Another reason occurred to me as I was reviewing the sales pitch from our agent. Maybe others have mentioned this in the comments, I haven’t read them all. Basically, it’s lack of flexibility, and the fact that you have to “marry” your life insurance policy for it to work the way it’s intended. This is similar to Point #1 but from a different angle. Obviously Whole Life / Universal policies get “better” over time (supposedly)…usually after decades. Even the agents would mostly agree you need to keep it for life for it to work.
Insurance companies have in recent years developed products for niche markets, most notably targeting seniors in an aging population. These are often low to moderate face value whole life insurance policies, allowing senior citizens to purchase affordable insurance later in life. This may also be marketed as final expense insurance and usually have death benefits between $2,000 and $40,000. One reason for their popularity is that they only require answers to simple "yes" or "no" questions, while most policies require a medical exam to qualify. As with other policy types, the range of premiums can vary widely and should be scrutinized prior to purchase, as should the reliability of the companies.
An insurance company may inadvertently find that its insureds may not be as risk-averse as they might otherwise be (since, by definition, the insured has transferred the risk to the insurer), a concept known as moral hazard. This 'insulates' many from the true costs of living with risk, negating measures that can mitigate or adapt to risk and leading some to describe insurance schemes as potentially maladaptive. To reduce their own financial exposure, insurance companies have contractual clauses that mitigate their obligation to provide coverage if the insured engages in behavior that grossly magnifies their risk of loss or liability.
In any case, I thought I might chime in given that I disagree with your statement about all of these policies being legal robbery. As a disclaimer, I should point out that I agree that unscrupulous life insurance agents definitely do have a tendency to oversell these policies where term life would do, and I do not disagree that commissions are often the likely motivation in many of these cases.
Still, although I believe that persons without adequate income either to fund adequately retirement vehicles or to pay monthly bills without using a home equity line of credit or leaving any credit card balances unpaid, should probably only purchase term insurance, if you earn more than that, I am thinking that purchasing 15% to 25% of needed life insurance coverage though whole life policies may be a way to mitigate against the needed guessing that goes into picking the length and amount of term policies. Do you agree?
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2) With whole life, if you keep paying your premiums, your heirs will ALMOST DEFINITELY GET PAID. For instance, if you have a $1mn policy at $10k/year of premium, you know with near certainty that your spouse and kids will one day get $1mn. Even if you are paying in $10k per year which is a lot of money, then if you start at age 30, you will pay in $500k cumulatively by age 80. If you die at 80, your heirs get $1mn. Also keep in mind that this benefit is generally NON-TAXABLE!
For term life, I’d agree that it is usually a really bad investment. Why? Because a lot of people only pay in their premiums and never get any return. If you have term, then by the time you are older and your kids are self-sufficient (hopefully), your incentive to keep renewing will be pretty low. You may indeed just stop paying in and let the insurance lapse. Or, also quite possible, you will have to renew your policy but the premiums will be way too high because you are now much older and your health is worse. In some cases, you won’t be able to renew it at all.
2. For people who have already maxed out all of their tax-deferred space and have a sizable investment portfolio built up, permanent insurance can potentially offer some diversification along with some benefits of tax-deferral. These people could invest in a permanent insurance product specifically designed to maximize the investment opportunity, which would include significant up-front contributions and a few other bells and whistles. These are not the run-of-the-mill whole life insurance policies sold by your local agent, and they are generally not right for people who don’t already have significant wealth.
Each type of life insurance product has its advantages and disadvantages. You can’t say term life is the best, whole life is the best or universal life is the best. It depends on what an individual client need and his or her situation. As a client, they should know all the advantages and disadvantages but of course, they are under the supervision of a certain type of insurance agent that can be biased and try to sell what they have to offer to form their companies. Avoid an agent that focuses on selling one type of product. Talk to an agent who can provide the knowledge of each type and you can choose what best for you.
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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.
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Finally, if you’ve already handled all of your other financial goals and you still have disposable income leftover and you want to use that money to buy a permanent life insurance policy that will leave an inheritance for your children, by all means go ahead and do so. But the vast majority of people will never be in that situation, and even if you are in that situation you will likely want a policy that’s specifically tailored to minimize fees and accomplish the goals you want to accomplish. Most whole life insurance policies will still be inefficient and unnecessarily expensive.
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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.
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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.
Hi James. Sorry for the late reply! So I’ll be honest that I’m not an expert on this exact strategy, but my understanding is that it’s generally something you might look to implement later in life, closer to when you’re actually making the decision about what type of pension payout you want. That’s simply because there are a lot of variables involved that could make it either more or less advantageous, and if you’re in your early 30s it’s just hard to know what all of those variables will look like 30 years down the line.
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One other point. You emphasize the “tax free” nature of whole life here. I feel like I was pretty clear about that in the post and would be interested to hear your thoughts. Just blindly calling it “tax free” ignores the presence of interest (on your own money, by the way) which over extended periods of time can actually be more detrimental than taxes.
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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“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.”
The cost of other types of life insurance varies greatly, depending on how much you buy, the type of policy you choose, the underwriter's practices, and how much commission the company pays your agent. The underlying costs are based on actuarial tables that project your life expectancy. High-risk individuals, such as those who smoke, are overweight, or have a dangerous occupation or hobby (for example, flying), will pay more.