5 Disadvantages of Indexed Universal Life Insurance [Unbiased Review]

Updated: April 8, 2020 at 12:41 pm

disadvantages of indexed universal life insuranceBack in the 90s, there was a popular saying. If someone ticked you off, you would put up your hand and say, “talk to the hand.”



Arnold can showcase for us. Hit it, Arnold:

Sometimes, you need to say this to pushy insurance agents who don’t truly know your background and needs. Sure, you need to listen to what they are saying. And, then understand the connection between your need/problem and the solution they recommend. Sometimes, they are trying to force-feed you an insurance product which you may not understand completely.  Frankly, there usually is more benefit to them than with you. I have seen this with indexed universal life insurance based on the number of calls or questions we have received.

We recently wrote a balanced article about indexed universal life insurance for our fellow readers. We discuss many of the advantages. I even believe an IUL can work as part of an overall portfolio.

Now we go into detail of some of the disadvantages. In this article, we discuss the disadvantages of indexed universal life insurance.

Before we do so, let’s start and discuss how this all develops with indexed universal life. Then, we will go into the disadvantages of indexed universal life insurance.

There Is A “Hook” With Indexed Universal Life Insurance

Here is how the hook develops…

You are at a meeting or maybe you are at a member event with your chamber of commerce. Gosh, maybe you are standing in line at the supermarket! You end up speaking to a local insurance agent and get to talking about the stock market. Invariably, the discussion leads to why you (both) hope there isn’t a market correction because you don’t want to see your retirement portfolio take a hit as it did in 2008-2009. Or, even as I update this article, in the thick of the coronavirus.

This is the insurance agent’s runway for the next question. “Well, (insert your name). How would you feel if you could have upside market potential without any downside loss risk?”

Of course, you want that. Who doesn’t? “Yes, that does sound good,” you say.

Then, a follow-up. “When is a good time to meet..” The agent then asks about your availability.

Problem With The “Hook”

We have a problem with the hook. This statement implies that you will have

  • 100% upside,
  • investment in the stock market, or
  • zero risk of loss

We know this because we asked those people who bought an indexed universal life insurance policy what was the driving factor on their purchase. It was one of the above three.

Look, we don’t have a problem with agents who sell indexed universal life insurance. We provide it, too…in the right situations. Just see our guide on indexed universal life insurance. There are many advantages, but there are many disadvantages of indexed universal life insurance.

Let’s talk about those disadvantages in detail now.

The Disadvantages of Indexed Universal Life Insurance

Let’s discuss the disadvantages of indexed universal life.

It Is Still Life Insurance

Here is one of the major disadvantages of indexed universal life insurance…it still is life insurance!!!! And, it is a type of universal life insurance as well.

Surely, the agent ultimately tells you it is life insurance (at your meeting, of course). Before the agent does so, however, you are probably thinking this is some type of investment, right?


Universal life insurance is a hard one for the everyday person to understand. All of its components are unbundled, meaning, in the simplest terms, you can adjust your premiums. You can pay a lower amount if you want. You can even skip a payment if you want to, provided there is sufficient cash value in the policy.

Flexibility becomes a double-edged sword. If costs become too great, and there is insufficient cash value in the policy, the carrier will require you to increase your premium – sometimes substantially – to keep the policy in force. This is clear from the diagram below:

disadvantages of indexed universal life insurance

This brings us to our first tenet on purchasing indexed universal life insurance – purchase it for the life insurance component, not for the cash value.

In other words, if you need life insurance for life insurance, you don’t need an indexed universal life insurance policy. With commitment, you can buy term life insurance and invest the difference. In fact, in my guide to indexed universal life, I provide a performance example, looking back 27 years (with the Great Recession, tech bubble, and many corrections included). An investment always came out ahead.

Note: there are some people who might benefit from this type of policy, and we will get to those people in a minute.

The disadvantages of indexed universal life insurance abound. Here are some more…

Fees Are Very High

Indexed universal life insurance (and universal life insurance, for that matter) has a lot of fees. Just look at the above. There are fees for:

  • premium expenses
  • cost of insurance
  • administrative expenses
  • surrender charges

The life insurance agent will rebuke and say professional wealth and money management contain many fees. We say, yes, but probably not as much. As we mentioned here, the average family doesn’t need to spend a lot on professional money management. This real life example has a 6% premium charge! What does this mean? Let’s say your premium is $100 per month. That means $6 goes to the premium expenses, excluding the other expenses outlined above.

We don’t see that level of fees with wealth management. In fact, we rarely do.

This brings us to the second tenet on purchasing indexed universal life insurance – purchase it for the life insurance component.

You Don’t Fully Participate In The Market And You Can Lose Money

The following disadvantages are rolled into one, because they all deal with returns.

Unlike the cash value returns in a traditional universal life policy, the cash value returns in an indexed universal life insurance policy are pegged to a stock market index. Common indices are the S&P 500, the DOW, or the NASDAQ.

This is an advantage of IULs: you can potentially earn a higher amount in cash value because the IUL tracks a stock market index.

You won’t fully participate in the index returns, though.


Wait, you thought you would? No, you don’t.

