Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from Tools & Techniques of Life Insurance Planning, 6th edition, which delivers detailed information about the entire range of life insurance products that can be used by estate and financial planners in a wide variety of circumstances. It includes planning techniques for retirement income needs, estate and gift tax avoidance, estate liquidity needs, and longterm care planning.
At best, life insurance is a very complicated product that is extremely difficult to evaluate and compare. Life insurance policies are complex amalgams of varying legal, financial, and probabilistic elements that cannot really be reduced to an allencompassing unitary measure for comparison purposes. However, there are a number of commonly used measures or methods for policy comparison that can be of aid in evaluating purchase alternatives. Keep in mind that none of these methods does, or could, take into account all of the factors that should be considered when making the purchase decision. But, if planners use several methods and they keep in mind the strengths and weaknesses of each during the comparison process, these methods will be quite helpful in at least eliminating policies that should not be considered. The following are commonly used policy comparison techniques.
Method 1: Traditional net cost
The traditional net cost method works like this:
Step 1: Add up the premiums on the ledger sheet over a stated period of time such as ten, fifteen or twenty years.
Step 2: Add up the dividends projected on the ledger sheet over the same period of time.
Step 3: Subtract the total dividends from the total premiums to find the total net premiums paid over the period being measured.
Step 4: Add the cash value and any “terminal dividends” shown on the ledger statement as of the end of such period (and minus any surrender charge) to find the net cash value.
Step 5: Subtract the net cash value from the total net premiums to arrive at the total net cost of the policy over the selected period.
Step 6: Divide the total net cost by the face amount of the policy (in thousands) and again by the number of years in the selected period to arrive at the net cost of insurance per thousand dollars of coverage per year. (In Figure 4.1, numbers were calculated per $1,000 of coverage from the start.)
This is the easiest method to understand and use, but its simplicity is its weakness. This measure ignores the time value of money, which makes it possible to manipulate policy illustrations by shifting cash flows. Even without intentional manipulation, the traditional net cost method grossly understates the cost of insurance coverage and, in many cases, implies that the average annual cost of coverage is zero or negative. The result could be misleadingly low measures of policy costs. Few states sanction this method for comparing policy costs, although it can be used by the planner, together with the other methods described below, to make a quick and rough firstlevel relative comparison of policies.
Interestadjusted cost methods
The interestadjusted methods of comparing the cost of life insurance policies consider the fact that policyowners could have invested the money spent on premium dollars elsewhere earning some minimum aftertax return (five percent is usually assumed.) Because a policy may terminate, either when the policyowner surrenders the policy or when the insured dies, there are two different interestadjusted indexes to measure the cost: (1) the net surrender cost index; and (2) the net payment cost index. The indexes do not necessarily define the true cost of policies, but they are useful in comparing the relative costs of similar policies. All other things being equal, a low index represents a better value than a high index. Note, however, that the interestadjusted indexes are only indexes and nothing more. The true cost of a life insurance policy, if it can actually be measured prospectively, depends on when and how a policy terminates.
Method 2: Interestadjusted net surrender cost index
This index is a relative measure of the cost of a policy assuming the policy is surrendered. It works like this:
Step 1: Accumulate each year’s premium at some specified rate of interest. (Most policy illustrations use a five percent rate.) Perform the calculation over a selected period of time such as ten, fifteen, or twenty years.
Step 2: Accumulate each year’s dividends projected on the ledger sheet at the same assumed rate of interest over the same period of time.
Step 3: Subtract the total dividends (plus interest) from total premiums (plus interest) to find the future value of the total net premiums paid over the period being measured.
Step 4: Add the cash value and any “terminal dividends” shown on the ledger statement as of the end of such period (and minus any surrender charge) to find the net cash value.
Step 5: Subtract the net cash value from the future value of the net premiums to arrive at the future value of the total net cost of the policy over the selected period.
Step 6: Divide the result by the future value of the annuity due factor for the rate assumed and the period selected. The result is the level annual cost for the policy.
Future value of the annuity due factors (5% interest) 

Years 
Factor 
5 
5.8019 
10 
13.2068 
15 
22.6575 
20 
34.7193 
25 
50.1135 
30 
69.7608 
Step 7: Divide the level annual cost for the policy by the number of thousands in the face amount of coverage. The result is the interestadjusted net annual cost per thousand dollars of coverage using the surrender cost index. (In Figure 4.2, numbers were calculated per $1,000 of coverage from the start.)
Method 3: Interestadjusted net payment cost index
This index is a relative measure of the cost of a policy assuming the insured dies while the policy is in force. It works like this:
Step 1: Accumulate each year’s premium at some specified rate of interest. (Most policy illustrations use a five percent rate.) Perform the calculation over a selected period of time such as ten, fifteen, or twenty years.
