A Brief Introduction to Captive Insurance

Over the past 20 years, many small businesses have begun to insure their own risks through a product called “Captive Insurance.” Small captives (also known as single-parent captives) are insurance companies established by the owners of closely held businesses looking to insure risks that are either too costly or too difficult to insure through the traditional insurance marketplace. Brad Barros, an expert in the field of captive insurance, explains how “all captives are treated as corporations and must be managed in a method consistent with rules established with both the IRS and the appropriate insurance regulator.”

According to Barros, often single parent captives are owned by a trust, partnership or other structure established by the premium payer or his family. When properly designed and administered, a business can make tax-deductible premium payments to their related-party insurance company. Depending on circumstances, underwriting profits, if any, can be paid out to the owners as dividends, and profits from liquidation of the company may be taxed at capital gains.

Premium payers and their captives may garner tax benefits only when the captive operates as a real insurance company. Alternatively, advisers and business owners who use captives as estate planning tools, asset protection vehicles, tax deferral or other benefits not related to the true business purpose of an insurance company may face grave regulatory and tax consequences.

Many captive insurance companies are often formed by US businesses in jurisdictions outside of the United States. The reason for this is that foreign jurisdictions offer lower costs and greater flexibility than their US counterparts. As a rule, US businesses can use foreign-based insurance companies so long as the jurisdiction meets the insurance regulatory standards required by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

There are several notable foreign jurisdictions whose insurance regulations are recognized as safe and effective. These include Bermuda and St. Lucia. Bermuda, while more expensive than other jurisdictions, is home to many of the largest insurance companies in the world. St. Lucia, a more reasonably priced location for smaller captives, is noteworthy for statutes that are both progressive and compliant. St. Lucia is also acclaimed for recently passing “Incorporated Cell” legislation, modeled after similar statutes in Washington, DC.

Common Captive Insurance Abuses; While captives remain highly beneficial to many businesses, some industry professionals have begun to improperly market and misuse these structures for purposes other than those intended by Congress. The abuses include the following:

1. Improper risk shifting and risk distribution, aka “Bogus Risk Pools”

2. High deductibles in captive-pooled arrangements; Re insuring captives through private placement variable life insurance schemes

3. Improper marketing

4. Inappropriate life insurance integration

Meeting the high standards imposed by the IRS and local insurance regulators can be a complex and expensive proposition and should only be done with the assistance of competent and experienced counsel. The ramifications of failing to be an insurance company can be devastating and may include the following penalties:

1. Loss of all deductions on premiums received by the insurance company

2. Loss of all deductions from the premium payer

3. Forced distribution or liquidation of all assets from the insurance company effectuating additional taxes for capital gains or dividends

4. Potential adverse tax treatment as a Controlled Foreign Corporation

5. Potential adverse tax treatment as a Personal Foreign Holding Company (PFHC)

6. Potential regulatory penalties imposed by the insuring jurisdiction

7. Potential penalties and interest imposed by the IRS.

All in all, the tax consequences may be greater than 100% of the premiums paid to the captive. In addition, attorneys, CPA’s wealth advisors and their clients may be treated as tax shelter promoters by the IRS, causing fines as great as $100,000 or more per transaction.

Clearly, establishing a captive insurance company is not something that should be taken lightly. It is critical that businesses seeking to establish a captive work with competent attorneys and accountants who have the requisite knowledge and experience necessary to avoid the pitfalls associated with abusive or poorly designed insurance structures. A general rule of thumb is that a captive insurance product should have a legal opinion covering the essential elements of the program. It is well recognized that the opinion should be provided by an independent, regional or national law firm.

Risk Shifting and Risk Distribution Abuses; Two key elements of insurance are those of shifting risk from the insured party to others (risk shifting) and subsequently allocating risk amongst a large pool of insured’s (risk distribution). After many years of litigation, in 2005 the IRS released a Revenue Ruling (2005-40) describing the essential elements required in order to meet risk shifting and distribution requirements.

