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Letters of Explanation: Donating a Policy to Charity

August 16th, 2018 No comments

Good Afternoon:

It is my pleasure to be introduced to you.  Your accountant referred you to me because of the frustrating, yet required process when donating a life insurance policy to a non-profit.  I understand it is not pleasant to hear you won’t be getting the deduction you were expecting for your policy donation to the school but the process I will bring you through will get you everything you are entitled to.

Unfortunately, your cash value is not the number the IRS looks at when taking donations into account.  To think about it in a simplistic way, they aren’t eager to let you take a deduction for something you have never paid tax on.  In other words, the special rules which allow your life insurance cash value to grow tax free is what is preventing you from fully deducting that same cash value.

The tax rules state that the deduction is for the cash value or your basis in the contract, whichever is lower.  Even though your cash value is $100,000, the premiums paid into your policy total $22,000.  The $78,000 of tax free growth is not deductible.  On the other hand, if your cash value was only $10,000 then that would be your limit.

Additionally, the rules say that if your donation exceeds $5,000 you must also have an appraisal.  The purpose of this is to prove that the policy is not worth less than the cash value and the basis, though that is almost never the case.  Life insurance simply got caught up in the appraisal rules for everything else.  Because of the nature of your policy, I already know off the top of my head what the fair market value of your policy is but we still have to go through the formal process.

Fortunately, I have relationships with multiple life insurance appraisers around the country and I know which ones to go to for which purposes.  You don’t want to pay more than you need to but you also definitely don’t want to cheap out when you shouldn’t.  For a case like this, there is a specialist I work with who charges a very modest flat fee.  It is my responsibility to collect all of the forms and paperwork, get them to him, coordinate with the non-profit and bring this all together for you to hand to your CPA.

Again, sorry for the disappointment but probably better to deal with this now than have the IRS come back next year with tax and penalties for an improper deduction.

I look forward to the process and please don’t hesitate to call or email my with any questions.



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Life Insurance Premium Financing

August 15th, 2018 No comments

It’s too often improperly presented, implemented and managed.

I’ll start out by saying that I’m not opposed to premium financing. I’m simply a strong advocate for making sure it’s understood and done right. That being said, many of these proposals are not understood and can be misleading.

Fundamentals of Financing

First, it’s a good idea to look back to the general fundamentals of financing. Financing comes into play when someone needs or wants to purchase an asset of something but doesn’t have the money or the liquidity to pay the entire purchase price. Financing fills this void, not to get something that’s otherwise unaffordable.

We do this day in and day out. We finance our homes, cars, businesses, equipment and more. Generally, we can afford these things but the money isn’t readily available. Additionally, we often finance things we do have the money for if the financing provides a positive arbitrage to be taken advantage of.

I have a 3-7/8 percent mortgage on my house. I also have the cash to pay it off faster than my mortgage schedule requires but I don’t because I’m confident I can earn more than 3-7/8 percent on my investments over time in the market or in real estate or in my business or whatever I choose to put my money in. Is there a risk? Sure there is but it’s not outsized, and I’m confident I can cover it in a worst-case scenario. If this was a time when my mortgage interest was 10 percent or greater, I might make different decisions.

Free Insurance?

Back to life insurance premium financing. Say you’re a business owner or real estate developer, and your money is earning 20 percent. How eager would you be to take your money off the table to buy life insurance with a return of a fraction of that?  Even if you needed it for business succession or estate tax liquidity, it’s difficult to take productive money out of the game.

Instead, someone would lend you the money to pay premiums and take the policy cash value as collateral. Then, you could keep your money in the game and only pay interest on the loan, or even accrue the interest, which might be more attractive. Hypothetically, even if the loan rate was 10 percent, it might be a smart strategy to keep your money working at 20 percent. Of course, you’d realize you had to roll out of this deal at some point. Maybe you have a planned liquidity even in the future. Maybe you simply cash out of something later because cashing out of a productive deal later is better than cashing out now.

