How to Get Cold Cash in Tough Times

You've cut back on expenses and tapped your reserves, but you're still falling short. How to borrow money (very carefully) when you can't turn anywhere else.

By Cathie Gandel | December 2008


HOW IT WORKS – “With the current downturn in the economy, people are rethinking all their expenditures, including their life insurance premiums,” says David Fastenberg, president of Life Insurance Solutions LLC in Jacksonville, Florida. If your premiums are too high, or if the kids are grown and you don’t need the policy anymore, or if you have a better use for that money—such as health care expenses—you can sell your whole-life policy to a third party in a transaction called a life settlement. (Unlike term insurance, a whole-life or universal-life policy builds cash value-think of it as a combination savings account and insurance policy.)

In general, to qualify you have to be 65 or older and have a whole-life policy with a face value of at least $250,000 (or a policy that can be converted to whole life). An insurance broker shops your policy around to life settlement providers who represent buyers—usually investment firms. They will offer more than the cash surrender value—the amount available when a policy is canceled—but less than the death benefit. How much more depends on your age and your health: The older and sicker you are (fortunately or unfortunately), the more you’ll get. The investors pay the premiums as long as you live, and collect the death benefit when you die.

And they keep tabs on the health of their investment—you. “Follow-up is usually done annually, but it can be quarterly,” says Fastenberg. You can be the contact or nominate someone you know if you don’t want to take the “So how are you feeling?” calls.

WHAT IT COSTS – Life settlements are relatively new and not yet well regulated, so how do you know whether you’re getting the best deal? Tom Orecchio, chair of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, suggests the following:

  • Ask a fee-only insurance or financial expert to evaluate your situation and determine your policy’s worth.
  • Make sure your broker discloses his commission. “You’re better off paying a commission on the value of the purchase price than on the face value of the policy,” says Orecchio. “Try to keep it between 3 and 6 percent.”
  • Don’t accept the first offer. Ask your broker for at least three bids.

BE CAREFUL BECAUSE – You may be selling an asset for much less than its value. And there is still a life insurance policy on you—now held by strangers—so it may be difficult to get additional insurance.

IT MADE SENSE FOR – Brian Redman, who had a successful career as a race-car driver, winning at tracks throughout Europe and the United States. He’d carried a $1 million life insurance policy for years, with an annual premium of $6,500. When he learned at age 69 that the policy would expire when he turned 70—and would cost $36,000 to renew—he felt like he’d just hit the wall at Daytona. “I politely declined to keep the policy,” he says. But then his insurance agent told him about life settlements. He sold his policy and received a check for $86,000.

Now 71 and living in Vero Beach, Florida, Redman shows up occasionally at his old haunts to take a classic car around the track. “But every few months, I get a call from a very nice lady who inquires after my health,” he says with a laugh.

REMEMBER, these unconventional tools may ease your cash crunch, but read the fine print before signing anything. They all come with significant, even costly, downsides. Never enter into any of these arrangements without consulting a fee-only financial planner (who doesn’t sell financial products). Find one at

“People may have to resort to last resorts,” says Mary Schapiro, CEO of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a nongovernmental agency focused on investor protection and market integrity. “But they should take these steps with their eyes wide open.”


Peer-to-peer lending sites aim to inject a little Main Street into the traditional Wall Street approach of banks. As the field grows, the Securities and Exchange Commission is racing to impose regulations. The SEC-approved facilitates loans between lenders and borrowers with good credit. puts a loan out for eBay-type bids-the borrower takes it or leaves it. (At press time, the site had halted new activity and asked the SEC for permission to resell loans.) focuses on loans for riskier subprime borrowers. College students looking to finance their educations can try and

The annual U.S. personal savings rate has been hovering around zero since 2005. Credit is increasingly scarce. Your best defense: Start living within your means and put away some cash for emergencies.


  • 1.

    Institute a 'real money only' policy.

    “Try using only cash or a debit card for a day, a week, a month,” says Rick Salmeron, president of the Salmeron Financial Network in Dallas. “You’ll think twice about making any purchases.”

  • 2.

    Take the checkout quiz.

    Before buying anything, says Marcia Brixey, author of The Money Therapist, ask yourself, Do I need this? Will I use this? Am I buying this because it’s on sale? How many hours will I have to work to pay for this?

  • 3.

    Get rid of what you're not using.

    Do you really need three-way calling? Do you watch all those premium channels? When was the last time you used your gym membership?

  • 4.

    Put away your credit cards, then focus on paying down the balances.

    “Pay off the card with the highest interest rate first,” says Roseann Bunshaft, associate vice president with Wachovia Securities in Southampton, New York. “After you pay that off, add the payment you’ve been making on that bill to the minimum payment due on the card with the next highest interest rate,” she says. “And keep going until all your balances are paid off.”

  • 5.

    Pay your bills on time.

    Late fees on credit cards can run as high as $38 for missing the due date by even one day. Worse, paying late may hurt your credit rating. A bad rating can mean paying as much as 15 percent more for that new-car loan, instead of 6 or 7 percent, the average for anyone with good credit.

  • 6.

    Avoid banking fees.

    A bounced check will run $28, on average. Keep track of all your expenditures, withdrawals, and fees. Allow at least three business days for deposits to clear. Consider overdraft protection, but resist the temptation to use it as a line of credit.

  • 7.

    Start saving today.

    How much per month depends on what you’re saving for, but 10 percent a paycheck is a good beginning. Set up direct deposits, and establish a goal and a target date.

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