Thank you Phil. One thing to keep in mind with any investment strategy, whole life or otherwise, is that the word “guaranteed” needs to be treated with a huge amount of skepticism. There’s very rarely anything that’s truly guaranteed, and whatever really is guaranteed is often much smaller than you think. I would look again at the “results are not guaranteed” part of this article.
With that out of the way, I’ll point out that I would not even consider selling my best friend whole life. It’s a rip-off in his hands and I value my friendships too strongly to alienate those I love by selling them whole life. I would however sell it to my wife! Why is that? Well, because the commissions on these policies are HUGE. Between the First Year Commission and the override, if I buy the policy for myself or my wife and just roll the commission into additional whole life, it begins to look attractive. That compounding makes it attractive for insurance salespeople in a way that is simply not available for the average consumer. So when your insurance guy says “oh yeah, I own this policy” it’s probably true…but the value proposition is very different for each of you. Beyond this particular case, I’m not a fan of whole life in just about any situation. Go figure then that half the people who attend the Million Dollar Round Table conferences generally sell a lot of this crap. Take from that what you will…
I wish I could give you direct feedback but it’s really impossible to say Steve. It depends on your specific situation, your goals, and also the state of the policies as they exist now. Evaluating an in-force policy is different than evaluating a yet-to-be-purchased policy, and even a bad policy can perform reasonably well going forward once it’s been in place for a number of years. If you’d like an objective analysis, I would suggest reaching out to a fee-only financial planner. Given that you’re closer to retirement than my typical client, I would try to find one through NAPFA or Garrett Planning Network.
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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You do write that “some of our top clients who are in a tax bracket that you nor I will ever see” enjoy the benefits of whole life. As I say in the post, there is a small percent of the population with a very large amount of money that can benefit from whole life. That is not who I’m writing for here. For 98% of the population, it is not a useful tool.
I agree that it isn’t a good investment. However, that doesn’t make whole life a bad insurance policy. As I mentioned before, I realized a lot of things in my years working for a mortuary. First, the vast majority of life insurance policies that we filed were whole life (I would guess 80-90%). Why? Because people who are in their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s don’t have term policies anymore. And I’ve seen all kinds of things happen to people who have planned well financially. Getting old and having to go into a nursing home generally means depleting one’s assets. With nursing homes in my area costing $5000 per month (and more in some areas), it may not take long to go through someone’s savings. Once they go through all of their assets, Medicaid will pick up the tab for the nursing home bill. Having whole life leaves money at the end regardless of what unforeseen circumstances happen. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times….I’m guessing that those families didn’t think it was such a bad deal.
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?
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.
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.
In fact, he sort of torpedoes his argument by saying policy loans are legit, with the implication being policyholders are going to get into trouble if they don’t understand how to use policy loans. …but people already get into trouble by not being financially responsible so…again…nothing new. The problem isn’t borrowing or insurance. It’s financial education.
In his memoir “Am I Being Too Subtle?” Sam Zell, a billionaire investor and chairman of Equity International, writes, “I’m always on the lookout for anomalies or disruptions in an industry, in a market or in a particular company…. Any event or pattern out of the ordinary is like a beacon telling me some new interesting opportunity may be emerging.”
I have a few whole life policies. I was older when I really started to save and have the ability to pay into these accounts now (one I paid $95,000 right at start) and started late on a 401K. I max out my 401K contributions every year (I’m in the 50+ catch up department) so I believe the thinking was that these policies were the best option given my late start. Is that true? It seems your article is geared toward the young investor.
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Add to this, when a younger person owns whole life (or cash value fixed universal life) they have the life insurance coverage they need, are building a tax free bond portfolio for the future (which as most people realize is what older investors shift into as the age) but also have a accumulation vehicle that can “self complete” if they become disabled. 401k’s can’t provide this…they don’t even match the long term return of the do nothing stock markets because of the fee’s they charge. That is to say…there is no “alpha”
At the most basic level, initial ratemaking involves looking at the frequency and severity of insured perils and the expected average payout resulting from these perils. Thereafter an insurance company will collect historical loss data, bring the loss data to present value, and compare these prior losses to the premium collected in order to assess rate adequacy. Loss ratios and expense loads are also used. Rating for different risk characteristics involves at the most basic level comparing the losses with "loss relativities"—a policy with twice as many losses would therefore be charged twice as much. More complex multivariate analyses are sometimes used when multiple characteristics are involved and a univariate analysis could produce confounded results. Other statistical methods may be used in assessing the probability of future losses.