But what if I approached you with an idea that the cash value of your life insurance policy, which collateralizes the bank loan, grows at a rate over and above the interest of the loan to a point where the loan itself could be paid off with a withdrawal of cash from the policy down the road while maintaining enough cash value to support the policy moving forward? Now that’s exciting, no? Free insurance? On paper it certainly can look like it. This is when premium financing took off.

Before we continue, does this sound remotely like anything else we’ve seen in the past?  What about home financing in the 1990s and 2000s.  Weren’t countless people buying homes with the idea that equity was growing much faster than debt? Maybe you could even do this with multiple houses?

When mortgage rates were exceedingly low and money was easy to get and homes were appreciating much faster than financing rates, it was a sweet deal. However, a line was crossed. People ignored fundamentals and began to make decisions based on qualifying for financing rather than being able to afford the deals. As always, it was only a matter of time before things came back into equilibrium, and when they did, it happened in a very harsh way.

Premium Financing Fundamentals

How does this relate to premium financing? There are a few fundamentals with premium financing. One is that someone financing life insurance should actually have a need or desire for the life insurance in the first place. Second, someone financing life insurance should be able to afford the life insurance without the financing. Finally, a worst-case scenario should be modeled and a viable exit plan in place for such an occurrence. The fundamental financed risks and the black-and-white economic dynamics of the proposal should be understood and evaluated on par with any other significant financial transaction. Stress testing should be brought to bear. Real life modeling is imperative. I could go on.

While this may all sound obvious, too often it’s not what is happening in the marketplace. Some are talked into deals who don’t need or even want insurance. Some can’t afford it. Real life modeling and stress testing is too often absent. Sales spreadsheets frequently show unrealistically high and stable earnings and unrealistically low interest costs. For reasons I may never fully understand, when the same millions and the same risk is on the table, these transactions are handled very differently from real estate transactions, business acquisitions, private equity deals or any substantive investment. Rarely are there independent consultants and third-party crunching of numbers, just trusting consumers nodding and signing.

Case in Point

A family office brings me in to analyze a proposed deal. This one was built around a whole life policy rather than an indexed contract but the basic issues are the same. Not only is the proposal to finance a new $20 million contract but also the future premiums of millions of existing insurance, using the existing cash value as collateral. The spreadsheets looked great … until I dug into them.

The proposal assumed financing rates lower than they actually were at the time and the rates, by all accounts, were going up. The earnings on the cash value assumed to be perpetually stable when it’s possible they’ll continue their downward trend for another year or two. The assumption that there will be an ongoing spread of a few 100 basis points between rate of return on cash value and financing rates makes this look feasible when I believe the rates may, in fact, be inverted within a couple of years.

What was unanticipated is when I prepared an analysis assuming these farfetched assumptions would actually hold. The result? It looked like it would work but there was no bail-out option. Not only would the new policy have inadequate cash value to pay off the loan even if it was completely cashed out but also so much cash value from the existing insurance would have to be forfeited even though that insurance wouldn’t be sustainable moving forward. If they had to or wanted to bail, they would be worse off than if they never did anything, even under unrealistically favorable circumstances. Under more reasonable assumptions, but still more favorable than likely, the family would ultimately incur $50 million in debt for a portfolio of policies with only slightly higher cash value (and less net cash value than they started with) and a net death benefit one half of the debt load. I just don’t see how this is healthy.

Why is this happening when on the surface things look good and there’s a positive arbitrage at play? Because there isn’t a positive arbitrage at play. Numbers aren’t always really the numbers. In this case, the declared dividend is 6.2 percent. Assuming it stays there indefinitely, the internal rate of return on the premium to cash value for the new $20 million policy at 10, 15 and 20 years is 0.56 percent, 1.93 percent and 2.43 percent, respectively. Do you think for a moment the client understands this? Expenses, mortality charges, commissions and so on affect the numbers and impact the spread. You simply don’t earn the stated dividend rate on the premiums. You can’t have positive arbitrage when the real crediting rate is actually significantly lower than the financing charges. On a net basis, this entire transaction is sliding backwards from the day it’s implemented rather than the other way around. In retrospect, it’s easy to understand why no roll out was illustrated.

