So many pros and cons posts on the internet have a not-so-hidden agenda. They aren’t actually presenting both sides…
I do have an opinion on infinite banking, but for this post I truly did my best to clearly articulate both the pros and cons of this strategy fairly.
Let's get into it...
In our last post, we explored the very basics of this infinite banking concept.
In this post, however, I want to go into detail and explain the good and and the bad that come with it.
Infinite banking certainly has pros (you can hear about them all over YouTube), but it also has its cons (including some no one else is talking about).
Let’s go ahead and get right into it and start with the biggest con of the infinite banking concept...
Early Upfront Fees (Con)
The cash value growth is an important factor in making this strategy work long term, but getting money into your cash value comes at cost. This cost to you early on comes in the form of service fees, mortality expenses, and commissions to an agent.
This cost is most significant in the first years for two main reasons...
- Agent Commissions: the agent is paid almost all of their commissions immediately following the original transaction.
- Risk Pooling: the insurance company has to collect enough money for each specific group in order to cover the amount of risk that comes from insuring their lives.
Whole life insurance is particularly high compared to term life in this regard because they are guaranteeing a level premium for the rest of your life and guaranteeing a payout if you maintain that level premium.
It’s totally fair...
The risk early on is much more substantial considering very little has been paid in by the group, yet the total they could receive upon death is multiples of what has been paid in.
Though it would be nice if it wasn’t the case, it’s the government's incentives for families to have life insurance to cover the financial loss of losing a loved one that makes the pros of this strategy possible.
This is exactly why we strip our clients' policies down as much as we can, meaning we get the bare minimum death benefit so that we can take full advantage of the other benefits.
We pretty much treat our clients’ life insurance needs as an entirely separate concern.
This upfront cost, though providing some auxiliary benefits such as a death benefit, and others we’ll cover here in a bit, typically are anywhere from 10-50% of your Year 1 contributions.
That percentage is often determined by how much the infinite banking agent decides they want to make.
Now, to be fair, with a typical whole life insurance policy this cost would in the first two years would be at 100% and you would have $0 in your cash value and that agent would stand to make way more money.
Most infinite banking agents, on the other hand, are taught to set that amount anywhere from 30-50%. But, in reality, for most people interested in the Infinite Banking Concept, it could be as low as 15-20% (sometimes even lower).
Cutting an agent's commissions way further, but allowing your cash value to grow way quicker!
If you’re curious about what your agent is setting their commissions at, there’s a way to easily find out without even asking directly. It’s one of the questions on the list that I put together in a PDF and video of must-ask questions for your agent.
On the other hand, this type of upfront expense can be seen as a pro when evaluating it’s long term effect.
So let’s better understand the pro side of this argument…
No Ongoing Fees (Pro)
Because life insurance commissions are paid almost entirely on the front end, the agent does not get paid to manage the funds that are inside your cash value. That value will grow fee-free.
When you look closely, you can see that by taking on the early front loaded fees of life insurance, it can actually be less costly than the ongoing fees of managed money long term.
When you have money managed by an advisor, there will be an ongoing fee for the money invested.
For example, let’s say you have $100,000 managed with an advisor at a 1% fee (which by the way is on the very low side for a managed account, especially for that small of an account).
Now, over the course of 10 years, with market volatility let’s say you end up gaining a 0% return.
I get it, that would be terrible and maybe even unlikely, but history has shown us that this and even worse returns are possible over a 10 year period.
Your 1% fee…
It won’t hit your investment just once. Your $100,000 is charged a 1% fee from your advisor year in and year out regardless of the performance.
So even though you may have broken even in the market, after accounting for the managing fee, your account value has actually gone down by $9,500 over the 10 years from fees alone.
Now let’s draw this out even further, to 20 years.
Your original $100,000 investment would be hit with that 1% cumulative fee year after year that would result in $18,000 less than when you started. Simply because your account is charged that little 1% fee every year for the rest of the time that money is invested.
