If you’re a physician or high-income earner, you’ve probably been approached to purchase whole life insurance. While many of your fiscally responsible colleagues may warn you not to buy it, many other financial advisors seem convinced that whole life insurance is a must-have. With such conflicting advice, you may be confused on who to listen to and unsure about what to do. Several of my physician friends are in the same boat. In fact, many of them have asked me to help them understand why “whole” life insurance is so bad and “term” life insurance is ideal. Here was my response:
Most whole life insurance policies, universal life insurance policies, indexed life insurance policies, (and basically anything other than term life insurance) is sold to us under false pretenses. These policies are branded as a way to “guarantee” our family money when we die. However, if you delve into the fine print of these polices you will see that they aren’t nearly as good as they sound. In fact, there are 6 main problems with whole life insurance:
1. You don’t need it. Unlike disability insurance, where we insure against the unpredictable risk of becoming disabled, life insurance is different. We already know that we will “pass away” at some point. Thus, dying isn’t necessarily a “risky” event, it is an EXPECTED event. Any event that you can expect to happen, you can plan for yourself. Since you can plan for this event yourself, you only need to insure against the risk that you could die before this plan is fully carried out. In other words, you don’t need life insurance for your “whole” life. You only it for a certain period of time or “term.”
2. It’s inefficient. In order for whole life insurance companies to guarantee your family money after you die, they must have money to give them. Insurance companies aren’t charities, so they definitely are not giving your family money out of their own pocket. What they do is collect a large amount of YOUR money to pay into THEIR system. In fact, the financial advisors who sell you whole life insurance put a large portion of your money into their own pockets as profits, then take the rest and “invest it” into low-yield accounts. If you die young, your family may not get much of anything at all because you’ve haven’t paid into the system for long. If you die old, your family won’t get nearly as much as they should because the insurance company still needs to make a profit. With whole life insurance, you end up paying a huge chunk of money to an insurance company that will give you and your family much less in return.
3. It’s expensive. Whole life insurance policies pay out to your dependents after you pass away. Thus, insurance companies will want you to pay for the cost of that benefit upfront. Paying for this benefit is insanely expensive. In fact, whole life insurance costs about 10x more than term life insurance. This means you could easily be paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars each month for this policy. That’s a lot of money to spend on an inefficient insurance product you don’t need.
4. There are lots of hidden fees. The vast majority of whole life insurance products have a slew of hidden fees. These expenses take away from the value of the product and drastically decrease the benefit your dependents receive when you die. In fact, most of the money you pay the insurance company for a whole life insurance policy, is paid directly to the agent who sold you the policy as “commission.” I can think of many more ways you can spend your money, than to pay tens of thousands of dollars in commission fees to an insurance agent.
5. The benefit isn’t as good as you think. If you look at the fine print of these whole life insurance policies, you’ll see that the benefit it provides to your family isn’t very good. In fact, the “returns” are actually negative in the first few years. This means that if you die shortly after you purchase a whole life insurance policy, your family may not get anything at all, even though you’ve paid thousands of dollars in premiums. If you die much later in life, the average returns on your money are only 2-4%. In contrast, average returns from the stock market are 7-10%. This means that if you had simply placed your money into an index mutual fund, you’d have been able to give you family drastically more money and paid much less in fees.
6. There’s a better alternative. The biggest reason I’m against whole life insurance is that there is a much better way to proceed. You can save money for your loved ones without ever having to purchase whole life insurance. How? By maxing out your retirement accounts so that you can save and invest money in a tax-efficient way. By converting money each year to Roth accounts (like a Roth IRA) so that your family can inherit the money you save tax-free. By purchasing a “TERM” life insurance policy so that if you happen to die before you’ve been able to pay off your student loans and stack enough money for your family, the insurance company will provide a hefty benefit to your family.
My point? As busy young professionals, we already sacrifice a lot. The last thing we need to do is to get tricked into purchasing an insanely expensive insurance product that has lots of hidden fees. There is a much better alternative. Save money for your family yourself and purchase a “term” life insurance policy to cover yourself in the meantime. Don’t buy whole life insurance.