For those who are self-insured, the use of the captive structure approved in Rev. Ruling 2005-40 has two advantages. First, the parent does not have to share risks with any other parties. In Ruling 2005-40, the IRS announced that the risks can be shared within the same economic family as long as the separate subsidiary companies ( a minimum of 7 are required) are formed for non-tax business reasons, and that the separateness of these subsidiaries also has a business reason. Furthermore, “risk distribution” is afforded so long as no insured subsidiary has provided more than 15% or less than 5% of the premiums held by the captive. Second, the special provisions of insurance law allowing captives to take a current deduction for an estimate of future losses, and in some circumstances shelter the income earned on the investment of the reserves, reduces the cash flow needed to fund future claims from about 25% to nearly 50%. In other words, a well-designed captive that meets the requirements of 2005-40 can bring about a cost savings of 25% or more.

While some businesses can meet the requirements of 2005-40 within their own pool of related entities, most privately held companies cannot. Therefore, it is common for captives to purchase “third party risk” from other insurance companies, often spending 4% to 8% per year on the amount of coverage necessary to meet the IRS requirements.

One of the essential elements of the purchased risk is that there is a reasonable likelihood of loss. Because of this exposure, some promoters have attempted to circumvent the intention of Revenue Ruling 2005-40 by directing their clients into “bogus risk pools.” In this somewhat common scenario, an attorney or other promoter will have 10 or more of their clients’ captives enter into a collective risk-sharing agreement. Included in the agreement is a written or unwritten agreement not to make claims on the pool. The clients like this arrangement because they get all of the tax benefits of owning a captive insurance company without the risk associated with insurance. Unfortunately for these businesses, the IRS views these types of arrangements as something other than insurance.

Risk sharing agreements such as these are considered without merit and should be avoided at all costs. They amount to nothing more than a glorified pretax savings account. If it can be shown that a risk pool is bogus, the protective tax status of the captive can be denied and the severe tax ramifications described above will be enforced.

It is well known that the IRS looks at arrangements between owners of captives with great suspicion. The gold standard in the industry is to purchase third party risk from an insurance company. Anything less opens the door to potentially catastrophic consequences.

Abusively High Deductibles; Some promoters sell captives, and then have their captives participate in a large risk pool with a high deductible. Most losses fall within the deductible and are paid by the captive, not the risk pool.

These promoters may advise their clients that since the deductible is so high, there is no real likelihood of third party claims. The problem with this type of arrangement is that the deductible is so high that the captive fails to meet the standards set forth by the IRS. The captive looks more like a sophisticated pre tax savings account: not an insurance company.

A separate concern is that the clients may be advised that they can deduct all their premiums paid into the risk pool. In the case where the risk pool has few or no claims (compared to the losses retained by the participating captives using a high deductible), the premiums allocated to the risk pool are simply too high. If claims don’t occur, then premiums should be reduced. In this scenario, if challenged, the IRS will disallow the deduction made by the captive for unnecessary premiums ceded to the risk pool. The IRS may also treat the captive as something other than an insurance company because it did not meet the standards set forth in 2005-40 and previous related rulings.

Private Placement Variable Life Reinsurance Schemes; Over the years promoters have attempted to create captive solutions designed to provide abusive tax free benefits or “exit strategies” from captives. One of the more popular schemes is where a business establishes or works with a captive insurance company, and then remits to a Reinsurance Company that portion of the premium commensurate with the portion of the risk re-insured.

Typically, the Reinsurance Company is wholly-owned by a foreign life insurance company. The legal owner of the reinsurance cell is a foreign property and casualty insurance company that is not subject to U.S. income taxation. Practically, ownership of the Reinsurance Company can be traced to the cash value of a life insurance policy a foreign life insurance company issued to the principal owner of the Business, or a related party, and which insures the principle owner or a related party.

1. The IRS may apply the sham-transaction doctrine.

2. The IRS may challenge the use of a reinsurance agreement as an improper attempt to divert income from a taxable entity to a tax-exempt entity and will reallocate income.

3. The life insurance policy issued to the Company may not qualify as life insurance for U.S. Federal income tax purposes because it violates the investor control restrictions.

Investor Control; The IRS has reiterated in its published revenue rulings, its private letter rulings, and its other administrative pronouncements, that the owner of a life insurance policy will be considered the income tax owner of the assets legally owned by the life insurance policy if the policy owner possesses “incidents of ownership” in those assets. Generally, in order for the life insurance company to be considered the owner of the assets in a separate account, control over individual investment decisions must not be in the hands of the policy owner.

