Many institutional insurance purchasers buy insurance through an insurance broker. While on the surface it appears the broker represents the buyer (not the insurance company), and typically counsels the buyer on appropriate coverage and policy limitations, in the vast majority of cases a broker's compensation comes in the form of a commission as a percentage of the insurance premium, creating a conflict of interest in that the broker's financial interest is tilted towards encouraging an insured to purchase more insurance than might be necessary at a higher price. A broker generally holds contracts with many insurers, thereby allowing the broker to "shop" the market for the best rates and coverage possible.

The television series Forensic Files has included episodes that feature this scenario. There was also a documented case in 2006, where two elderly women were accused of taking in homeless men and assisting them. As part of their assistance, they took out life insurance for the men. After the contestability period ended on the policies, the women are alleged to have had the men killed via hit-and-run car crashes.[31]
Holly, I just turned seventy years old and retired and constantly looking and applying for jobs because my monthly income is only 1,206.00. I am divorce for only twenty eight years and have a learning disabled adult son who has never work. I need a life insurance policy to be around $30,000 to cover funeral expenses and some money for my son to cope. What life insurance company should I chose and should I chose term or whole life? I would greatly appreciate your response. I have no savings. Thank you. Diahann Cambridge

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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.
Thanks Jason! Your question is a good one, and the truth is that it really depends on the specifics of your situation. What are your college savings goals? What does the policy look like now? What is it expected to look like when you need the money? What other funds do you already have in place? I’m not asking you to answer those questions here, just want to give you a sense of the kinds of things I would consider. 

An entity seeking to transfer risk (an individual, corporation, or association of any type, etc.) becomes the 'insured' party once risk is assumed by an 'insurer', the insuring party, by means of a contract, called an insurance policy. Generally, an insurance contract includes, at a minimum, the following elements: identification of participating parties (the insurer, the insured, the beneficiaries), the premium, the period of coverage, the particular loss event covered, the amount of coverage (i.e., the amount to be paid to the insured or beneficiary in the event of a loss), and exclusions (events not covered). An insured is thus said to be "indemnified" against the loss covered in the policy.
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.
Term life is a type of life insurance policy where premiums remain level for a specified period of time —generally for 10, 20 or 30 years. After the end of the level premium period, premiums will generally increase. Coverage continues as long as the premiums are paid. Perhaps this is an option you may want to consider when you’re on a more limited budget and will have significant expenses over a shorter period of time.
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I am a fairly wealthy Canadian professional with a corporation. I have indeed maxed out all my tax-deferred savings options. I am nearing 50 years old. I only have one child. By the time I retire I will probably have more money than I could use , but my daughter will probably already inherit more money than she will ever need when I pass away. Do I bother with all of this complicated permanent insurance stuff, or just forget it and try to spend as much as I can ?!! Your article makes me want to forget the whole thing is I am not usually comfortable investing in things I don’t understand very well especially when everyone seems to be pushing it due to high commissions. However I seem to be in that 1% group you say would actually benefit from this. What do you think?
A few comments… You shouldn’t ever be buying whole life insurance for purely for the reason of investing, you buy any life insurance because you need life insurance, the investment component is secondary. So not sure why we are analyzing it purely as an investment (I actually do know why, because some agents try to sell it this way, and Matt is trying to help them avoid a pitfall).
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?

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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.
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.

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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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.

Any person who uses permanent insurance should be out of debt and have the discipline to maintain a long term approach. There aren’t any get rich quick schemes and any plan can work as long as an investor looks to get the maximum value for the money they pay. Cash Value Life insurance provides values that promises you or I can’t keep unless we partner with one of these companies.

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In any case, once when I was younger, I used to think like the author, that you can overcome your risk tolerance and become a better investor if only you can control yourself and learn to love the equities roller coaster ride…now that I am in my mid-40s, I realize that I’m old school and conservative. I am happy with 5-6% return that is tax free risk free and doesn’t involve me making any decisions except how much I want to save this year.


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.
My advice: Load up on Term, especially when you are young and healthy, but make sure it is renewable and convertible. As well, buy some permanent coverage to at least pay for final expenses. When you buy term insurance the premiums are gone forever. Unless you die no one benefits. At least with whole life insurance someone will get back all, and in most cases more, than you ever put in. The most important question to be answered when getting insurance is, how much do you need? Typically, you will need 5 – 10 times your income plus debt coverage, if you have someone financially dependent upon you.

Second, when it comes to investing, my experience shows that most insurance companies charge MUCH higher fees than are necessary. And since cost is quite possibly the most important factor when it comes to investing, that matters a lot. I would much rather see people using a simple, low-cost index investing strategy that’s both easy to implement and backed by all the best research we have as the most likely route to success.


