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Like most small business owners, you probably purchase your insurance policies through an insurance agent or broker. The functions performed by insurance agents are similar, but not identical, to those performed by brokers. This article will explain how they differ. It will also explain how agents and brokers make money from the premiums you pay your insurers. Except where noted, the following discussion applies to agents and brokers selling property/casualty insurance.

The problem a lot of people run into is that they sink all of their money into an over the top whole life policy and use that as their sole investment property which is insane. HOWEVER, I thoroughly believe that whole life insurance is a powerful tool when it comes to funding a comfortable retirement, because whole life’s cash value helps serve as a way to hedge the down markets as a non-correlated asset.

Back to guaranteed growth…. Whole Life policies are interest rate driven based on the economy, but your “Cash Account” will increase every year, regardless of the market. Compound, tax-free growth. The dividends paid to the policy owners are also not taxable. Dividends are not guaranteed, but take a look at the dividend history for companies like Mass Mutual, Penn Mutual and Guardian. They might as well be guaranteed.


Calculable loss: There are two elements that must be at least estimable, if not formally calculable: the probability of loss, and the attendant cost. Probability of loss is generally an empirical exercise, while cost has more to do with the ability of a reasonable person in possession of a copy of the insurance policy and a proof of loss associated with a claim presented under that policy to make a reasonably definite and objective evaluation of the amount of the loss recoverable as a result of the claim.

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Insurance is just a risk transfer mechanism wherein the financial burden which may arise due to some fortuitous event is transferred to a bigger entity called an Insurance Company by way of paying premiums. This only reduces the financial burden and not the actual chances of happening of an event. Insurance is a risk for both the insurance company and the insured. The insurance company understands the risk involved and will perform a risk assessment when writing the policy. As a result, the premiums may go up if they determine that the policyholder will file a claim. If a person is financially stable and plans for life's unexpected events, they may be able to go without insurance. However, they must have enough to cover a total and complete loss of employment and of their possessions. Some states will accept a surety bond, a government bond, or even making a cash deposit with the state.[citation needed]
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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Calculable loss: There are two elements that must be at least estimable, if not formally calculable: the probability of loss, and the attendant cost. Probability of loss is generally an empirical exercise, while cost has more to do with the ability of a reasonable person in possession of a copy of the insurance policy and a proof of loss associated with a claim presented under that policy to make a reasonably definite and objective evaluation of the amount of the loss recoverable as a result of the claim.

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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.
2. My analogy to a house wasn’t intended to compare the merits of an investment. It was simply a way to explain the Cash Value of a policy, in terms that people could understand better. We many times hear the argument about Whole Life Cash value: “It’s my money. Why do I have to borrow against it?” Giving the analogy of a home (or for that matter any asset of value, be it real estate, or stocks, bonds or mutual funds held in an account that allows for margin loans) helps people understand the difference between an asset that has value, to actual cash. It also helps people understand why sometimes it is preferable to borrow against an asset, rather than liquidate the asset.
Special exclusions may apply, such as suicide clauses, whereby the policy becomes null and void if the insured commits suicide within a specified time (usually two years after the purchase date; some states provide a statutory one-year suicide clause). Any misrepresentations by the insured on the application may also be grounds for nullification. Most US states specify a maximum contestability period, often no more than two years. Only if the insured dies within this period will the insurer have a legal right to contest the claim on the basis of misrepresentation and request additional information before deciding whether to pay or deny the claim.
Hi Matt, Enjoyed the article. I agree with a lot of what I have seen up here, both by you and other commenters. I believe that a lot of the typical Dave Ramsey advice applies to the vast majority of the population, who can’t afford to pay $500 month premiums w/$500 month overfunds. Yeah, if you’re in a position where that amount is no more than 20% of your savings, wow & congrats, and it could possibly be a good idea. But that’s like 50% of mine. As someone who is new to investing and just a year out of school, I recently sat down with a guy from one of the more respectable companies in the WLI market. I truly believe it would have been a good deal for a very select group of individuals, but for me, there were two main turn-offs. First, I simply couldn’t commit to send such a large portion of my savings for the next 10, 20, or 30 years. But secondly, I just didn’t fully understand the policy. From other comments, I think others are in the same boat. These things are confusing, I asked lots of questions but still it just didn’t make sense what was going on with every level. I’ve done my research on saving/investing, and gotten a pretty good grasp so far of my strategy, but my mind still just hasn’t fully grasped WLI. So I backed off. And I’d encourage everyone to do the same – if you don’t know exactly what it is that you’re doing and can’t understand or explain it, then don’t get in to it.
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Insurance can influence the probability of losses through moral hazard, insurance fraud, and preventive steps by the insurance company. Insurance scholars have typically used moral hazard to refer to the increased loss due to unintentional carelessness and insurance fraud to refer to increased risk due to intentional carelessness or indifference.[20] Insurers attempt to address carelessness through inspections, policy provisions requiring certain types of maintenance, and possible discounts for loss mitigation efforts. While in theory insurers could encourage investment in loss reduction, some commentators have argued that in practice insurers had historically not aggressively pursued loss control measures—particularly to prevent disaster losses such as hurricanes—because of concerns over rate reductions and legal battles. However, since about 1996 insurers have begun to take a more active role in loss mitigation, such as through building codes.[21]