The IRS prohibits the policy owner, or a party related to the policy holder, from having any right, either directly or indirectly, to require the insurance company, or the separate account, to acquire any particular asset with the funds in the separate account. In effect, the policy owner cannot tell the life insurance company what particular assets to invest in. And, the IRS has announced that there cannot be any prearranged plan or oral understanding as to what specific assets can be invested in by the separate account (commonly referred to as “indirect investor control”). And, in a continuing series of private letter rulings, the IRS consistently applies a look-through approach with respect to investments made by separate accounts of life insurance policies to find indirect investor control. Recently, the IRS issued published guidelines on when the investor control restriction is violated. This guidance discusses reasonable and unreasonable levels of policy owner participation, thereby establishing safe harbors and impermissible levels of investor control.

The ultimate factual determination is straight-forward. Any court will ask whether there was an understanding, be it orally communicated or tacitly understood, that the separate account of the life insurance policy will invest its funds in a reinsurance company that issued reinsurance for a property and casualty policy that insured the risks of a business where the life insurance policy owner and the person insured under the life insurance policy are related to or are the same person as the owner of the business deducting the payment of the property and casualty insurance premiums?

If this can be answered in the affirmative, then the IRS should be able to successfully convince the Tax Court that the investor control restriction is violated. It then follows that the income earned by the life insurance policy is taxable to the life insurance policy owner as it is earned.

The investor control restriction is violated in the structure described above as these schemes generally provide that the Reinsurance Company will be owned by the segregated account of a life insurance policy insuring the life of the owner of the Business of a person related to the owner of the Business. If one draws a circle, all of the monies paid as premiums by the Business cannot become available for unrelated, third-parties. Therefore, any court looking at this structure could easily conclude that each step in the structure was prearranged, and that the investor control restriction is violated.

Suffice it to say that the IRS announced in Notice 2002-70, 2002-2 C.B. 765, that it would apply both the sham transaction doctrine and §§ 482 or 845 to reallocate income from a non-taxable entity to a taxable entity to situations involving property and casualty reinsurance arrangements similar to the described reinsurance structure.

Even if the property and casualty premiums are reasonable and satisfy the risk sharing and risk distribution requirements so that the payment of these premiums is deductible in full for U.S. income tax purposes, the ability of the Business to currently deduct its premium payments on its U.S. income tax returns is entirely separate from the question of whether the life insurance policy qualifies as life insurance for U.S. income tax purposes.

Inappropriate Marketing; One of the ways in which captives are sold is through aggressive marketing designed to highlight benefits other than real business purpose. Captives are corporations. As such, they can offer valuable planning opportunities to shareholders. However, any potential benefits, including asset protection, estate planning, tax advantaged investing, etc., must be secondary to the real business purpose of the insurance company.

Recently, a large regional bank began offering “business and estate planning captives” to customers of their trust department. Again, a rule of thumb with captives is that they must operate as real insurance companies. Real insurance companies sell insurance, not “estate planning” benefits. The IRS may use abusive sales promotion materials from a promoter to deny the compliance and subsequent deductions related to a captive. Given the substantial risks associated with improper promotion, a safe bet is to only work with captive promoters whose sales materials focus on captive insurance company ownership; not estate, asset protection and investment planning benefits. Better still would be for a promoter to have a large and independent regional or national law firm review their materials for compliance and confirm in writing that the materials meet the standards set forth by the IRS.

The IRS can look back several years to abusive materials, and then suspecting that a promoter is marketing an abusive tax shelter, begin a costly and potentially devastating examination of the insured’s and marketers.

Abusive Life Insurance Arrangements; A recent concern is the integration of small captives with life insurance policies. Small captives treated under section 831(b) have no statutory authority to deduct life premiums. Also, if a small captive uses life insurance as an investment, the cash value of the life policy can be taxable to the captive, and then be taxable again when distributed to the ultimate beneficial owner. The consequence of this double taxation is to devastate the efficacy of the life insurance and, it extends serious levels of liability to any accountant recommends the plan or even signs the tax return of the business that pays premiums to the captive.

The IRS is aware that several large insurance companies are promoting their life insurance policies as investments with small captives. The outcome looks eerily like that of the thousands of 419 and 412(I) plans that are currently under audit.

