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.
A few comments… You shouldn’t ever be buying whole life insurance for purely for the reason of investing, you buy any life insurance because you need life insurance, the investment component is secondary. So not sure why we are analyzing it purely as an investment (I actually do know why, because some agents try to sell it this way, and Matt is trying to help them avoid a pitfall).
Many institutional insurance purchasers buy insurance through an insurance broker. While on the surface it appears the broker represents the buyer (not the insurance company), and typically counsels the buyer on appropriate coverage and policy limitations, in the vast majority of cases a broker's compensation comes in the form of a commission as a percentage of the insurance premium, creating a conflict of interest in that the broker's financial interest is tilted towards encouraging an insured to purchase more insurance than might be necessary at a higher price. A broker generally holds contracts with many insurers, thereby allowing the broker to "shop" the market for the best rates and coverage possible.
5The monthly rate shown is for Preferred Elite based on a Male, age 37. Whole Life Advantage® is a whole life insurance policy issued by Allstate Life Insurance Company, 3075 Sanders Rd, Northbrook IL 60062. Whole Life Advantage is available in most states with series LU11040 or form ICC12A1. In New York, issued by Allstate Life Insurance Company of New York, Hauppauge, NY, and is available with contract NYLU796.
Are you asking about people with terminal illnesses? If so, then I’ll admit that my knowledge in that particular area is limited. But my understanding is that a term policy would be very difficult if not impossible to find and there are some special kind of whole life policies you may be able to get. If that’s the situation you’re asking about, then it’s really not a whole life vs. IRA decision. It’s a decision on whether you should invest or whether you should insure. That’s a very different question than what’s being discussed in this article.
Evaluating a policy that’s in place, and especially one that’s been in place as long as your husband’s, is much different than deciding whether or not to purchase a new policy. It might be that at this point, with all of the money already put in, it’s actually a good investment despite the ongoing cost. It’s hard to evaluate though, so if you’re really considering what to do I would think about talking to a professional. Ideally you should be able to find a financial planner who will charge you a flat rate to help evaluate the policy, without trying to sell you anything else. A planner who belongs either to NAPFA (http://www.napfa.org/) or the Garrett Planning Network (http://garrettplanningnetwork.com/) would probably be your best bet. Good luck!
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.
For more than 85 years, Safeco has delivered new and better ways to protect cars and drivers with auto insurance. If you drive a sedan, hybrid, minivan, station wagon, SUV, pickup truck or anything in between, your local independent agent can provide personalized coverage that's right for you. If trouble comes along, we’ll make sure you’re taken care of every step of the way.
Insurance agents have a responsibility to the insurance company.  Agents act as the insurance company representative in the buying process as they are typically salaried employees.   Most insurance agents are “Captive” to represent only one company, such as: Allstate, State Farm, Farmer, etc.  Because they are contracted as captive insurance agents, they are not able to discuss or recommend other insurance companies.  
"Flexible death benefit" means the policy owner can choose to decrease the death benefit. The death benefit can also be increased by the policy owner, usually requiring new underwriting. Another feature of flexible death benefit is the ability to choose option A or option B death benefits and to change those options over the course of the life of the insured. Option A is often referred to as a "level death benefit"; death benefits remain level for the life of the insured, and premiums are lower than policies with Option B death benefits, which pay the policy's cash value—i.e., a face amount plus earnings/interest. If the cash value grows over time, the death benefits do too. If the cash value declines, the death benefit also declines. Option B policies normally feature higher premiums than option A policies.

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.
"Flexible death benefit" means the policy owner can choose to decrease the death benefit. The death benefit can also be increased by the policy owner, usually requiring new underwriting. Another feature of flexible death benefit is the ability to choose option A or option B death benefits and to change those options over the course of the life of the insured. Option A is often referred to as a "level death benefit"; death benefits remain level for the life of the insured, and premiums are lower than policies with Option B death benefits, which pay the policy's cash value—i.e., a face amount plus earnings/interest. If the cash value grows over time, the death benefits do too. If the cash value declines, the death benefit also declines. Option B policies normally feature higher premiums than option A policies.

This life insurance information is provided for general consumer educational purposes and is not intended to provide legal, tax or investment advice. Life Insurance offered through Allstate Life Insurance Company, Northbrook, IL; Allstate Assurance Company, Northbrook, IL; Lincoln Benefit Life Company, Lincoln, NE and American Heritage Life Insurance Company, Jacksonville, FL. In New York, life insurance offered through Allstate Life Insurance Company of New York, Hauppauge, NY. All guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

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.


