December 21, 2014


imageThere are lots of reasons to read a book about money and there are lots of books about money. Tony Robbins has a new one, Money: Master The Game.

Unfortunately, not many people read books. Even fewer read nonfiction. Only a small sliver read books about money. Be an exception and join them.

Not Perfect

There are various criticisms of the book, such as
  • an outsider: but being outside the traditional financial community gives Tony a different perspective
  • contradicting advice: but that’s common in life. He interviews 50 money experts with varying views.
  • over-simplified: but isn’t that better than over-complicating and confusing? Complexity can be added once the A-B-Cs (or 1-2-3s) are known.
  • conflicts of interest: Tony recommends companies in which he might have financial interests (see dealing with biased financial advice). That doesn’t mean the choices are bad but they but warrant more investigation.
  • too long: yes … I got the audiobook which runs over 21 hours and sped up the playback by 30%
  • US-centric: yes but the general ideas apply everywhere
Tony responded to some criticism in this interview for The Wall Street Journal.

At the other extreme, you’ll find gushing praise.

Tony’s Advantage

Do celebrities give better financial advice? Maybe not but Tony reaches the unreachable — people who get missed by conventional financial education. Even when Tony says things you’ve heard before, you might be more likely to believe them now. For instance, I’ve covered things like
We often know the keys about money (e.g., spend less than you earn, disaster-proof your life, save for the future). That doesn’t mean we do. Tony helps people change. He might get you to change too. He has a knack for making financial education engaging. He explains his terms and uses many examples.


Instead of writing a book, Tony could have created videos and an app. That’s what I thought before getting the book. I don’t see videos, but he has a free app (if you’re willing to give your contact information).

Instead of using a conventional publisher, Tony could have self-published. He could have made the book cheaper. He could have narrated the full audiobook, rather than portions.

Overall, what he did is fine.

Free Meals

Tony is paying for 50 million free meals. Besides donating all his book royalties, he’s made an additional personal financial contribution. That’s rare. Chances are good that you’ll end up on his mailing list, though. That gives him the opportunity to sell you his other stuff with the money you’re saving.


Tony tackles tough topics such as the conflicts of interest rampant in the financial sector. He gives solutions too. Think before you leap.

The stories from successes like Richard Branson are interesting but may not provide much practical guidance (e.g., how Honest Ed turned $212 into $100 million). Look for patterns rather than a guaranteed formula to financial independence.

I wasn’t expecting much from Tony’s book but because he’s popular, I knew that I had an obligation to read it. Overall, I’m impressed and highly recommend Money: Master The Game. There’s lots of practical advice.

Money books get stale. Tony’s book is new, which means now is the best time to read it.


PS Another must-read (or re-read) is Warren Buffett’s biography, The Snowball

December 14, 2014


Michael James wrote a thoughtful post comparing temporary (term) life insurance and permanent life insurance. Like our canine friends above, both are similar, yet different. The best choice depends on different factors. A winner on one scale loses on another. As Michael’s analysis shows, comparisons can be misleading or omit important elements (like inflation).

Typical Plans

A temporary plan like Term 10 is often
  • renewable to extend coverage for another 10 years for a higher-but-guaranteed premium
  • convertible to permanent insurance without underwriting up to a maximum age
Since a permanent plan lasts for life, there’s no need for renewal or conversion options. Here are typical plans.
Temporary Life Plan Permanent Life Plans
Term 10 (renewable, convertible) Term 100
Term 20 (renewable, convertible) Whole Life
Level term to age 65 Universal Life
We won’t be looking at which form of insurance is better. We’ll be looking at how they’re different.

First Principles

Mortality rates underlie all life insurance. The mortality rate is based on the true probability of someone like you (same gender, age, smoking status and health) dying during the year. Your mortality rate  increases annually because you’ll die eventually (based on current medical science and how we define life).

Your retail premium rate is based on your wholesale mortality rate with margins added for expenses and profits. Your premium is the premium rate multiplied by how much insurance you’re buying. There may be additional loads for premium tax and Investment Income Tax (IIT).

One Year At A Time

When you buy insurance, you are getting one year of protection at a time.
Comparing With Property Insurance
With your car and home insurance, the insurer will usually offer you coverage for another year under similar conditions. Your new premium depends on factors such as their claims (actual vs. projected), expenses (actual vs. projected), investment earnings (actual vs. projected), capital requirements and profit targets.

