We got our insurance through a broker and it's been kind of an annoyance. When they were taken over by another company after having the policy for decades we got a non renewal notice which was fine because we were not interested in doing business through them anyway until we found out that non renewal meant no other insurance wanted us and we were forced to buy a new policy through the broker.
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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.
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The first years premiums goes to the insurance agent who sold you the policy…and I’m sure there are plenty of other hidden fees in there. I almost went with whole life insurance as a friend was working as an insurance agent and I had just graduated college. I decided against it though. Read a book that said that I should instead buy term and invest the difference. Another problem with whole life insurance is that the premiums are much more expensive than term life insurance…if someone chooses whole life, they will likely choose a lesser coverage and might be underinsured if something unfortunate were to occurr.
Unless you truly need permanent life insurance, then you’re likely looking at these policies purely as an investment. In most cases it makes sense to max out at least other tax-advantaged accounts first (like your IRA, but also a 401(k) and others). Are you already doing that? You can read more about which accounts to consider here: How to Choose the Right Investment Account.
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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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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.”
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?
Whole life is insurance not an investment. You buy it so the day you pass on your family will have money to ease their grieving by giving them time off, financial security, and most importantly for whole life insurance to pay the cost of your funeral, etc. It can mean a lot to people to have a nice funeral for their loved one as a proper send off. I view whole life as a product, like my house, which I also don’t view as an investment.
Finally, everyone who accumulates assets will have a life insurance policy of one type or another. Social Security currently is “a life insurance policy”. Will it be around in 30 years? Who knows…who knows what will be there. All I know is that a good plan will have a guaranteed income source that they can not outlive. Many people with assets take Social Security before age 70 because they want to be sure to get something out of it…this is a life insurance decision. They reduce their life time income by taking payment early. If they owned a permanent life policy, they could reduce their investment risk by spending assets and leverage the insurance policy to replace the assets they use while they delay taking income from SS and the increased payment the benefit provides can increase their life style, pay the premium and create a legacy for their children, grand children or favorite charity. Life insurance “loans” are not income. They are loans. So if a person planned ahead, they could receive 10’s of thousands of dollars from the cash value of their policy (and ROTH IRA money) and not pay a dime of income tax on the social security benefit. If inflation happens and interest rates and taxes increase, the SS benefits will increase and this person will have increasing income that won’t be consumed by an increase in taxes as all their income would be tax free.
Matt, the illustration does have a guaranteed element to it, the guaranteed keeps going up every year whether the company issues a dividend or not, obviously the guarantees are less. Like I said the purpose of this type of life insurance is not to “invest” its to have something that you wont other wise have. with 30 year term, the term is guaranteed to expire in 30 years. anyhow I wont debate you on that as I can see where you are coming from. I understand that when a person gets into a plan to pay off debt and invest heavily they will have “no need” for life insurance after they’ve paid debt and their children have grown. I’m more conservative therefore I like to make sure I have something despite having debt paid for etc.. I’d like to leave an article for you to read, its an actual case study of a gentlemen who opened a small 29000 participating whole life policy back in the mid 60’s. in 2013 he now had $166,424 in Coverage and had only paid $26,186. Anywho not bad for the guy. heres the article for anyone interested in reading the case study.
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Once you write the check, it’s insurance company money. After some time, you may have the right,to borrow some money from them. They decide how much insurance they will pay and how much you can borrow. Let’s take a look at what they have named a universal policy. Let’s say you want to get the savings started right out the door. So you write them a check for $5000. Next month you have an emergency an ,you kneed $25.0/0. Too bad! In a few years, you’ll have a few dollars in cash value. First year or two – none! Now let’s say they have have a guaranteed return of 4%. N ow if you actually have a “cash value” of some kind, don’t you think there would be something there? 4% of WHAT = $0 ??? It’s all insurance company money – they said so to the US government in 1985.
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First, it is not a very good college savings vehicle. Yes, it removes assets from your estate, which is helpful for financial aid. BUT only 5.6% of assets at a maximum are counted for financial aid purposes anyways (see here), so the impact is small. On the other hand. 50% of income is counted against you, and loans from life insurance plans count as income. Not good. Something like a 529 plan is almost always a much better idea.
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I really wish you would have stated more clearly the difference between the typical whole life plans with zero overfunding and a participating overfunded whole life policy. But I agree with you: What’s the point of not overfunding? Those policies have such a low cash component that they typically are just a ploy to make money by the agent and it seems as if that was your point all along. Which you should have clarified. Why minimum whole life insurances plans are a scam, especially when sold as a main investment vehicle. But then a little drama drives traffic right?
