Traditional and Roth IRAs versus Life Insurance
Which of these financial vehicles can really help you achieve future financial security?
There are many ways to save and prepare for retirement. Because everyone’s goals, risk tolerance, and time frame can differ, though, there isn’t just one single strategy or financial vehicle that is best for all investors and retirees across the board.
However, there are some common financial tools that are used by many people to prepare for the future. These include personal IRAs, or Individual Retirement Accounts. IRAs can offer numerous benefits, especially as it pertains to the postponement, reduction, and/or elimination of taxes.
But, while IRAs can provide a number of enticing features, there are other financial products and strategies that could help you to fill in some of the “gaps” in your retirement planning, along with adding more flexibility and control.
You may be surprised to learn that one of these financial products is life insurance as an asset.
While most people obtain life insurance for its death benefit, there is a long list of benefits – including tax-advantaged growth, principal protection, and generation of tax-free retirement income – that life insurance can provide. And it can do so while the insured is still alive.
Traditional and Roth IRAs
There are two types of personal Individual Retirement Accounts, or IRAs. These are the traditional and the Roth. Although both accounts provide some similarities, there are also several significant differences in how the contributions and withdrawals are treated – particularly from a tax-related standpoint. Therefore, it is essential to understand how IRAs work, and what you can anticipate from each type.
With a traditional IRA, the contributions can typically be made on a pre-tax basis. This means that the investor will not be taxed on the amount of their traditional IRA contribution in the year(s) that the deposit was made.
For example, if you contributed $6,000 to a traditional IRA this year, and you earned $60,000 in income, your taxable income would drop to $54,000. So, you would either owe less in income tax, or you would receive a larger income tax refund.
The IRS poses maximum annual contribution limits for traditional (and Roth) IRA accounts. For 2022, these IRA contribution limits are $6,000 for investors who are age 49 or younger, and $7,000 if you are age 50 or older. For 2023, these maximum contribution limits rise to $6,500 and $7,500 respectively.
IRA Annual Maximum Contribution Limits
|49 or under||$6,000||$6,500|
|50 or over||$7,000||$7,500|
The funds that are inside of a traditional IRA account are allowed to grow on a tax-deferred basis. This means that no tax is due on the gain until the time of withdrawal. This can help to grow the account value exponentially, as you can generate a return on your contributions, as well as a return on previous growth and on the money that would otherwise have been paid out in taxes.
Fully Taxable vs. Tax Deferred Growth
There can, however, also be risk of loss in a traditional IRA account, which is based on how the underlying investments in the account perform. In addition, because taxes are typically not levied on traditional IRA contributions or gains, the withdrawals from these accounts will usually be 100% taxable at the investor’s then-current income tax rate.
Over the past decade or so, the U.S. has been in a historically low tax rate environment, with the top federal income tax currently (in 2022) at 37%. However, investors and retirees may soon be paying more in federal income taxation. Plus, if you reside in a state that also charges state income tax, your actual spendable income can be reduced even further when withdrawn from this type of account.
Income Tax Rates in 2022
|Tax Rate %||Single||Married Filing Jointly|
|10%||Up to $10,275||Up to $20,550|
|12%||$10,276 to $41,775||$20,551 to $83,550|
|22%||$41,776 to $89,075||$83,551 to $178,150|
|24%||$89,076 to $170,050||$178,151 to $340,100|
|32%||$170,051 to $215,950||$340,101 to $431,900|
|35%||$215,951 to $539,900||$431,901 to $647,850|
|37%||Over $539,900||Over $647,850|
Throughout history, the top federal income tax rate has fluctuated between 7% and 94%, with it standing at 70% or more in 49 of the past 109 years. With that in mind, having withdrawals that are 100% taxable can be somewhat risky – particularly because income tax rates are expected to go up in the future. So, paying more in taxes can equate to less money that is available for you to spend on the items and services you need in retirement.
Top Federal Income Tax Rates 1913 – 2022
At age 72, traditional IRA holders must begin taking money out of the account, based on the IRS’s required minimum distribution (RMD) rules. If required minimum distributions are not taken, a traditional IRA investor will be penalized by the IRS.
