Monday, February 4, 2008

Tax and life insurance

Taxation of life insurance in the United States
Premiums paid by the policy owner are normally not deductible for federal and state income tax purposes.

Proceeds paid by the insurer upon death of the insured are not includible in taxable income for federal and state income tax purposes; however, if the proceeds are included in the "estate" of the deceased, it is likely they will be subject to federal and state estate and inheritance tax.

Cash value increases within the policy are not subject to income taxes unless certain events occur. For this reason, insurance policies can be a legal and legitimate tax shelter wherein savings can increase without taxation until the owner withdraws the money from the policy. On flexible-premium policies, large deposits of premium could cause the contract to be considered a "Modified Endowment Contract" by the IRS, which negates many of the tax advantages associated with life insurance. The insurance company, in most cases, will inform the policy owner of this danger before applying their premium.

Tax deferred benefit from a life insurance policy may be offset by its low return or high cost in some cases. This depends upon the insuring company, type of policy and other variables (mortality, market return, etc.). Also, other income tax saving vehicles (i.e. IRA, 401K or Roth IRA) appear to be better alternatives for value accumulation, at least for more sophisticated investors who can keep track of multiple financial vehicles. The combination of low-cost term life insurance and higher return tax-efficient retirement accounts can achieve better performance, assuming that the insurance itself is only needed for a limited amount of time.

The tax ramifications of life insurance are complex. The policy owner would be well advised to carefully consider them. As always, Congress or the state legislatures can change the tax laws at any time.

Taxation of life assurance in the United Kingdom
Premiums are not usually allowable against income tax or corporation tax, however qualifying policies issued prior to 14 March 1984 do still attract LAPR (Life Assurance Premium Relief) at 15% (with the net premium being collected from the policyholder).

Non-investment life policies do not normally attract either income tax or capital gains tax on claim. If the policy has as investment element such as an endowment policy, whole of life policy or an investment bond then the tax treatment is determined by the qualifying status of the policy.

Qualifying status is determined at the outset of the policy if the contract meets certain criteria. Essentially, long term contracts (10 years plus) tend to be qualifying policies and the proceeds are free from income tax and capital gains tax. Single premium contracts and those run for a short term are subject to income tax depending upon your marginal rate in the year you make a gain. All (UK) insurers pay a special rate of corporation tax on the profits from their life book; this is deemed as meeting the lower rate (20% in 2005-06) liability for policyholders. Therefore if you are a higher rate taxpayer (40% in 2005-06), or become one through the transaction, you must pay tax on the gain at the difference between the higher and the lower rate. This gain may be reduced by applying a complicated calculation called top-slicing based on the number of years you have held the policy.

Although this is complicated, the taxation of life assurance based investment contracts may be beneficial compared to alternative equity based collective investment schemes (unit trusts, investment trusts and OEICs). One feature which especially favors investment bonds is the ability to draw 5% of the original investment amount each policy year without being subject to any taxation on the amount withdrawn. The withdrawal is deemed by HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) to be a payment of capital and therefore the tax calculation is deferred until further encashment above the 5% limit. This is an especially useful tax planning tool for higher rate taxpayers who expect to become basic rate taxpayers at some predictable point in the future (e.g. retirement).

The proceeds of a life policy will be included in the estate for inheritance tax (IHT) purposes. Policies written in trust may fall outside the estate for IHT purposes but it's not always that simple. If in doubt you should seek profession advice from an IFA (Independent Financial Adviser) who is registered with the government regulator: the Financial Services Authority.

Pension Term Assurance
Although available before April 2006, from this date pension term assurance became widely available in the UK. Most UK product providers adopted the name "life insurance with tax relief" for the product. Pension term assurance is effectively normal term life assurance with tax relief on the premiums. All premiums are paid net of basic rate tax at 22%, and higher rate tax payers can gain an extra 18% tax relief via their tax return. Although not suitable for all, PTA briefly became one of the most common forms of life assurance sold in the UK until the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, announced the withdrawal of the scheme in his pre-budget announcement on 6 December 2006. The tax relief ceased to be available to new policies transacted after 6 December 2006, however, existing policies have been allowed to continue to enjoy tax relief so far.

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