Why an Independent Agent?
There are two types of licensed agents in the life and health insurance industry: a “captive agent” representing one company and an “independent agent” representing multiple companies. Independent agents are also commonly referred to as “brokers”. Captive agents are limited to the products offered by their company while independent agents can select from countless products to fit a clients needs. Obviously, an independent agent is most often going to offer more suitable solutions.
In addition to a professionals independent status, it is important the representive be licensed to offer advice on securities, tax planning, estate planning, to tailor the most suitable solutions. This becomes important for two reasons. Any good financial plan starts with a careful assessment of a person’s objectives, income, assets, and potential inheritance. Unfortunately most insurance agents are not licensed, trained, or qualified to do financial planning, instead they are trained to be transaction driven for commissions rather than driven by the customer's best interest. Sales activity, with little regard for suitability and actual customer objectives, is counter productive and gives the industry a bad name.
A true independent financial planner must be licensed and have advanced training in many disciplines. Unfortunately, most insurance agents/financial advisors are only licensed to sell insurance, annuities, and mutual funds. Such limitation would make comprehensive planning difficult and expensive compared to a more comprehensive approach by an independent financial planner who works in a fiduciary capacity, or solely in the clients best interest. Such a professional is focused on plan design, researching suitable solutions, and performance, versus being product and transaction driven.
Mader & Shannon Wealth Management has always worked as a fiduciary putting our client’s needs first at all times.
Life Insurance As An Asset and/or Retirement Supplement?
In the current environment of low interest rates and bond yields one might ask, “How about life insurance as safe money investment?” For 99% of the 800 plus insurance companies a reliable investment return is not likely. However, a few top rated companies have produced internal rates of return (IRR) in the plus 2% range ten years out and plus 3% range 20 years out.
These returns won’t compete with the S&P 500, but keep in mind, there is a death benefit value permanently attached to this investment. Therefore, one can own a life insurance contract that is an asset as a conservative investment and at the same time provide a significant death benefit. In addition, properly managed, this asset can work favorably as a supplement to retirement.
To sustain a suitable outcome using this strategy working with a professional independent agent is a necessity for a number of reasons. Insurance policies are long term, complex legal contracts with both guaranteed and non-guaranteed provisions which you would want fully disclosed and understood. You must pick an insurance company that has the financial strength and history of supporting a contract of this type. In addition, you want to thoroughly understand the taxation of life insurance proceeds since the are different from other investments.
Like most successful investments, this investment requires management by a knowledgeable owner and a qualified professional. In this case, an insurance professional and a qualified investment advisor should be utilized for the life of the contract. To summarize, a well designed and managed life insurance contract, issued by a top rated company, can serve as key building block to a sound financial plan.
Types of Insurance
Term Insurance vs. Permanent
There are two basic forms of life insurance, term and permanent policies. Each one breaks down into subcategories based on different options designed to meet the needs of the consumer.
Term Life Insurance
As the name implies, term life insurance is issued for a specific period of time from one year to age 100. The purpose of term insurance is to cover a need within the issue period such as protecting an income stream while raising a family, or to pay off a mortgage or business debt in the event of an untimely death. Some term insurance policies offer a guaranteed conversion feature. This policy provision guarantees that the policy owner can convert the policy to a permanent insurance policy at the same underwriting status as assigned to the term policy. Consequently, term insurance can be utilized to fulfill a current insurance need at a low cost until the need for insurance diminishes or cash flow is available for permanent insurance.
Permanent Life Insurance
Permanent life insurance is designed and priced to pay a death benefit or be surrendered for the cash value when the insurance is no longer needed. There are three types of permanent life insurance: whole life, universal, and variable universal life.
Whole Life is the oldest of these policy types. It features guaranteed minimum premiums, guaranteed minimum interest rates credited to the cash value, and guaranteed death benefits payable at death. Whole life issued by a top rated company can still be a very good value even though it is not as flexible as the more recent policy types.
This policy type is a product of the computer age and is often referred to as Flexible Premium Adjustable Life. Due to the capacity of computers to conduct and maintain countless calculations, actuaries are able to expose the moving parts in a life insurance policy. Interest crediting rates, mortality costs, even expenses and premium taxes can be illustrated with ease. This allows for flexible premiums and face amounts, along with interest rates that reflect current portfolio yields. For the first time, policies could be designed to better fit changes in insurance needs and family budgets.