On the other hand, if you had $100,000 already in your cash value, besides the fact that your account is guaranteed to increase, your agent is not going to keep pulling out an ongoing advisory fee on your cash value.
On top of this, the illustrated rates are net of any of the expenses you may incur...
- Mortality fees
- Service Fees
When you are looking at the guaranteed column of an illustration it is effectively the worst case scenario.
What you see is what you get.
You can clearly see the impact that this can have on a long term investment.
Imagine 30 or 40 years out, how much will you have been charged on your original 100,000 invested with an advisor?
And are they showing their fees in their projections?
If your account value goes up every year from your original $100,000, over the course of 30 years, you will have been charged more than $30,000 on the original investment of $100,000.
That’s an effective 30%+!
I get it, if your account value is going up, you’re not gonna be too upset by that investment management fee.
I’m not saying that an advisor isn’t necessarily worth the fee in certain cases. I don’t even want to compare this strategy to market based investments, but this does help put the infinite banking commission, its effective “fee”, into perspective.
Which leads me to the second con of infinite banking which is....
Opportunity Cost (Con)
Every decision in life comes with an opportunity cost.
If a student decides to pursue a masters degree for 2 years and has to pay $100,000, they have an opportunity cost of not only $100,000, but also everything else they could have accomplished in those 2 years.
Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger have gone into detail on this in their interview at Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholder meeting.
“Life is a whole series of opportunity cost... Investment is very much the same sort of a process."
When deciding to allocate a portion of your funds towards infinite banking, sure, when structured properly, you should realize a much higher return than a savings account long term.
But you are forfeiting the opportunity of earning a higher potential rate of return in the market or some other investment.
Though, it is my belief that infinite banking should not be considered as an alternative to market-based investing. It should be compared against any cash and other fixed income options that you’re considering.
Some people may have different goals that do not allow them to tie up their money until retirement age. For the majority of people though, this strategy should be complementary to their market investments.
In which case, infinite banking can be incredibly valuable because of its...
Wade Pfau, the author of 7 finance related books, several research papers, and professor of Retirement Income with a PhD in the Financial and Retirement Planning Program, refers to whole life insurance as a “volatility buffer”.
This “volatility buffer” is particularly useful in later years when you are drawing income from your retirement accounts and the market is in a recession. This helps hedge against your market-based accounts’ sequence of returns risk, and Wade concludes that whole life insurance can help allow you to maximize your retirement income.
Stephen Spicer, has some awesome data that helps illustrate sequence risk and how it can impact you.
He did a video on Tuesday that discusses how sequence risk impacts your investments during your contribution period and will do a follow up this upcoming Tuesday to discuss the impact it can have during a withdrawal phase.
Because of the contractually guaranteed rates of return, whole life insurance is considered tier 1 capital by the FDIC, which for the record, is the safest rate class.
It’s part of the reason why banks and corporations own billions of dollars of whole life insurance.
On top of the guaranteed rates of returns, dividends are paid out annually. Even throughout market volatility, historically dividends have fared very well.
With some of the top mutual companies, this means that they have managed to pay out dividends every single year for the last 150-plus years.
This includes throuhgout periods of time such as...
- The subprime mortgage crash of 2008
- The dot com crash of the early 2000s
- World War II
- The Great Depression
- World War I
...and even as far back as the Civil War.
Warren Buffet is famous for giving 2 rules for investing:
- Never lose money
- Never forget rule number one
Though he partakes in market investments, which I would more than likely recommend most people to do as well. He is able to make investments at a level of confidence that most average investors are not able to obtain.
On top of the safety provided on the performance of your cash value with market volatility, it is quite literally a very safe place to store your money as well.
Your cash value and death benefit can be protected from...
This can be dependent on the state that you live in, but is applicable in 40 of 50 states. Which means it prevents outside predators from getting access to your money.
However, there is still some risk with whole life insurance…
Long Term Commitment (Con)
You need to be very confident that infinite banking is something that you want to pursue for a long period of time. If you’re going into this thinking you are going to try it out, then you are putting yourself at risk.