Step 2: Accumulate each year’s dividends projected on the ledger sheet at the same assumed rate of interest over the same period of time.
Step 3: Subtract the total dividends (plus interest) from the total premiums (plus interest) to find the future value of the total net premiums paid over the period you are measuring.
Step 4: Divide the result by the future value of the annuity due factor for the rate assumed and the period selected. (Use the same factors that were used in the Net Surrender Cost Index, above.) The result is the level annual cost for the policy.
Step 5: Divide the level annual cost for the policy by the number of thousands in the face amount of coverage. The result is the interestadjusted net annual cost per thousand dollars of coverage using the payment cost index. (In Figure 4.2, numbers were calculated per $1,000 of coverage from the start.)
Planners usually will not have to do these computations because most ledger sheets will contain these indexes at the bottom of the front page of the ledger statement. However, the ledger statement usually shows the indexes only for ten and twenty years, and sometimes for the insured’s age sixtyfive.
Most states require that insurers/agents provide prospective policyowners with a policy’s interestadjusted indexes. Planners should therefore understand how this measure works, understand its limitations, and be able to explain it to sophisticated clients. Among the weaknesses of the interestadjusted methods are these:
 If the policies being compared are not quite similar, the index results may be misleading. For instance, if the outlays differ significantly, the planner should establish a hypothetical side fund to accumulate the differences in the annual outlays at the assumed rate of interest to properly adjust for the differences. This will be the case where an existing policy is compared with a potential replacement. There will almost always be a material difference in the projected cash flows. This makes the interestadjusted methods unsuitable (unless adjusted) for “replacement” comparisons.
 The interestadjusted methods are subject to manipulation (although to a lesser extent than the traditional net cost method) and in the commonly used measuring periods, such as ten or twenty years, insurers/agents can design them to provide more favorable estimates of cost than for other selected periods.
 The interestadjusted methods are valid only to the extent that the projections of cash flows materialize as assumed. Therefore, the calculations cannot consider the impact of an overly optimistic dividend scale.
 It is possible in the comparison between two policies for each policy to be superior when ranked on one of the two indexes and inferior when ranked on the other index. However, relative rankings on each index tend to be highly correlated. That is, a policy that is ranked higher than others using one index tends to also rank similarly using the other index.
Method 4: Equal outlay
The equal outlay method works like this: The client is assumed to outlay (pay out) the same premium for each of the policies to be compared. Likewise, the client is assumed to purchase, in each policy under comparison, essentially equal amounts of death benefits year by year.
The equal outlay method is easiest to employ when comparing flexible premium type policies (e.g. universal life) because it is easy for the insurer/agent to generate the illustration with equal annual contributions.
Planners should demand that:
 the illustration projects cash values using the guaranteed rates for the policy;
 the insurer/agent run separate illustrations showing a selected intermediate interest rate assumption; and
 the insurer/agent run separate illustrations showing the current interest rate the company credits to policies.
An inspection of the projected cash values in future years should make it possible to identify the policy with the highest cash values and, therefore, to determine which is the best purchase. The procedure will be more complicated where the equal outlay method is used to compare a fixed premium contract with one or more flexible premium polices. Here, the net premium level (adjusted for any dividends) and the death benefit of the flexible premium policies must be made to match the corresponding values for the fixed premium contract for all years over the period of comparison. This makes it possible to compare future cash values in the same manner as when comparing two flexible premium policies.
As shown in Figure 4.3, planners also can use the equal outlay method to compare two or more fixedpremium policies, or to compare a term policy to a whole life policy, in the following manner: Hypothetically, “invest” the differences in net annual outlay in a side fund at some reasonable aftertax rate of return that essentially keeps the two alternatives equal in annual outlay. Compare cash values and total death benefits (including side fund amounts for both).
Note, quite often the result of this computation will show that term insurance (or a loweroutlay whole life policy) with a side fund will outperform a permanent type whole life plan during a period of perhaps the first seven to ten years but then lose that edge when the projection is carried to a longer duration.
There are a number of disadvantages to the equal outlay method:
 When comparing a fixed to a flexible premium contract, the underlying assumptions of the contracts are not the same and, therefore, the analysis cannot fairly compare them. For instance, many universal life cash value projections are based on “new money assumptions,” while ordinary life policy dividends are usually based on the “current portfolio rate” of the insurer (a rate that often varies significantly from the new money rate). Because the portfolio of the insurance company includes investments made in prior years that will not mature for several years, the portfolio rate tends to lag behind new money rates. If new money rates are relatively high, the portfolio rate will generally be less than new money rates. However if new money rates are trending down, portfolio rates will generally be higher than new money rates.
