Numbers fascinate me. Patterns and coincidence puzzle me. The other day I was in a meeting, sitting across from one of those leg-crossing men. I sat there, captivated not by the conversation but by the way he’d flick his left foot towards the ceiling no more than three times before lifting the heel of his right foot, allowing his right knee to act as the fulcrum for his bobbing left foot. I was able to predict with near certainty when he’d lift his foot to break the sequence. This was all done in my head, of course, as I suspect no one knew I was terribly bored and annoyed. Was he purposely doing this, or was the behavior so natural he was unaware of the predictability of his actions?
We are all creatures of habit, but bad habits can be harmful. Dave Ramsey has a bad habit of giving harmful advice to any caller who asks about cash value life insurance or more conservative investments.
On July 10th, 2015, the host of “The Dave Ramsey Show” gives very bad advice to two separate callers regarding separate issues. Dave causes thousands of dollars of harm to one caller by suggesting she cash out a cash value life insurance policy; with the other caller, he reveals his lack of understanding of bonds by suggesting a money market account to be superior. Like the leg-crossing man, Dave is a creature of habit. He gives cancerous advice over and over again.
Today we’ll disprove Dave’s recommendation that a couple cancel their cash value life insurance policy with math, fact, and a bit of sarcasm — uh, I mean wit.
Here’s what Dave says to the caller who owns the cash value policy — a universal life (UL) policy issued by Mutual of Omaha (MOO), to be more specific: “Yes, I would cancel this garbage,” said Dave, “[It’s] one of the worst products I’ve ever heard of … you got burned; you got fried.”
The caller, a 50-year-old women, had just finished describing how she and her 55-year-old husband had eight years ago purchased a 20-year UL policy, which had a return of premium rider (ROP) at maturity. She questioned if this was a good idea, since they aren’t good savers and this would act as a forced savings plan. It doesn’t appear they thought this was a bad choice prior to becoming Ramsey followers. They had now paid $26,400 into the policy. If they continued to pay $3,300 for the next 12 years, they’d pay a total of $66,000 into the policy, but would be refunded $66,000. In other words, pay another $39,600 over 12 years to get a payment of $66,000. This is the contractual guarantee of the insurance policy based on the claims-paying ability of the insurer, not a hypothetical value based on aggressive assumptions that are likely to be overly allocated into particular market segments due to overlap.
Now, let’s discuss how much they can receive to cash out the policy right now. It’s just about enough to go buy a rusted-out van without windows: $2,400 according to our caller (for the insurance product, not the van).
Fifteen minutes into the meeting with the leg-crossing man, he stopped. Excitedly I watched — remember, I was quite bored — as he switched from his left foot to his right foot. His pattern changed. He went up to five foot flicks before doing a heal raise. Are you serious?! You can’t change the pattern. Yet he did.
Dave, with his southern roots of stubbornness, has never shown a propensity to change. But this time, July 10th, 2015, I actually thought Dave was about to do just that. He talked with the caller and seemed to be crunching the numbers with his imaginary financial calculator. (I assume he doesn’t own a financial calculator, given his consistently bad math and cynical criticism of those who “punch numbers.”) I thought, Dave’s going to go against his heart. He is going to do what he instructs his callers to do. He will use his head and tell her to keep the MOO policy. But, as the famous saying goes, “When all you have is a hammer, then everything you see is a nail.” And Dave hammered the screw into the wood until it bent over and wouldn’t go in any further.
Dave tells the caller to cancel this thing out, to invest the $3,300 into “good” growth mutual funds and to do so in a Roth IRA. Dave gave advice he’s not licensed to give when he suggested the caller replace, finance or terminate an existing life insurance policy and instead invest those premiums into securities. Given the regular and consistent recommendation to implement his advice through one of his endorsed local providers (who, as discussed in an earlier column, pay a fee to Dave for these referrals), regulators must not continue to allow such devastatingly incorrect dribble to be broadcast without consequence.
Enough with the verbal argument; it’s time for the … dun dun dun … math. You knew I’d eventually pull out my nerd machine. OK, here we go. The first set of math is easy: Continue to pay $3,300 for an additional 12 years and get $66,000 back, with no risk other than the (very unlikely) financial default of one of the oldest and largest insurers in our industry.
The next set of math takes a bit more work. Right now, the couple pays the premiums annually by using their tax return refund. Dave says to adjust their withholding to eliminate the refund. Then, he recommends that they set up an auto draft to invest each month. Take the $2,400 cash value and invest that, too. If you want to follow along with me using your HP 10bII+, then here are your inputs: