What “Tax-Free Retirement” by Patrick Kelly Says for Doctors

by Michael Goodman

Tax-Free Retirement by Patrick Kelly

Way back in 2011, I reviewed the book, “Tax-Free Retirement” by Patrick Kelly and gave it a strong recommendation. That review is one of the most popular pages on my site. Now that my practice is focused on doctors, I thought this would be a good time to look at what Mr. Kelly’s book recommends for doctors.

Chapter 20

In chapter 20 of Patrick Kelly’s 10th Anniversary version of “Tax-Free Retirement” (2017), Patrick writes, “Doctors have many unique attributes. And in my opinion, their unique attributes are what makes this group one of the most significant to benefit from the strategies in this book.”

He then lists four reasons why doctors are a great fit for using an indexed universal life policy (IUL) for retirement planning.

“Reason #1

Most doctors make more than $196,000 per year, which is the phase-out limit for being able to contribute to a Roth IRA. Therefore, they have no truly viable tax-free retirement option available to them other than life insurance.” (NOTE: in 2021, a married couple making over $208,000 cannot contribute to a Roth IRA, while the maximum deposit is only $6,000 unless you’re over 50 years old)

“Reason #2

Doctors are specialists. They have given their lives to be the best at what they do – and they are. However, this level of specialty often leaves little time for less urgent activities such as retirement planning”

“Reason #3

Doctors are often taken advantage of by snake-oil salesmen in the financial realm hocking half-baked, poorly-formed investment strategies promising wonderful returns.

“Reason #4

Doctors generally need a lot of life insurance for three reasons. One, they need to protect a large income for their families. Two, they usually carry high debt. Often this is due to starting out in debt from large medical school bills and low wages during their residency and internship years. Three, doctors as a group have one of the lowest life expectancies of any profession.”

Bottom Line

Most doctors that work at a hospital have a contract that provides a life insurance policy (usually a term policy) and a retirement plan of some sort (usually a 401k plan these days). But the life insurance policy often leaves them under-insured and the qualified retirement plan is likely to create an income tax problem later. Doctors in private practice usually have to pay for everything themselves, or through the organization that owns the practice.

When comparing the various options available to doctors that want to supplement the benefits in their contracts, or create a retirement plan by themselves, Patrick Kelly says on page 147 of his book there is “one superior option – life insurance!” Explaining why, he summarizes that life insurance offers an “unlimited contribution potential,” “grows without annual taxation,” “takes no time to manage,” “provides a huge sum of money to the physicians family in the case of an untimely death,” and “best of all, if structured properly, the policy can allow access to future money tax-free.”

What’s not to like?

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How Life Insurance Costs Compare to Securities for Retirement Planning

by Michael Goodman

Cash value life insurance is one of the oldest and most secure financial tools you can use. It can be used to protect a family from the death of the primary earner, it can be used for estate planning, and the tax-advantaged buildup of cash in the policy can be used for many different purposes, accessible without income taxes or penalties at any age.

But the one knock I hear most often about life insurance is that it’s too expensive to be used for building a retirement income. My answer to this is that – let’s look at the numbers.

The Numbers

If you have $500,000 in a qualified plan (401k, 403b, IRA, etc.) and it’s all invested in an Index Fund with annual costs of just .23% per year, you’re paying $1,150 in annual fees (assuming those are the only fees you’re paying). Your growth or losses are going to pretty much mirror the growth or loss of the mutual funds that you’ve selected. Now take note of this, as your account grows, the amount you pay in fees each year will also grow. That charge of .23% applies to everything in the account every year, just like an annual property tax. In addition, it’s applied to any NEW money you add to the account. If you grow the account to a million dollars, the fees will be $2,300 per year. If you have more money in the account, or if your fees are a higher percentage, then the annual costs will be much higher. So, if you have 30 years until retirement, you’ll pay that fee on the entire amount each year, on all the money you deposited, and on all the growth each year. Is that a bargain?

On top of all this, if the account is not a Roth account, all the money you take out later will be taxable, every penny, as regular income. So if you take out a consistent amount each year, like a regular income, not only will you pay taxes on all of it, that income will also probably cause your Social Security income to become taxable. Yes, you saved money on income taxes when you made the deposits and delayed the taxes on the growth, but it’s likely you will pay back all of those tax breaks in five years or less, then will continue paying taxes for the rest of your life.