Universal life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance designed to provide lifetime coverage. Unlike whole life insurance, universal life insurance policies are flexible and may allow you to raise or lower your premium payment or coverage amounts throughout your lifetime. Additionally, due to its lifetime coverage, universal life typically has higher premium payments than term.
For example, most insurance policies in the English language today have been carefully drafted in plain English; the industry learned the hard way that many courts will not enforce policies against insureds when the judges themselves cannot understand what the policies are saying. Typically, courts construe ambiguities in insurance policies against the insurance company and in favor of coverage under the policy.
So let me ask, does she have a need for life insurance? That is, what would the insurance proceeds actually be used for? It may be that she no longer has a need and could simply unload the policy. If that’s the case, I have heard of people having some luck selling these policies to a third party. It’s not something I have experience with, but I could ask around for you if you’d like.
I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such a frustrating experience with your policy Jeanette. If I’m understanding correctly, it sounds like you originally took out a term life insurance policy before switching to a whole life insurance policy a few years later, and since then you’ve seen the value of your whole life insurance policy increase. Is that correct?
There are also companies known as "insurance consultants". Like a mortgage broker, these companies are paid a fee by the customer to shop around for the best insurance policy amongst many companies. Similar to an insurance consultant, an 'insurance broker' also shops around for the best insurance policy amongst many companies. However, with insurance brokers, the fee is usually paid in the form of commission from the insurer that is selected rather than directly from the client.
Interesting read, I certainly agreed with the lack of transparency and fees associated with some policies. I would disagree though that it is undiversified. Take Northwestern Mutual, an almost 300 billion dollar general portfolio that you participate in as a policy owner. Most is bonds, like all other companies, but the remaining investments are private equity deals that as individual investors, we would have no access to. Also keep in mind that the equity in policies are extremely safe. Look at any market crash, and compare what dividends we’re paid out by the top companies. The equity in the policies do not go backwards which makes it very attractive when you’re retired because you’ll have no other sources of money so well protected and still growing at 4%.
2)The lack of cash flow flexibility is troubling in that the largest assumption driving my analysis is that I am able to continue paying the premiums and keeping my policy current. If I want to take time off for travel (which is a near-term goal) or lose my job before this becomes self-funding, the policy can lapse and I would get only the cash surrender value at what is most likely a loss depending on timing
Interesting read, I certainly agreed with the lack of transparency and fees associated with some policies. I would disagree though that it is undiversified. Take Northwestern Mutual, an almost 300 billion dollar general portfolio that you participate in as a policy owner. Most is bonds, like all other companies, but the remaining investments are private equity deals that as individual investors, we would have no access to. Also keep in mind that the equity in policies are extremely safe. Look at any market crash, and compare what dividends we’re paid out by the top companies. The equity in the policies do not go backwards which makes it very attractive when you’re retired because you’ll have no other sources of money so well protected and still growing at 4%.

We are both in our 40’s with 2-young children and already have term life policies. We are a single income family who relies on my husband’s commissions (he is in sales)which are not guaranteed year to year. While he has had a few good years where we have managed to max out his yearly 401k contribution, have money in stocks/mutual funds, Roth IRA and at least a years worth of savings set aside in the event of no income we were recommended to invest in whole life as another investment vehicle. Basically, transferring the money in our less than %1 savings account into the whole life policy over the course of 24-years. It seemed very attractive at the time. We simply wanted a better vehicle for investment than our poorly performing savings account. Our advisor (who does work for a big insurance company) came up with whole life ins. We kept asking what other low risk investments that kept our cash flow flexible we could do and he kept coming back to this one. We are currently trying to get more information from our advisor on how to cancel our policy or do you think it is worth it to leave the $20,000 in the policy and just not make any more contributions? Also, any recommendations on what to do with the rest of our savings rather than keeping it in a low earning savings account, but maintaining cash flow flexibility?
They cannot provide you with any final answers. Calculators only allow you to perform "hypotheticals," recalculating and generating new results as you make and input new assumptions. Using these tools and educating yourself on the workings of life insurance and other financial products, however, can help you feel more comfortable when discussing your needs with professionals like a New York Life agent.
Burial insurance is a very old type of life insurance which is paid out upon death to cover final expenses, such as the cost of a funeral. The Greeks and Romans introduced burial insurance c. 600 CE when they organized guilds called "benevolent societies" which cared for the surviving families and paid funeral expenses of members upon death. Guilds in the Middle Ages served a similar purpose, as did friendly societies during Victorian times.

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.