All in all Captive insurance arrangements can be tremendously beneficial. Unlike in the past, there are now clear rules and case histories defining what constitutes a properly designed, marketed and managed insurance company. Unfortunately, some promoters abuse, bend and twist the rules in order to sell more captives. Often, the business owner who is purchasing a captive is unaware of the enormous risk he or she faces because the promoter acted improperly. Sadly, it is the insured and the beneficial owner of the captive who face painful consequences when their insurance company is deemed to be abusive or non-compliant. The captive industry has skilled professionals providing compliant services. Better to use an expert supported by a major law firm than a slick promoter who sells something that sounds too good to be true.

When Gap Car Insurance Isn’t Necessary

Gap auto insurance, in case you didn’t know, picks up the tab if your car is totaled and you owe more than it’s worth. Although gap insurance coverage can be purchased for as little as $30 a year it isn’t always necessary.

One instance is if you pay cash for your new car; if you don’t have an unpaid loan balance, there is no financing gap to worry about.

However, paid for or not, a new car will still depreciate at the same rate. In this case you might want to look at New Car Replacement Insurance.

New car replacement insurance is offered by a number of carriers for different lengths of time. Some insurers offer replacement insurance for only a month while others, such as Allstate, offer a plan where “you may be able to get a totally new car” if totaled in the first three model years.

A second instance when you would not need gap insurance is if you put at least 20% down. In most cases if you put 20% down the rate at which the car loan is paid down should track pretty close to the depreciated value of your car.

Another situation where you might not need gap protection is if you lease a new or used car. In many states, such as New York, gap insurance is mandated by law to be included in the quoted lease payment amount.

Yet despite this there are unscrupulous sales people who will try to sell you gap insurance anyway – and it won’t come cheap. The gap insurance sold by car dealerships today is a high profit add on much like upholstery protection or under carriage coating was years ago.

The average one time payment for gap insurance purchased from a car dealer averages around $548. This is almost 5 times more than it would cost if purchased from a major insurance carrier for as long as you needed it.

The last example illustrates why you would need gap insurance, but for only a short period of time.

The recent loosening of bank purse strings has also meant lower car financing rates for both new and used cars. As a matter of fact the rates are very similar. At these new low rates the outstanding loan balance and depreciated car value quickly reach parity – usually within two years.

However, that first year of car ownership is still a killer for car values. For instance, if you borrowed $40,000 for 60 months at 6% with zero down, 20% of the loan would be paid in the first year but your car would have depreciated 25%. This would leave you owing roughly $2,500 more than the insurance company would pay out if your car was totaled during the first year of ownership.

But, as previously mentioned, during the second year of ownership the value or your car and the loan balance would even out. So although you won’t be able to eliminate the purchase of gap insurance entirely, you would only need it for the first year of ownership.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Car Loans

More now than ever before, many people are searching for chapter 7 bankruptcy car loans. With today’s economy, people find themselves filing chapter 7 bankruptcies to relieve themselves of too much debt.

When someone files for a chapter 7 bankruptcy they are filing with the court system asking that they be discharged from all unsecured debt. Unsecured debt includes such things as medical bills or credit cards.

Compare this to secured debts such as your home and your vehicle. Due to homestead protection laws your home is safe from your creditors acquiring it. With a chapter 7 bankruptcy, your car loan may need special consideration.

In some cases, people are finding that they must release their vehicle along with the discharge of other debts. This may be caused by a couple different situations. One reason may be that they have simply fallen too far on the payments. Or another reason may be because the monthly payment is simply too high to make and stay current with the new finances.

If this is the case for you, you may be in the market for chapter 7 bankruptcy car loans. These are considered sub-prime auto loans and you may be able to apply a few months after your discharge has occurred. Depending on some situations you may not have to wait this out and can apply as soon as you are discharged.

Because not all lenders work with those who have recently filed chapter 7 bankruptcies, it will require a little research to find a dealership that may offer you this specialty loan. Doing an internet search will help you locate a couple of resources near your home.

The next thing to do would be to take a good hard look at your new monthly budget and determine realistically what type of payment you can handle each month. Being prepared with this figure can help ensure you are not smooth talked by some salesman to buy a more expensive car. The biggest key after bankruptcy is to be sure that you live within your means and can make all your new payments on time.

