Equity Investment Life Insurance?

Question: Chris---We have recently been advised by a financial consultant to begin to invest in an Indexed Universal Life Insurance Contract, also called an equity investment life insurance policy. After reviewing our financial situation with retirement in mind, the advisor told my husband and me, 55 years and 58 years of age, respectively, that we should stop putting our discretionary income into the qualified plans that we both have at work. He argues that we have enough in our qualified plans to maintain our current lifestyle and that we should begin to look for investments that shelter income from taxes for the future. The vehicle he suggests is an "equity investment life insurance policy". He argues this vehicle is a "Roth look-alike" and will allow us to grow our investments tax free, including the earnings that accrue in the account, and it will be tax free when it is withdrawn. The theory is that because tax rates will continue to grow higher, it would be better for us to be paying the taxes now on the money rather than after we retire, as current tax rates for us likely will be lower than future tax rates. Since our qualified plans defer taxes, he argues we have more tax deferred income than may make sense for us. The type of vehicle he suggests would have a cap on how much it would earn in a given period of time but it will also not go below the start level in any given year..... So, for example, we might buy a policy for $500,000 which would then have a monthly fee associated with it. He argues that we should not be overly alarmed by the monthly fee which includes all fees for transactions, etc. He argues we are paying mutual fund companies plenty of fees and the fees associated with this vehicle won't be higher than the total we're already paying various mutual fund companies.

We are cautious people and will not rush into any major change without thoroughly investigating its pros and cons. I told the guy we'll seek multiple points of view, as he will make his money from selling us on this product. Any guidance you can provide will be appreciated. Greg and Carol, Minneapolis

Answer: I'm not a fan of these plans, although they are a niche product that can work for some people. The fees are high (much higher than equity index funds, bond index funds, Treasury securities and the like). The equity formula is a complicated black box, which runs counter to my "keep it simple" mantra. And you can limit your downside portfolio risk through diversification, inflation-protected securities, and the like.

If it were me, and if I had the assets you have, I would hire a fee-only certified financial planner to look 1) at your overall financial situation and 2) evaluate this policy proposal in light of your assets, liabilities, goals and desires. Yes, a CFP isn't cheap. I could be wrong, but my bet is that she'll come up with a more cost-effective way to build a conservative portfolio.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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