On Insurance, Part II – The Good, The Optional, & The Bad

Right Way Wrong WayPlease see my previous post, on Insurance as Risk Transfer Only

Good uses of insurance

  1. Car insurance – mandatory and necessary, appropriately transfers risk of sudden damage to car or bodily health away from you to a company that can spread that risk around.
  2. Homeowners and renters insurance – similarly transfers risk of catastrophic damage to real and personal property to a company with enough capital to accept diversified risk.  The wealthier you are when you buy the insurance, the larger the deductible you can and should afford.
  3. Health insurance – transfers the risk of high or catastrophic health-care costs and is absolutely necessary to well-being and wealth.

Optional uses of insurance

If you find yourself the primary or sole caregiver of minor children, and you have limited savings, the next 2 types of risk transfer are mandatory.  Otherwise they’re optional.

  1. Disability Insurance – Transfer the risk of a loss of earnings and earnings potential.  You need to buy enough insurance that you could feed, clothe and house yourself and your dependents.  With no dependents, you have much less need for this type of insurance.
  2. Life Insurance – Remember: This is not a good way to invest.  This is only a good way to provide for minor children or a non-working spouse should you die.  Because I urge life insurance as a risk transfer only, and not as an investment, I lean toward term life insurance for the duration of your children’s minority years.  Once they’re 18, or 22 if college bound, they can fend for themselves.  Term life insurance increases the likelihood that you will calculate only the amount of insurance you need to transfer risk and not get caught up in the sales pitch that life insurance is a good investment.  Remember, it’s not.

Bad uses of Insurance

6. Warranties – I’m indifferent to car warranties, as I don’t know enough about them.  But electronics warranties are a complete waste of your money.  It’s extra insurance you do not need, on an ‘asset’ which depreciates in value faster than you can count backwards from 100.  The warranty company depends on you neglecting to exchange your electronic device, because in 2 years there’s something better out there anyway.  As I wrote earlier, warranties are the ultimate “neglect-based” business, along with life insurance policies.

7. Car Rental Insurance – Chances are you’re already double-covered by your own automobile insurance, as well as insurance from your credit card.

Have you noticed the rental agencies really like to push three difference types of insurance on you?  Unless you’ve got a very special situation, you don’t need that stuff.

“Can I at least put you down for bumper to bumper coverage?”  Stop. Bugging. Me.

6. Variable Annuity – Monstrosity.  The chimera that neither breathes fire nor flies straight.  High cost, low return, illiquid.   Perfect!


Here’s a quick quiz:

Question: Why does the Wall Street Journal always carry headlines such as: “Are variable annuities a good idea or just too costly?” instead of more honest headlines like “Are you a moron who likes to be separated from your money?  Try variable annuities!”? [1]

Answer: An awful lot of insurance company advertisers vie for eyeballs right next to that variable annuity article.


Please see related posts Insurance, Part I – Risk Transfer Only


Insurance Part III – Calculations of Life Insurance as an investment

[1] The authors of these variable annuity articles seemingly know they’re terrible, but they also seem to know who pays the bills.  I feel badly for them, writing the articles must be torture.  Here’s a few recent samples from the Wall Street Journal this Spring: “Cheaper Annuities With Benefits,” “New Annuity Guarantees Raise Questions,” and “They’re Changing Our Annuity!”

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2 Replies to “On Insurance, Part II – The Good, The Optional, & The Bad”

  1. If you ever rent a moving truck or commercial vehicle, you likely are NOT covered by your existing car insurance or credit card company. Plus if you are not used to driving a truck you are more likely to crash it. In this case you should shell out extra for the rental insurance.

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I founded Bankers Anonymous because, as a recovering banker, I believe that the gap between the financial world as I know it and the public discourse about finance is more than just a problem for a family trying to balance their checkbook, or politicians trying to score points over next year’s budget – it is a weakness of our civil society. For reals. It’s also really fun for me.

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