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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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Add to this, when a younger person owns whole life (or cash value fixed universal life) they have the life insurance coverage they need, are building a tax free bond portfolio for the future (which as most people realize is what older investors shift into as the age) but also have a accumulation vehicle that can “self complete” if they become disabled. 401k’s can’t provide this…they don’t even match the long term return of the do nothing stock markets because of the fee’s they charge. That is to say…there is no “alpha”
With that said, I honestly think that the best thing you can do for your son is work as hard as you can to put the money you do make to work building a solid financial foundation for yourself and, when he’s old enough, involve him in the process so that he can learn real world money lessons at a young age and be more prepared to deal with it when he’s on his own.
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.
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I have been paying into a whole life for 8 years, do I get out of it? What do I do after? My love ones outlived their term policies and the burden of burial fell on the family. I had a term life for 5 years before getting a whole life. I lost my job and they dropped me in two months for lack of payments. All that money I paid into the term was lost and getting insurance when older was more expensive. So the next time I went with whole. They don’t drop you as fast if you can’t pay the premiums during a job loss and if they do you get at least some money back. After reading this I feel I still made the wrong decision.
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.
One point I would like to counter is the idea that whole life “is insurance that CANNOT BE TAKEN AWAY”. It can be taken away if you are not able to keep up with your premium payments, which is pretty common given that people’s lives and financial situations are constantly changing. With some policies, the premium can even go up depending on the performance of the policy, forcing you to pay more than expected if you want to keep the coverage in place. So it’s not quite as simple as saying that the death benefit is a sure thing.
I imagine that any level of whole life insurance would require a significant percentage of your income just to pay the premiums, and while your intent is obviously incredibly good I hate to think about the struggle that could cause along the way. Even putting that premium into a savings account instead would put you in a much stronger financial position today, giving you more room to weather the ups and downs and provide a more stable life for both you and your son. Because remember that in order for your whole life insurance to last as long as you live, you need to be able to continue paying the premiums no matter what. If a temporary setback makes that impossible, you could be left without savings and without a policy to pass on, whereas money in the bank would help you get through it. I honestly think that having that savings, particularly when your income is low, is much more valuable than having a whole life insurance policy.
As for your point about term life insurance, it’s important to keep in mind that the point of insurance is not to pay out no matter what, but to provide protection for the period of time that you need it. The fact that term life insurance doesn’t pay out most of the time is actually a good thing because it means that most people aren’t dying young. And in the meantime, you can use the savings from the cheap premiums to build your financial independence through other, more effective savings avenues.
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I chose not to discuss the difference between stock and mutual companies here because I don’t think it’s very relevant to the conversation. You aren’t clear why you think it’s important, but my best guess is that you think your returns are more guaranteed with a mutual company. I would agree that you’re better off with a mutual company, but you’re still hinging a large amount of money on the prospects and policies of a single company. It is still undiversified and still exposes you to a lot of unnecessary risk. If you have a different reason for bringing up this distinction I would be interested to hear it.
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.
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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
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.
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With that said, yes the interest rates are good, but it’s not really appropriate to compare the interest rate on a whole life loan to interest rates from other sources. With whole life, you’re borrowing YOUR OWN money that you already contributed after-tax. That’s very different from borrowing from a bank, where the money was never yours. It’s much more appropriate to compare the long-term, cumulative interest rate to the long-term after-tax returns you could get from other investments. That comparison looks very different and often much less beneficial for whole life.
Point Three: One of the catches of the whole life agent is “Whole life insurance never expires!” Okay let us imagine a house insurance agent selling you an addon savings plan to your house fire insurance. Say you eventually sell the house and move to an apartment. Now would you want to keep paying house insurance when you DO NOT HAVE A HOUSE ANYMOFE ??? 🙂 Or paying for car insurance when you no longer have a car??? So why would you want to keep paying for a poor savings plan that only saves the life insurance company any money??? 🙂
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.
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The second is that I’ve heard enough horror stories about indexed life insurance in general to be skeptical. It’s not that it can’t work, it’s that there are plenty of examples of it underperforming, having a catch that wasn’t made clear up front, and other instances where it just doesn’t work the way it was sold to work. Any time something is sold as being able to pay for any financial goal no matter the market conditions, it’s usually too good to be true.
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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