This difference in the rate used to make illustrations can be misleading. For example, if new money rates are greater than the portfolio rate and the trend of high new money rates continues for some time, cash values in universal life contracts are more likely to materialize as projected. But if these economic conditions hold true, then it is likely that the portfolio rate will also rise. This means dividends paid would increase relative to those projected based on the current portfolio rate. The equal outlay method does not take into consideration either the fluctuations in rates or the differences in how they are computed.  The required adjustments in most comparisons can quickly become burdensome. In many cases, it is quite difficult to equate death benefits under the comparison policies while maintaining equal outlays.
 When comparing an existing policy with a potential replacement policy, the analysis must consider any cash value in the existing policy at the time of the comparison. Generally, it is easiest to assume that the cash value will be paid into the new policy. Otherwise, the analysis should probably account for the time value of that cash value and should, as closely as possible, equate total death benefits including any side fund.
 The results, even after many adjustments have been made, may be ambiguous. Quite often the results can be interpreted as favoring one policy for certain durations, favoring another policy for certain durations, and favoring even another policy for other durations.
Method 5: Cash accumulation
The cash accumulation method works like this:
Step 1: Equate outlays (much in the same manner as the equal outlay method) for the policies being compared.
Step 2: Change the face amount of the lower premium policy so that the sum of the side fund plus the face amount equals the face amount of the higher premium policy. Note that this would yield the same result as where it is possible to set both death benefits and premium payments exactly equal — in flexible premium policies.
Step 3: Accumulate any differences in premiums at an assumed rate of interest.
Step 4: Compare the cash value/side fund differences over given periods of time to see which policy is preferable to the other.
The cash accumulation method is ideal for comparing term with permanent insurance. But planners must use this analysis with caution; the use of the appropriate interest rate is critical because, as is the case with any timevalue measurement, a higher assumed interest rate will generally favor a lower premium policy/side fund combination relative to a higher premium policy.
We suggest a twopart approach:
 If planners perform this comparison without regard to a specific client and merely to determine the relative ranking of the polices, the planners should assume a relatively conservative riskfree, aftertax rate comparable to the rate that one would expect to earn on the cash values of the higher premium policy. This will more closely equate the combination of the lower premium/side fund with the riskreturn characteristics of the higher premium policy.
 Alternatively, if the comparison is being conducted for a specific client, the planner should use that individual’s longrun aftertax opportunity cost rate of return, which may be considerably higher than the rate of return anticipated on the cash value of the higher premium policy.
A full and fair comparison is made more difficult because of the impact of death taxes, probate costs, and creditor laws. This is because the cash accumulation method uses a hypothetical side fund to make the comparison. But money in a side fund — if in fact it were accumulated — would not be eligible for the exemptions or special rate reductions afforded to the death proceeds of life insurance. Therefore, each dollar from that side fund would be subjected to a level of transfer tax that life insurance dollars would not. Likewise, the side fund would be subjected to the normal probate fees and attorney’s costs to which cash or other property is subject. Furthermore, this method does not consider the value of state law creditor protection afforded to the death benefits in a life insurance policy, but not to amounts held in most other types of investments.
The bottom line is that the side fund money may appear to have more value than it actually would have in the hands of those for whom it was intended. It is therefore apparent that, while the cash accumulation method has strengths that overcome many of the weaknesses of other comparison methods, it also has weaknesses that prevent it from being the single best answer to the financial planner’s policy comparison problem.
Method 6: Linton yield
The Linton yield method works like this: The planner computes the rate of return that the policyowner must earn on a hypothetical (or real) side fund assuming death benefits and outlays are held equal for every year over the period being studied. The policy that should be selected according to this method is the one that has the highest Linton yield, that is, the policy that — given an assumed schedule of costs (term rates) — has the highest rate of return.
In essence, this method is just the reverse of the interestadjusted surrender cost method, which holds the assumed interest rate level and solves for cost; the Linton method holds cost level and solves for interest. It should therefore be an excellent way to check the interestadjusted method results because the two methods should rank policies virtually identically.
As demonstrated in Figure 4.5, planners can compare dissimilar policies through the Linton yield method. Note, however, that planners must use the same term rates for each policy that the planners are evaluating or the results will be misleading. The higher the term rate that the planners use, the higher is the Linton yield that the analysis will produce — and, of course, the reverse is also true. This emphasizes the importance of using this method only for a relative comparison of policies and not to measure the “true rate of return” actually credited to the cash value of a give policy.
Computationally, the Linton yield method is a variation on the cash accumulation method. Using the cash accumulation methodology described above, the Linton yield is the rate of return that equates the side fund with the cash surrender value for a specified period of years. For example, in the cash accumulation method example above (see Figure 4.4) the side fund was just about equal to the cash surrender value in year ten when the side fund was invested at 6 percent. Therefore, the Linton yield for the whole life policy (assuming the YRT rates are competitive) is about 6 percent for ten years. The example in Figure 4.5 shows that the twentyyear Linton yield for this policy is 9.696 percent.