If you easily change your mind about things, or could see yourself watching another youtube video 6 months from now and being convinced that there's a better place for you to put your money. This strategy genuinely may not be for you, at least not until you’ve done more research.
If you cancel your policy within the first couple years, not only will you have not benefited, but you will have lost money!
Commitment is not easy and I say this so that you actually evaluate where you are at. If you’re not 99% confident, you probably should do more research or talk to other people who already are using this strategy.
I mean this as a serious con, if you decide you want to stop putting money into a savings account, the bank isn’t going to charge you a good chunk of that money for doing so.
With infinite banking, the insurance company will.
Are you willing to commit to contributing for the next 10, 20, or 30 years?
On top of that, with the way this industry is, it can be hard to have a high level of confidence because of the...
Lack of Transparency (Con)
If you are not a licensed life insurance agent or even if you haven't had the time to evaluate the companies and products that make this strategy possible, then you are likely relying on the information provided by others.
This is dangerous for a couple reasons...
- There are a lot of people, agents, even experts that know the basics of life insurance but don’t understand all of the details of infinite banking, yet approach it with such confidence that it appears that they do.
- Agents are paid to make people believe that they should buy what they are selling, there tends to be a slight conflict of interest there.
That’s why at Spicer Capital, we don’t have anyone paid directly on commissions.
I’m a salaried employee.
Honestly, I don’t know of any other infinite banking group that is set up this way.
The reason I get cautious about this, especially with infinite banking, is because the agents control how the policy is structured and choose the company or companies that they work with.
This directly impacts how the agent is paid and how the policy performs.
There are thousands of agents out there structuring policies from hundreds of different life insurance companies in an endless number of different ways. Many of which boast the benefits of infinite banking and proceed to design policies at a “good enough” variation of what they talk about.
I know some of these people and they have built wildly successful businesses on YouTube and other platforms doing so. They are clever about it though.
They will make claims like, "We have to avoid the MEC limit".
When in reality they aren’t even close to it...
They will tell you, "Long term you will have much greater returns if your policy is structured this way".
Which is manipulating the data...
They will find ways to bend the truth by stating, "Look how great of a rate of return you can get!".
Without acknowledging the costs...
Or even just blatantly lie and tell you, "You pay your policy loan interest back to yourself"
And all of them will tell you, "We make hardly any commissions in order to set up this special policy for you".
When in reality, they just made it better, but they didn’t maximize the effectiveness of it...
But people also tend to be overly simplistic in regards to the…
Structure and Use (Con)
Though touched on when discussing the opportunity cost of allocating a portion of your money here, I did advise to compare this to cash accounts such as a savings account.
However, in comparison to a savings account, this does come with less cash flow flexibility.
Contribution amounts can be changed over time, though it’s not always ideal, because with most companies they are recommended to be made back up typically within a couple years to maximize the effectiveness of your policy.
And yes, you can loan out the money at any time, but the funds may take anywhere from 24 hours to a week to be deposited into your account.
That can be inconvenient, especially when compared to a savings account.
But funny enough, from what I have seen with our clients, this system and structure can be strategically used for your benefit… making it a pro.
Structure and Use (Pro)
Most people end up spending the money that they do not give a purpose to. Which means for a lot of people whatever is left over at the end of the month (if any) will end up going into their savings account.
James Clear, in his brilliant book, Atomic Habits, talks not about how to have better willpower or discipline, but how to make good habits easier and bad habits harder, so that you more routinely follow through.
He says, “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.”
For a lot of people, the fact that their savings with infinite banking automatically comes out of their account is absolutely necessary for their success.
It also requires just enough effort to access your money that it’s unlikely when you see that new pair of shoes you really want that you will even consider the funds in your cash value as a way to pay for them.
At the same time, when you're considering a new investment property, these funds immediately come to mind!
For our clients who are using their policies to systematically eliminate their debts, this is an incredible way to keep them on track and allow them to still spend the rest of their money freely because they know they already have a portion of their money set aside in a policy to help them accomplish this goal.