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The issue of diversification eludes to a level of risk. However, the history of paid dividends over 50+ years for the companies I reviewed demonstrated extremely low risk, with standard deviation on dividend of 1.5. This is extremely low risk. Of the companies I reviewed the 30 year history of dividend ranged between 5.4% (lowest) to 13.3% (highest) .
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 disagree that an insurance policy has to pay for it to be valuable. Its purpose is to provide you with protection from scenarios you couldn’t otherwise handle, not to pay you money no matter what. Is your emergency fund worthless if you never have an emergency? Would you pay extra for an auto insurance policy that guaranteed you money for a brand new car (at the cost of the new car, not the value of your old on) once yours is done? Even if was more cost-efficient to save the money yourself? Again, I do agree that there are situations where the insurance component of a whole life policy can be valuable. I will never argue that it is a worthless product. I just think that many times it is sold to people who have options for meeting their needs in better ways. That doesn’t make it evil, just inefficient for many circumstances.
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.
And yes, it is nice for children who develop chronic illnesses to have some amount of life insurance, potentially. But is the amount you purchase going to be enough? Yes they will have that amount but in most cases if they want more their health will still cause it to either be more expensive or unobtainable. So it isn’t exactly guaranteed insurability for life for whatever needs they have. It’s mostly limited to the amount you purchased, which is probably helpful but also probably wouldn’t meet their full needs. And again I would argue that you could buy term to cover their needs for a number of years while additionally saving in other ways if you really want to give them money they can use in the event of a chronic illness. Having it in accessible accounts would actually give them more options in that situation rather than having to wait till death.