The Alternative – Life Insurance

By comparison, the amount you pay for life insurance will depend on your age, health, and the amount of the death benefit. It is not based on the amount of cash value in the policy. What’s a typical life insurance policy cost? If you’re young, it might be just a couple hundred dollars a year. If you’re approaching 60 and in good health, it will still probably be less than $1,000. In addition, the money you take out of the policy in retirement will be tax-free, and you’ll still have a death benefit that pays out (income) tax free to your family or other heirs. How well can this work out? If you’re 25 years old now and can afford to put $200 a month into the right kind of policy (an IUL), you may be able to withdraw over $90,000 per year, tax-free, starting at age 66.

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The IUL (Indexed Universal Life) Versus Qualified Plans for Income

by Michael Goodman

The 400% Solution:

 This may be the most important post I’ve added to this website. If you are making regular deposits in a “qualified” retirement program – a 401k, a 403b, 457, TSA, or traditional IRA – and IF the purpose of these deposits is to build a retirement income, then you MUST read this carefully.

The following comparisons will show the amount of after-tax retirement income you can expect to build by making deposits to a qualified retirement plan from different ages, then we’ll compare that income to the tax-free distributions you might get from an IUL (indexed universal life insurance) policy.

The Parameters

In each example, we’ll assume the qualified plan will earn 8.39% interest from start through age 90 (8.39% is the 30-year average of the S&P 500 index), even though few people actually earn that high a rate in their qualified plans (the mutual and money-market funds typically offered in qualified plans also do not average that much over long stretches).

We are also NOT assuming any matching funds because the trend for this is downward, and every company has its own policy on whether to add matching funds or not. The IUL will also assume that the performance of the S&P 500 will continue as it has for the last 30 years, but will have a floor of 0% in any year and a cap rate of 14.5%. However, NONE of the examples given are guaranteed.

The 25 Year Old

If you start a 401k or other qualified plan at age 25, depositing $200 a month through age 65, you’ll have $782,113. If you assume the same rate of interest through retirement as you had during the growth years (8.39%), and expect to die by age 90, you can withdraw $74,783 a year assuming you are trying to hit $0 on the nose. HOWEVER, if your money earns less in retirement, or if you live longer than expected, you will run out of money too soon. ALL advisors will tell you that withdrawing 9.56% of your qualified money each year is too aggressive. For many years, it was believed that a 4% draw rate was a safe rate. But current research indicates that even that rate may be too aggressive, especially if you experience a market crash early in retirement. So, most advisors now recommend withdrawing just 3% per year (see article here).

If you withdraw 3% per year, the expected income becomes $23,463 per year, all taxable unless it’s from a Roth. If you’re just in the 15% federal tax bracket, this amount will be reduced to $19,944 per year. Keep in mind that most qualified plans will not average 8.39% growth for life and, if you have other income, you may be in a higher tax bracket; and either of these will reduce your after-tax income.

By comparison, if you put the same $200 a month into an IUL through age 65 and benefit from the exact same market performance, you can start taking tax-free distributions of $92,850 per year (if you are a woman; a man would receive a little less) for life, regardless of how long you live, PLUS your heirs will receive a tax-free death benefit when you die. This example also assumes that future performance of the S&P 500 will mirror the past performance, which probably won’t happen. If the S&P 500 does not perform as well, your distributions from the IUL will be lower; however, if the S&P 500 does better than it has, your distributions will be higher. But, if the market performs as projected, the tax-free distributions from the IUL will be 465% higher than the after-tax distributions from the qualified plan (396% higher than a Roth).

The 35 Year Old

If you start at age 35 and put the same $200 a month into a qualified plan to age 65, then begin distributions at age 66, your money should build to $323,765. 3% of this is $9,713 per year before taxes. If the tax rate is 15%, then you get $8,256 after taxes.

If the same money went into an IUL and the market performs as expected, a woman may be able to take distributions of $35,994 per year, tax-free. This is 436% higher than the qualified plan and 371% higher than a Roth.

The 45 Year Old

If you start at 45 and put the same money into a qualified plan through age 65, you should have $123,680. 3% of this is $3,710 per year before taxes, $3,154 after taxes at 15%.

The IUL for the 45 year old woman produces $13,273 per year, tax-free. This is 421% higher than the qualified plan and 358% higher than a Roth.


The qualified plan for the 55 year old builds to $37,396. 3% is $1,122 per year, $954 after taxes.

The IUL produces $3,205 per year, tax-free. This is 336% higher than the qualified plan and 286% higher than a Roth.


At most ages, an IUL will produce significantly higher after-tax retirement distributions than if you put the same money into a qualified plan or a Roth. ALL options produce a lot less income if you don’t get started early! While all options are affected by the growth of the stock market, money in an IUL is guaranteed not to go down because of the market. Is your qualified plan protected from drops in the market?

There are many more caveats and qualifications that I go through with clients. If you have questions about any of this, please let me know.

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