Now collect a few pieces of documentation to bring with you when you visit a car dealer or auto consultant that offers chapter 7 bankruptcy loans. This would include a couple recent check stubs to show proof of your income. Also bring your driver’s license and proof of insurance. And the final thing to bring with would be a couple utility bills. This will serve as proof of residency.

You are now prepared to pay a visit to the dealership or the auto consultants office. Tell the salesperson your situation and the particular reasons that you had to file the bankruptcy in the first place. Ask them if there is anything else you can provide to help make the loan process a little better. Use the advice of the expert to give you the greatest chance at getting a chapter 7 bankruptcy auto loan.

Zero Percent Financing: A Consumer Benefit Or A Marketing Trick?

In recent years, zero percent financing has become an increasingly popular financing option offered by most car manufacturers on new cars and trucks. While it does sound great and is extremely appealing to many car buyers, there are few things attached to it that may diminish the benefits.

Commonly, car dealers offer an alternative of a zero percent financing or a cash rebate on the vehicle purchase price. Let us say, that you are confronted with an offer of getting a cash rebate of $3,000 or a zero percent financing. While you are going to have no interest to pay, you will end up paying $3,000 more for a vehicle that you may have saved otherwise. Should you pay off your loan early, the advantage of taking zero percent financing would become null.

It is important to keep in mind that any car is a quickly depreciating asset. Taking a rebate instead of a zero percent financing incentive may help you to reduce the gap between the loan balance and the vehicle fair market value. Since your car depreciates most in the first year of use, having it totaled or stolen may leave you upside down on your zero percent auto loan since your insurance company would not cover extra $3,000 you paid for your vehicle. That means that you would have to come up with the difference to cover the remaining loan balance.

It is important to remember that nothing is truly free in this life. Financing incentives, typically coming from the corporate offices of car manufacturers, are most commonly hidden in the vehicle selling price. Car dealers, sometimes offering zero percent financing on their own, follow the same strategy.

How Does It Work?

While it is somewhat understandable how financing incentives offered by auto manufacturers work, zero percent financing offered solely by a dealer may raise your eyebrows. Obviously, banks are not going to finance you at no interest, no matter how good your credit is, since they have to make money off you to stay in business.

What usually happens is that auto dealers rebate the bank upfront for the interest charges that a customer would accrue and pay to the bank otherwise. In simple terms, your dealer pays your interest for you. Since they are not going to make it a money-losing proposition, they have to compensate these expenses somehow. That is why these costs are built into the vehicle purchase price.

Typically they are offset by a rebate that a car manufacturer would give you on a new car purchase and/or an incentive that an automaker gives a dealer for higher volume sales. What this also means to you that there is less negotiation power on your side, since a dealer would be less eager to go down on a vehicle price in this case.

Financing Incentive or a Cash Rebate?

What this means to you is that a simple mathematical equation needs to be solved. When approached with a choice between the rebate and a zero percent financing, calculate how much interest you would normally pay on a car loan and compare it to the amount of rebate. If your interest charges are going to be greater, it may be time to consider zero percent financing. Should they be not, take the rebate and run away from the zero interest deal!

What Type of Life Insurance Policy Should You Get

The primary purpose for getting life insurance will always be to protect the people you care about in case something were to happen to you. How much capital would you need in order to pay off debts, support your loved ones, or to take care of all your affairs?

After you understand what priorities you would like to protect through life insurance it is fairly easy to determine the correct amount of coverage.

What Type Of Life Insurance

The next question is what type of coverage will best serve your needs. In order to get the right amount of coverage you also have to make sure that the premiums fit comfortably into your budget.

Term Insurance Benefits

Term insurance is less expensive than whole life insurance, because you are renting the insurance. Your coverage is considered pure insurance in this case, because it doesn’t develop cash value or participate in company dividends.

Instead it allows you to get the right amount of protection for the least expensive premiums available. Term insurance has also developed over the years to offer more comprehensive options. You can get a return-of-premiums policy where you pay more during the life of the policy, but the insurance company refunds all of your premiums at the end of the fixed term.

There are also term policies that allow you to lock in your age and health for the remainder of your life, so that you can have the coverage and premiums locked in for the rest of your life. This is a great and inexpensive way to obtain permanent insurance.

