Careful Buying Life Insurance as Fiduciary Rule Takes Effect

The regulatory winds are changing, and many investment pros have been changing their business models as a result. That could mean recommending life insurance for your retirement plan. But does it make sense for you?

(Image credit: Dvougao)

Should you buy life insurance to fund or augment your retirement savings? Life insurance retirement-planning solutions make sense for some, but they are not right for everyone. However, more people may be faced with that question, thanks to recent news from the Department of Labor.

Emerging from a months-long regulatory ping-pong match, the DOL’s fiduciary rule is now scheduled to take effect on June 9, 2017, according to an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. The Trump administration had issued an executive order that delayed the rule, but Acosta wrote that there was nothing to stop the rule from being implemented.

During this regulatory back and forth, many brokers and investment professionals had already re-evaluated what products they will recommend to clients in the future. They will no longer be selling expensive, and well-paying (for them, of course), variable annuities. Additionally, many investment options being introduced will pay them on a fee basis (opens in new tab) rather than a commission basis, so investors’ retirement savings could take a hit as the fees add up over time.

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As a result of these firms switching their models, they may be recommending life insurance products more often as a retirement-planning tool.

So, if your financial adviser or a life insurance salesperson ever presents this as an option, proceed with caution, because it might not fit your needs. Life insurance and retirement-savings plans generally have two separate purposes. Retirement planning funds your life post-work; most life insurance policies fund your loved ones’ lives — post you.

Life Insurance Pros

There are two primary types of life insurance (opens in new tab): term life insurance and whole life insurance. Term life insurance provides coverage for a specific time period, and has a specific premium that is decided based on the age and health of the insured. Term life insurance (opens in new tab) is also called “pure” life insurance because its only purpose is to insure against death — it generally does not accumulate additional value and is designed to financially protect dependents in the case of a policyholder’s premature death.

On the other hand, so-called whole or permanent life insurance (permanent if payments continue or it is fully funded) contains a life insurance death benefit and a separate component that builds up cash value. In variable life insurance policies, the cash value is invested in sub-accounts that the policyholder is usually able to select. In indexed life insurance policies, the cash value grows based on a pre-established index.

The advantage in this type of policy is the ability to withdraw or borrow against the cash value. These are the funds that can help with your retirement, a child's college or major home improvements. Distributions through borrowing (from yourself) are 100% tax free, vs. many other types of retirement funds. However, interest rates on these loans are high (opens in new tab) (at around 7%-8%) and failing to pay off the loans or withdrawals lowers your death benefit.

Life insurance salespeople like to portray variable policies as the Swiss Army knives of insurance products. Future income, projected growth, tax benefits, death benefits, a fund to cover long-term care, an emergency cash fund and more.

Life Insurance Cons

There are three main negatives to using life insurance as a retirement vehicle:

Who May Want Life Insurance – and Who May Not

Life insurance should be a consideration if you have dependents who rely on you financially. In the case of your untimely death, life insurance will ensure that your loved ones are provided for. Additionally, life insurance can cover any outstanding debts as well as costs associated with your death and funeral.

If you don’t have dependents and your finances are in good order, life insurance isn’t a necessity. It’s important to note that life insurance should not be viewed as an investment. Its primary purpose is to insure against unexpected fatality, and is therefore a form of risk management (opens in new tab). If you are looking to save for retirement or your child’s future, there are better options than life insurance.

Taking the Whole Picture Into Account

A financial adviser has a fiduciary responsibility, one that is being underscored with the implementation of the fiduciary rule, to recommend retirement options that are in your best interest. If an adviser suggests contributing more to life insurance than funding other retirement options, it may behoove you to get a second opinion. The same is true if they do not discuss life insurance at all. Additionally, make sure fees are outlined upfront in any discussion.

A good financial adviser starts with a holistic approach to your assets and future needs. The resulting financial plan should be a sound one based on your situation, not what may work for someone else.

Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal. No investment strategy can guarantee a profit or protect against loss in periods of declining values. Opinions expressed are subject to change without notice and are not intended as investment advice or to predict future performance. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Consult your financial professional before making any investment decision.

  • The first is the cost. You are paying for the underlying insurance, which you might not need down the road. Additionally, the fees can be three to four times (opens in new tab) higher than other savings options. The costs quickly add up and will eat away at your returns. Furthermore, there is a surrender value if you change your mind in the first five to 10 years, depending on the policy. After all, the salesperson got the bulk of their commission upfront on commission-based policies.
  • Second, although the amount contributed for investing can vary, you must pay the premium until the policy is fully funded. But you can stop contributing to other types of retirement products, like an IRA, if you have a bad year. With a life policy, you may wind up inadvertently letting it lapse. If that happens, you lose all that you’ve contributed.
  • Third, it probably will not make sense in your situation to fund the life insurance, when you have not contributed the maximum to your 401(k) or IRA. You may be better off considering more traditional retirement savings options — with your tax situation in mind — before venturing into other types.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Ash Toumayants, Investment Adviser Rep
President and Founder, Strong Tower Associates
Ash Toumayants is the founder of Strong Tower Associates (opens in new tab), a retirement planning firm dedicated to helping clients in all stages of life prepare for retirement. For over a decade, he has helped hardworking people across Central Pennsylvania prepare for retirement.

Investment Advisory Services offered through Retirement Wealth Advisors, (RWA) a Registered Investment Advisor. Strong Tower Associates and RWA are not affiliated.