What is an IUL?
An IUL is an Index Universal Life Insurance policy.
As you approach retirement, you may be hoping to grow your savings more or at a higher rate for more retirement income. Unfortunately, putting your savings in growth-oriented investments like a variable universal life policy could also put your money at risk.
So, what happens if the stock market plummets just as your retirement date arrives?
The good news is that strategies are available to attain positive market-linked returns without taking a loss when things go south. One method is using indexed universal life insurance or IUL Account.
Although many people shy away from insurance products, the reality is that IUL can provide you with a great deal of growth and tax-related advantages while at the same time keeping your principal safe in any market environment.
It can also offer you an additional stream of tax-free income in retirement – no matter how high-income tax rates may go in the future. So in a world that is filled with financial uncertainty, cash value accumulation life insurance could be well worth looking into.
How Indexed Universal Life Insurance Works
Indexed universal life is a type of permanent life insurance coverage that offers both death benefit life insurance protection for survivors and a cash value component that can help you to grow your savings by tracking the stock market indexes.
As with other types of permanent life insurance, the growth inside an IUL cash value account is tax-deferred. This means that no taxes are due on the gains, loans, or the death benefit unless would lapse.
What makes IULs stand apart is how the return on the cash value is credited. In this case, an underlying market index like the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average is tracked. (In some policies, you can track more than just one index). There is typically also a fixed interest rate option available.
If the return on the chosen index(es) is positive in a given contract year, a positive return is credited to the IUL’s cash account – usually up to a set maximum, or “cap.” However, if the index performs poorly during a given contract year, a negative return is not credited to the account, which provides financial protection.
Rather, a guaranteed minimum interest rate “floor” (such as 0% or 1% minimum interest rate) is given, which not only protects your contributions and previous gains but also allows the account to build upon these gains going forward, without having to first make up for any losses. This is perfect for protecting against the downside risk on market returns affecting your cash accumulations.
So, even though the positive investment return can be capped in an IUL policy’s cash value, your principal will remain safe – even during times like the recession of 2008, or the more recent COVID-19 crisis (and corresponding stock market downturn).
IUL Crediting Methods
Crediting methods refer to the amount of return that is credited to the index segment(s) of an indexed universal life policy. Depending on the insurance company and the policy, some of the more common IUL crediting methods can include the following:
- Annual Point-to-Point – The annual point-to-point method tracks changes in the underlying index from one contract anniversary to another. It will then credit the return, based on that annual change.
- Monthly Averaging – This crediting method takes the individual monthly value of the underlying index(es) and totals them. The total is then divided by twelve in order to determine the monthly average. In this case, the index value at the beginning is subtracted from the average in order to determine the amount of the positive or the negative index change. This amount will then be divided by the beginning value in order to determine the percentage of interest that will be credited.
- Monthly Sum – The monthly sum method takes the percentage of the increase (if any) in the underlying market index each month and then sums them up. In this case, from one month to another, the index(es) may rise or fall. But as long as the overall percentages throughout the contract year are positive, interest will be credited to the account.
With each crediting method, the change in the value of the index(es), if any, can also be subject to a cap and participation rate.
- Cap – A cap is the maximum rate of interest that will be credited within a given time period. For instance, if the cap rate is 12%, and the underlying index has a 14% return in a contract year, then IUL’s cash account will be credited with 12%.
- Participation Rate – The participation rate determines how much of the underlying index’s increase will be used in computing the return. For example, if the participation rate is 120%, and the underlying index returns 10% during a contract year, the account will be credited with 12%. (That is because 120% of 10% is 12%). It is important to note, though, that if there is also a cap, the amount of the return credited could be affected.
The value at the end of a given time period (usually each contract anniversary date) will become the new starting value for the beginning of the next period. This value is referred to as the annual reset calculation.
It is important to keep in mind that even though there are various limits to the growth within an IUL policy, the interest that is credited will never be taken away – even if the underlying index(es) perform poorly in the future.
In addition, the value of the account has the benefit of continuing to grow and compound over time without having to make up for any previous losses.
Other Features of Indexed Universal Life
Many indexed universal life insurance policies offer additional features, too, such as the ability to leave a legacy for survivors through the death benefit – which is received free of income tax to the beneficiary(ies).
IUL policies may also allow for penalty-free access to the cash value funds if you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and/or if you need to reside in a nursing home for a certain minimum period of time.
As with other life insurance products, you may incur some fees when you purchase and own an indexed universal life insurance policy.
These could include an early surrender fee if you cancel the policy during the surrender charge period, the cost of insurance, and policy fees & expenses.
The costs associated with an IUL policy can vary and depend on several factors. Here are some key components that can impact the costs:
- Insurance Costs: Like any life insurance policy, a portion of the premium you pay goes towards the cost of providing the death benefit. This cost is based on factors such as your age, health, gender, and the amount of coverage you desire.
- Administrative Fees: Insurance companies typically charge administrative fees to cover the costs of policy administration, underwriting, and other administrative expenses. These fees may be deducted from your premiums or the cash value of the policy.
- Cost of Insurance (COI) Charges: This is the amount deducted from your policy’s cash value to cover the insurance company’s cost of providing the death benefit. COI charges are typically higher in the early years of the policy and may increase as you age.
- Indexing and Crediting Strategy Fees: IUL policies allow you to earn interest based on the performance of a selected stock market index. Insurance companies often charge fees for the administration and implementation of the indexing and crediting strategy. These fees can vary depending on the insurer and the specific policy.