How Long Should You Lock In Your Premiums

The longer you can lock in your premiums the more advantageous it will be in the long run. The insurance company takes into consideration the mortality risk during the level period of the term. If you are 35 and you get a level 20-term policy then the rates will be fixed until you are 55. And because you are locking in the premiums at a younger age, the average risk and rates will be less than if you were to lock in your premiums at 55.

Most people have an insurance need that will last throughout the rest of their lives. If you can permanently lock in a portion of your insurance at a younger age this can save you substantially on premiums. It happens quite often where people will have to apply for new coverage after the fixed rates on their current policy have expired, and because they are now older and have to pay much more in premiums.

Your health is also locked in when you first take the policy out. Many people looking for insurance in their fifties or sixties are dealing with some type of medical condition that makes the cost of life insurance double or triple in cost. The same logic that applies to locking in your age is also good to keep in mind when locking in your health. We don’t know what is going to happen to us, and if we have our insurance locked in then our insurability and premiums will be unaffected by a medical event.

Level Term Insurance

I always recommend getting a level-term policy as opposed to one that will start off lower and increase premiums each and every year. The level term policies allow you to lock in your age and health for the remainder of the term, whereas the increasing-premium policies become more expensive every year based on your new age.

Because term insurance is a less expensive way to get the right amount of protection, I believe that it is the right choice for a large majority of people looking at life insurance.

Cash Value Life Insurance: When To Consider It

First A Word Of Caution About How The Life Insurance Industry Operates

An agent who pushes one company above the others is doing his or her clients a disservice. Every company has its positives and negatives and each company has focused on certain demographics to try to create a competitive edge. There are 17 life insurance companies in the fortune 500 alone. These companies have very similar investment portfolios and conduct business in ways that are more common than not. Eight of these companies are mutual, nine are stock companies, and they all operate in order to make a profit. The most important thing that anybody can do is to have an agent who can help them shop the market for the company that is going to fit their needs best. Somebody that is a smoker with high blood pressure is going to have better options outside of the companies that target nonsmokers without health conditions. Finding the least expensive company on the market for your age and health can save you thousands of dollars.

I used to work for an insurance agency where we only sold a single triple-A-rated-insurance company. When I worked for this agency, my fellow agents and I were especially inculcated with the benefits of this company’s whole life insurance. This situation is not unique.

Captive agencies have managers that groom agents to push one company because they get paid commissions when their agents sell these products. Please don’t assume that life insurance agents are experts on the benefits of different companies and types of insurance plans, because many of them are unaware of the benefits beyond their own company. Instead of consulting their clients and shopping the market they push a single product that doesn’t always match up well. There are far too many people being given advice from agents to consider whole life insurance, because they are trained to present the same products to every client.

When You Are Considering An Insurance Company It Will Always Be Advantageous For Some People And Ill Advised For Others

If you sit down with an agent who goes over a list of benefits about a single insurance company, keep in mind that most benefits are really trade-offs. For instance, if a company is a triple-A rated insurance company than they are probably also more conservative with whom they insure. A triple-A rating is great, but it is really only necessary if you plan on participating in the companies dividends, or in other words buying their whole life insurance. There is no need to pay extra money for the privilege of having a triple-A rated company as many agents insist. A.M. Best considers a company with an A-rating to be in excellent financial health and there are many A-rated companies with less expensive insurance offers if you are not planning on participating in whole life.

When Whole Life Insurance is a Good Idea

For some people, whole life insurance can be a great complement to their financial security. I have sold whole life insurance based on the following benefits.
1) It has a guaranteed return that will consistently build up the cash value in the policy.
2) It gives policyholders permanent insurance so that they are insured throughout their lifetime.
3) It allows them to stop paying premiums after a certain number of years, because the dividends from the company will be enough to keep the policy in force.
4) It allows policyholders to take cash from the policy in the form of a loan, so that you have another option if liquidity is needed.
5) The growth of the policy is tax deferred and tax-free as long as long as the policy is kept in force.

The problem can be that many of these benefits point to life insurance as an asset or investment. Life insurance should always be considered for the death benefit first and foremost. If you have already maxed out both your Roth Ira and 401(k), have at least three months of expenses in accessible savings, and are looking for something else to build up savings then whole-life insurance can be a good option. The point is that whole life insurance is a good choice when you have the ability to max out your qualified retirement funds and are looking to complement your savings with a conservative tie in to your life insurance.

