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How to Use Life Insurance as an Investment

Updated: Nov 28, 2023
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Life insurance is commonly known for providing a financial safety net for loved ones in the event of one's passing, but it can also serve as an investment tool. Certain types of life insurance policies, particularly permanent ones like whole, universal and variable, allow you to build cash value over time. You can access this cash value during your lifetime for various financial needs or grow it as an investment.

The suitability of life insurance as an investment option varies depending on individual financial goals, risk tolerance and long-term needs. Weigh the pros and cons carefully to determine if this approach aligns with your financial strategy.

Key Takeaways

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Certain types of life insurance policies, such as whole, universal and variable, offer investment opportunities through cash value growth.

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While life insurance as an investment offers tax benefits and loan options, it also comes with risks like higher premiums and market volatility.

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Diversifying your investment portfolio can include traditional options like stocks and bonds, as well as alternative assets like life insurance.

Basics of Life Insurance as an Investment

Life insurance policies fall into two primary categories: term and permanent. Term insurance provides a death benefit for a set period, usually 10 to 30 years. Permanent insurance, on the other hand, offers both a death benefit and the opportunity to build cash value, making it a more versatile financial tool.

Cash value life insurance is a feature of permanent life insurance policies. A portion of your premium payments goes into a separate account within the policy. This account can grow over time through interest, dividends or even market investments, depending on the policy type. The cash value is accessible during your lifetime, allowing you to borrow against it or even withdraw funds. It's this cash value component that transforms a permanent life insurance policy into a potential investment vehicle.

Factors Influencing Returns

The returns on a life insurance investment aren't fixed. Multiple variables affect how much you can expect. Consider these factors to better gauge the potential returns from your life insurance investment and choose a policy that aligns with your financial goals.

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    Premium Payments

    The size and frequency of your premium payments directly affect the cash value of your policy. Larger, more frequent payments can accelerate the growth of this value, thereby increasing your potential returns.

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    Interest Rates

    The interest rate set by the insurance company dictates how quickly your cash value grows. A higher interest rate will naturally lead to faster growth. Note that rates can vary and are often not guaranteed.

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    Fees and Charges

    Various fees, such as administrative charges, can reduce your returns. These fees are often deducted from the cash value, so make sure you understand what charges you might incur and how they will impact your investment.

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    Policy Type

    The type of life insurance policy you choose—whether term, whole, universal or variable—affects your investment returns. Term life insurance doesn't offer cash value, while permanent types like whole, universal and variable life do. Each of these has its own set of rules for growth and accessibility.

Types of Life Insurance Policies Suited for Investment

Different types of life insurance offer various investment opportunities. The right policy for investment purposes depends on your risk tolerance, financial goals and how hands-on you want to be in managing your policy's cash value.

Below are the most common types suited for investment:

Whole Life Insurance

This policy type offers fixed premiums and guaranteed cash value growth. Whole life insurance is a go-to option for those looking for stability and predictability in their investment. The cash value grows at a guaranteed rate, and you can also earn dividends, making it a reliable long-term investment.

Universal Life Insurance

Universal life insurance provides more flexibility with premium payments and has the potential for higher returns. The cash value is tied to interest rates, which can fluctuate. This makes it a riskier option compared with whole life insurance but can be rewarding if managed well.

Variable Life Insurance

With variable life insurance, you have the option to invest your cash value in various investment choices like stocks and bonds. This offers the potential for high returns but comes with the risk of market volatility. Your cash value and death benefit can fluctuate based on the performance of your chosen investments.

Advantages of Using Life Insurance as an Investment

Life insurance provides several financial advantages that you can leverage during your lifetime. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Tax Benefits: One of the most attractive features is the tax-deferred growth of the cash value. Additionally, withdrawals can often be made tax-free, giving you more financial flexibility.
  • Loan Options: You can borrow against the cash value of your policy. This provides a convenient way to access funds without disrupting your investment's growth.
  • Diversification: Life insurance can act as an alternative asset class, adding another layer of diversification to your investment portfolio. This can be particularly beneficial in volatile markets, offering a more stable investment option.

Risks of Using Life Insurance as an Investment

While life insurance offers a unique combination of death benefit and investment opportunity, you should also be aware of the associated risks and considerations. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • Cost: Permanent life insurance policies often come with higher premiums compared with term life insurance. These costs can add up over time, affecting your overall financial planning.
  • Liquidity: Accessing your cash value before a certain period may result in penalties or surrender charges, reducing the amount you can withdraw or borrow.
  • Investment Risks: If you opt for variable or universal life insurance, market volatility can affect your cash value. This introduces an element of risk.
  • Tax Implications: While the growth of your cash value is tax-deferred and withdrawals can be tax-free, there are scenarios where you could face tax liabilities, such as making a withdrawal that exceeds your basis in the policy.
  • Fees: Administrative fees, management fees and other charges can impact your cash value, reducing your potential returns.

