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Q: When is it worth buying a variable universal life policy? -- Christina Bean, Sacramento

A: Rarely, says Glenn Daily, an insurance consultant in New York City. VUL, he says, is a poor retirement savings vehicle, though often sold as such.

It's useful primarily, he says, in solving estate planning and asset protection problems for wealthy individuals.

VUL mixes permanent insurance with mutual-fund-like tax-deferred investments, building a cash value you can tap (earnings are taxed as income) or borrow against.

VUL's problems lie in its complexity -- comparison-shopping is difficult -- and fees, which Consumer Federation of America actuary James H. Hunt says can cut up to three percentage points from annual returns.

You're better off buying term life, which has no extra cash value, and investing your premium savings in a taxable account. Index funds, given their low turnover, will minimize your tax bill.