After all, when we had previously tried the debt snowball with hundreds of our clients, we found that we were having about a 1% success rate- most were failing in just 4-6 months.
Compare that to our now 94% success rate and like it or not, the structure is a large part of the reason that number is so high.
By the way, we aren’t satisfied with that 6% still not succeeding, it’s a goal to get that number as close as possible to 100%.
But all the fun in using the policy to get people out of debt wouldn’t be possible without...
Liquidity is something that I am incredibly passionate about for several reasons but primarily because in working with hundreds of clients, I have recognized that the vast majority are not in a position to handle emergencies.
Most experts will agree that you should have somewhere between 3-6 months worth of expenses saved in a liquid account.
According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, 53% of Americans do not have an emergency savings account.(source)
However, don’t think that income level is the only factor at play here. While more affluent families may have more discretionary income to handle unexpected expenses, it is likely this bias that keeps them from properly abiding by this rule of thumb.
25% of income earners in the United States earning over $150,000 a year also do not have any emergency savings account.
Why does this matter so much?
Well, the JP Morgan Chase Institute published a report near the end of 2019 on weathering volatility, evaluating 6 million of their random families accounts from 2012 through 2018.(source)
Let’s remember, this was historically oa great six year period for the economy, with no significant crashes or collapses to speak of.
They found that the average family had an income dip every 9 months that required 2.8 weeks of expenses saved in order to handle the loss of income.
Unfortunately, 48% of the families did not have a large enough cash buffer to cover the loss.
Similarly, every 4 months the average family had an expenditure spike that required 2.6 weeks of income to pay for the added expenses with 46% being unable to do so.
And even in this flourishing timeframe of collecting data, they expect that every 5.5 years the average family will have a simultaneous drop in income and increased expenditure, requiring 6.2 weeks of income which 65% of families just do not have available.
Remember, this is based on averages. There were many families who suffered much greater and others who came out unscathed.
For those who couldn’t weather the storm, they were more than likely digging themselves further into debt just to get by.
Which brings up another big reason why liquidity is so important that I touched on earlier... for debt elimination.
Debt is one of those interesting things where when you use it methodically and carefully it can be great, but abused in the slightest and it has the potential to erode your wealth, cause stress, and damage relationships.
For the vast majority of people, even though I vehemently disagree with the man when it comes to his views on insurance and investments, I agree with Dave Ramsey when it comes to most debt: it’s bad, let’s get rid of it, and let’s never get back into it.
I have seen so many people carrying debt, especially on credit cards, where they are paying interest at 10, 20, or even upwards of 30% and talking to me about their investments that they are hoping earn 8%.
Are you kidding me?!?!
Don’t be embarrassed if this is you, most people just aren’t taught to think about the fact that they are trying to earn 8% but routinely giving someone else a much greater return that they could be saving.
There may be other instances when by paying in full could save you a large chunk of money.
For me, right after college I needed a software program for my computer that cost $200/mo for 12 months. Or I could pay in full and they would knock it down 25%. Since I would have had to commit to the $2,400 over the next 12 months anyways and had the cash to do so, I opted to pay $1800 in full.
Instead of having money sit in my savings account earning little to nothing. I went ahead and chalked that up as a win for me to the tune of what was, effectively a 25% ROI.
Liquidity is also incredibly valuable to the side hustler or business owner out there. Often there is no better return on their money that they could get than investing back into their business.
This is not only a good place to allocate money so that they can get better long term returns while periodically using the funds, but they can also have that money protected from bankruptcy and lawsuits and get all of the safety that I mentioned earlier.
Or better yet, the person who knows they want to get into business in the future and knows they will need money someday but doesn't know for sure if and when they will use it.
However, they know they don’t want to lock it up until retirement age in their 401k or IRAs.
The point I’m making is that most people are choosing between locking up their money for long term interest earnings or keeping it liquid and earning little to none.
With this strategy you can accomplish both long term gains backed by guarantees plus reliable dividend payouts and immediate liquidity through the use of policy loans.
