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What Is Variable Universal Life Insurance?

More choices, more freedom

Variable universal life insurance (VUL) is a form of permanent coverage that lasts your entire life. As long as you keep the policy current, your beneficiaries will get a death benefit no matter when you die. It also contains a savings & investment component called "cash value." That cash value grows over time and is an asset you own – you can withdraw or borrow money from it later in life.

Like other universal life policies, VUL gives you flexibility in payments. As long as you meet the minimum requirements to keep the policy in force, you can pay what you want when you want.

But what’s so special about VUL in particular? You can invest your cash value in ETFs, bonds, and more. With smart choices, you can grow that money faster than you could with, for example, the low guaranteed interest rate of a whole life policy. That freedom of choice – and the potential to grow that cash value – is what makes VUL popular.

In a nutshell, variable universal life offers:

  • an income-tax-free death benefit for your loved ones
  • flexible payment options
  • market-driven investment options for your cash value
  • tax-deferred cash value growth
  • some risk of loss, but also more potential for cash value growth

Find out if VUL is right for you!

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Meet Our Client, Ken

We helped him maximize cash value potential after he maxed out his 401(k)

Ken came to us with a very specific set of needs. As a high earner, he wanted a death benefit that would replace several years of his income for his wife and two kids. But he also wanted to sock away more money to grow tax-deferred. He’d already maxed out his 401(k) contributions, so that option was no longer available to him.

VUL to the rescue!

“I heard the bosses at my private equity firm talk about using life insurance to generate tax-deferred investment earnings. They set up their accounts with big lump sums I didn’t have, so I thought I’d never be able to do it. Turns out, the flexibility of VUL made it all possible. I used part of my yearly bonus to start the policy, and now I control how much I pay and when. If I close a deal and get a big check, I can add more to my account. If I don’t, I can just make regular monthly payments.”
- Ken M.

Looking for income replacement and tax-deferred gains, like Ken?

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Nadine's Story: Control + Choices

If you're willing to invest and manage risk, VUL can help you save for retirement.

“I’m a control freak, you know? I need to know where my money is at all times. So when my agent told me there was a kind of life insurance that let me leave six figures for my kids and also do a little investing at the same time, I was definitely interested.

I made a plan that divides my cash value between stocks, bonds, and the guaranteed interest account. That way, I know I’m getting a little bit of everything. It feels safer to me that way. Every month, it all gets divided up automatically into my different subaccounts. It’s easy to switch if the market changes, and I feel like I’m doing something really smart for my family.” - Nadine T.

Protect your loved ones AND grow your retirement income!

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How Does VUL Work?

Your choices make all the difference.

Think of VUL as a balance between the cost of your coverage and the amount that’s available for you to invest.

Policy Cost: It's no surprise that it costs a certain amount to insure you. This includes the cost of the actual death benefit, plus the insurer’s administrative costs in managing the policy. But anything left over goes into the savings and investment component of your policy – its cash value.

Cash Value: You have what are called “subaccounts” to distribute your money among the investment options offered by your insurer. There’s also a “fixed” account, which will earn a small but guaranteed rate of interest.

Each subaccount will have a variety of options for you to choose from. In most cases, this will be a mix of stocks, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds, and money market options. Some insurers also offer a “portfolio” option where you can use pre-set combinations chosen by experts. As you go, you can make changes and transfer money between your subaccounts as needed. It’s up to you to decide how much of your money goes into each option.

If you have retirement and investing goals, VUL can be a good addition to your portfolio!

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Did you know?

Once you have enough cash value built up, you can use it to pay for your policy. It’s up to you to make sure there’s enough cash value in your account, though. Some insurers offer no-lapse guarantees or riders (add-ons) that ensure your account stays active even if you run low on cash value. If you think you’ll want to use cash value to pay for your policy later, ask about no-lapse options now!

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Is Variable Universal Life Insurance Right for You?

We'll point out a few pros and cons to help you decide.

Are you willing to take on the risk that comes with managing your cash value? The upside is that you’re free to select your cash value’s investment options, so there’s no limit to how much you could potentially earn…but you could also take losses, too. You need to be comfortable with some risk, and willing to put in some time to monitor your investment choices.

If you’re not interested in investing – or don’t like the idea of risk – we recommend you look into a different type of cash value policy (whole life or indexed universal life, for example). But if you’re up for the challenge and want the freedom to choose how and where your money is invested, VUL can do it all. It’s a great way to create supplemental retirement income!


  • Death benefit for your loved ones
  • Cash value that you can pull from (up to the total amount you've paid into the policy) with zero tax liability
  • The ability to grow your cash value by choosing your own market-driven investments
  • The ability to split your cash value among different investment options
  • Flexibility in how much you pay & when
  • Source of tax-deferred growth for those who’ve maxed out 401(k) or IRA contributions


  • Risk of loss in your investments
  • Your payments will eventually go up as you age - but if you have enough cash value, you can use that to make the payments. You can also adjust your death benefit amount to decrease that payment amount.
  • VUL policies are designed to let the cash value grow over time – if you need access to your cash now, VUL might not be the right choice for you.
  • If you let your policy lapse, you lose access to any cash value accrued, and your loved ones won't receive a death benefit.

