Archive for the ‘Life Insurance’ Category

Whole Life Dividend Options and Policy Management

October 9th, 2019 No comments

Manage policies in your clients’ best interests.

Even though whole life (WL) insurance is one of the most traditional forms of life insurance, there’s an abundance of misunderstanding regarding how it works and the available dividend options. For the purposes of this piece, I’m referring to actual WL, not just permanent, cash value life insurance that many consumers generically refer to as WL. Universal life, indexed universal life, variable universal life and guaranteed universal life aren’t to be confused with WL.

Additionally, I’ll be referring to classic dividend paying WL, often referred to as “participating (par)” WL. It’s important to understand WL dividend options so you can make sure the policy is managed in the client’s best interest. Because I see so many problem policies, I understand why they’ve become problems; lack of understanding and lack of management.

What’s a WL Dividend?

A dividend is basically a return of premium over and above the amount required to support contractual guarantees. WL policies have basic guarantees regarding premium, cash value and death benefit just as many other types of policies do though sales ledgers and in-force projections generally have “current assumption” columns in addition to guaranteed columns. The guaranteed assumptions incorporate a lower interest crediting rate and higher overhead expenses and mortality charges than the current assumptions. The premiums that have to be paid into a policy must be sufficient to guarantee the cash value and death benefit in poor financial environments and if mortality experience is less favorable than expected.

However, if the insurance carrier can make more on its money than the guaranteed interest crediting and its expenses are lower and mortality experience is better than the guarantees, it doesn’t need all of the premium dollars. This is where dividends come in to play. It’s also important to remember that dividends aren’t guaranteed.

Dividend Options

Dividends paid in cash: This isn’t difficult to interpret. Any declared dividends are paid to the policy owner in cash. If elected, the death benefit will stay level, and the annual premium will need to be paid per the contract. Premium checks and dividend checks could be passing in the mail.

Dividends to pay/reduce premium: Again, not a mystery. Any declared dividends can be used to reduce the premium or pay it entirely if sufficient. If the policy premium is $10,000 and the dividend is $3,000, the dividend can be applied to the premium, and the policy owner writes a check for $7,000.

Ultimately, the dividend can be greater than the premium and excess dividends can be used per the other options discussed here, meaning a policy can have more than one dividend option that are implemented sequentially.

Dividends accumulate at interest: Dividends don’t have to be paid out or applied to a policy. They can simply accumulate at interest with the insurance company and be used or accessed later. Because a dividend is considered to be return of premium for income tax purposes, there’s no tax on the dividend, unless cumulative dividends ultimately exceed basis in the contract, but interest earned on the dividends would be taxable.

Dividends buy paid-up additions: Here’s where plain English starts to be fleeting. It’s best to think of paid-up additions (PUAs) as little pieces of paid-up insurance. Two dollars of insurance that’s guaranteed to stay in force through policy maturity might cost a buck, so a buck of dividends buys two buck of insurance or two bucks of PUAs.

PUAs have a cash value component and a death benefit component. An insurance ledger may have separate columns for the cash value and death benefit of the base insurance policy and the PUAs part of the policy. PUAs are why many WL policies show an increasing death benefit. The PUAs are building up insurance death benefit over and above the initial death benefit. These PUAs can also be surrendered to access policy value or to pay future premiums or pay down policy loans.

Dividends buy one-year term insurance: This is sometimes referred to as the “fifth dividend option.” Dividends can be used to goose death benefit by purchasing one-year insurance. This insurance will be more expensive as the insured individual ages. This is also how some insurance carriers build a term blended WL policy to reduce premiums or otherwise build a policy for specific purposes.

Depending on the insurance company you’re working with, there may be additional options such as dividends that can be used to purchase long-term care or indexed credit options.