This penalty is 50% of the amount that should have been withdrawn from the IRA account. Therefore, if the amount of a required minimum distribution is $15,000 for a given year, and no money is withdrawn from the account, the IRS penalty will be $7,500. (50% of $15,000 is $7,500).
In many ways, traditional IRAs offer benefits that are similar to traditional employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. For instance, with a traditional 401(k), the contributions generally go in pre-tax, and the growth in the account is tax deferred.
Likewise, traditional IRA and 401(k) plan participants must both begin taking required minimum distributions at age 72, and can incur a 10% IRS “early withdrawal” penalty for taking money out prior to age 59 ½.
Pros and Cons of Traditional IRAs
|Traditional IRA Advantages||Traditional IRA Disadvantages|
|May make pre-tax contributions||Withdrawals are 100% taxable|
|Funds grow tax deferred||10% IRS early withdrawal penalty on funds accessed before age 59 ½|
|May move funds over to an annuity and/or other income source at retirement to generate income||Maximum annual contribution limits|
|Account value could experience significant growth, based on how the underlying investments perform||Required minimum distributions must begin at age 72|
|Value of account could decrease, based on the performance of the underlying investments|
|Beneficiaries must liquidate the entire account within 10 years of the account holder's death|
Roth IRAs differ from traditional IRA accounts in that the contributions going into a Roth do so after tax. Therefore, you aren’t able to take an income tax deduction in the year(s) when you make deposits into the account.
Like the traditional IRA, though, there are also annual maximum contribution limits with Roth accounts, too. These limits are also $6,000 in 2022 for investors age 49 and under, and $7,000 for those who are age 50 and over. Likewise, these limits will rise to $6,500 and $7,500 respectively for 2023.
It is important to note that the IRA maximum annual contribution limits refer to the total amount that you may contribute each year, regardless of whether you put all of the funds into a Roth or traditional account, or alternatively, you divide the contributions between the two.
The growth that takes place inside of a Roth IRA account is tax-free, as are the withdrawals. This is the case, regardless of what your income tax rate is in those years. Because income tax rates are expected to go up in the future, a Roth IRA can help you to more accurately plan ahead for the amount of net spendable income that you can count on in retirement.
In addition, unlike the traditional IRA, there are no required minimum distribution rules with a Roth IRA – even after you have turned age 72. There can, however, be an early withdrawal penalty incurred if any of the earnings in the Roth IRA are accessed prior to you turning age 59 ½. Note, however, that the contributions to a Roth IRA can be accessed both tax- and penalty-free.
Roth IRAs impose limitations on who can contribute to an account, though. These parameters are based on how much income you (and/or your spouse, if applicable) earn. For example (in 2022), if you file your income tax return as a single individual, you must earn less than $144,000 in order to contribute to a Roth IRA.
If you are married and you file your tax return jointly with your spouse, your modified adjusted gross income must be less than $214,000. (For 2023, these figures will go to $153,000 and $228,000 respectively.)
Pros and Cons of Roth IRAs
|Roth IRA Advantages||Roth IRA Disadvantages|
|Tax-free growth in the account||Maximum annual contribution limits|
|Tax-free withdrawals||Income limits for making contributions|
|Contributions may be withdrawn tax-free||No income tax deductions on the contributions|
|No required minimum distributions (RMD) rules at any age||Possibility of loss, based on how the underlying assets perform|
|Opportunity to generate high returns (depending on the performance of the investments in the account)||10% IRS early withdrawal penalty if earnings are accessed prior to age 59 ½|
Given that, even though traditional and Roth IRAs are somewhat similar in structure, it is important to understand the differences between the two types of accounts. That way, you will be in a better position to anticipate what you can and cannot do with each – and where each of these accounts may or may not fit within your overall retirement plan.
Comparing Traditional and Roth IRAs
|Traditional IRAs||Roth IRAs|
|Required Minimum Distributions||At age 72||No required minimum distribution rules at any age|
|Early Withdrawal Penalty||10% penalty on funds that are accessed prior to age 59 ½||10% penalty on earnings that are accessed prior to age 59 ½ (but contributions may be accessed tax- penalty-free)|
How Life Insurance May Fit into a Retirement Plan
Life insurance is an asset that doesn’t typically come to mind when discussing retirement planning. But depending on the policy, this flexible financial vehicle can actually provide a long list of benefits. In addition, many types of life insurance can also offer guarantees.