Universal life policies illustrate two interest rates, the “guaranteed minimum” and the “current” rate. The “minimum” is a contract guarantee while the “current” is credited as a product of the insurance company’s return on assets. The current rate is the basis for the “projected benefit” column in the illustration. It is important to understand that the cash values of the whole life and universal policies are invested as a general asset of the insurance company until surrendered or paid as a death benefit, therefore the financial strength of the company is very impotant.
Today the most popular feature of universal life is the guaranteed death benefit feature. Although this feature is only available from a handful of the strongest companies, it provides the lowest cost guaranteed benefit ever offered in a permanent life insurance policy. In addition, these guarantees can be structured for varying life expectancies.
Variable Life and Variable Universal Life
Variable policy cash values are not an asset of the insurance company and are managed as a separate asset in select funds much the same as a 401(k) portfolio is self managed. Although the insurance company is the custodian of the funds, the policy values are segregated from the general assets of the company and not subject to their creditors in the event of insolvency.
There is a critical difference however from managing a 401(k) allocation versus a variable life allocation. Variable Life policies have significantly higher expenses due to monthly insurance costs. As a general rule, monthly expenses of 2% to 4% or more are charged for insurance and administration costs. Consequently, a 10% return for 401(k) allocation could net one-half that in a VUL policy with a similar allocation. As a result, asset management is more difficult with variable policies than a typical 401(k) or an IRA. We recommend two rules of thumb for successful VUL ownership:
First, over fund the policy in the early years to maximize tax free growth inside the policy. Second, manage the portfolio as a sophisticated investor or retain a professional asset manager to assist you.
The obvious benefit of variable universal life is that assets can be grown in a most favorable tax environment, which, if successful, can reduce long term insurance costs or grow the tax free death benefit to larger amount than the original amount. However, there are no guarantees and the margin for investment failure is narrow. One must weigh the risk of investment results in variable life policy against the guarantees offered by competitive universal life policies.
How Much Insurance Do I Really Need?
In the vast array of information regarding life insurance there seems to be no one consistent way of determining how much you need. We believe client's should take part in determining what's necessary and understand the process rather than rely on internet 'calculators'. The following article was written by Brian P. Daley CLU. It was published in the Society of Financial Service Professionals' Life, Health & Disability newsletter, of which Mr. Daley is the editor.
Four Simple Steps
Determine the amount of annual after-tax income your survivors will require to maintain their current standard of living if you were to die today.
Subtract from that amount the annual after-tax income earned by your surviving spouse if your spouse plans to work outside of the home if you were to die today. The difference is the family's annual shortfall.
Divide the family's annual shortfall by 5 percent, as we assume that over the long term your survivors will be able to earn somewhere around 5 percent net after income taxes, transaction costs, and management fees on whatever cash they have available for investment after your death. (One may select 3 percent, 4 percent, or even 7 percent for that matter, but 5 percent is generally fair).
The resulting figure is the approximate amount of cash required, from whatever sources, at the time of your death to provide sufficient annual income without invading the principal until the eldest child is ready to begin college.
Adjust this amount to reflect your unique and specific circumstances.
Will the surviving spouse's career plans or income needs change significantly following your death?
Will your spouse be receiving any imminent inheritance or income from elderly parents or from another source?
Are the children's education costs already fully funded, or are they beyond school age? Is there a special needs child who will require lifetime care?
What is the likelihood and what are the probable financial consequences of remarriage?
How long will it be until the surviving spouse will have access to tax-qualified monies such as 401(k) assets?
Such factors can increase or decrease survivor's dependency upon income from the estate and, therefore, are appropriate for you to consider when estimating the amount of coverage required by your survivors.
An Example: Assume a survivor will require $100,000 of annual after-tax income and that the spouse does not work outside the home. Dividing $100,000 by 5% equals $2 million. Thus a principal of $2 million would be required to generate uninterrupted annual after-tax income of $100,000. Depending upon your age and circumstances, the principal might be comprised of qualified and/or non-qualified investments, partnership capital, trust funds, and any current group or personal life insurance proceeds. The difference, if any, between the $2 million and the total of these other monies is the amount that may be necessary to make up through the purchase of new individual life insurance.