†One Day PaySM is available for certain individual claims submitted online through the Aflac SmartClaim® process. Claims may be eligible for One Day Pay processing if submitted online through Aflac SmartClaim®, including all required documentation, by 3 p.m. ET. Documentation requirements vary by type of claim; please review requirements for your claim(s) carefully. Aflac SmartClaim® is available for claims on most individual Accident, Cancer, Hospital, Specified Health, and Intensive Care policies. Processing time is based on business days after all required documentation needed to render a decision is received and no further validation and/or research is required. Individual Company Statistic, 2018.
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.
This brings me to my next point. It is not a bad idea to consider annuitizing a portion of your retirement income. If you can annuitize enough to provide you with funds to meet your income “needs” (spousal annuities are available for lifetime income security) with the remainder invested to provide for your “wants”, you can still have the security offered by a pension without actually having the pension itself.
Life insurance is designed to provide families with financial security in the event of the death of a spouse or parent. Life insurance protection can help pay off mortgages, help provide a college education, help to fund retirement, help provide charitable bequests, and, of course, help in estate planning. In short, if others depend on your income for support, you should strongly consider life insurance.
Unlike GEICO, Esurance, and other “direct writers”, independent agents are a part of your community and are there to help whenever you need it. Unlike American Family Insurance, Farmers Insurance, State Farm Insurance, and other “captive” agents, an independent insurance agent works with many different insurance companies. Atlas agents automatically compare quotes from up to 50, which saves you time & money.
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Evaluating a policy that’s in place, and especially one that’s been in place as long as your husband’s, is much different than deciding whether or not to purchase a new policy. It might be that at this point, with all of the money already put in, it’s actually a good investment despite the ongoing cost. It’s hard to evaluate though, so if you’re really considering what to do I would think about talking to a professional. Ideally you should be able to find a financial planner who will charge you a flat rate to help evaluate the policy, without trying to sell you anything else. A planner who belongs either to NAPFA (http://www.napfa.org/) or the Garrett Planning Network (http://garrettplanningnetwork.com/) would probably be your best bet. Good luck!
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.
And if you want protection from premature death, then you get term life insurance. Very few people have a need for life insurance protection throughout their entire lives. And if you do end up needing it, you can convert your term policy at any time. So no, whole life is not a good option for this kind of protection for the vast majority of people.
3 Assumes the average cost of a gallon of gasoline is $2.37**. Comparison is based on the average weekly premium for Nebraska Payroll Premium rates industry Class A; Aflac Life Solutions WHOLE LIFE POLICY - Series A68100; Female non-smoker age 18-21. Premiums may vary by coverage type, account, state of issue, and the election of additional/optional benefits.
That’s a great point. While flexibility can certainly be helpful, these policies are often sold as if they will help you achieve all of your financial goals. And while in the right situations they can be available for multiple needs, they are still a limited resource and can, in the end, typically only be used for one thing (or a couple of things on a small basis).
So let me ask, does she have a need for life insurance? That is, what would the insurance proceeds actually be used for? It may be that she no longer has a need and could simply unload the policy. If that’s the case, I have heard of people having some luck selling these policies to a third party. It’s not something I have experience with, but I could ask around for you if you’d like.
Insurance brokers are paid a commission based on the product you purchase.  It can vary, depending on the type of insurance like: home , auto or business insurance.  Commercial insurance may pay a higher commission since they have complex underwriting requirements and time consuming to find the right company.  They are paid for new and renewal business.  The service is generally FREE to you, but they are required to disclose any potential brokerage fee before making a purchase.  InsuranceBrokers.com does not charge a fee for our service.
Policy benefits are reduced by any outstanding loan or loan interest and/or withdrawals. Dividends, if any, are affected by policy loans and loan interest. Withdrawals above the cost basis may result in taxable ordinary income. If the policy lapses, or is surrendered, any outstanding loans considered gain in the policy may be subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy is a Modified Endowment Contract (MEC), loans are treated like withdrawals, but as gain first, subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy owner is under 59 ½, any taxable withdrawal may also be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty.
However, unlike a house, a Whole Life policy is HIGHLY LIQUID (can be converted to cash in a matter of days, irrespective of market conditions) and has Guaranteed Values (once dividends are paid, they are fully vested and added to the Guaranteed Values, it is only future dividends which are not guaranteed). As such, borrowing against a Whole Life policy is much simpler (can be done without an application, credit report, etc.) Additionally, here again it is not an all or none proposition. One can PARTIALLY surrender a Whole Life policy, or just surrender additions (dividends or client paid Paid-up-additions). Try that with a house, try selling just one room or a few bricks. With a house, unless you decide to borrow, converting the asset into cash is an all or none proposition.
I am an agent with one of the top companies and have been for 5 years. The “buy term and invest the rest” sounds like a great idea but here’s what I have found. People don’t actually do it. You cannot change human behavior. I try to hold my clients accountable and want them to do the same for me. If a client is a spender, they will never stop being a spender. For those people we design a savings plan that let’s them spend their money guilt free, as long as they hit their monthly savings goal, they can spend what they wish.

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5. And you adise on how much someone should have? Please!!!! If you have a house and it’s worth $500k you insure to for that. If you make $100k/year at age 35 and the insurance company will cover you for $2.5 million then that’s what you are worth and that is what you should own. And if an agent doesn’t show a client that amount and the client dies they will be sued for malpractice for not showing the client their full replacement value.
Second, I would say that it’s debatable whether whole life insurance is actually better than a savings account or CD, in terms of a savings vehicle. You mention the guaranteed return. Well, as I mention in the post, my policy had a “4% guaranteed return”, but when I ran the numbers it only actually amounted to 0.74% event after 40 years. It was less before that. And this was from one of the top mutual life insurers in the country. Not only is that incredibly misleading (and that’s being kind), I can get a better guaranteed rate than that right now from an online savings account, even though interest rates are at an all-time low. And my online savings account doesn’t have any of the other huge drawbacks that are also mentioned in the article.

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By clicking the "FINISH" button above and submitting your online term life insurance quote request to SelectQuote, you are agreeing by your electronic signature to give SelectQuote and Inside Response, Allied Insurance Partners and LiveOps, Inc., your prior express written consent and continuing established business relationship permission to call you at each cell and residential phone number you provided in your online quote request, and any other subscriber or user of these phone numbers, using an automatic dialing system and pre-recorded and artificial voice messages any time from and after your inquiry to SelectQuote for purposes of all federal and state telemarketing and Do-Not-Call laws and your prior affirmative written consent to email you at the email address(s) you provided in your online quote request, in each case to market our products and services to you and for all other purposes. Your consent is not required to get a quote or purchase anything from SelectQuote, and you may instead reach us by phone at 1-800-670-3213.