With the right life insurance retirement plan in place, you could use the coverage to ensure that various needs of yours and/or your loved ones are met. For instance, a properly structured permanent life insurance policy allows you to build up cash value on a tax-deferred basis, while at the same time ensuring that if the unexpected occurs, your loved ones will receive a lump sum of money, free of income taxation.
Your beneficiary(ies) could use these funds for a wide rage of needs and intentions, including:
- Debt payoff (including a home mortgage balance)
- Funeral and other final expenses
- Replacement of lost income (either before or after retirement)
- College funding
- Taxes on assets that are transferred
- Estate taxes
- Charitable giving / Leaving a legacy
Types of Life Insurance Policies
Although there are many ways that life insurance can be structured, there are just two primary categories of coverage. These are:
- Term Life Insurance
- Permanent Life Insurance
Understanding the differences between term vs permanent life insurance and how each of these works can help you determine where one or both may fit into your overall financial and retirement planning strategy, as well as how they could be used in conjunction with other financial tools that you have in place like IRAs, employer-sponsored retirement plans, and/or personal savings and investments.
Term Life Insurance
Term life insurance provides death benefit only coverage. These policies have no cash value component or investment build-up. As its name suggests, a term life insurance policy will typically remain in force for a stated period of time (or “term”) – such as 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, or even 30 or more years – provided that the premium is paid.
A term policy will oftentimes require less premium than a permanent policy with the same amount of death benefit – at least initially, and if the insured is in relatively good health at the time they apply for the coverage.
However, if a term life insurance policy expires, the insured may have to renew the coverage. This will often be based on their then-current age and health condition. Because of that, the premium going forward is likely to increase.
Because it has an “expiration date,” term life insurance is oftentimes used for “temporary” coverage needs, such as paying off a home mortgage or ensuring that there are funds available when a child or grandchild goes to college in the future.
Permanent Life Insurance
A permanent life insurance policy provides death benefit protection, along with a cash value component. The funds that are in the cash value grow tax-deferred, meaning that no tax is due on the gain unless or until the money is withdrawn. If withdrawals take place, the amount that is considered gain is taxable, while the amount that is considered the return of premium is not.
Permanent life insurance coverage will usually remain in-force throughout the insured’s lifetime, provided that the premium is paid (or that the policy has been “paid up”). There are several different types of permanent life insurance policies available in the marketplace today. These include the following:
- Whole life insurance
- Variable life insurance
- Universal life insurance
- Indexed Universal life insurance
Whole Life Insurance
Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance that provides both a death benefit and a cash value component. It is considered the most “basic” form of permanent life insurance coverage available. The policy is designed to remain in force for the insured’s whole lifetime. The death benefit and the amount of the premiums remain level with these policies. The death benefit is also guaranteed.
Over time, the cash value grows on a tax deferred basis. Therefore, there is no tax due until or unless the funds are withdrawn. While the premiums for a whole life insurance policy may start out higher than those of a comparable term life insurance policy, over time the level premium will eventually become smaller than the ever-increasing premium for term life insurance coverage.
Universal Life Insurance
Universal life insurance, or UL, is a type of “adjustable” permanent life insurance policy that provides both a death benefit and an investment component that is also called cash value. The cash value earns interest at rates that are dictated by the insurer.
The UL policy holder may accumulate cash value on a tax deferred basis. They may also be able to withdraw or borrow the funds in the cash component without the need to pay taxes if they borrow. (Although tax may be required if the policy is surrendered).
As long as the policy remains in force, the borrowed funds do not need to be repaid. However, interest may be charged to the cash value account. If there is a loan balance left when the insured passes away, the amount will be repaid using the death benefit proceeds, with the remainder being paid to the beneficiary (or beneficiaries). Premiums are also adjustable in terms of due date and amount within certain guidelines.