- Riders and Additional Benefits: IUL policies may offer various optional riders or additional benefits, such as a long-term care rider or a waiver of premium rider. These riders usually come at an additional cost, and their inclusion can affect the overall cost of the policy.
Accessing Tax-Free Income from an IUL Policy
There are different ways that the cash value from an indexed universal life insurance policy may be accessed and used for supplementing retirement income or other financial needs of the policyholder.
This is one of the key reasons why people fund life insurance retirement plans, or LIRPs, with IUL policies. You can get to the cash by way of withdrawals or policy loans.
By taking a direct withdrawal, you may take tax-free withdrawals up to your contribution amount or premium payments.
You could also access funds tax-free by taking a loan. We talk more in-depth about this and 7702 plans here. That’s because the IRS does not consider loans from life insurance cash account to be taxable income.
Going this route could provide you with tax-advantaged income in retirement, regardless of what the then-current income tax rates may be.
In addition, even though the insurance company will typically charge interest on the borrowed funds, you don’t necessarily have to “repay” the loan – at least not during your lifetime.
Instead, upon the insured’s death, any unpaid loan balance can be taken from the policy’s death benefit. The remaining amount of the death benefit proceeds will then be paid out to the beneficiary.
Pros and Cons of an IUL
While there are many benefits to owning indexed universal life, there are also some items to consider before you commit to purchasing this type of policy. So, it is helpful to understand both the pros and cons of IUL.
- Higher return potential (as compared to whole life or regular universal life insurance) without market risk
- Tax-free cash value build-up
- Tax-free income
- Death benefit “safety net” (which is received income tax-free by the beneficiary)
- Growth limitations (such as caps, participation rates, and/or spreads)
- You have to qualify medically
- Most agents don’t know how to design case for max accumulation
The Best IUL Insurance Companies
Many insurance companies offer indexed universal life. But some may be better than others, depending on your health condition and what you are looking for in an IUL policy (such as the premium amount and choice of underlying indexes to track).
See our full best life insurance carriers page here.
We offer IULs from over 30 companies, but these are the best IUL companies currently:
- Allianz (the best company hands down)
One crucial factor to consider when choosing an indexed universal life policy is the financial strength and stability of the insurer. You can determine this by reviewing the ratings the insurance carrier has received from A.M. Best, Standard & Poor’s, Fitch, and/or Moody’s Investor Services.
Working with an independent life insurance agent like an Insurance Geek can help you to narrow down which IUL policy and insurance carrier is right for you. They can also help you to understand how the plan will work so that you know what to anticipate.
In addition, because independent insurance agents can go out into the marketplace and find the plan and insurance company that is right for you, it can better ensure that this retirement saving income-generating strategy more closely fits your specific goals and planning.
Is IUL a good investment?
An Indexed Universal Life (IUL) policy can be a good investment for some people, but it may not be the best option for others.
One of the main benefits of IUL policies is the potential for cash value growth linked to an index’s performance, such as the S&P 500. This can allow the cash value to grow at a higher rate than traditional universal life policies or whole life insurance policies, which typically have a guaranteed, but lower rate of return. Additionally, the cash value grows tax-deferred, and the death benefit is paid out tax-free.
However, it is important to note that the interest credited to the cash value is not guaranteed to earn interest each year, but you always have a floor of zero, so you can never lose money in any given year.
The cash value growth is usually capped at a certain percentage. However, some insurance companies have uncapped index options, which can vary depending on the policy and the insurance company. Additionally, IUL policies have fees and charges such as policy fees, administrative fees, and mortality and expense charges that can affect the cash value. These fees can eat into the cash value growth, and if the policy is not designed correctly could lead to the policy not performing as expected or even losing value.
It’s important to consult a financial advisor and carefully review the terms and conditions of an IUL policy, including the fees and charges, before deciding whether it’s a good investment. It’s also essential to compare IUL with other investment options, such as mutual funds, stocks, or bonds, to determine which one better suits your financial goals and risk tolerance.
Can IUL lose money?
It’s important to note that IUL policies are not directly invested in the stock market; therefore, they do not share the same risks as a direct investment in the market. The cash value is not directly linked to the index’s performance, and the policyholder does not assume the risk of market downturns.
Additionally, it’s essential to be aware that Index Universal Life policies have fees and charges such as policy fees, administrative fees, and mortality and expense charges that can affect the cash value. These fees can eat into the cash value growth, and if not managed properly, the policy could not perform as expected or even lose value.
It’s also essential to understand the specific guarantees and protections of the policy in the case of a market downturn. All index universal life policies have a floor of zero so you never lose cash value due to market downturns.
How to Set Up an IUL Account?
IUL Accounts offer many enticing features – it’s the only investment that can offer the Triple Tax Advantage®, which includes tax-free growth, tax-free income, and tax-free transfer to your heirs – this type of financial vehicle is an excellent investment for most people.
If you want to learn more about the retirement savings benefits of an indexed universal life account, you will need an illustration; you can get one quickly with our IUL calculator at the top of this page.
We work with more than 30 of the top-rated life insurance carriers in the industry, and we’re familiar with the available products that each one offers and their underwriting guidelines.
So, we can quickly provide the answers you need and offer sound investment advice if you’ve got questions. We look forward to hearing from you.