Then your example of paying $16,200 for $45,585 in coverage is interesting for a few reasons. First, I just want people to understand that again these numbers are simply illustrations, NOT guarantees. Second, using the site term4sale.com I see that a 40 year old male can purchase a $50,000, 30-year term policy right now for $135 per year, or $4,050 for the full 30 years. That’s 1/4 of what you quote for whole life, and the extra money is then available for whatever else that person might want to do, like investing, saving for college, or maybe even leaving a gift as you mention.

The best thing to compare permanent life insurance policy to is to another similar type permanent life insurance policy. And you don’t want to focus on the interest rate specifically but on the actual values in each policy that are “guaranteed” – not projected. All things being equal, this tells you which permanent policy is less expensive and provides a higher net interest rate instead.
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.

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.
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.
Insurers will often use insurance agents to initially market or underwrite their customers. Agents can be captive, meaning they write only for one company, or independent, meaning that they can issue policies from several companies. The existence and success of companies using insurance agents is likely due to improved and personalized service. Companies also use Broking firms, Banks and other corporate entities (like Self Help Groups, Microfinance Institutions, NGOs, etc.) to market their products.[26]
Accidental loss: The event that constitutes the trigger of a claim should be fortuitous, or at least outside the control of the beneficiary of the insurance. The loss should be pure, in the sense that it results from an event for which there is only the opportunity for cost. Events that contain speculative elements such as ordinary business risks or even purchasing a lottery ticket are generally not considered insurable.
Your comment on term insurance allowing you to convert at anytime is inaccurate. You must read the conversion language as it is designed to protect the insurance company. Met life for example states ” During the conversion period shown in the policy schedule you can convert this policy, while it is in force with all premiums paid, to a new policy–On a plan of permanent insurance, with a level face amount, available on the policy date of the new policy.”. Some term plans won’t let you convert after 10 years or if your over age 65. Imagine having a 20year $1,000,000 term plan and getting cancer in the 19th year. You want to convert but find out the conversion period ended in the 10th year. Also, the company typically determines which plan you can convert to. Maybe its just 2 plans out of the 8 they offer. What is the likelyhood of those being the best 2 plans available? Alas, no one reads the contract or the prospectus for that matter. My dad always said “the big print givith and the small print taketh away.”
Large loss: The size of the loss must be meaningful from the perspective of the insured. Insurance premiums need to cover both the expected cost of losses, plus the cost of issuing and administering the policy, adjusting losses, and supplying the capital needed to reasonably assure that the insurer will be able to pay claims. For small losses, these latter costs may be several times the size of the expected cost of losses. There is hardly any point in paying such costs unless the protection offered has real value to a buyer.

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.

It is not a valid argument to me to say that the “administrative pain in the ass” is a reason to ignore the tactic. It’s a pretty simple procedure and certainly not worth paying all the extra costs of a whole life approach just to avoid. Yes, you have to be careful if you have Traditional IRAs, but there are ways around that too. No, it’s not for everyone, but I would much rather try to make the backdoor Roth work first than immediately jump to whole life.
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With whole life, both the MINIMUM size (your guaranteed cash value or your death benefit, depending on how you’re modeling it) and probability (100% if you keep paying) are known. So it is easy to model out your minimum expected return. And yes, that return stinks. It is usually far less than what you’d expect from investing in stocks. But there is a good reason for that.