The insurer could refuse to insure you next year or change the contract provisions (e.g., weaken protection for water damage). You could decide to switch companies.
The Additional Guarantees With Life Insurance
Life insurance also protects you a year at a time but usually
  • you have the right to renew your coverage until a maximum age (even if the insurer stops new sales)
  • your premium rate scale is fully guaranteed (e.g., you keep your nonsmoker rates if you start smoking or stop exercising in the future)
  • your insurer can’t modify the contract unless the change is an improvement
You get this extra protection because you may not be able to switch insurers if your health has deteriorated. You might even become uninsurable.

Yearly Renewable Term

The building block of all life insurance is Yearly Renewable Term (YRT), which is sometimes called Annually Renewable Term (ART).

Do you see the problem?

Your probability of dying during the year increases from 0.01% to 1% to 10% to 80% to 100%. This means your YRT rates will increase every year and become increasingly unaffordable as claims becomes more likely. That’s not good for you or your beneficiaries.

There is a solution: prefunding. Suppose you need insurance for 22 years. You could average the premiums and put that amount into a savings account every year and make withdrawals to pay the YRT premiums.

You could have the insurer invest for you instead. With Term 10 life insurance, you pay a level premium for 10 years at a time. The insurer does the averaging and bears the investment risk. At the extreme, Term 100 life insurance has a level premium for life (and is really permanent insurance and often continues beyond age 100 without further premiums).

Whole life insurance uses YRT rates (which might not be guaranteed). Universal life usually offers two guaranteed scales: YRT and LCOI (Level Cost of Insurance).

Start With The Need

Is your need for insurance temporary or permanent? If you’re addressing the risk of dying while you have financial obligations (e.g., children, a mortgage, a spouse or ex-spouse, other family members), life insurance is the ideal way to create or enhance your estate — if you’re insurable. How else can you get a specified tax-free lump sum at death?

For a temporary need, term life insurance is ideal. You get the most protection for the lowest price.

What If You’re Wrong?

A need which initially looks temporary may last longer than you expect. For instance, a child may have a lifelong disability due to an accident. If you guess wrong, term life insurance gets expensive. You can often renew coverage up to a maximum age without underwriting but the premiums shoot up each time.

Compared with renewing, you may be able to save money by buying a new term plan with new underwriting.
Term life insurance often allows you to convert to permanent protection without underwriting up to a maximum age (e.g., 65). You pay the premiums for your age at the time of conversion (your “attained age”).
Example: Suppose you buy Term 10 at age 32. If you convert eight years later, you pay the permanent premium for a 40 year old. This will be more than the permanent insurance premium at 32 and may be more than what a newly underwritten 40 year old would pay for permanent insurance.

Why Permanent Insurance?

You might want permanent life insurance for estate planning. You may not see the need now because you’re not thinking of your legacy. Maybe you will in your 50s or 60s.

The tax-free insurance proceeds can be an inexpensive way to pay taxes at death, leave money for heirs or help a charity. Coverage is available in a cheaper form called Joint Last To Die (JLTD), which insures you and your spouse. The money gets paid when the longest living spouse dies. That’s when the bulk of taxes are due.

Some younger people buy a small amount of permanent insurance for their legacy and a large amount of term insurance for their temporary needs.

An Appreciating Asset

Why does permanent life insurance have a savings component? Further, why do the savings grow on a tax deferred basis? The government doesn’t give valuable advantages without reasons. There are ways you can benefit with planning.

Permanent life insurance grows in value every year because the payout becomes more likely — especially if your health has deteriorated. Your insurance contract could easily have a market value which is much higher than the cash surrender value. An investor may want to buy your contract, pay the future premiums and get the death benefit. That’s called a life settlement. They are legal in the US and several Canadian provinces (but not Ontario).


Permanent life insurance gives you the opportunity for tax-deferred savings. Universal life provides the most guarantees, flexibility and transparency. You could
  • invest more (limited by the Maximum Tax Actuarial Reserve (MTAR))
  • select the investments
  • stop paying premiums (e.g., in 20 years or at age 65), though not always guaranteed
Having more options helps with tax planning, especially for incorporated businesses.


You can offset the cost of your insurance by reducing your coverage as
  • your financial responsibilities drop (e.g., children older, mortgage smaller, spouse’s income)
  • your assets grow (e.g., savings, pension)
Before you do, consider inflation which decreases the value of money. Also, your financial obligations could grow (e.g., new children, divorce, health issues).