Why It Matters

These dividend options matter because life insurance needs to be managed. I’ll relate a typical situation:

A policy owner, Bob, is sold a $1 million WL policy with an annual premium of $20,000. The original guaranteed insurance ledger assumes the premium is paid every year per the contract. This may be a true 10-pay policy, paid up at 65 policy, an annual pay for life or some other iteration. We’ll assume our guy bought a policy that requires premiums to be paid every year through death or age 100, whichever comes first.

The sales ledger at the heart of the presentation, however, shows premiums being paid for 10 years and then terminating. The policy owner understands the policy to be “paid up” in 10 years. Most WL policy owners who see a 10-year premium ledger refer to it as a “paid up policy” after the 10 years. Remember, it might be so as actual guaranteed 10 pay WL policies exist. The likelihood though, is that the ledger is illustrating 10 out-of-pocket premiums, not guaranteeing 10 out-of-pocket premiums. It’s exceedingly important to understand that the premium actually needs to be paid every year, whether a check is cut or not, and the 10 pay ledger is only a projection. Such a policy isn’t paid up just because policy premiums aren’t being mailed in but it’s the common vernacular used by consumers and many of their advisors. This many seem innocuous but it’s the basis for many problems and policy disasters.

Many policy owners have no idea that premiums must be paid and are actually paid even when checks aren’t being cut. Here’s where understanding dividends starts to be important. We discussed that premiums can be paid by dividends. That $20,000 10-pay projection assumed that in the 11th year, the policy values could support premiums for the policy owner so Bob didn’t have to write a check. Bob may think the premiums are being paid by the dividend, but Bob might be wrong. In most policies I see, the premium isn’t paid by the dividend but rather by a loan while the dividends buy PUAs.

Still with me? If Bob stops paying the premiums out of pocket and the premiums are paid by an internal and automatic policy loan after the 10th year, 20 years after that the policy might have a million dollar loan. Believe it or not, I regularly meet with people who have no idea there’s a loan on their policy. This default action chosen on the original application is often chosen by the agent with no input from the client. There’s often a reason for it, and it’s not necessarily bad. This allows the full policy to stay in force in the event a premium is missed. The alternative may be something like a reduced paid-up policy or extended term coverage that might defeat the purpose of the insurance.

This also might have been perfectly supportable under assumptions at play when the policy was initiated. The dividend could have been 10% with a loan rate of 8%. Now the dividend is 5% or 6% with the same 8% loan rate. That’s not so supportable in all cases. In another 20 years, the loan could be well over $5 million and tanking the policy.

Because the cash value of the policy is collateralizing the loan, the insurance company will never allow the loan to exceed the cash value. With a loan growing faster than the cash value (and we have to remember that the cash value doesn’t actually grow at the dividend rate), this is often unsustainable. If the loan does grow too high, the carrier will cash out the policy, collect their marbles and go home. But why should a policy owner really care?

What Can Go Wrong?

If a WL policy is in this situation, the policy owner will get what I call the insurance equivalent of a margin call. The policy is about to collapse so the insurance company sends an invoice for the premiums and loan interest due to stave off the problem. This number can be astronomical because the insurance company generally won’t force the issue until the policy is on the brink of disaster. It’s like not putting money into your retirement account for 40 years and then trying to save enough a year before you want to retire. It can’t happen. When the policy collapses, the entire net cash value plus the loan is taxable income at ordinary rates over and above the basis in the contract. In our situation, this will be millions of phantom gain on receiving nothing. Why? It’s treated as forgiveness of debt, and forgiveness of debt is taxed at ordinary rates. Because the taxable income will be millions of dollars when the policy collapses, it will be at the top rates.

As an aside, and I realize this will draw howls, those premiums on WL policies consumers generally understand to be guaranteed aren’t always really guaranteed. When a policy owner’s $40,000 premium jumps overnight to $400,000 because $360,000 of loan interest was due to keep the policy from lapsing, an agent isn’t going to get much of a sympathetic audience from a client when he attempts to distinguish premium from loan interest. All the policy owner cares about is the size of the check required. Similarly, when a client with a $150,000 annual premium sees his amount due grow to multiple millions per year because of the increasing cost of the term rider in an underperforming term blended WL contract, parsing what’s WL premium versus term premium is an exercise in futility. All these people know is that they bought a WL policy. Regarding the premium, if it looks, walks, smells and sounds like a duck, dammit, it’s a duck.