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.
Did you mention anywhere that the cash value of “permanent” insurance is owned by the insurance company? Did you mention that you don’t own it; the insurance oompany does. Did you mention that the only way the client ever gets the cash value is to cancel his policy? If the client dies, then the cash value is taken to pay off part of the face value of the insurance.
James, be very careful about blanket advice to roll your pension into an IRA. A lot of financial professionals can make money through a transaction like that and you’d likely be giving up guaranteed income for the rest of your life. To be clear, it’s certainly possible that this would be a good move, but you would only know that after a careful and detailed analysis of your specific pension, your specific goals, and the rest of your financial situation.
Evaluating a policy that’s in place, and especially one that’s been in place as long as your husband’s, is much different than deciding whether or not to purchase a new policy. It might be that at this point, with all of the money already put in, it’s actually a good investment despite the ongoing cost. It’s hard to evaluate though, so if you’re really considering what to do I would think about talking to a professional. Ideally you should be able to find a financial planner who will charge you a flat rate to help evaluate the policy, without trying to sell you anything else. A planner who belongs either to NAPFA (http://www.napfa.org/) or the Garrett Planning Network (http://garrettplanningnetwork.com/) would probably be your best bet. Good luck!
Holly, I just turned seventy years old and retired and constantly looking and applying for jobs because my monthly income is only 1,206.00. I am divorce for only twenty eight years and have a learning disabled adult son who has never work. I need a life insurance policy to be around $30,000 to cover funeral expenses and some money for my son to cope. What life insurance company should I chose and should I chose term or whole life? I would greatly appreciate your response. I have no savings. Thank you. Diahann Cambridge
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%.
NerdWallet averaged rates for 40-year-old men and women for 20 ZIP codes in each state and Washington, D.C., from the largest insurers, up to 12 in each state. “Good drivers” had no moving violations on record and credit in the “good” tier as reported to each insurer. For the other two driver profiles, we changed the credit tier to “poor” or added one at-fault accident, keeping everything else the same. Sample drivers had the following coverage limits:
Automated Life Underwriting is a technology solution which is designed to perform all or some of the screening functions traditionally completed by underwriters, and thus seeks to reduce the work effort, time and/or data necessary to underwrite a life insurance application.[19] These systems allow point of sale distribution and can shorten the time frame for issuance from weeks or even months to hours or minutes, depending on the amount of insurance being purchased.[20]
Term life insurance pays a specific lump sum to your loved ones for a specified period of time – usually from one to 20 years. If you stop paying premiums, the insurance stops. Term policies pay benefits if you die during the period covered by the policy, but they do not build cash value. They may also give you the option to port. That is, you can take the coverage with you if you leave your company.

Insurance Lapse Company


Hi Matt, I’m a Life Insurance agent and Advisor and I work for New York Life. Some of your points make sense but saying that whole life is bad is a little off. It is good for savings toward your retirement and will do a lot more than a savings account, money market or cd will ever do. So to agree with you to a certain extent I’ll explain what I do for younger individuals, I’ll sell a whole life policy and later it with term insurance. Basically the whole life will build a cash value with guaranteed returns and the term insurance is in the event of an untimely death. $1,000,000 of term can be as low as $50 a month. Also NY Life has never guaranteed dividends but has paid them out for 159 years, even during the Great Depression. Our company is backed by a $180 billion general account and a $19 billion surplus. So yeah, we guarantee your returns. And we don’t just sell life insurance, that’s why our agents like myself have life, series 6,7,63,66,65 licenses, if our clients, not customers want more than life, we diversify for them into brokerage or anything else they want. Just puttin my 2 cents in.

Insurance Types Company


The “fixed returns” you talk about from whole life are not the 4-6% you mention in multiple places. Again, as I said in the post, the guaranteed returns are much closer to 1% or less. Yes you might get better returns depending on the dividends the insurance company decides to pay, but that’s not “fixed” or guaranteed. It changes every year. And yes, you can improve those refunds if you vastly overfund the policy in the early years, which again is something I already mentioned in the post. But for 98-99% of the population that really isn’t a viable strategy.
Premiums paid by a policyholder are not deductible from taxable income, although premiums paid via an approved pension fund registered in terms of the Income Tax Act are permitted to be deducted from personal income tax (whether these premiums are nominally being paid by the employer or employee). The benefits arising from life assurance policies are generally not taxable as income to beneficiaries (again in the case of approved benefits, these fall under retirement or withdrawal taxation rules from SARS). Investment return within the policy will be taxed within the life policy and paid by the life assurer depending on the nature of the policyholder (whether natural person, company-owned, untaxed or a retirement fund).
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.
“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.”
Additionally, this can be a great way to compliment a financial plan that is linked to the markets performance. When I am in my 60’s nearing retirement and have a good amount of cash value in my policy–I will not be terribly worried about the market performance (401(k)s/mutual funds/ IRA/ stocks). I know that flucuations in the market will occur and if a recession happens when I am 62, I will use my cash and policy cash value to hold me over until the markets recover. Again, my aim is not to buy high and sell low, it is to buy low and sell high.

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.
The information on this site is general in nature. Any description of coverage is necessarily simplified. Whether a particular loss is covered depends on the specific facts and the provisions, exclusions and limits of the actual policy. Nothing on this site alters the terms or conditions of any of our policies. You should read the policy for a complete description of coverage. Coverage options, limits, discounts, deductibles and other features are subject to individuals meeting our underwriting criteria and state availability. Not all features available in all states. Discounts may not apply to all coverages and/or vehicles. 

A very good article. Congruent to the philosophy in which our company was built: Buy Term, Invest the Difference. I am a crusader at heart and I am peeved every time I see these products in the hands of people who can barely afford it and whose life will be completely damaged for merely owning it because they are grossly under-insured when they could have well purchase a proper term amount for the time they need it. 

Insurance Insider Co

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