I read the comments about the topic of my article and I see that some responses touch on the "middleman" in ways that suggest some things about those who reside "in the middle." One plus for us "middle" people is that we get to hear things from carriers that those on the retail buying end may not ever hear. Sometimes, when dealing with us "middle" people, you get a behind the scenes look at things that may have a bearing on your coverage. With life insurance through a broker vs an agent, you get to know that impaired risk underwriting (for unhealthy applicants) has a particular kind of nuance. For instance, carriers may decline your application because they take on a set number of impaired risk clients, and then they decline those coming after that. You might think, after being declined, that what they are telling you is "you are done, no life insurance for you." But, what I know from experience is that another carrier or two have not hit the limit yet on declines - and that might be the avenue of approach to get you approved. As a broker, I know things that apply across a broad spectrum of carriers, not just the playbook of one carrier. As a result, the market intelligence of this "middleman" can improve the experience of buyers by finding a way forward for them that is outside the boundary of what a retail buyer might ever know. One thing that I did not mention in the article is that I have been both a captive and a broker, and the experience allows me to see the pluses and minuses in both. Thank you for your responses, and if you have a question about insurance of any type (my specialties are life, Health, Disability, and Annuities) you may post it at MoneyTips.com and let the professional community respond to it. It's free, harmless, informative, relatively instant, and a bunch of other good things, too.
Of course, it’s always more efficient to just save the money themselves. However, many people don’t and people often want to make sure that the money will be there when they are old and can no longer make decisions for themselves. Whole life is one way to do that. We chose term because it made more sense for us and it was so cheap since we were young when we bought. However, I’m just presenting the alternate viewpoint coming from someone who has filed many, many whole life policies on behalf of grateful families.

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I have a Dividend Option Term Rider that will expire soon. I am 57 years old. New York life wrote to me stating I can change over to whole life insurance without having to answer health questions or take a physical exam. What are the advantages or disadvantages of this for someone of my age? I currently have a 401K. Would my money be better invested in that or elsewhere? Thanks.

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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.
Anyway, there are many complexities to the whole life insurance variant plan that I was presented with, which make it unattractive to me as an investment option. I would suggest that anyone who is looking at whole life insurance as an option take a close look at the investment results and compare them to other options available on the market. Also take a close look at the fees and the structure of the loans that you will take out in the future. My conclusion is that, I would like to get a term life policy for now and maximize my other tax advantaged investments first prior to delving into the world of whole life insurance. And, by the time I actually get around to maximizing my other investments, I probably will be much older and not get a favorable premium any more.
Any person acting as an insurance agent or broker must be licensed to do so by the state or jurisdiction that the person is operating in. Whereas states previously would issue separate licenses for agents and brokers, most states now issue a single producer license regardless if the person is acting on behalf of the insured or insurer. The term insurance producers is used to reference both insurance agents and brokers.
I wish I did my research 6 years ago before getting a $2 Million Dollar NYLIFE Whole Life policy. I was paying $1,000/month into it and 2 years ago lowered it to a 1.5M policy and was paying $500/month. In total my Cost Basis is $55K and my Cash Value is just $24k. A LOSS of over $30K! **CRINGE** And there is nothing I can do about it so I’m going to cash out and put towards my existing index funds. This $h!t should be ILLEGAL! My research shows that the insurance agent ate up 90% of my monthly premiums for the first couple years. Family/friends referred him for this ‘Investment’. He ate up all their premiums as well even though their policies were lower than mine. He passed away last year at the age of 60 due to a heart attack. Karma?

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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.


Brokers - Because a broker is solely focused on your unique needs, he or she can help with comparison-shopping, honing in on the best prices for the coverage you need. They can even advise you on how to best bundle or customize your policies in ways that agents might not be able to do (either because they are restricted in their policy offerings, or simply because they lack the insight into your specific needs).

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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?
Typically, life insurance is chosen based on the needs and goals of the owner. Term life insurance generally provides protection for a set period of time, while permanent insurance, such as whole and universal life, provides lifetime coverage. It's important to note that death benefits from all types of life insurance are generally income tax-free.1
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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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Of course, it’s always more efficient to just save the money themselves. However, many people don’t and people often want to make sure that the money will be there when they are old and can no longer make decisions for themselves. Whole life is one way to do that. We chose term because it made more sense for us and it was so cheap since we were young when we bought. However, I’m just presenting the alternate viewpoint coming from someone who has filed many, many whole life policies on behalf of grateful families.

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This isn’t entirely accurate. Whole life insurance isn’t a product designed to replace term insurance. It wouldn’t make sense to have a retirement account disappear in the event of someone passing early. This would be irresponsible on the part of an agent to suggest this. Whole life has to be used with the intent of using it as collateral for loans, enhanced retirement and for leaving a legacy. In the early years it should be set up with a term rider to ensure a family’s needs will be met. Yes this is more expensive but it is a tool with an objective and if that’s not the objective then whole life makes no sense at all. It is not right for everyone.


