Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Does A Tax Free Retirement Plan Exist?

Keeping with the theme of taxes this week, I wanted to share some information on a life insurance plan and how to use it to your advantage when it comes to taxes, or should I say "tax avoidance". One product in particular may help you supplement your retirement without having Uncle Sam reaching into your pocket. 

First, I have to again give the obligatory disclaimer that I am not a tax expert and if you have questions or concerns regarding any of this you should consult your own tax professional. 

As an insurance agent I have worked with many products and, for the most part, my clients are made up of middle class people. Many of them are small business owners (less than 50 employees) or self-employed individuals in sales or other related professions. In a nutshell, I'm not working with a lot of millionaires.

Life insurance for most of these people is usually term, which is affordable, but does not offer many other features other than a death benefit. When I ask about their retirement plans they usually have a small amount of money put away, but not much. (After the Great Recession of 2008 many used their 401(k) plans to pay their bills). 

With this in mind, I let them know that life insurance has a special status when it comes to taxes. The death benefit is almost always non-taxable. Once people figured this out they started taking advantage of this and companies developed policies like whole life and universal life insurance that could build some cash value internally.

These policies also allowed for "over funding", which means you can pay additional premiums into the policy, over and above the stated price of the insurance, with the intention of having some money accumulating. The IRS made some guidelines to prevent the abuse of this loophole, by declaring a policy with too much premium going in as a Modified Endowment Contract* (MEC). 

However, permanent life insurance policies do allow one to access that cash value inside the policy. How they access the money is the tricky part (it's not that tricky) to avoid paying any taxes on it. 

Taking the cash out of the policy as a loan removes the tax burden on insured person because everyone assumes that the loan will be repaid. And if the person dies before repayment, that loan is deducted from the death benefit. And this is where these policies are most effective. 

Because that loan is tax-free, one can over fund a policy to its maximum (without becoming a MEC) and use that money as a "retirement supplement" without paying a dime to the government. 

Here is where I have to give another disclaimer. First and foremost, these are life insurance policies and NOT investment vehicles. For years when the interest rates were high, agents sold universal life as a way to make money instead of protecting money. This practice is frowned upon in our industry.

And since it is life insurance, an insured age, tobacco usage and medical history can affect the cost of the policy, as well as the cash accumulation. A 30 year old healthy non-smoker will get much more out of this plan than a 40 year old obese smoker with high blood pressure and diabetes.

Even though this can be done with a whole life insurance policy, the most efficient way to do this is with an indexed universal life (IUL) policy. I will acknowledge that there are detractors to these policies who see the problems from the past when traditional universal life policies failed to provide the cash when interest rates began to fall. 

The secret here is to structure an IUL properly from the beginning. If done properly, an insured can access the money in the policy in the form of a loan for many years. 

If you would like information on how to use a life insurance policy a tax-free retirement supplement, let us know. In the meantime, please stay healthy.

*When a policy becomes a MEC it also becomes taxable. Since no one wants that too happen we, as life insurance agents, will run an illustration to get as close to a MEC without having it become one. 

Chris Castanes is the president of Surf Financial Brokers, helping people find affordable life and disability insurance coverage. He's also is a professional speaker helping sales people be more productive and efficient and has spoken to professional and civic organizations throughout the Southeast. And please subscribe to this blog! 

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