And the reason that we always talk about using your cash value through the use of a policy loan is because of the…
Tax Advantages (Pro)
The government will not tax the growth of your cash value if it is not actually removed from the policy.
The cash value growing inside of a permanent life insurance policy is one of the few accounts where the money can be accessed tax free.
Roth accounts and permanent life insurance...
Don't forget, with whole life insurance, you’re not under the same rules and restrictions as you are with Roth accounts.
If you do want to permanently remove a portion of your cash value, the permanent withdrawals will be treated as FIFO, first in, first out.
Meaning you can remove your contributions tax-free.
Life insurance cash value is again one of the few accounts that works this way, where you're allowed to pull out your gains last (the gains being the only portion that you are taxed on).
Thus giving you a viable strategy for retirement.
Most accounts are LIFO, last in, first out.
Any time you sell some shares of a mutual fund, for example, if there are gains, you're taking those first, meaning the government will charge you taxes on them.
Taxes are important even with today's, lower than average, income tax rates. It may be even more valuable to consider what they may be in the future when you need your money and when it would be subject to taxes.
In just evaluating our current situation you would see...
- Approximately 11,000 “Baby Boomers” are enrolling every day in Social Security
- Social Security and Medicare already underfunded by $144 trillion
- Our national debt is over $26.7 trillion (at the time of this recording) with new unprecedented highs pretty much every single day
Unfortunately, almost exactly half of all government revenue comes from individual income taxes.
And it's not exactly like tax rates have been an unwavering percentage that should remain the same as you calculate your retirement projections.
In fact, the fluctuation is quite alarming when recognizing it directly impacts the amount of money you will have available to you in retirement. Especially when considering the future implications of those growing deficits and the government's primary source of income being our money.
When we are personally helping couples plan for retirement, we love it when they have several different types of accounts.
When that’s the case, we can help them prepare in a meaningful way for tax implications moving forward.
For example, as you approach retirement we may recommend setting a baseline for what you need to live off of with your taxable funds- your 401k (which is generally a person's largest account), IRAs, etc.
100% of the funds inside those accounts are all taxed as ordinary income.
With that structure, setting a baseline with those funds, it’s helpful to know where the next tax bracket is and have a strategy for you.
Let’s say you need another 5,000 or $10,000 to live off of in a given year.
Rather than spending an extra 10 cents on the dollar because it's going to push you up into the next tax bracket. You can pull from the cash value inside your life insurance policy and get access to that money entirely tax free.
So from a taxable income perspective, it still looks like we're earning that baseline number that keeps us below the next increase in a marginal tax rate.
Another way that you could use this is if you need or want to purchase a large item in a given year.
If you had 100% of your retirement savings in a 401k or traditional IRA 100% of what you pull out in a given year is going to look to the IRS, as ordinary income, and it'll be taxed accordingly.
Say you want to buy your dream house when you turn 65. If that house was going to cost you $500,000, after pulling that money out of your 401k, it's going to look like you earned an additional $500,000 in that one year.
With that large of a withdrawal, you would clearly be in the highest tax bracket. But let's be conservative and say that you’re only taxed $200,000.
So where are you going to get that extra $200,000?
Well, if all of your money is in your 401k, I guess you have to get out of there. When you do, you're going to owe taxes on that $200,000 as well. The IRS doesn't care what it's for, even if it's only to cover you tax bill.
I'm sure you can see the cycle here, you pull out the 75,000 that you need to pay taxes on the 200,000, and then you have to pay taxes on that money, you end up paying about twice as much for your house, like $1,000,000 for that $500,000 house.
Obviously that's not ideal, or even practical.
Having access to tax free dollars gives you the flexibility to be able to spend money when you want to spend money in retirement. You don't have to tiptoe around the tax law quite as much.
You have flexibility.
By the way, building up a large enough balance in a Roth IRA in order to make these tax strategies possible is rather difficult with all of the government restrictions.
So, once again, infinite banking is helping remove another variable.
