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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Life insurance provides a monetary benefit to a decedent's family or other designated beneficiary, and may specifically provide for income to an insured person's family, burial, funeral and other final expenses. Life insurance policies often allow the option of having the proceeds paid to the beneficiary either in a lump sum cash payment or an annuity. In most states, a person cannot purchase a policy on another person without their knowledge.
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]
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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In the United States, the tax on interest income on life insurance policies and annuities is generally deferred. However, in some cases the benefit derived from tax deferral may be offset by a low return. This depends upon the insuring company, the type of policy and other variables (mortality, market return, etc.). Moreover, other income tax saving vehicles (e.g., IRAs, 401(k) plans, Roth IRAs) may be better alternatives for value accumulation.
The first life insurance policies were taken out in the early 18th century. The first company to offer life insurance was the Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office, founded in London in 1706 by William Talbot and Sir Thomas Allen.[7][8] Edward Rowe Mores established the Society for Equitable Assurances on Lives and Survivorship in 1762.
The insurance company calculates the policy prices (premiums) at a level sufficient to fund claims, cover administrative costs, and provide a profit. The cost of insurance is determined using mortality tables calculated by actuaries. Mortality tables are statistically based tables showing expected annual mortality rates of people at different ages. Put simply, people are more likely to die as they get older and the mortality tables enable the insurance companies to calculate the risk and increase premiums with age accordingly. Such estimates can be important in taxation regulation.[10][11]
Affordable premium: If the likelihood of an insured event is so high, or the cost of the event so large, that the resulting premium is large relative to the amount of protection offered, then it is not likely that the insurance will be purchased, even if on offer. Furthermore, as the accounting profession formally recognizes in financial accounting standards, the premium cannot be so large that there is not a reasonable chance of a significant loss to the insurer. If there is no such chance of loss, then the transaction may have the form of insurance, but not the substance (see the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board pronouncement number 113: "Accounting and Reporting for Reinsurance of Short-Duration and Long-Duration Contracts").
But here is the key: the most astute line in the article is “If you have a large amount of money, have already maxed out all of your tax-deferred savings, and you can afford to front-load your policy with large payments in the first several years, it can provide better returns than was discussed above. It is a useful product in a limited number of cases.”
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]
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.
Thanks for reaching out Bob. There’s a lot that goes into this decision with the position that you’re in, and the right choice really depends on your personal financial situation and what you’re trying to achieve. I would lean towards trusting the advice of an advisor who doesn’t get paid to sell whole life, since that advice is likely to be more objective. It sounds like you’re already working with a couple of advisors, but if you’d like another opinion I would search NAPFA and/or Garrett Planning Network to find a fee-only financial planner in your area.
Whole life is permanent insurance — you’re insured throughout your lifetime, or until the policy matures, as long as you continue to pay your premiums per terms of the contract. And those premiums will stay level as long as the policy remains in force. Over time, permanent insurance typically accumulates a cash value that can be accessed2 for a variety of purposes while you’re still alive.
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.
4. The guaranteed dividend or return rate was 0.75% and the last time the company had to resort to this rate was in 2008. In 2013 and 2014 the return was 12%. The average return was 8% and the return was capped at 15%. This average return seemed better than whole life policies that I had read about. Your money was invested similar to any other moderate risk investment account and this was different from the conservative approach that I thought most whole life policies took.

Defense Base Act (DBA) insurance provides coverage for civilian workers hired by the government to perform contracts outside the United States and Canada. DBA is required for all U.S. citizens, U.S. residents, U.S. Green Card holders, and all employees or subcontractors hired on overseas government contracts. Depending on the country, foreign nationals must also be covered under DBA. This coverage typically includes expenses related to medical treatment and loss of wages, as well as disability and death benefits.


