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4) Tax diversification. To mitigate tax consequences in retirement, you will want to be taking distributions from vehicles that are taxed differently. A diversification of these tax treated products is very important. 401(k) gets taxed as income, investment accounts pay capital gains tax, and life insurance is distributed tax free. A mixture of these three mitigate your tax consequences.

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Matt; Thank you for the thought provoking information you have taken the time to post here. My question: I am 66 and my wife 54. We got a whole life policy several years ago. We wanted insurance that would extend into our 70’s and 80’s (if we are so blessed), because we experienced how end of life costs for elderly parents can add up and be a possible burden to the children. we also want the surviving spouse to be assured of not being cleaned out financially. When I looked at the numbers; Cash value plus death benefit plus a long-term care rider, it seems to be a pretty good return, after all, we know for sure that we will die. I am not aware of term insurance policies for people much past the age of 70 for $200,000 or more. Am I looking in the wrong places or is my think askew?
For all of the above advantages, I believe the actual returns seen were far less then the 8% a year on the simulation. The reason was probably fees similar to Reason#2 in the above article. I wish I had the tables that were presented so I could verify this (I have asked my friend for the tables). At any rate, after my reading, I am leaning toward not purchasing this product because it seems to give weaker results (after fees) compared to other tax advantaged and non tax advantaged investment accounts which I have barely begun to invest in. It may be useful in some cases if all the better investments have been maximized and one is looking for a tax free long term low yield conservative investment account that allows one to withdraw tax and interest free and provides a life insurance payout in the event of death.
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.

Underfunded whole life insurance may have only performed 4%. However, designed with additional premiums they have actually earned closer to 7% in the 30 years from 1984-2013. Even during the period between 1977 and 1982 where interest rates shot through the roof and bond holders didn’t recapture their losses for several years, over funder whole life returned 35% after the cost of insurance is considered.
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.
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.
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.

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!
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.
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.

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In the United Kingdom, The Crown (which, for practical purposes, meant the civil service) did not insure property such as government buildings. If a government building was damaged, the cost of repair would be met from public funds because, in the long run, this was cheaper than paying insurance premiums. Since many UK government buildings have been sold to property companies, and rented back, this arrangement is now less common and may have disappeared altogether.
Save your money… don’t invest it… unless you’ve first insured that even if those investments don’t work out. Life is a big enough investment as it is… especially if others are dependent on you and particularly if you become wealthy. Term insurance won’t cut it. It will almost certainly be lapsed by the time you really need it. Too many opportunities over a lifetime to miss a payment and then poof… it’s gone.
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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!
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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