A friend of mine recently complained about an old college roommate who was trying to pressure him into buying a whole life insurance policy. He was having trouble figuring out how to tell him no, because they'd been so close back then.
This is an all-too-common occurrence for young professionals in their late 20s and 30s. This is the time when friends and family are test-driving new professions -- like sales gigs, for example.
Many insurance brokers push whole-life policies because they provide them with the juiciest of commissions.
Why Are Your Friends Turning on You?
For many people starting off in the financial services industry, the mantra is "you eat what you kill." They have to sell their product, insurance policies, investments, brokerage services, etc., because the lion's share of their paycheck comes from commissions on the sales they bring in.
But when people take that first sales job, they're not likely to have a big, established client base to sell to. So they turn to the contacts they do have -- friends, family and coworkers -- whom they bombard with pitches to buy products that might not always be the best fit for them.
Understanding the Difference Between Whole Life and Term
Whole life and term life insurance are two very distinct and different types of insurance and financial products. In fact, whole life is more of an investment for many people who buy those types of policies.
Whole life insurance builds cash value while you're paying those premiums. Eventually, after years of premium payments, you build up a cash value in the policy that often gives you many options.
The cash value becomes an asset itself. It can grow, increase in value, and even pay dividends in some cases depending on the type of policy you purchase. Many whole life insurance policies let you borrow against the cash value you've built up, cash out completely, or even build up enough cash value where it can make your premium payments for you. And your would-be broker will mention all of these fine features when he tries to convince you to buy a policy. It's not just insurance -- it's an investment.
This accrual of cash value is the primary reason that whole life insurance policies are more expensive than term life insurance policies, which do not build any cash value. Term life insurance only covers you for the length of the term you've bought the policy -- and for as long as you make the payments. When the term is over (or you stop paying), you have nothing to show for it. Unless you die and your heirs collect the policy, it simply expires, and you would have to purchase new coverage if you want it.
So, if whole life insurance has inherent value and is more an investment than an insurance plan, why don't more people buy it? Probably because life insurance is often a poor investment. While it produces a low but steady annual return, other types of long-term investments often outmatch the gains you can earn from it.
Why Whole Life Insurance Gets a Bad Rap
Most Americans are just fine with a term life insurance policy -- a relatively low-cost safety net to to protect the people who depend on your income and other contributions should you die prematurely.
How much you need depends on the expenses you expect it to cover -- if you're responsible for mortgage payments, or expect your income to fund your children's college tuition, you'll need more. But when those needs are in the past, you often don't need much life insurance.
A whole life policy is with you for your entire life as long as you make the insurance premiums. But what do you need that money for if your kids are grown and your mortgage is paid?
A 20- or 30-year term life insurance may be a better option for many families. And it's a whole lot cheaper. A $100,000 whole life policy for a healthy 20- or 30-something may cost about $150 per month. But the same person can often get a 30-year term-life-insurance policy that pays out $500,000 upon death for as little as $20 a month.
Many insurance brokers push whole life policies because they provide them with the juiciest of commissions. And of course, every family's situation is different. For example, there are a few interesting uses for whole life insurance that make it a good deal for wealthy individuals. But the vast majority of Americans would benefit more from term life policies.
We Don't Want to Disappoint Our Friends
Our friends mean well. And it's hard to tell them that we don't want to buy the whole life insurance they're selling. That's the problem my friend recently ran into. How do you tell someone you've known all your life -- someone who was a groomsman in your wedding -- that you're not interested?
Most of our friends are just trying hard to make a living. They want to succeed. And we want them to succeed in their new professions, but not at the expense of our own financial security.
So, no, I don't want to buy whole life insurance, nor a life insurance policy for my new baby, who, though adorable, has no income to replace. Far too often, it feels like a multilevel marketing pyramid scheme where the brokers and those at the top are making money feeding off those of us at the bottom.
So How Do You Tell an Old Friend No?
We've known these people for years -- even decades. How do you tell an old friend you don't want to buy the product he's selling? The longer you indulge your friend, the more trouble you'll have. Like a Band-Aid, it's best to simply rip it off fast and say no.
My friend made the mistake of stringing his buddy along. He kept telling him that he wasn't sure or that he needed to talk to his wife. Deep down he knew that whole life insurance wasn't a good deal for him.
I recommend being open and honest. If your would-be financial product salesperson is truly your friend, he'll understand that you're not interested. It's not personal; it's just business.
Have you had to face a friend selling you a financial product that wasn't right for you and your family? How did you tell them no? What tactic did you use?
Hank Coleman is a financial planner and the publisher of the popular personal finance blog Money Q&A, where he answers readers' tough money questions. Follow him on Twitter @MoneyQandA.
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