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.
None of the below should be taken as actionable advice. You should consult someone who you know and trust before making any important financial decisions. This is just a window into how I made my decision, so you can see some things I considered. I might be wrong about some of these things, but everything I’ve written below is what I believe today based on my current understanding and the guidance of my own advisers. Please note that I do also max out my 401k and IRAs and keep a modest taxable account as well, so whole life is just one piece (albeit a fairly sizable one) of my portfolio.
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Notes No risk of losing coverage, but no cash value when term ends No risk compared to other permanent types, but there are probably better investment options Refunds your premiums at the end of the term if you outlive the policy - Risk of holding expensive insurance policy with little ot no cash value Risk of holding expensive insurance policy with little to no cash value
Finally, the loan that I mentioned in my above post as interest free and tax free after the 11th year are a little more complicated than a “free loan”. First, the rate may increase in the future (at the discretion of the management) to a max 0.25% so that over time would add up if you took out a loan for retirement and had no intention of paying it back. Also, the loan balance is actually transferred to a loan reserve account where interest is charged at 2%, but at the same time the money in the loan reserve account earns interest of 2% which is credited to the Policy Value. So this is how they achieve an “interest and tax free” loan. I actually did not understand the specifics of this transaction or any IRS consequences that you could potentially have.
Your comment on liquidity and guaranteed returns is tough to agree with too. Life insurance returns have continued to decrease since interest rates have decreased from all time highs to all time lows. Life insurance is a long term fixed income asset. There are both guaranteed returns and maximum charges in both Universal Life and Whole life. These are lower than the “current illustrations” but the are guaranteed to never fall below those points. This can not be said about any other fixed income investment other than short term treasury notes. This is why banks hold 10-15% of their deposits in cash value life insurance…billions of dollars I might add. It is a tax free fixed income asset that they do not need to “mark to market.”
It depends on the type of policy and the agent’s contract level with the insurance company. A Medicare insurance broker may have different commission levels with different insurance companies as well. A large Medicare insurance broker who has been in the market for a number of years is not likely to care about small differences. Here at Boomer Benefits, we enroll our clients in the insurance plan that is right for them regardless.
Neither insurance consultants nor insurance brokers are insurance companies and no risks are transferred to them in insurance transactions. Third party administrators are companies that perform underwriting and sometimes claims handling services for insurance companies. These companies often have special expertise that the insurance companies do not have.

There is a lot of good information here, however when I think of what my father-n-law did to himself I have to disagree about whole life insurance. My father-n-law use to sell life insurance in the 1960s and only believed in term and that is all that he has ever had. However, now in his 70s, the only thing he is eligible for is a 3 year term policy and I’m sure that once this expires he will age out and no longer be eligible for coverage. He will not admit the exact amount of his monthly premium, but its over then $150 a month. He has contacted many companies for alternatives, but he is either not eligible, or the cost is too high. I’m not looking for “investment”, I’m looking to protect my family, and I refuse to back myself into the corner that he did. We may loose the house in case we can figure something out.
And yes, the “guaranteed” cash value is the minimum growth that the insurance company is promising. When they tell you that there is a guaranteed interest rate, this cash value is the result of that guaranteed interest rate. The non-guaranteed cash value is their projection based on their expected returns, which as the name suggests are not guaranteed.

And if you want protection from premature death, then you get term life insurance. Very few people have a need for life insurance protection throughout their entire lives. And if you do end up needing it, you can convert your term policy at any time. So no, whole life is not a good option for this kind of protection for the vast majority of people.
Some insurance agents, such as independent agents, will compare policies from multiple vendors. However, this does not mean that the agent has access to all of the vendor’s policies. As insurance agents represent insurers, they may or may not have the experience and expertise required to advise you regarding the best policy for your particular situation. While independent insurance agents may be able to offer you more choices as they work with companies that are competing for your business, they generally only sell the insurance options that will provide them with the biggest profits. Keep this in mind when choosing between an insurance broker and insurance agent.