Management Options

What should have happened years ago? If this policy was being managed properly, the agent would have come to Bob and suggested he start paying premiums out of pocket again, start paying loan interest, change the dividend option or a combination of some or all. What’s the point of buying more insurance through PUAs when the loan is spiraling out of control? The dividend should have been changed from buying PUAs to having the dividends pay premiums so the loan wouldn’t grow as fast. At some point, dividends may be high enough to pay the premium and have something left over. When the loan was smaller, the dividend might have been able to pay the entire loan interest in addition to the premium. Yes, you can do this. It might have been able to do so and also start paying down the loan itself.

You can sequence dividend options. For example, change the dividends from buying PUAs to: (1) dividends pay premiums, (2) dividends pay loan interest, (3) dividends pay down loan principal, then (4) dividends buy PUAs or another option. I’ve implemented policy rescues by doing this but only if they’re caught on time. Otherwise, premiums and loan interest have to start coming out of pocket. Some policies have more than one loan option with a certain rate for fixed loans and another for variable rate loans. It can be very worthwhile to evaluate this. Additionally, a policy owner who would never dream of moving forward with an 8% home mortgage may very well have an 8% policy loan and not look at options to refinance from external sources.

It’s also important to understand that there’s nothing inherently magic about life insurance policy loans. Contrary to popular belief, one isn’t actually borrowing from oneself and subsequently paying oneself back. The loan from the insurance company is separate from the policy but is collateralized by the policy. If I had $250,000 on deposit at Community Bank and then borrowed $50,000 on a line of credit or home equity line from Community Bank, I’m not borrowing from myself. I may be collateralizing myself, and there may be efficiencies in management and reporting, but I’m definitely not borrowing from myself so when I pay back loan interest, I’m not paying myself back.

Take Responsibility

There’s blame enough to go around regarding the lack of education and management. Policy owners need to ask more questions, agents need to better educate and manage and carriers need to have better training, oversight, systems and alerts. All the fluffy marketing and advertising meant to make you and your client feel like the only reason for the firm’s existence is to serve you too often goes dormant after the policy gets to a point that it ceases to be profitable to the agent and/or insurance company. Beyond lack of understanding, willful misrepresentation at the point of sale leaves many policy owners with a specific misunderstanding of how these policies work.

Bill Boersma is a CLU, AEP and LIC. More information can be found at, and or email at

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Life Insurance: Told vs. Sold: Part 3

October 2nd, 2019 No comments

What policyowners are actually buying isn’t always necessarily what they think.

Part 2 of this series dug a bit deeper into the details of whole life and premium financing as it pertains to what policyowners are presented and what’s reality.

After highlighting the facts and figures that show this doesn’t really work as presented, I get the response “But Bill, that’s why we have the client pay loan interest out of pocket. It makes the program more conservative.” Frankly, that’s true, but how does that help relative to the misrepresentations I regularly see? All it does, it makes the policy look like it’s working on arbitrage, allow it to pay its loan off and keeps the collateral requirements lower. It doesn’t actually change the important dynamics of the transaction. If you add a couple hundred bucks to your mortgage payment every month, it’ll be paid off earlier, but it doesn’t change the deal. Putting more money down on a real estate transaction doesn’t improve the return on the property. The return is the return. Extra money down may make it less risky, but it absolutely doesn’t change the return. For full post, click here…

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Hybrid Life Insurance and Pension Protection Act 2006

September 30th, 2019 No comments


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What CPAs should understand about premium financing By Bill Boersma and Henry Montag

September 19th, 2019 No comments

Premium financing has been around for many years but it became more popular when LIBOR rates plummeted after the recession and perceived crediting rates on indexed universal life (IUL) insurance and whole life policies were relatively high.