Temporary life insurance gets compared with permanent life insurance but both cover different needs and timeframes. Since advisors get paid much more for selling permanent insurance, they may have biases they don’t even realize. Explore different scenarios before deciding and re-evaluate your needs over time.

For general questions, ask below. I'll answer what I can here or on Question an Actuary (QanA). For personalized answers, reserve time to Learn About Life.


PS Remember insurance for disability, critical illnesses and long-term care too.

December 7, 2014


car park
We’re looking for a new vehicle. There are lots of options. Prices usually start under $25,000 and easily reach $40,000 with the features we want (AWD, heated rear seats, navigation, keyless ignition), taxes and other charges.

Each manufacturer makes compromises. You might get better materials but less features. Or many features but a disappointing engine. You’ll find lots of useful information online, including many YouTube videos. There’s less about improving the process for customers.

The buying process still involves visiting dealerships for test drives and talking to the salespeople. Manufacturers can raise the standards. Let’s look at our actual experiences with various brands in Toronto area. The dealerships aren’t identified and your experience would likely vary.


Tell salespeople to leave their videogame consoles at homes, not in their offices. Tell them to phone customers back when promised, not three days later. Remind them that a test drive with a nearly empty gas tank doesn’t inspire confidence.


Tell dealerships to make sure the vehicles run. An engine that shuts down during a test drive does not encourage a return visit. Walking back to a dealership was good for cardio, though.


Make sure the salespeople have a passion for their product and know basics about the marketplace (e.g., the CX5 is not a Honda). Tell them to only give brochures on products which interest the customer. If customers dislike ample use of cheap hard plastic, a glossy brochure won’t change their minds.


Tell salespeople to refrain from asking customers where they were born and the colour of vehicle they want to test drive. Don’t put customers in a vehicle with a manual transmission without asking since they probably want automatic. Let them go on the highway if they want. Tell salespeople that being new to the dealership doesn’t excuse ignorance about what they’re selling.


Tell salespeople to provide printed quotes upon request, rather than telling customers to write information down on the back of a business card. Have brochures that explain the optional 10 year / 200,000 km extended warranty. Ditto for the non-KIA protection plan for undercoating, tires and rims. Putting the prices online would save time and reduce the feeling that the finance manager makes up the numbers.

For test drives, put the customer in a higher trim level if the dealership doesn’t have the right one. This might even be a way to upsell. How is a customer judge a touch screen navigation or sound system from an explanation? Make sure the website works:
KIA Trade-In Calculator doesn't work


Tell the dealership to make customers feel welcome. The place looked dead an hour before closing. No one was at the reception desk. The three salespeople alone in their offices saw us but didn’t offer any help. Maybe the boss was away (unless one of them was the boss).


Tell smaller dealerships to put desirable vehicles in the showroom. Who aspires to a
  • B250 ($43K) with no power seats
  • GLA250 ($47K) with no sunroof
Make sure the test drive vehicles work. The backup camera in our GLK250 showed a blank screen, though the vehicle had been driven 493 km and had been backed into its parking spot.


Tell salespeople to stop whining about how few Foresters and Outbacks they have. Supply chain problems don’t concern customers. The allocation between dealerships isn’t our concern either. Have dealers put accurate inventory information online, rather than this:


When a customer  shows up for a scheduled test drive, don’t tell them another salesperson went home with the demonstrator. Wouldn’t a successful dealership have another vehicle to test drive? Sorry won’t do. Neither will saying that some customers buy without a test drive because we don’t.
Don’t tell customers who want to test drive on the highway to go another Toyota dealership but return to buy. (Yes this really happened).


Make sure the salespeople know how blind spot detection works even if your vehicles lack this safety feature. Asking the customer is unusual. The best answer to why doesn’t the Tiguan offer a diesel engine isn’t to blame government regulations. When the competition offers a power trunk closing, adding that feature to your top trim makes more sense than having salespeople quip there’s less to break with a manual system.

If you’re promoting a $4,000 cash discount off the negotiated price of the outgoing model, discontinue the promotion if there are no vehicles left. We were told the dealership ran out months ago. Better still, have a substitute offer. Otherwise customers may feel they were tricked.


The car shopping process remains poor. Buyers have more information than ever but the dealership experience remains disappointing. The manufacturers could help by mystery shopping and enforcing higher standards.


PS We visited the dealerships and quiet times and only waited a few minutes for a salesperson.