There have been enough people screwed over by stock insurance company agents to justify this article. However, before jumping to conclusions about Whole Life, I would recommend everyone research the business structure of a “Mutual Insurance Company” such as MassMutual or Northwest Mutual. These companies are literally owned by the policyholders and have historically paid dividends that equal the premiums of a whole life policy within 1.5 decades. They also typically perform better than the illustrations. It’s not necessarily an “Investment,” but sacrificing higher returns for security in the form of liquid cash and life insurance coverage seems like a wise decision to me.

It’s a great point about the cost causing people to be underinsured. I have no idea if there are any statistics on that, but intuitively it would seem to make sense. It’s a shame if someone with a real need for life insurance is under-protected because a salesman could make a bigger commission off the more expensive product. But I’m sure it happens.

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I have worked in the Banking Business for over 7 years. After years of working for a company/corporation, I decided to start my own business in the same business field. I am now a Financial specialist with New York Life Insurance Company for almost 2 years. I get to do the same thing as before but now I’m running my own business. Trust is everything and I make it my mission to earn my clients trust.

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I agree with you, generally. Many of those commenting seem to have forgotten that you focused around whole life as an “investment”. Even though insurance is an investment in it’s own way, it’s shouldn’t be sold as an investment. In my experience, it really only makes sense for more wealthy clients who are doing more elaborate estate planning etc. However, the vast majority of people in their 20’s and 30’s should steer clear of whole life. Selling permanent insurance for “retirement planning” gives the financial services industry a slimy look. The income isn’t “tax-free”. It’s a loan. As you say in the article: if one’s taking it for income are they really going to pay it back…? Plus, if a client is in their 20’s and 30’s their time horizon is perfect for IRAs and the equity markets. May dividend aristocrat stocks have paid high percentages for 50+ years. Lastly, as many agents put their clients first…. others do not. If the premiums on whole life are 10x as high… so are the commissions.

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.

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I recently reviewed my mother’s life insurance policy. Someone sold her a whole life policy with a 35K death benefit for $197.00 per month. She was 71 years old when she bought it! She brought it to my attention last month after being diagnosed with lung cancer, explaining she could no longer afford the payments. She requested I review/change the policy to pay less so she would have lower payments. Of course, no one will insure her now! My mother does not have a lot of money and I think the guy that sold it to her is a jerk as she already had a term policy – which she cancelled after buying this one. Is there an ethical recourse?
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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INSURANCE COMPANIES DO NOT TAKE FROM THE CASH VALUE I HAVE NOT IN 30 YEARS IN THE BUSINESS EVER SEE A CASH VALUE GO DOWN. It goes up. And you can count on it . It has to be the most valueable , and reliable form of insurance that ever existed and lucky for us in Canada the insurance companies are tightly monitered and re-insured . It’s as safe as investing gets.
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.
Keep in mind, not all insurance companies use agents. You can do business directly with many companies by purchasing coverage online. These policies may be less expensive since the company doesn't have to pay the agent's commission. Regardless of how you buy the policy, make sure the company is licensed in your state, is financially stable and check to see if they have complaints.