Originally, the concept of premium financing was not much different than why one might not pay off a home mortgage, even when the money is available. If one thought that money deployed elsewhere would be more productive than paying down a mortgage, then why not do so? If I’m confident I can make more in the market or my business, financially it would be silly to pay down my mortgage any faster than necessary. Read More…

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Life Insurance: Told vs. Sold

September 17th, 2019 No comments

Over the course of my life insurance consulting career, it’s been much more common to be called in to fix things that are already in place than to be called in to help understand and build something right from the get go. For full post, click here…

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The Life Insurance Benefits of Quitting Smoking

July 24th, 2019 No comments

Kicking the habit can save clients a bundle.

I recently wrote about improving return in a life insurance policy through better underwriting.  No sooner had I done so than two cases came across my desk regarding the same issue that illustrated just how dramatically meaningful this can be.

Client Quits Smoking

A few years ago, I helped a neighbor with life insurance on himself and his wife. His wife’s policy was a straight forward $1 million 10-year term. She was healthy but a smoker so she got preferred smoker status.  The premium was $3,000. For full post, click here…

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Internal Rate of Return on Underwriting

July 16th, 2019 No comments

Pay attention to where it counts

It’s interesting to see where people put effort and concern and where they don’t.  Parents might go to extreme lengths to keep a child safe and healthy by purchasing the best reviewed products and most healthy food and participating in developmental activities.  However, without even thinking about it, they’ll then put that kid in a car to run to the store, and that’s the most endangering thing a parent could do to a kid according to the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.  But do any of us use that as a reason to not visit grandma?

No.  We use modern car seats and seatbelts and review crash test data and hopefully don’t text and drive.  We do what’s needed to improve the chances of a positive outcome.  In reality, we’re simply not lending credence to those things we’re very comfortable with and that don’t make us stop and think.  Sometimes worse, we make decisions based on unsubstantiated rationale.  After all, we’re victims of emotion at times.  The same emotion that makes us go to some ridiculous length to prevent something from happening that, in all likelihood, is never going to happen is the same emotion that may drive someone to buy a tiny, gas efficient car to save the planet when the full size SUV is going to protect your kid far better. For full post, click here…

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The Bastardization of Premium Financing

June 10th, 2019 No comments

What you see isn’t necessarily what you get.

Wealthy people and business owners have always leveraged money and assumed risk but starting about a decade ago, after the 2008 crash, premium financing has been driven by very low London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) based borrowing rates and aggressive return assumptions on insurance products that are easy to manipulate.

Indexed Universal Life (IUL) made a strong showing marketed by a particularly attractive story, if not altogether accurate.  Upside potential of the stock market without the downside risk sounded great with the memory of 2008 still fresh in minds.  These products can be illustrated at unrealistically high rates while appearing to be modest because few understood how they work.  Abuse is rampant even after the regulatory action of AG 49. For full post, click here…

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The Tragedy of Group Term

April 30th, 2019 No comments
Steer clear unless it’s the only option.

For full post, click here…

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Understanding the Flaws in a Premium Financing Policy

April 16th, 2019 No comments
Convince a client without opening your mouth.

At the courthouse, the judge looked to the other guy and asked his story. After hearing the guy’s side, the judge ruled in my favor. I never opened my mouth. You can imagine how ridiculous the situation was when I didn’t even have to present my side of the story.

I’ve written at length about how little the typical consumer understands about premium financing. A part of my job has been to vet deals and fix problems. But even I was surprised earlier today when I had a scheduled phone call with a client who retained me to review his deal.

The phone call consisted of the insured individual, the premium finance guys, myself and my associate. In a way, the client was the judge, and respectively, the agent and I were the defendant and plaintiff, though I didn’t mean for it to be adversarial. That being said, I didn’t think it was a good idea for the client to move forward based on what I understood as his goals relative to what I was seeing. All I proposed to do was to bring objective information to the table. For full post, click here…

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