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The fees included a Premium Expense Charge, Index Account Monthly charge, Cost of insurance, Monthly expense charges, Monthly policy charges, Additional rider charges. The Premium Expense Charge mentioned above came right out of the premium and was 4% in year 1, 6% in years 2-10, and falls to 2% in years 11+ (may change but guaranteed not to exceed 6%). With these types of fees, it is no wonder the actual investment results are way lower than the 8% per year compounded that formed the basis of the simulation. After 20 years of paying ~$400 monthly premiums, the 30 year value of your investment (assuming no withdrawals) resulted in a gain of $251,000. If you managed to invest somewhere with the same $400 monthly premiums for 20 years in an investment where you could actually get 8% compounded per year without any fees, the result after 30 years would be a gain of $422,225.
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With that said, yes the interest rates are good, but it’s not really appropriate to compare the interest rate on a whole life loan to interest rates from other sources. With whole life, you’re borrowing YOUR OWN money that you already contributed after-tax. That’s very different from borrowing from a bank, where the money was never yours. It’s much more appropriate to compare the long-term, cumulative interest rate to the long-term after-tax returns you could get from other investments. That comparison looks very different and often much less beneficial for whole life.
The problem is that it takes a long time for the returns to reach that level. There will be many years at the start of the policy where your return will be negative, and many more years where the return will be only slightly positive. If you stick with it for a long time, you eventually get into a reasonable range of returns. But if at any point before that you decide you want to do something different, you will have spent many years and a lot of money getting very poor returns.
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
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).
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Needs it helps meet: Universal life insurance is most often used as part of a flexible estate planning strategy to help preserve wealth to be transferred to beneficiaries. Another common use is long term income replacement, where the need extends beyond working years. Some universal life insurance product designs focus on providing both death benefit coverage and building cash value while others focus on providing guaranteed death benefit coverage.
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Muslim scholars have varying opinions about life insurance. Life insurance policies that earn interest (or guaranteed bonus/NAV) are generally considered to be a form of riba (usury) and some consider even policies that do not earn interest to be a form of gharar (speculation). Some argue that gharar is not present due to the actuarial science behind the underwriting. Jewish rabbinical scholars also have expressed reservations regarding insurance as an avoidance of God's will but most find it acceptable in moderation.
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Your point about eventually not having to pay premiums is a common one used by agents, and in some cases that does happen. But in many cases it doesn’t, or at least it doesn’t happen as early as is illustrated and the policyholder is left paying premiums for longer than they had anticipated. The point is that this is not a guarantee, and it’s important for people to understand that.
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Actually I’m satisfied with your response. Because it makes sense, people without the money shouldn’t purchase whole life. We only tell our clients if they can afford it to purchase it. That’s common sense. And if you need something that will take care of your expenses when you are gone and don’t have a lot of money, then term is the way to go. If you have the money whole life is a good tool for tax diversification. But there is too much to talk about that those of us that are in the industry and are actually licensed to help people in these areas and it would take up too much space. We’d be having this discussion for months. But you make valid points, but to say whole life is a bad investment just seems wrong, because of the percentage of people that can use it, it works perfect. I have a friend who makes $80,000 a month who recently came into oil and was discouraged by blogs like this. After I explained to her how ridiculous blogs like this are for her situation she was actually calm and more receptive. I appreciate you informing the public. And in our jobs we do that well enough, I think instead of trying to be Dave Ramsey, you should just title it, “Why Whole Life is a Bad investment for the average Joe or 98% of the population.
Unless you truly need permanent life insurance, then you’re likely looking at these policies purely as an investment. In most cases it makes sense to max out at least other tax-advantaged accounts first (like your IRA, but also a 401(k) and others). Are you already doing that? You can read more about which accounts to consider here: How to Choose the Right Investment Account.
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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Any risk that can be quantified can potentially be insured. Specific kinds of risk that may give rise to claims are known as perils. An insurance policy will set out in detail which perils are covered by the policy and which are not. Below are non-exhaustive lists of the many different types of insurance that exist. A single policy that may cover risks in one or more of the categories set out below. For example, vehicle insurance would typically cover both the property risk (theft or damage to the vehicle) and the liability risk (legal claims arising from an accident). A home insurance policy in the United States typically includes coverage for damage to the home and the owner's belongings, certain legal claims against the owner, and even a small amount of coverage for medical expenses of guests who are injured on the owner's property.