Life insurance can be very confusing. What is term life insurance? What is whole life insurance? How can you get the information you need and make the right decision about life insurance for you and your family or other beneficiaries? We’ll provide an overview of these two popular types of life insurance so you can get an idea of what might be a good fit for you. Find out more by contacting an insurance agent in your area.
There is no right or wrong answer. Buying term insurance is as stated a pure play, cheap when young, expensive when old or with medical issues. Whole life from a bad insurance company is bad. However, one of the best ways to invest money is to diversify. Often, customers buy “Universal” whole life policies that are underfunded, meaning as they get old, these policies become expensive and are often cancelled. Not good. What I have done was term policies when young along with a small (50k) whole life policy. Having a whole life policy allows forced savings and a build up of capital. With the right policy with guaranteed returns, my whole life police has doubled in value and will be inherited tax and probate free to my dependents. If I had no money, it would pay for my funeral and leave funds to my spouse. I have saved and invested money, have multiple 401K’s, and no longer need the insurance. However, 30 years ago, I could not predict the future, and if I had to do it all over again, I would still buy the same policies. However, times have changed, interest rates are low, and the future is uncertain. I still believe, a small whole life policy with a great company (constant, unchanging premium) for a young family just starting out is a good way to provide some security while forcing one to save and invest capital. Is it the best way to invest? No. But many young do not know where to start and it is a great start. Also note, that often as the cash value increases, the death benefit also increases in many policies. Hindsight is always 2020, but one cannot predict the future, that is why we buy insurance. I also found that converting a term insurance police into whole life can be very expensive. Would a whole life policy be my only investment. No. I buy stocks, bonds, CD’s, have 401K, IRA, bank deposits, etc. A whole life policy is a small slice of the pie; diversity. In summary, both policies have merit.
My parents had been paying into a whole life policy for many years and did not pay much attention to the cash balance over that time. When they finally had evaluated what they had in the policy, they discovered the ‘cost of insurance’ on the now older policy had increased so much that the premium they had been paying no longer covered the costs of the policy and the balance needed was being withdrawn FROM THEIR CASH VALUE. Needless to say, the insurance company or their agent did not notify them of this, so a policy that they had paid $75,000 into had a cash value of just $12,000 and was actually decreasing in value. Whole life policies are advertised as you paying the same premium amount for the entire life of the policy, but in the small print they are apparently allowed to adjust for the ‘cost of insurance’. It’s a brilliant scam. Pay attention to the policies you have.
Hi Matt. Read your posts and comments on Whole Life and the overfunding options available. I have a different situation involving a policy with Prudential called Variable Appreciable Life. I am looking for a safe haven for some available cash with a minimum return of 4%. Agent/Financial Planner has suggested I overfund the balance of that VAL policy. Yes, I am quite conservative but have enough invested in 401k, Stocks, Funds etc. Policy is 50K and issued in 1990. Wife and I are in mid seventies and looking to have 30-40K of available liquid cash. Can add/withdraw the overfunding $ at any time. Interest guarantee is 4.0%.
That’s a healthy viewpoint and I wish more agents shared it. However, I still don’t believe that it’s a helpful product for most people. There are many ways that those premiums could be put to use that would provide the flexibility to use the money for a funeral, etc., or to use it for other needs along the way, all without the rigidness of having to continue paying the premiums or else see the entire benefit disappear.
In other words, if you put a dollar into the market, and then the market drops resulting in a panic and you pull out what you put in, you’re more than likely pulling out .65 cents as opposed to the dollar. You’ve lost money, because you pulled out in a low market. However, if you have 3 to 4 years worth of living expenses in a non-correlated asset (I.E. Whole Life) you can use that as an effective way to bridge the gap until the market comes back up again. Sure it may cost a little more, but in the end you’re making a lot more money, since you’re selling your dollar for a dollar or more, as opposed to selling it for .65 cents.
To say a life insurance company is not a diversified portfolio is a hard statement to agree with. Life insurance companies own 18% of the corporate bonds issued in the United States. These a multi-billion dollar diversified portfolio’s of fixed income securities WITH NO INTEREST RATE Risk. It is true that it takes time to accumulate cash value, however, there isn’t a passive investment strategy that doesn’t take time to create wealth.

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Many institutional insurance purchasers buy insurance through an insurance broker. While on the surface it appears the broker represents the buyer (not the insurance company), and typically counsels the buyer on appropriate coverage and policy limitations, in the vast majority of cases a broker's compensation comes in the form of a commission as a percentage of the insurance premium, creating a conflict of interest in that the broker's financial interest is tilted towards encouraging an insured to purchase more insurance than might be necessary at a higher price. A broker generally holds contracts with many insurers, thereby allowing the broker to "shop" the market for the best rates and coverage possible.

We are both in our 40’s with 2-young children and already have term life policies. We are a single income family who relies on my husband’s commissions (he is in sales)which are not guaranteed year to year. While he has had a few good years where we have managed to max out his yearly 401k contribution, have money in stocks/mutual funds, Roth IRA and at least a years worth of savings set aside in the event of no income we were recommended to invest in whole life as another investment vehicle. Basically, transferring the money in our less than %1 savings account into the whole life policy over the course of 24-years. It seemed very attractive at the time. We simply wanted a better vehicle for investment than our poorly performing savings account. Our advisor (who does work for a big insurance company) came up with whole life ins. We kept asking what other low risk investments that kept our cash flow flexible we could do and he kept coming back to this one. We are currently trying to get more information from our advisor on how to cancel our policy or do you think it is worth it to leave the $20,000 in the policy and just not make any more contributions? Also, any recommendations on what to do with the rest of our savings rather than keeping it in a low earning savings account, but maintaining cash flow flexibility?
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