Indexed Universal Life (IUL) Insurance
Indexed universal life, or IUL, insurance is also a type of permanent policy that provides death benefit protection, as well as a cash value component. Unlike whole life, or even regular universal life insurance – which primarily generate low returns in their cash accounts – IUL primarily generates its return based on the performance of one or more underlying market indexes, like the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA).
This means that you have the opportunity to increase your cash value returns, and possibly even doubling or tripling them in comparison to other types of permanent life insurance (as well as compared to other “safe” money investments like CDs and bonds).
With an indexed universal life insurance plan, in policy contract years when the underlying index (or indexes) that are being tracked perform well, a positive return is credited to the policy’s cash value – typically up to a preset maximum limit.
However, in contract years where the underlying index(es) perform poorly, there is no loss incurred in the IUL policy’s cash value. Instead, the account will be credited with a guaranteed minimum “floor” rate, which may be somewhere between 0% and 2%, depending on the policy and the insurance carrier.
Many people refer to indexed universal life insurance as offering the “best of all worlds.” That is because you have the opportunity to generate a nice return, while also keeping your principal safe in any type of stock market or economic environment.
In addition, given that the policy has a death benefit, if the insured passes away, their survivor(s) can use the income tax free death benefit proceeds to pay off debt, replace income, or take care of various other financial needs.
Variable Life Insurance
Variable life insurance is another type of permanent life insurance. Like other types of cash value life insurance coverage, variable life provides both a death benefit and a cash value component within the policy. The cash value is the “savings” component of permanent life insurance policies, where the policy holder can essentially build up funds within the policy.
But variable life insurance differs from other types of permanent life insurance, like whole life, when it comes to the investment options for the cash value portion. In this case, rather than the insurance company choosing the investment type, fund allocations, or rate of return for the cash component, the policy holder can choose from a wide array of managed investments such as stocks, mutual funds, and other types of equities.
Because of the tax-deferred growth in a variable life insurance policy, there is potential for the policy holder’s funds to compound and increase exponentially, as no tax will be due on the gain unless or until the time of withdrawal.
Unlike a whole life policy, though, variable life insurance policies do not typically guarantee a minimum cash value. Therefore, poor investment performance could potentially diminish the entire amount of the cash account. So in this case, both the previous gains and initial principal could be at risk of loss. Also, the amount of the death benefit on a variable life insurance policy may fluctuate up or down.
Variable Universal Life Insurance
Variable universal life, or VUL insurance is a type of permanent life insurance policy that provides both a death benefit and an investment component in its cash value. The owner of a variable universal life insurance policy invests the cash value in sub-accounts that are selected by the offering insurer.
The VUL policy holder may accumulate cash on a tax deferred basis and may borrow the funds without paying tax on the borrowed gains. (Although tax may be incurred if the policy is cancelled altogether). As long as the policy remains in force, though, the funds do not need to be repaid. However, interest may be charged to the cash value account.
Similar to a regular variable life insurance policy, you could risk losing a portion of the cash value if the underlying investments perform poorly. Therefore, if you are looking for guarantees, neither variable nor variable universal life insurance may be suitable.
How to Access Tax-Free Retirement Funds from a Life Insurance Policy
While the cash value in permanent life insurance like a whole life policy start to build up slowly, over time, the growth can really begin to snowball. This is particularly the case with whole and universal life because principal is protected in any type of stock market environment. Therefore, even if the guaranteed return seems low, not having to make up for any losses can allow the cash value to build up exponentially.
For instance, if you incur a loss in a regular stand-alone investment account (such as an IRA), it can cause the value to decrease. This is true, even if the average return over time is not negative.
Consider, for instance, an account that has an average return of 0% over a 10-year time period. If you initially contribute $1,000, you would expect that with a 0% average return, you will still have $1,000 at the end of the tenth year. However, with negative returns built into the equation, this is not necessarily the case.
Value of $1,000 Over Ten Years with an Average 0% Return
|End of Year||Gain or Loss||Value of Account|
Compare the above performance and ending account value with the one below that offers a lower rate of return – in this case, 2% – but with principal and previous gains protected from any type of market losses. Without any negative returns to make up for, the account value can continue building up.