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.
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.
Finally, everyone who accumulates assets will have a life insurance policy of one type or another. Social Security currently is “a life insurance policy”. Will it be around in 30 years? Who knows…who knows what will be there. All I know is that a good plan will have a guaranteed income source that they can not outlive. Many people with assets take Social Security before age 70 because they want to be sure to get something out of it…this is a life insurance decision. They reduce their life time income by taking payment early. If they owned a permanent life policy, they could reduce their investment risk by spending assets and leverage the insurance policy to replace the assets they use while they delay taking income from SS and the increased payment the benefit provides can increase their life style, pay the premium and create a legacy for their children, grand children or favorite charity. Life insurance “loans” are not income. They are loans. So if a person planned ahead, they could receive 10’s of thousands of dollars from the cash value of their policy (and ROTH IRA money) and not pay a dime of income tax on the social security benefit. If inflation happens and interest rates and taxes increase, the SS benefits will increase and this person will have increasing income that won’t be consumed by an increase in taxes as all their income would be tax free.
You can own both whole life and term life policies at the same time. People who are looking at this option typically already have a whole life policy. However, they may find that they want additional short-term insurance coverage such as for 10 years. In this instance, buying a term policy for the amount of life insurance you need for that extra protection can be a good solution.
I’ll start with the whole life policy a financial planner is currently trying to sell me on. It does seem to be too good to be true, so I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with it. He claims that I put $1k in it each month for 20 years. At around the 10 year mark, the “cash value” meets the amount of money I’ve put into it, and begins to exceed it. After 20 years, I’ve put $240k in, and it’s worth around $550k. That’s the amount I could take out if I wanted to close the thing. And I *believe* he said that’s tax free, but maybe I’m wrong about that… he also may have said something about instead withdrawing a set amount of around $55k each year and that’s tax free? Not sure. But just looking at these numbers and ignoring the death benefit, is that not a good investment? I’ve been maxing out my 401k and investing in mutual funds for more than 10 years and I’d estimate for every dollar I’ve put in, I now have about $1.20. I’m sure some of that has been poor allocation of funds, but even taking that into consideration, it seems pretty pathetic compared to the option of more than doubling my money in 20 years (looking at the $550k out with $240k in). What am I missing?
Life insurance (or life assurance, especially in the Commonwealth of Nations) is a contract between an insurance policy holder and an insurer or assurer, where the insurer promises to pay a designated beneficiary a sum of money (the benefit) in exchange for a premium, upon the death of an insured person (often the policy holder). Depending on the contract, other events such as terminal illness or critical illness can also trigger payment. The policy holder typically pays a premium, either regularly or as one lump sum. Other expenses, such as funeral expenses, can also be included in the benefits.
Hey Jordan. I was a little dismissive in my last reply, and I want to apologize for that. You’re absolutely right that the main reason for getting life insurance is often to make sure that your kids would have enough money even if you weren’t around, and it’s honestly great that you’re already thinking that far ahead. It bodes well for you and your family.
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Looking to buy life insurance for the first time? If so, you're probably asking yourself questions, such as "How much do I need?," "What kind of policy is best?," and "Which company should I buy from?" There's no question that buying life insurance for the first time, like any other new experience, can be more than a bit daunting. Below are six important tips that we hope will make the process smoother by eliminating frustrating false starts and unnecessary bumps in the road.
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.
I noted that the returns on the simulations were set at 8%, which was the average for this product from a respected company. In real life, the return for this product is variable guaranteed at minimum 0.75% with a 15% cap. However, I thought about the simulation result tables presented and from my memory it did not seem like money was going up by the promised compounded 8% every year. As a matter of fact, the first few years, there appeared to be negative returns and even at the 20 year mark the return did not appear from my memory to be 8% higher compared to the prior year. Where did the money go? I believe it was commission and fees, which were not mentioned during the meeting. So compared to other investment options out there, it did not seem like such a good deal after all.
Deciding whether to purchase whole life or term life insurance is a personal decision that should be based on the financial needs of your beneficiaries as well as your financial goals. Life insurance can be a very flexible and powerful financial vehicle that can meet multiple financial objectives, from providing financial security to building financial assets and leaving a legacy.