Indexed Universal Life Insurance (IUL) policies were first introduced by the Transamerica Life Insurance Company in 1997 and now account for over 20% of all policies purchased in the United States.  IUL’s are some of the most flexible and advanced life insurance policies you can offer to your clients and over the past 20 plus years they have evolved into an incredible equity opportunity for investment and estate planning.  A comprehensive understanding of IUL’s is now an essential aspect of any agent’s practice as they allow a client the security of a death benefit while also providing a secure and lucrative investment vehicle for their retirement.  What may be most surprising, however, is the fact that as an investment vehicle, an IUL can perform as well as 401k’s, IRA’s, and other tax deferred retirement plans while still delivering substantial death benefits.

Stock Market Index

IUL Rundown: Why the Index.

Given the complexity of an IUL policy, let’s take a moment to broad-stroke what IUL actually is and what it does for the policyholder.  The key component resides in the ‘I’ or indexed aspect of the policy.  At its root, an IUL is a permanent life insurance policy that pays a tax-free, lump sum to the policy holder’s beneficiaries upon their death.  What makes an IUL special, however, is that the cash paid into the policy can be tied to an index (such as the Nasdaq 100, S&P 500 and others) and the gains from that index will, in turn, generate gains in the cash amount.  While it is not directly tied to the index in the sense that cash put into an IUL is not played in the markets, but rather it’s value is increased based on the percentage of the index on the upswing.    

Unlike a 401k, the gains realized over time in the savings account portion of an IUL are not taxed and there is no limit to the amount a policyholder can contribute to their account.  This makes an IUL an ideal place to let money grow and best of all, even though it is mirroring an index, there is no risk of losing the capital gained in the event of a market drop. 

Down Stock Market

No Gain, No Pain.

One of the most tantalizing aspects of an IUL policy is that if the index it is mirroring realizes no gains or suffers losses, the cash value will not decrease.  There is a 0% floor built into an IUL that simply means that if the index falters, no interest on the investment will be paid during that period.  Many insurers raise this floor a couple of percentage points in order to guarantee modest returns in the event of market losses.  This results in significant wealth-building during boom periods with gains that are locked in and no negative exposure risk during a market downturn.  

It is important to note that these gains are not a direct mirror of the index.  For instance, if a policy is tied to the S&P 500 and the market gains 20% in a single period, the policy will not accrue 20% cash gains.  This is actually a good thing and it is the reason that an IUL is able to offer the guarantee that a market loss is not reflected in the cash value of a policy.  In order to make this promise, the insurance company uses a metric to cap the amount of gains possible during market growth.  The metrics used are the cap on gains and the percentage of participation rate.  For instance, a policy with $100,000 cash value, a 12% cap, and an 80% participation rate would yield $9600 dollars in gains when tied to an index that grows 20%.  ($12,000 cap X 80% participation rate).  

The beauty of an IUL over a variable policy is that the policyholder can realize substantial income growth over time without their capital being burdened by the monthly ups and downs of market forces.  Compared to a straight fixed policy, the percentage returned to the holder is significantly higher. 

Additionally, unlike other investment vehicles such as a 401k, an IUL policyholder can withdraw the cash accumulated in their policy without penalties.  In this sense, an IUL is really a policy that focuses more on the life of the holder than the death.  

chain lock

Fixed Life, Meet Variable Life.

IUL’s boast tremendous flexibility in regards to where the cash contributed by the policyholder eventually ends up.  The tax-free savings account portion can be tied to virtually any available index in any desired amount.  They can also choose to contribute more towards a fixed-rate part of their policy as a safe haven to guarantee more modest returns.  It is this marriage of fixed and variable that has made IUL’s attractive vehicles for investment over the past 2 decades.  

In fact, the versatility of IUL’s makes it easy to forget that they are still bonafide life insurance policies.  This is due to the fact that the contribution towards a death benefit is often minimized in favor of greater sums being devoted to the tax-free growth of the index gains.  Typically, a small portion of the cash contribution goes towards the life insurance premium alongside any fees charged by the insurer while the lion’s share of the cash goes into the indexed and fixed investments outlined in the policy.  

Apples and Oranges

There are many things that you can do with your money in an IUL that are simply not possible with a 401k.  With a 401K you are not allowed to:

  • Take a Loan against it greater than $50,000
  • Avoid paying taxes on gains made
  • Avoid your heirs paying taxes on gains made 
  • Contribute as much cash as you want 
  • Avoid paying back money you’ve borrowed against it
  • Avoid penalties from taking cash out of it

With an IUL, none of these onerous restrictions exist, and since it only gains on when the market gains, the fluctuations experienced by a 401K are actually benefits in an IUL.  In a sense, an IUL resets at 0.  Think of it this way.  When the market loses 3%, a 401K must wait until the market recoups that loss before it can be whole again.  With an IUL, you are always whole.  If the market crashes, you earn no interest and you lose no capital.  When the market begins to recoup its losses, the money grows with the positive momentum.  

mother and child

Who Should Purchase an IUL?

Given that the benefits of an IUL are realized over time, the younger you can purchase an IUL the greater your gains will be.  Since the money you put into an IUL can be withdrawn, there is comfort in knowing that the cash put in today will be safe tomorrow.  Since the money put in has already been taxed, policyholders will not be taxed again on the gains in the savings portion.  Knowing that both your client’s money and their family is protected by the policy, a UIL for a young, earning, professional is both sensible and responsible.  

There are many places to put money to meet growth goals and each of them yields different results in different market circumstances.  An IUL offers more flexibility than an IRA and can pay attractive dividends down the road when clients are ready for retirement.  When crafting a policy, be sure to work with the specialists at Rocky Mountain Insurance in order to clearly articulate the best program for your clients.