4. The guaranteed dividend or return rate was 0.75% and the last time the company had to resort to this rate was in 2008. In 2013 and 2014 the return was 12%. The average return was 8% and the return was capped at 15%. This average return seemed better than whole life policies that I had read about. Your money was invested similar to any other moderate risk investment account and this was different from the conservative approach that I thought most whole life policies took.

Nick this was a terrific overview. You didn’t mention the whole life rip-off, i.e., that the Client is paying for 2 things but in the end only gets 1. If the insured dies the death benefit goes to the beneficiary, the cash goes back to the company. Conversely, if the Client takes the cask the contract is terminated and the death benefit is gone. Bad, bad, bad!

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Unlike insurance agents, brokers typically have access to many different policies offered by various companies — not just a few policies offered by a single company. They may also have access to policies that are not available to most consumers. Having a wide selection of policies to choose from can ensure that clients have the best possible coverage and the best rates. It may also make the process more complicated, as more choices can lead to confusion over which policies will provide the best coverage. A broker can assist clients in choosing the right policies for their home, business, family or automobile to make sure that they are adequately protected. This includes more than simply looking at the premium rates or policy limits; it involves a thorough analysis of what exactly each policy covers and excludes to ensure that it is the right policy for the client. 

I would 100% agree that whole life doesn’t yeild a great return and in most cases is used inappropriately. With that being said, for the right individuals it is in fact a great product. It can not only be used as a rich mans ira, but also a vehicle to max out pensions, and a great was to save money for college without disqualifying the student for financial aid.
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?
Insurance Brokers Group reviews policies at renewal for lower rates.  If there's an opportunity for lower rates with another company, at renewal, we will let you know.  Insurance Brokers Group is the exclusive agency in the country to offer RateGuard Assurance.  RateGuard provides peace of mind you have some of the most affordable insurance available in your state.
The questions we ask on our site are used only to determine which insurance companies and products best match your unique needs. Each insurance company bases its final prices on its own criteria. To more accurately match you with the best company, product and policy for your needs, we gather some general health, lifestyle, family history, and contact information on our site. A licensed representative will then review your submission and, if necessary, either call or email you to clarify any outstanding issues and provide you with the information you request.

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?
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.
Insurance companies earn investment profits on "float". Float, or available reserve, is the amount of money on hand at any given moment that an insurer has collected in insurance premiums but has not paid out in claims. Insurers start investing insurance premiums as soon as they are collected and continue to earn interest or other income on them until claims are paid out. The Association of British Insurers (gathering 400 insurance companies and 94% of UK insurance services) has almost 20% of the investments in the London Stock Exchange.[24]

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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1. It can help with estate taxes. As of 2014, married couples can pass on up to $10.68 million to their heirs without any estate taxes due (there are some nuances, but they’re besides the point here). An individual can pass on $5.34 million estate tax-free. For people who will be passing on more that those amounts, they could be facing significant estate taxes that would leave their heirs with less money. Permanent life insurance can be a good way to provide the funds to pay those taxes and allow their heirs to receive the full amount of the inheritance.
It's difficult to apply a rule of thumb because the amount of life insurance you need depends on factors such as your other sources of income, how many dependents you have, your debts, and your lifestyle. However, a general guideline you may find useful is to obtain a policy that would be worth between five and 10 times your annual salary in the event of your death. Beyond that guideline, you may want to consider consulting a financial planning professional to determine how much coverage to obtain.
I, 22 year old male, can pay ~$13,000 into a universal life policy throughout the next 20 years (~$650/yr, ~55/mo), never touch it again, and that will provide a death benefit of $100,000 until I’m at least 75 years old (I will put more money in of course since I plan on living past 75). That’s also a flexible premium policy with one of the most financially stable companies, so I would say that’s a good investment for my future children/grandchildren. Maybe not for myself, but at least my premiums won’t be more than $100/month when I’m old, assuming I still have excellent health and am insurable. With term I can get it insanely cheap now, but what about when I’m 50-60 and closing in on retirement? My premiums would hopefully be under $200/mo. at that point assuming I have excellent health or guaranteed insurability.

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