Universal life insurance (ULl) is a relatively new insurance product, intended to combine permanent insurance coverage with greater flexibility in premium payments, along with the potential for greater growth of cash values. There are several types of universal life insurance policies, including interest-sensitive (also known as "traditional fixed universal life insurance"), variable universal life (VUL), guaranteed death benefit, and has equity-indexed universal life insurance.


First of all, it’s important to understand that while the death benefit is certainly valuable, it is not technically an “asset”. The asset that you can include on your balance sheet with a whole life policy is the cash value. The only way you get the death benefit is by dying, so it is not an asset you can actually use today. Again, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless, it’s just not correct to compare it to money in a savings or investment account.
Often a commercial insured's liability insurance program consists of several layers. The first layer of insurance generally consists of primary insurance, which provides first dollar indemnity for judgments and settlements up to the limits of liability of the primary policy. Generally, primary insurance is subject to a deductible and obligates the insured to defend the insured against lawsuits, which is normally accomplished by assigning counsel to defend the insured. In many instances, a commercial insured may elect to self-insure. Above the primary insurance or self-insured retention, the insured may have one or more layers of excess insurance to provide coverage additional limits of indemnity protection. There are a variety of types of excess insurance, including "stand-alone" excess policies (policies that contain their own terms, conditions, and exclusions), "follow form" excess insurance (policies that follow the terms of the underlying policy except as specifically provided), and "umbrella" insurance policies (excess insurance that in some circumstances could provide coverage that is broader than the underlying insurance).[32]
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Ahh, the old character assassination route once you feel the facts are no longer on your side. I’m surprised we got there so quickly in this conversation. I would prefer to discuss the facts, as those are what actually matter. But if you must know, my credentials are in my author box above for all to see. My opinions are based on a broad understanding of both insurance and investments. My personal experience is used for illustrative purposes. And as an FYI, I have no buyer’s remorse because I did not purchase any whole life insurance. I have no bitterness, just a desire to help people avoid a product that is wrong for them.
In the United States, economists and consumer advocates generally consider insurance to be worthwhile for low-probability, catastrophic losses, but not for high-probability, small losses. Because of this, consumers are advised to select high deductibles and to not insure losses which would not cause a disruption in their life. However, consumers have shown a tendency to prefer low deductibles and to prefer to insure relatively high-probability, small losses over low-probability, perhaps due to not understanding or ignoring the low-probability risk. This is associated with reduced purchasing of insurance against low-probability losses, and may result in increased inefficiencies from moral hazard.[52]
There are also companies known as "insurance consultants". Like a mortgage broker, these companies are paid a fee by the customer to shop around for the best insurance policy amongst many companies. Similar to an insurance consultant, an 'insurance broker' also shops around for the best insurance policy amongst many companies. However, with insurance brokers, the fee is usually paid in the form of commission from the insurer that is selected rather than directly from the client.
Insurance may also be purchased through an agent. A tied agent, working exclusively with one insurer, represents the insurance company from whom the policyholder buys (while a free agent sells policies of various insurance companies). Just as there is a potential conflict of interest with a broker, an agent has a different type of conflict. Because agents work directly for the insurance company, if there is a claim the agent may advise the client to the benefit of the insurance company. Agents generally cannot offer as broad a range of selection compared to an insurance broker.
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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?
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.

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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The insurance company calculates the policy prices (premiums) at a level sufficient to fund claims, cover administrative costs, and provide a profit. The cost of insurance is determined using mortality tables calculated by actuaries. Mortality tables are statistically based tables showing expected annual mortality rates of people at different ages. Put simply, people are more likely to die as they get older and the mortality tables enable the insurance companies to calculate the risk and increase premiums with age accordingly. Such estimates can be important in taxation regulation.[10][11]
Pre-need life insurance policies are limited premium payment, whole life policies that are usually purchased by older applicants, though they are available to everyone. This type of insurance is designed to cover specific funeral expenses that the applicant has designated in a contract with a funeral home. The policy's death benefit is initially based on the funeral cost at the time of prearrangement, and it then typically grows as interest is credited. In exchange for the policy owner's designation, the funeral home typically guarantees that the proceeds will cover the cost of the funeral, no matter when death occurs. Excess proceeds may go either to the insured's estate, a designated beneficiary, or the funeral home as set forth in the contract. Purchasers of these policies usually make a single premium payment at the time of prearrangement, but some companies also allow premiums to be paid over as much as ten years.

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