How to Invest in Life Insurance

Investing in life insurance involves more than just picking a policy. It requires a strategic approach to align with your financial goals and risk tolerance.


Assess Your Financial Situation

Begin by evaluating your current financial status, long-term goals and risk tolerance. This assessment will guide your choice of life insurance policy.


Consult a Financial Advisor

Though this step is optional, a financial advisor can provide expert advice tailored to your financial situation. They can help you navigate the complexities of life insurance as an investment.


Choose the Right Policy Type

Based on your needs and goals, select a life insurance policy that offers investment opportunities. Common examples are permanent policies like whole, universal and variable life insurance.


Understand the Costs

Be aware of the premiums, fees and other charges associated with your chosen policy. These costs can impact the growth of your cash value and overall returns.


Monitor Cash Value Growth

Once the policy is active, keep an eye on the cash value component. This is the part of the policy that can be used as an investment.


Leverage Your Policy

Utilize the cash value for loans or as collateral for other financial needs. Be mindful of tax implications when making withdrawals.


Review and Adjust

Regularly review your policy and its performance. Make adjustments as needed to align with your evolving financial goals and market conditions.

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How to Leverage Your Policy for Investment

Life insurance policies with a cash value component offer various avenues to leverage your investment. These options provide flexibility in how you can access and use your funds. Here are some ways to make the most of your life insurance policy as an investment:

  • Withdrawing Funds: One straightforward way to access your investment is to withdraw funds from the cash value. However, take note of possible tax implications. Withdrawals up to the amount you've contributed, often referred to as the "cost basis," are generally tax-free. Any withdrawals beyond that could be taxable.

  • Policy Loans: Another option is to take out a loan against your policy's cash value. This allows you to access funds without affecting the policy's death benefit. The interest rates for these loans are generally lower than traditional loans, making it a cost-effective way to access capital.

  • Using Policy as Collateral: Your life insurance policy can also serve as collateral for securing other types of loans, such as a mortgage or personal loan. This can be advantageous because it may result in lower interest rates compared to unsecured loans.

  • Partial Surrenders: Some policies allow you to partially surrender a portion of the cash value while keeping the policy active. This provides a lump sum of money but will reduce both the cash value and death benefit.

  • Dividend Withdrawals: If your policy earns dividends, you can choose to withdraw them instead of reinvesting. This provides an additional stream of income, although it may reduce the overall growth of the cash value.

Alternatives to Life Insurance as an Investment

Life insurance can be a valuable investment tool, but it's not the only option available for growing your wealth. There are traditional investment vehicles that offer different risk profiles and growth potentials. Understanding these alternatives can help you create a more diversified and balanced investment strategy.

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    Investing in individual companies through stocks offers the potential for high returns. However, the stock market is volatile, and there's a risk of losing your investment. Stocks are best for those who can tolerate higher levels of risk and are looking for significant growth potential.

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    Bonds are generally considered safer than stocks but offer lower returns. They provide regular interest payments and return the principal amount at maturity. Bonds can be a good option for those looking for a stable income stream and lower risk.

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    Mutual Funds

    These investment vehicles collect contributions from various investors to create a diversified portfolio consisting of stocks, bonds and other financial assets. Mutual funds provide the advantage of diversification and expert management but come with management fees.

Life insurance can complement these traditional investment options by providing a different asset class that offers tax advantages and the potential for cash value growth. It can serve as a stabilizing factor in a diversified portfolio, especially during market downturns. Consider how life insurance fits into your broader investment strategy, taking into account your financial goals and risk tolerance.

Frequently Asked Questions About Life Insurance as an Investment

Below are some common questions about using life insurance as an investment. The answers can help you decide whether such an investment aligns with your financial objectives.

Experts' Insights on Using Life Insurance as an Investment

  1. Could you explain how one can leverage their life insurance policy for investment purposes?
  2. Are there any notable risks when using life insurance as an investment?
  3. How should one balance the risks and benefits of a life insurance policy as an investment?
Li Cai, Ph.D.
Li Cai, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Finance at IIT Stuart School of Business

Michael Ryan
Michael Ryan

Retired Financial Planner & Financial Coach

About Melissa Wylie

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Melissa Wylie is a Content and SEO Manager at MoneyGeek. Melissa has worked in the financial content space since 2018 and has spent much of that time focused on all things small business.

Prior to joining MoneyGeek, Melissa held SEO positions at Bankrate and LendingTree. Melissa’s work has also appeared on LendingTree-owned websites ValuePenguin and MagnifyMoney.

Melissa began her career at American City Business Journals in 2015 as a reporter for the company’s women-focused publication Bizwomen. Melissa has a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of North Texas. Melissa relies on her foundation in journalism to craft content that simplifies complex financial topics to help everyone feel confident when making decisions with their money.

Melissa's other work can be read on LendingTree and Bizwomen.