You may participate in 60% to 80% of the index performance. Maybe less depending on the limitations. The carrier offers performance limits such as caps, spreads, and participation rates.

They provide these limits because of the downside risk element. It is true; indexed universal life insurance does provide no downside risk. That is a great advantage, no doubt. In order to provide zero downside loss, however, the carrier has to limit the upside.

But, your cash value will lose money IF you withdraw the money during the surrender charges. These surrender charges lock your money in for as long as 15 years in some cases!! Additionally, IULs charge other expenses, as we outlined above.

Also, if you participate in alternative crediting strategies that cost money, yet don’t produce savory returns. You’ll lose money in this case, for sure.

The Good Times Don’t Roll

Many carriers have high caps, spreads, and participation rates. But, don’t think the good times can roll forever. Carriers stipulate they can change these rates as market conditions change.

It’s true, and I am seeing this even today.

Back in 2016, one strategy on a popular IUL credited 13.5%. Today, it is 9.5%.

I write this update in the middle of the Coronavirus. However, from 2016 to February 2020, I think you could agree that the stock market performed very well.

Why, then, the cut in the crediting rate?

More Disadvantages Of Indexed Universal Life Insurance…

Remember I said indexed universal life insurance is life insurance?

Well, if you are in questionable health, your cost of insurance is much greater.

Look at my diagram above. If the cost of insurance is greater, this greater increase drags your cash value return down. You have to pay a higher premium into the IUL.

Golly, remember that this is life insurance!!!

Finally, be mindful of looking at carrier-provided illustrations. Nearly all the ones we have seen start the illustration in the year 2007/2008, when the market tanked, or at the tech bubble in 2000 that continued into 2003. These illustrations make it appear that indexed universal life insurance is a great, long-term solution. It can be. Yes, it can.

However, if you purchased an indexed universal life insurance policy in 2009/2010, your returns are surely behind that of the market.

More often than not, the IUL performance will trail that of the market. Even with recessions and pullbacks, over the long-term.

This all brings us to the third and final tenet on purchasing indexed universal life insurance. Purchase it for the life insurance component!!! (Do you see a trend?)

The Real Reason To Purchase An Indexed Universal Life Insurance Policy

You probably think we are totally against indexed universal life insurance? We are not. In our guide, we make great cases for indexed universal life. We simply believe indexed universal life insurance should be purchased for its real reason: life insurance. (Duh???)

In our opinion, if you are focusing on the cash value potential only, you may be disappointed. We have addressed those disappointments by describing the disadvantages of indexed universal life insurance.

Most people, like you and me, simply need term life insurance and then invest any term life savings into your retirement savings account.

You can check out the premiums on term life below. Just enter your information and be honest about your health. It’s cheap. Take the money you’ll save by NOT investing in an IUL and put that in the market.

However, there is a small subset of people who might need an indexed universal life insurance policy. Read on to find out who.

People Who Might Need An Indexed Universal Life Insurance Policy

While indexed universal life insurance is not for everyone, there is a subset of people who could utilize it. Yes, and they include people with a life insurance need!

Indexed universal life insurance may be useful for:

  • the affluent or very wealthy. These people have a life insurance need. Moreover, they could use the cash value as tax-free income. You see, the affluent have the money to dump in large amounts of premiums to take full advantage of the insurance. They can mitigate any expense drag from these large premium purchases.
  • people who have contributed the maximum to their retirement accounts. They are looking for alternative ways to save. The cash value in an indexed universal life insurance policy is one way to save.
  • you want to withdraw the cash value for an IUL income tax free. This is true. If structured properly, you can indeed withdraw the cash value income tax free. Personally, I like this. It sounds great. However, be aware of the cap limitations, etc. In other words, you may come out way ahead even after paying taxes than what the IUL cash value illustrates.
  • using it for living benefits. I think this a fabulous way to leverage an IUL. Living benefits on life insurance add value, such as critical illness and chronic (nursing home or assisted living) care.

For everyone else, stick with term life insurance and investing the savings into your retirement accounts.

Now You Know The Disadvantages Of Indexed Universal Life Insurance

While we feel there are many advantages of IULs, there are disadvantages of indexed universal life insurance for the typical individual and family. Just like traditional universal life insurance, indexed universal life insurance requires vigilance. Moreover, if the stock market or index does not rise, or has consistent, mediocre returns, the expense drag might wipe out any cash value within the policy.

If you feel that an indexed universal life insurance policy is right for you, or you want to learn more, contact us or use the form below. We have helped many individuals and families match the right life insurance to their specific situation.

Moreover, we have fiduciary duty to you. That means we can’t recommend an IUL to you unless it really fits your overall situation and goals. In other words, we look out for you, your needs, and your future way more than a typical agent. Does your agent do this?

Learn More

Interested in learning more about the information in this article? Fill out the form below and we will email you additional customer literature, explaining these options in more detail. We are here to help and work only in your best interest.

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I am a CFP® Professional and have an MBA. I founded My Family Life Insurance to provide honest, trustworthy advice and economical insurance solutions to individuals, families, and business owners. Contact me if you have any questions. There is no risk! If I can't help you, you've learned a little more, and we'll part as friends. Seriously! Can your current agent say this?

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