Value of $1,000 Over Ten Years with a 2% Return
|End of Year||Amount|
Typically, any permanent life insurance policyholder is allowed to make withdrawals from their cash value. This can provide some liquidity, as well as a method of getting acquiring some cash if it is needed in an emergency.
By withdrawing funds from a permanent life insurance policy’s cash value, though, the amount that you net can be reduced by taxes and surrender charges. For instance, any of the funds that are considered to be gain will be taxable at your then-current ordinary income tax rate.
In addition, most permanent life insurance policies have surrender periods. These periods represent a certain number of years where making withdrawals will trigger a type of early withdrawal penalty. (The surrender charge is in addition to any taxes that are due).
Life insurance surrender periods generally last for several years, and over time the amount of the penalty will usually be reduced until it eventually disappears. Because of that, taking withdrawals isn’t typically recommended – at least until the surrender period has elapsed.
But there is an alternative strategy that allows you to access funds from the life insurance policy’s cash value, while at the same time still generating interest on the entire amount of your cash value. This is through a policy loan.
Although you may not like taking on “debt,” a loan from a properly structured permanent life insurance policy can actually provide you with many benefits. First, because you are borrowing versus withdrawing, you won’t incur taxes when you access these funds. Therefore, you will be able to use 100% of the money.
In addition, because you are technically not borrowing from your policy’s cash value, but rather just using these funds as collateral for a loan from the life insurance carrier, 100% of the funds in your policy’s cash component will continue to generate interest.
For example, if your policy has $80,000 total in cash value, and you “borrow” $40,000, interest would continue to accrue on the full $80,000. Plus, even though the insurer will charge interest on the borrowed funds, if the loan is not repaid in full at the time that the insured passes away, the remaining unpaid balance will be taken from the policy’s death benefit. Then, the remainder of the proceeds will be paid to the named beneficiary(ies) income tax free.
While funds may be accessed tax free from both a permanent life insurance policy and a Roth IRA, each of these financial vehicles can provide you with more certainty at the time of withdrawal. This is because, regardless of what the then-current income tax rates are, you can use 100% of the proceeds for your spending needs.
Unlike a permanent life insurance policy, though, there is no death benefit associated with a Roth IRA account. Therefore, permanent life insurance like whole or universal life can provide more leverage and financial security – even if the insured passes away – due to the proceeds that are paid out to the beneficiary(ies). This is why life insurance is often referred to as a “self-completing” plan.
Additional Life Insurance Policy Benefits
Many permanent life insurance policies may offer benefits in addition to the death proceeds and cash value. These add-ons, or riders, can help you to more closely customize the policy to fit your specific needs.
In some cases, there is an added premium charge for life insurance riders, and in others they may be added at no additional cost. These riders could include one or more of the following:
- Terminal / Chronic Illness Waiver. With many permanent life insurance policies, you are allowed to access a portion of the funds from the cash value component penalty-free if you have been diagnosed with a terminal and/or chronic illness.
- Waiver of Premium Rider. If you become disabled and unable to work (and in turn, not able to pay the policy’s premium), some life insurance policies will waive your payments for a certain period of time or until you are financially able to pay for the coverage again.
- Long-Term Care Waiver. Many permanent life insurance policies also allow you to access funds penalty-free from the cash value if you require care in a nursing home for at least a minimum amount of time (such as 90 days or more). Going this route can help you to keep other assets in-tact and used for their originally intended purposes.