Stranger-originated life insurance or STOLI is a life insurance policy that is held or financed by a person who has no relationship to the insured person. Generally, the purpose of life insurance is to provide peace of mind by assuring that financial loss or hardship will be alleviated in the event of the insured person's death. STOLI has often been used as an investment technique whereby investors will encourage someone (usually an elderly person) to purchase life insurance and name the investors as the beneficiary of the policy. This undermines the primary purpose of life insurance, as the investors would incur no financial loss should the insured person die. In some jurisdictions, there are laws to discourage or prevent STOLI.
On your questions about your specific offer, I would both say that most of the points from this post apply and that without knowing the specifics of the policy you’re being offered I can’t really give any concrete feedback. One thing I will say is that you wouldn’t simply be able to withdraw the $550k you mention tax-free. You would have to borrow from the policy, which would come with interest and potentially other fees and conditions. If you chose to surrender the policy and withdraw the money, the amount above what you have put in would be considered taxable income.
Property insurance provides protection against risks to property, such as fire, theft or weather damage. This may include specialized forms of insurance such as fire insurance, flood insurance, earthquake insurance, home insurance, inland marine insurance or boiler insurance. The term property insurance may, like casualty insurance, be used as a broad category of various subtypes of insurance, some of which are listed below: 

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.

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?


The upshot is that the taxation of a 401(k)/Traditional IRA down the line is often beneficial to being taxed up front. Certainly not always, but often. And in any case, I would challenge you to find a financial planner who does not make money off the sale of whole life insurance who would recommend it as an investment tool before you have maxed out your dedicated retirement accounts.

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Contingent or incentive commissions reward agents and brokers for achieving volume, profitability, growth or retention goals established by the insurer. For example, Elite Insurance promises to pay the Jones Agency an extra 3 percent commission if Jones writes $10 million in new property policies within a certain time frame. If Jones renews 90 percent of those policies when they expire, Elite will pay Jones an addition 2 percent commission.
Beyond that, I do agree that whole life insurance can be useful in certain situations when structured properly. But those situations are few and far between and they require the help of someone who both knows the ins and outs of these policies AND is willing to put the client’s interests over their own financial interests (i.e. minimizing commissions and other costs on the policy). That kind of person is also difficult to find.
Of course the fees are applied to your principle and interest, which drags the value of your account down to painful levels. The simulation that the salesman ran for me was based on the assumption that the value of the account would grow 8% compounded every year. The results of this simulations looked really cool at first because the salesman focused on the long term results and the steady increase in death benefit. But when I looked at the numbers more closely, it was sobering. The investment produced negative interest in the first 7 years (as high as -37.51% in the first year) after which it turned the corner and then began to return 6-8% after year 11.
The best part of the cash value? You have access to it at any time, for any reason, without taxes or penalties. This is probably the best benefit of whole life and is what is most attractive to my high net clients who are already maximizing contributions to IRA’s, 401k’s etc. Also, whole life does not carry the same penalties for withdrawals as these other accounts do
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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.
I certainly don’t think that an insurance policy has to pay out to be valuable and that isn’t necessarily what I meant. We have term insurance now and I certainly find value in it even though it (hopefully) will never pay. What I meant was that the value to other family members is immeasurable. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve seen a whole life policy swoop in and save the day when family members were struggling to cover the cost of a $10,000 or more funeral. I’ve just seen it happen too many times. Nobody thinks their 90 year old mom whose been in a nursing home for ten years would have life insurance and trust me when I say that people are pleasantly surprised when they find out that that’s the case.
Whole life insurance is by definition undiversified. You are investing a large amount of money with a single company and relying entirely on their goodwill to give you good returns. The insurance company will make their own investments and then decide what portion of their returns they would like to pass on to their policyholders. You are completely at their whim. If that one company goes bankrupt, has some bad years, or simply changes their outlook on paying out to customers, your return will suffer.
Matt, may I ask you a question? I have a 25-year old $100K whole life policy with a surrender value of $43K, of which $21K is taxable. I’m 43 years old. Dividends now more than cover the $900/yr premium. Does it make sense to hold on to this? I am torn! I could surrender it and pay off a second mortgage which is at 7.6%… Thank you in advance. Love your site!
I see what you mean, but it also varies from insurer to insurer. From a purely investment standpoint whole life doesn’t make any sense. Someone’s insurance needs also differ. I’ve been with All state and NYL. With each there were major differences with not just price, but how the cash value accrual and withdrawing worked. I ultimately stuck with NYL as the rate of return had the biggest impact on premium payments. It reached a point where the cash value being added out-weighed the yearly premium. I haven’t had to pay for insurance for a few years but am still insured. My reason for going about it this way is because I don’t want to pay for it for the rest of my life. Plus the death benefit increases over time and the premiums stay the same. I’m running into people outliving the retirement benefits they got at work. You need to think for the future, but not just from one perspective. Are you interested in a rate of return? Than go for investment accounts. If you want something you eventually don’t have to keep paying for, whole life can be a great option but REMEMBER! Not all companies are the same and avoid universal indexed whole life. Those have increasing premiums. I know Dave Ramsey wants us to buy term and invest the difference, but you’re talking about renewing even some of the longest terms available 2 – 3 times before you’re of retirement age resulting in massive premiums to stay insured before you can dip into your investment accounts, unless you want to deal with early withdrawal penalties and huge surrender charges
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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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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First, although there are no taxes, there is interest. When you borrow from your policy, interest starts accruing from day 1 and keeps accruing until you pay back the loan. If you’re using it for retirement purposes, are you going to pay back the loan? Of course not. So the interest keeps accruing. And that interest applies to all money withdrawn, including your contributions, which were already taxed.

First, THE PROBABILITY OF GETTING THE PAYOUT IS SUPPOSED TO BE 100%! It is a GUARANTEED return, so long as your insurer lives up to its obligations (more on that below). So it is a much less risky investment than almost anything other than cash. But CD rates will often look better than the whole life return, so why not invest your money there? Well..
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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