There are numerous ways to compare cash value life insurance policies. Some of them are pretty well recognized though of relatively little use like the Net Cost Surrender Index. Others are known within the circles of more advanced practitioners but sparsely discussed because of their complexity both from a conceptual and applicable point of view. One such comparative process that falls into the slightly more advanced category is the Linton Yield Method.
Comparing life insurance contracts next to one another can sometimes be a tricky venture. There’s a fair degree of variability among contracts and there is also a tendency to make incorrect assumptions about what variables are constant among carriers, which can draw one to an incorrect conclusion. The Linton Yield Method was conceived as a measure to avoid such a mistake.
If you look it up, you’ll likely find brief definitions noting that it’s an interest-adjusted process for comparing the cost of life insurance, and this definition is true, but also incredibly vague. So to better help the laymen, here’s what this means.
There are four things in any given year that we need to know in order to start the process of calculating the Linton Yield Method:
The first three are easy variables we can get from the policy. The last one depends a bit on where you want to look, but I’d argue the best place to go to ensure a constant across carriers is the IRS.
From there we need to calculate the net amount at risk. This is simply the difference between the death benefit and the cash surrender value. This is the amount of actual life insurance that exists. Or put in another way, this is the amount of money the insurance company is on the hook for if you die.
Once we know the net amount at risk, we need to figure out how much that insurance costs. We do this by calculating the one year term insurance cost of the net amount at risk.
To do this, we simply use the IRS table for one year term insurance, this is found in the handbook the IRS publishes each year for Human Resources departments all across the United States and is the same table of costs used to compute imputed income for such plans as group life insurance death benefits beyond $50,000 or the bonus income recognized by a participant in a Split Dollar.
The charges are always calculated in cost per $1,000 so we would first need to divide the net amount at risk by $1,000 and then perform the calculation.
One other quick note, if you’re using the IRS table, those charges are quoted on a monthly basis, so you’ll need to multiply the whole equation by 12 in order to get the correct cost. To recap the equation looks like this:
(Net Amount At risk in 1,000’s) x (OYT cost) x 12 = Annual Cost of Death Benefit
From there, we subtract the cost of death benefit from the premium paid for that given year and we perform an internal rate of return calculation for cash surrender value.
We admittedly don’t use the Linton Yield Method all that often. The reason being that it’s rather easily manipulated by death benefit and most of the time our focus is on cash and what you can do with the cash.
What I mean by this is some companies blend their products with extremely cheap level one year term insurance and require a much higher death benefit to get the same amount of premium into the policy that we want. These policies tend to have better-looking Linton Yield Methods (at least in earlier years) despite having lower cash values vs. some of the competition. This may lead someone to an incorrect conclusion about which product is better.
This being said, the Linton Yield Method is a perfectly fine method of evaluation for people who either just want to buy normal unblended whole life insurance or someone who wants to try and evaluate everything (i.e. those who think they only care about cash value, but then decide they really like the death benefit for various reasons and would like to see the policy that can balance out both optimally–usually there is a trade off between the two).
Because it can easily be tweaked in one direction or another, universal life insurance can be a bit tricky to evaluate with the Linton Yield Method. The underlying principles certainly exist and as such the method will work in its originally intended sense. Just keep in mind that care needs to be taken to ensure that assumptions concerning contracts are universal.
I’m being intentionally redundant on this last point. The Linton Yield Method is NOT a method for comparing life insurance policies for retirement income/life insurance as an asset class purposes. It’s a method for comparing life insurance contracts the more traditional way, what gives me the “cheapest” death benefit form a net economic cost point of view. One might think that these two things go hand in hand, but again it’s not impossible for the method to be skewed by variations in policy design (especially by varying methods of policy blending). So while the Linton Yield Method is a great process for comparing policies from multiple carriers, it has a very specific application for comparing that shouldn’t be incorrectly employed.
Brandon launched the Insurance Pro Blog in July of 2011 as a project to de-mystify the life insurance industry. Brandon was born in Northern New England, and he currently calls VT home. He attended Syracuse University and graduated with a triple major in Economics, Public Administration, and Political Science.