This time by diversifying away from the unpredictable variable that is taxes, just like we talked using whole life insurance as a volatility buffer against the unpredictable variable that is the market.
All of this goes to providing you with even more flexibility and way less stress in retirement.
If you wanted, you could pull that $500,000 for your dream home out of the cash value of your permanent life insurance policy. And now you own that house outright no debt, no payments, no massive tax implications.
You may be thinking, but my IRA and 401k have tax benefits too. I don’t have to pay taxes when I put the money into these vehicles!
However, when you pull funds out you will be taxed on the full amount and receive no tax savings. Oh and just keep your fingers crossed that taxes don’t go up in the meantime, or else you will be paying more than you would have had you steered clear of those government vehicles and paid the taxes upfront!
Finding a way to decrease your future tax burden is a very real consideration you need to make.
And the tax advantages of infinite banking go beyond just the cash value… because this is whole life insurance, lastly, you will also have a tax-free…
Death Benefit (Pro)
According to the LIMRA, as of 2017, less than 50% of employers were offering life insurance, which is down 26% from 2006.(source) Yet approximately 50 million or 1/5 of Americans feel that they are under-insured and 1/3 of all US households would feel the financial impact within 1 month if the breadwinner of their home were to pass away.(source)
Though the death benefit is relatively small in comparison to how much you could get with temporary term coverage with similar contributions, that's not the goal of this strategy.
If we were to increase the death benefit, we'd be forced to put less directly toward your cash value on the front end.
If you feel like you need more life insurance, more death benefit, you can do that. But if your main goal is to maximize cash value, then we want as little as possible actually going towards the death benefit.
Regardless, all of these policies come with a death benefit so that's definitely worth keeping in mind for the full picture. With the majority of these policies, they are designed so that the cash value and death benefit grows, with the cash value increasing at a faster rate as to equal the death benefit at age 121.
So a policy that has a $500,000 death benefit at age 30 might grow to a $1,000,000 death benefit by retirement. Plus whatever you don't end up using from your cash value to supplement your retirement, when you do die, that difference between your internal policy loans and the total death benefit at that time, is going to be passed to your heirs, tax free.
They could then use the same concept for themselves, to build up their infinite bank, passing wealth, and generationally avoiding taxes entirely.
That's actually where the name infinite banking came from, the concept that you can perpetuate it forward throughout generations, allowing your money to grow without ever paying taxes on it.
Additionally, the majority of infinite banking policies will allow early access or acceleration of the death benefit, at no additional cost, in the event of terminal or chronic illnesses.
I even know of a carrier that will include critical illnesses to this list which can include things like cancer, heart attacks, strokes, among other serious and likely, health complications.
This death benefit can also be leveraged for other unique strategies while you are living, such as a reverse mortgage, senior life settlement or viatical settlement among others.
Not to mention, the point of insurance is that you can pay in nominal amounts overtime to cover the greater risk at all times. Without insurance, to make sure you are always protected, you’d have to lock up your liquid assets at a 1-1 ratio.
So if you wanted to leave a million dollars to your loved ones when you pass, you would have to have well over one million dollars (after you factor in taxes) sitting in an account somehwere that you couldn’t use.
Talk about opportunity cost!
By having a death benefit that will be coming in tax-free to you or your loved ones, it means you get to freely spend the money you do have throughout your life and retirement because you know that when the insured passes, the funds that you used while living will be replenished and still leave a sizable legacy.
Now, to be honest with you, I had to cut out some of the pros here.
I realized this post was getting kind of long, so I just stuck with the ones that were more directly related to those, very real, cons.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be covering the myths of whole life insurance and am already having a great time pulling together the content for these coming posts and videos.
They are going to be fun!
If you’re at all interested in this subject and finding and understanding financial strategies that will help you plan and protect your financial future, then you should check out my YouTube channel as well as Stephen Spicer's.
Regardless, I sincerely hope this post helped you "self-distance" and see infinite banking for what it is, both the good and the bad.
I appreciate you hanging with me to the end, you're a trooper!
This one got a bit longer than expected!
Until next week,