Need to talk to a licensed advisor? We’re here for you! Call us at 800-823-4852.

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Variable Universal Life Insurance: FAQ

Got questions? We can help!

Who usually buys VUL policies?
In our experience, VUL works best for people with high incomes who have already maxed out their employer-sponsored retirement accounts, or savvy retirees who already have a retirement portfolio but want an additional source of retirement income. If you’re on a limited budget, VUL may not be your best option because of the risk inherent in its investment options.

Think of VUL as a combination of death benefit protection with long-term investing potential. It’s not designed as a short-term strategy, so if you’re looking for quick gains and the ability to pull all your money back out, VUL isn’t going to meet that need. However, if you’re planning ahead for retirement and have 10-15 years to grow your cash value, it can be a great way to create supplemental income in your golden years.

How often can I change my investments?
It all depends on your insurer. Some insurers will limit the number of transfers you can make into and out of your subaccounts, while others will have no limits.

Can I withdraw money from my cash value?
Yes. In general, you can withdraw any amount up to the total amount of premiums you’ve paid with no income tax and no interest charged. If you took this out as a policy loan, there would be a small amount of yearly interest charged, and you’d have the option to repay it. If you didn’t take it out as a loan (or didn’t repay it), the amount you withdrew would be subtracted from the death benefit payout to your beneficiaries after you pass away.

Your insurer will provide you with a document that explains how you can withdraw money and if there are any fees involved in doing so. Be aware that VUL policies are designed to grow over time. Cash value needs time to grow and compound. In an ideal world, you’d want to let it grow for at least 10 years before withdrawing any funds. Your insurer may have higher fees for full or partial surrenders in the first 10-15 years of a policy.

Can I lose money if the stock market goes down?
Yes, that’s always a possibility. If you lose too much money, there may not be enough left in your account to cover the cost of the insurance. If that were to happen, you would need to pay more money into the policy to be sure there’s enough there to cover the base cost of your coverage.

How much of my payment goes into the cash value account?
That depends on your insurer and your policy. Your payment has to cover three things: (1) the cost of insuring you, which goes up the older you get; (2) any fees or commissions charged by the insurer; and (3) the contribution to the cash value account. Only the insurer can calculate what this amount is actually going to be. This may also change over time as you become older and cost more to insure.

Do I have to pay tax on what I earn in my cash value account?
Not until you take that cash out – ideally, years from now during retirement. Any earnings you make in your cash value account, whether due to investment gains or fixed interest payments by the insurer, are taxed when you withdraw them, not when they’re credited to your account. At the time you withdraw them, these earnings are subject to ordinary income tax rates. Always consult with a tax professional to make sure you understand your tax obligations.

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Why Work with

Our awesome staff & licensed agents are here to help you get the right policy at the right price! Let us do the heavy lifting for you - we'll shop the nation's top carriers and show you the policies that meet your needs and your budget. Call 800-823-4852 now to get your free quote!

Meet the Team

Christine Orris Debby Strouse Tammy Walde
Christine Orris
Team Lead

“I’ve been in the life insurance industry for 25 years. In addition to life insurance, I’m also experienced in disability and property & casualty insurance (home & auto coverage). I especially enjoy helping my higher risk clients find the best possible coverage. The whole purpose of buying life insurance is to protect the ones you love! After hours, you can find me camping, gardening, hiking, boating, and spending time with my wonderful husband, two children, and fur babies.”
Debby Strouse
Insurance Advisor

“I have 17 years of experience in the life insurance industry. I come from a teaching background, so my favorite part of this job is being able to teach someone who’s new to life insurance. I explain that life insurance is for protection. It prevents families from the financial trauma of losing a loved one so their focus can stay on mourning. My mother passed with no insurance, and we had to sell her things to pay for final expenses. I really do care about helping my clients and I don’t want them to go through that. When I’m not at work, my grandchildren and my kids are my world.”
Tammy Walde
Insurance Advisor

“I started in the insurance industry when I was still in high school. Shortly after, I obtained my license and I’ve been helping families with their insurance needs ever since. No one can truly predict the future. But life insurance means you and your loved ones can prepare for the loss of income. I have a client that wanted to set aside money for his daughter’s wedding, if he was not able to be there. That brought me to tears. When I’m not helping clients, I love fishing in local rivers and lakes. Everybody can see me coming with my pink fishing jacket.”

This is general information and not intended to serve as legal, tax, or other financial advice. Please consult with your attorney and/or CPA regarding your specific situation.

Your actual variable universal life insurance premium can only be determined by a full application and the carrier's underwriting process, which may include some medical testing at their expense. Depending on the carrier, premiums can be paid on an annual, semi-annual, quarterly or monthly basis. Monthly premium rates may be available via EFT (electronic funds transfer). Not all carrier policies are available at all durations for all ages in all states. By providing your phone number and the name of your wireless carrier, you agree to's privacy policy and terms of use. You also agree to receive communication from us at the phone number(s) you provide. Our communication with you may include autodialed or pre-recorded calls, emails, and SMS or MMS messages. You may opt out at any time. You may also call us directly at (800) 823-4852.

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