is important, so is tax and risk diversification, which permanent insurance provides.
Hi Christine. First of all, thank your for stopping by. Second of all, please don’t beat yourself up over this. Life insurance salesmen are trained to make these policies sound REALLY attractive and their arguments can be quite persuasive. I actually found myself feeling close to convinced about one of these policies a few years ago before coming to my senses.

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