So our financial adviser is telling us we should have whole life insurance because we can use the cash amount, tax free. We have been contributing to Roth IRAs, but will now not be able to due to our AGI. We could contribute to IRAs, but we’ll be in a higher tax bracket. We’ve been maxing out our 401k accounts, and have investments in the stock market. What other options might we have for retirement?
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Many great points and counterpoints. My two points against cash value in general is the monthly cost and the “investment”. Very few people can afford that monthly premium. It is good that you can borrow from the cash value because you will need to at times to make ends meet. Because once you try to make monthly premiums over and over on cash value, you realize the extra $200 to $300 per month that is going out could be in you pocket helping to pay basic living expenses. Then the investment that does have healthy returns. I can look at historical returns for Invesco, American Funds, Fidelity, etc. that go back to the 1960s and 1970s that return an average of 10% + since inception. Why would I pass that up for returns of 5% or lower? Plus, if the policy holder is not careful, their investment can go back to the insurance company. I want my investment to go to me and then my heirs. I strongly oppose cash value as it only benefits a small percentage of the population. The vast majority of the middle class cannot afford it. Once my investments reach a certain amount, I am dropping my term policy because I am now self-insured. Pay as little for insurance(premiums) and get the most coverage (death benefit). If cash value were so good, the investment portion would pop-up in other types of insurance (automotive, disability, etc.) Life insurance is the only type of insurance where it is located and is oversold to so many people that it will not help. Anybody reading the posts in this forum are already doing them selves a service by seeking to understand. Understand that Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman are on the side of the consumers. Base don the tone of my post, you can determine who I sell life insurance for and I am proud to do it. My commission is 1/10 of what a whole life agent makes. Also, we are the only life insurance company that encourages policy holders to drop their policy with us once they have financial independence. Our whole goal is get people out of insurance premiums and direct them to investment vehicles that build wealth. BTID. Buy term and invest the difference.
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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Naturally, the float method is difficult to carry out in an economically depressed period. Bear markets do cause insurers to shift away from investments and to toughen up their underwriting standards, so a poor economy generally means high insurance premiums. This tendency to swing between profitable and unprofitable periods over time is commonly known as the underwriting, or insurance, cycle.[25]
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.
Good question. My first response is that if you’re looking for pure life insurance protection, it’s likely that term insurance will be a better product for you than whole life. It can depend on exactly what kind of protection you need, but that’s generally the case. Second, I have an entire series on life insurance that will help you figure out how much you need, and it does factor in inflation. Here’s the link: New Parent’s Guide to Life Insurance.
I think that post does a good job of showing how the illustrated (non-guaranteed) return from a whole life insurance policy is comparable to one of the most conservative types of traditional investments you can make IF you end up keeping the policy for 30 years. Of course, that conservative traditional investment doesn’t have most of the other downsides discussed here AND doesn’t require you to hold it for 30 years to see a reasonable return. And, of course, you are allowed to put your money into other, less conservative investments outside of a life insurance policy, some of which may even have special tax advantages (401(k), IRA, HSA, 529, etc.). 

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Good question Steve. The full answer is that I don’t know exactly what options you have and it likely makes sense to talk to a good independent agent. But you are right that it is much harder to find affordable term life insurance as you get older, and in your case some kind of permanent insurance may make sense if you have an insurance need. Just make sure that you are only getting the features you need, and none that you don’t, so that your premium is being used as efficiently as possible. For example, if you are only buying it for the death benefit, do you need the cash value?

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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.
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Of course, there is nothing stopping consumers from utilizing all of these resources — other than the time it takes to conduct research and compare policies. Regardless of which route you take, it is always worthwhile to check with organizations such as AAA or the Better Business Bureau, as well as your personal network for referrals, recommendations and reviews, to find the insurance professional that is right for you.

Great article Matt. You provide 8 great reasons as to why whole life insurance isn’t the best option for the majority of people. As you noted, there are times when it is advisable such as if you have a disabled child (also a no-lapse universal life policy is another alternative in this instance), but for most term life insurance and investing the rest is the way to go.
Permanent insurance (specifically maximum funded participating Whole Life and Indexed Universal Life) is the most versatile product that I have ever analyzed, but it needs to be designed to optimize cash accumulation if you’re going to be going in that direction. If not designed optimally from a short list of insurers, then yes…it’ll probably suck as a place to put money and earn a decent rate of return.
*Quotes based on a composite of participating carriers which have at least an "A-" rating by A.M. Best. Rates current as of 12/19/2017 for a Guaranteed 10-year term life policy, $250,000 in coverage issued at each company's best-published rates. Sample rate is for a preferred plus, non-tobacco user, male and female age 18-34. Rates and the products available may vary by state. All policies are subject to underwriting approval.

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.”
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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. 

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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.
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.

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But a question for you. Do you have clients that have had an overfunded life policy when markets are tanking and can use that cash to float their business and still earn money while their money is loaned out? Talk about a winner. I have a lot of clients that are in business today because of their policies (and the people still employed). Especially when the interest can be written off. But then again some super conservative clients love them. I guess I’m just bummed you didn’t go any further but I am on a site not geared for my clientele. So here is another free post to build up the conversation and the controversy so you can cash in on the traffic.

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