Whole life can be a mistake for a couple of reasons

There are risks when putting your money into whole life insurance. The risks aren’t always clearly explained, because the agents focus on the guaranteed dividends that will grow the cash value every year. However, one significant risk is buying into whole-life insurance, paying the premiums for a number of years, and then not being able to keep up with the premiums down the road. Life insurance companies bank on this happening to a certain percentage of policyholders.
If this occurs you are in danger of losing thousands of dollars in paid premiums without the benefit of accumulating any cash value. When a policy lapses or you can’t keep up with whole life premiums then the insurance company will retain your premiums without you having any cash value built up or any insurance in force.
These whole life polices are structured to have large front end expenses and it will take at least a couple of years before your premiums start to build up cash value. It takes about ten years before the amount of premiums you put into the policy will equal the cash value in the policy.

How Cash Value In Whole Life Insurance Works

The other risk with whole life insurance is not understanding how the cash value in the policy works and taking out too much of it. The cash value in the policy is liquid, but the insurance company will let you take out about 97% of it in order to protect against the policy lapsing. Any cash that is taken out of the policy is loaned from the policy at interest.

Lets assume that you are in the first 20 years of your whole life policy and are taking a loan from the cash value in the policy. The loaned interest rate is 8.0 %, the non-loaned dividend interest rate is 6.85%, and the loaned-dividend interest is rate is 7.9 %. Notice that the insurance company steps up the interest rate on the loaned amount or the amount borrowed from your cash value. This mitigates the cost of the loan, but the loan still creates an ongoing obligation to pay interest. For instance the cost of borrowing here would be 6.95 %.

(The loaned interest rate (8.0 %) + (the non-loaned dividend interest rate (6.85%) – the loaned-dividend interest rate (7.9%)) = cost of borrowing (6.95%).

The cash value in the policy is really a double-edged sword, because it leads to a significant risk that you will not be able to keep up with the premiums. It is practically intended for people who can repay the loan quickly so that the policy continues to develop dividends instead of an obligation to pay interest. It is great for people who aren’t ever tempted to borrow from the policy, because the dividends will compound and eventually be able to cover the cost of annual premiums. When this occurs the risk of lapsing will be negligible. However, this takes quite some time to achieve and it truly depends on how disciplined you can afford to be with the additional cost of these premiums. If you would rather have control of your money up front there is an argument that you can buy term and invest the rest instead of leveraging the insurance companies general fund.

Your Personality Profile And Budget Must Be In Line

I recommend taking a look at both your budget and how much control you want over your money for at least the next ten years if you are considering whole life. Because term insurance can now permanently lock in your age and health in the same manner as whole life insurance, the biggest question is whether or not you want control over investing the difference in premiums. Many people prefer whole life insurance because they don’t have to think about investing the difference; the insurance company does it for them. They can also grow their death benefit by the amount of growth in cash value and act as their own creditor if they ever want to borrow cash from the policy.

A Couple Other Points About Whole Life Insurance

The cash value component in a whole life insurance policy needs to be addressed. The first is that cash value is based on compounding dividends. So the longer you keep the paying premiums the more advantageous it is. The second is that if you go with a reliable insurance company they will usually pay non-guaranteed dividends that are based on the results of an insurance companies investments. This is when rating is important to consider, because you are now participating in these dividends. Also if you have allowed the cash value to grow and take out modest loans from the policy later in life, you will most likely have enough in dividends to keep pace beyond the ongoing obligation of interest. However if you do surrender the policy the gains will be taxed as capital gains and you will have to pay a surrender charge as well. If the policy is in force and you pass away while there are still outstanding loans, the death benefit will be paid out after it covers the cost of the loans that you have taken from the policy.

Term Insurance Vs. Whole Life

I believe the most important factor in all of this is the human element. If you are patient, conservative, and comfortably able to continue paying premiums without the temptation to borrow from the cash-value then you are a good candidate for whole life insurance. The majority of people have fluctuating budgets and circumstances where they are better off with something that locks in their age and health and gives them the opportunity to invest the difference elsewhere.