Permanent Life Insurance Pros and Cons
|Advantages of Permanent Life Insurance||Disadvantages of Permanent Life Insurance|
|Premium is locked in for life (with certain types of permanent policies)||Premiums are usually higher than term life insurance with the same amount of death benefit coverage|
|Death benefit coverage (usually for the rest of the insured's lifetime, as long as the premium is paid)||Cash value grows slowly in the initial years of the policy|
|Death benefit proceeds are income-tax free to beneficiaries and can bypass probate||Usually have surrender charges if withdrawals are made during the first several years the policy in in force|
|Value of cash value is protected in any type of market conditions (with whole life and universal life / indexed universal life policies)||Withdrawals from the cash value may be taxable|
|Cash value grows tax deferred||Insured must qualify for the coverage|
|May be protected from creditors and bankruptcy|
|Can make withdrawals from the cash value|
|May be able to "customize" the policy using various riders|
|Can take tax-free loans from the policy (and interest will continue accruing on 100% of the account value)|
|No annual maximum contribution limits|
|No required minimum distribution (RMD) rules|
|No IRS early withdrawal penalty if you access loans from the policy at any age|
IRAs versus Life Insurance for Retirement Planning
Although life insurance can be used for paying out a death benefit in case of the unexpected, these financial vehicles can also be a key component of your retirement savings and income plans. In addition, they can help you to leverage your money for the security of your loved ones.
Depending on your specific situation, time frame, risk tolerance, and objectives, you may be able to use a permanent life insurance policy in conjunction with a traditional and/or Roth IRA account. Doing so could provide you with a mix of tax-related advantages, both before and after retirement. It could also allow you to continue generating tax-advantaged growth, even if you have already “maxed out” your annual contribution to the IRA(s).
Traditional and Roth IRAs versus Permanent Life Insurance
|Traditional IRA||Roth IRA||Permanent Life Insurance|
|Contributions||Pre-tax dollars||After-tax dollars||After-tax dollars|
|Annual contribution limit||Annual maximum contribution (the amount is higher for investors age 50 and over)||Annual maximum contribution limit (the amount is higher for investors age 50 and over)||No annual maximum contribution limit|
|Income limit for contributions||No income limit||Income limit, based on income tax filing status||No income limit for making contributions|
|Growth of funds in the account||Tax deferred growth||Tax free growth||Tax deferred growth|
|Risk||Subject to market risk (based on the investments in the account)||Subject to market risk (based on the investments in the account)||Guaranteed minimum rate of return (can depend on the policy)|
|Fees / Early withdrawal penalties||Possible fees may include:|
–Investment management fees / broker commissions
–Early withdrawal penalty if funds are accessed before age 59 ½
|Possible fees may include:|
–Investment management fees / broker commissions
–Early withdrawal penalty if funds are accessed before age 59 ½
|Possible fees may include:|
–Possible IRS early withdrawal penalty if under age 59 ½
|Required Minimum Distributions||IRS required minimum distributions (RMDs) must begin at age 72||No IRS required minimum distributions at any age||No IRS required minimum distributions at any age|
|Taxability of withdrawals||100% taxable||Tax free||Loans are tax free; Gains on withdrawals are taxable|
|Loan provisions||Interest is charged on the loan. Funds that are borrowed from the IRA account do not continue generating a return. If the loan is not repaid, it is taxed as a plan distribution.||No loans are permitted from Roth IRA accounts||Loans are tax-free. Because the cash value is only used as collateral, interest continues to accrue on the entire cash value account balance. If the loan is not repaid, the remaining balance will be covered by death benefit proceeds at the insured's passing.|
Do You Have the Right Financial Plan in Place for Your Short- and Long-Term Objectives?
If you don’t have a retirement plan in place yet, it is never “too early” to start – and if you do have a savings and income strategy, but some time has passed since it was initially implemented, now is a great time to have it reviewed in order to ensure that is still on track…especially if you have experienced any major life changes like marriage or divorce, the birth or adoption of a grandchild(ren), and/or the passing of a spouse.
While there are many options available when it comes to planning your financial future, it is typically best if you meet with a specialist who can guide you in the right direction before you make a long-term commitment to any type of product or strategy.
At Insurance and Estates, our primary objective is to listen to your needs and objectives. It is only then that we provide you with a wide range of strategies and tools to consider. We can help you protect what you’ve worked for so that you and your loved ones can enjoy what life has to offer, both now and in the future. We also educate you on how and why particular financial solutions may – or may not – be a good fit for you.
So, if you would like to set up a time to talk with one of our planning specialists, please feel free to call Insurance and Estates directly, toll-free, at (877) 787-7558 or you can send us an email with any questions that you have by going to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to learning more about you and helping you reach your financial goals.