Insurance investment advantages and disadvantages?

Insurance investment advantages and disadvantages?

Insurance investments can provide valuable benefits but also have important drawbacks to consider. This article will provide an in-depth look at both sides to help you determine if these products are a good fit for your needs.

Common Types of Insurance Investments

Some popular insurance investment vehicles include:

  • Whole life insurance – Provides lifelong coverage if premiums are paid as scheduled. Cash value grows at a minimum guaranteed rate.
  • Universal life insurance – Similar to whole life but provides more flexibility with payment amounts and timing.
  • Variable universal life insurance – Cash value fluctuates based on the performance of underlying investment options.
  • Indexed universal life insurance – Returns are based partly on stock market index performance but downside risk is limited.
  • Variable annuities – Works like a retirement account where contributions are invested in mutual funds or other options within the annuity. Returns are not guaranteed.
  • Fixed annuities – Offers guaranteed minimum interest rate and principal regardless of market performance.

Understanding the differences between these products is key to determining the best fit based on your priorities and risk tolerance.

Potential Advantages

Insurance investments provide some important benefits including :

  • Tax-deferred growth – Earnings accumulate without current income taxes until withdrawn. This allows more to compound over time.
  • Guaranteed lifetime income – Annuities offer payout options that can ensure you don’t outlive your savings.
  • Death benefits – Life insurance pays out a tax-free death benefit to beneficiaries.
  • Potential higher returns – Returns can outpace low-interest savings vehicles depending on underlying investment performance.
  • Liquidity – Most policies allow partial withdrawals of available cash value, providing flexible access to funds.

Disadvantages and Risks

While insurance investments have benefits, there are also drawbacks to consider:

Costs and Fees

Expenses tend to be higher than typical investments due to commissions, administrative fees, mortality & expense charges, and other costs. This can reduce long-term returns.

Complexity

Insurance products are often more complicated than standard investment vehicles, making it difficult to compare costs and performance.

Underperformance

Returns frequently fail to keep pace with market indexes over extended periods due to the embedded fees and expenses. The principal is also at risk with some variable products.

Restrictions

Early withdrawals within surrender charge periods, usually 7-10 years, incur steep fees. Funds are not as liquid as typical investments in the short run.

Mismatched Purpose

If the priority is investment rather than life insurance or guaranteed income, lower-cost alternatives may be a better solution.

Returns Versus the Market

While variable insurance options aim to participate in market upside, their returns historically underperform over long periods. Fees are deducted directly from investment earnings, diminishing performance.

For example, an S&P 500 index fund gaining 8% annually would expect to grow to over 3 times the initial amount after 20 years. Comparable variable insurance subaccounts have averaged closer to 5-6% after fees over two decades, only doubling the initial investment.

Guaranteed or fixed products protect the principal but interest rates are usually lower than current market levels. Indexed options limit downside risk but also cap upside potential, and are subject to participation and other rate adjustments over time.

Principal Protection

Only certain types of insurance investments provide a true guarantee of principal. With fixed annuities and some fixed life insurance options, the amount of premiums paid is secured regardless of market conditions.

However, variable products like variable annuities and variable life insurance involve market risk similar to standard brokerage accounts. While a minimum value is promised, that guarantee is only as good as the financial strength of the issuing insurance company. The principal is not guaranteed.

Best Uses for Insurance Investments

Insurance wrappers make the most sense when also need life insurance coverage or guaranteed lifetime income in retirement. Other appropriate uses may include:

  • Estate planning to help transfer assets to beneficiaries income-tax-free
  • Maximizing tax-deferred growth over multiple decades
  • Securing a fixed income stream to supplement pensions in retirement

For sole investment purposes, insurance products face stiff competition from lower-cost mutual funds, ETFs, and other alternatives that don’t limit access to funds or layer on extra expenses.

Evaluating Fit for Your Situation

  • Age – Younger buyers have more time to overcome early losses and higher costs associated with insurance investments. Those closer to retirement have less time for growth.
  • Goals – Do you want life insurance coverage, guaranteed income, wealth transfer, or purely an investment? A product should directly align with your objectives.
  • Time horizon – Variable products are best suited for 10+ year periods to ride out short-term market volatility. Shorter timelines increase risks.
  • Risk tolerance – How comfortable are you with the potential ups and downs of equity-like returns versus principal protection? Variable or fixed options vary in degree of risk.
  • Liquidity needs – Consider future large expenses that may require cash and any surrender charges for early withdrawals.
  • Health/lifespan – Longer expected lifespans favor permanent life insurance for extended coverage and tax advantages on death benefits.
  • Income needs – Guaranteed lifetime withdrawals from certain annuities provide stability during retirement.

Comparing costs, fees, guarantees, restrictions, market participation rates and other factors between different insurance carriers also helps identify the most suitable product. Consulting an independent financial advisor can aid in the evaluation process.

Conclusion

While insurance investments offer advantages like tax deferral and creditor protection, these benefits come at the cost of higher fees and expenses that often undermine long-term returns versus lower-cost alternatives. Carefully considering one’s unique situation, goals, and priorities is essential to determine if an insurance wrapper is the best solution compared to other options. Those primarily seeking life insurance coverage or guaranteed retirement income may find these products valuable, but they tend to be suboptimal for general investment purposes due to their additional complexity and costs. A fiduciary advisor can provide objective guidance on constructing an optimized portfolio.

FAQs

Q: Are returns on insurance investments comparable to the stock market?

A: Generally no, due to higher costs returns tend to underperform the overall market long-term. However, they provide other benefits like guarantees.

Q: How risky are variable insurance products?

A: Variable insurance products like variable annuities involve market risk similar to stocks and bonds since returns are tied to underlying separate accounts. The principal is not guaranteed

Q: Can I access cash values penalty-free?

A: Most insurance policies have surrender charge periods, often 7-10 years, where partial withdrawals incur fees. Check specific product details for applicable periods and charges.

Q: What is the difference between permanent and term life insurance?

A: Term life provides coverage for a specific period, while permanent or cash value life builds an investment component you can access provided the policy remains in force.

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