I’ve reviewed a premium financing proposal where the debt grew to a billion dollars. You read that right. The ledger looked strange because there wasn’t room for all of the zeroes. Imagine that deal coming off the tracks.

Premium financing is fine. How it’s often presented, implemented and managed isn’t.

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Letters of Explanation – Trustee Liability

July 31st, 2018 No comments

This letter is to the management of a law firm.  Multiple attorneys act as trustees for clients.  There has been no program of management regarding these policies and I was called in to suggest a plan.  I was also able to look at redacted policy information and could see at a glance that many policies are underperforming and headed towards failure.  A decision was made that the attorneys deal with it on a case by case basis as they see fit.  I see this as a grave mistake.

Dear Firm Management:

It’s been a while since we’ve talked and the last time we did you mentioned the attorneys who are acting as trustees will be deciding independently on how to proceed.

I understand this but as we discussed earlier, if things go wrong (which they have and will) and result in a lawsuit, case law has shown that an independent third party is critical to a successful defense.  I am currently involved in four litigation support and expert witness cases, some going after trustees and some defending trustees. For full post, click here…

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Letters of Explanation: Whole Life Term Blend

July 25th, 2018 No comments

This letter is to a client explaining why the term blended whole life policy on his mother is failing:

Dear Mr. Client:

Unfortunately I still do not have what I requested from XYZ Life but I was able to do some work anyway.  Also, what I requested may end up being sent directly to the policy owner, which is you as trustee, at the address of record.

You had asked about potential income tax consequences regarding this policy and I believe there would be none as it looks like the gross cash value is less than what I calculate the basis to be in the contract.  I am waiting on a formal basis and gain calc from the company. For full post, click here…

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Success Story: Another Second Opinion

July 20th, 2018 2 comments

The attorney for a billionaire family called me one day at the behest of a mutual acquaintance. The clients were looking to procure $100,000,000 of new coverage and simply wanted a second opinion.

The couple worked closely with a large bank and their advisor had brought in the bank insurance specialist. I went in with no preconceived notion as I have seen many similar situations and in some I supported the transaction and others I stopped it. success-stories-logo

In this case the existing advisors had been doing a very good job. They seemed sincere and had looked at many angles. I am not sure how excited they were that I was brought in but they had to deal with me. I quickly realized they are among the “good guys” and all I did, after understanding the goals and objectives, was to challenge a few things, brought a couple of ideas to the table and offer some opinions. In the end, what they moved forward with was substantively what they had planned before I was in the picture. For full post, click here…

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Giving Life Insurance to a Charity

June 13th, 2018 No comments

Make sure clients understand rules before taking action.

Life Insurance and associated tax issues are complicated. When you throw charity into the mix, it can get downright diabolical. It’s not as much that the rules are so complex, it’s that they don’t make sense to the typical taxpayer/donor.

Recently, I had another call about appraising a life insurance policy donated to charity. The one thing these calls have in common is that the policy in question was donated a number of months ago and only well after the fact did the policy owner understand the “special rules.” Very few people understand the tax and deduction rules before they make the gift. This also leads me to believe that whomever the donor is dealing with at the nonprofit in question doesn’t really know the rules either. For full post, click here…

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Is Working For One Life Insurance Carrier Ethical?

May 23rd, 2018 1 comment

In some cases, agents may be crossing the line.

The life insurance world is certainly a lot different today than it was decades ago. Rather than just whole life and term insurance, there’s a wide menu of products available. Some products are driven by interest rates, some by market returns and some by indexes. Some are guaranteed while other aren’t.

Distribution models vary widely. There are internet marketing models, traditional agencies and independents who work though brokerage general agencies (BGA) that represent multiple insurance carriers, among others. One can get life insurance from financial advisors, banks, those predominantly in the property and casualty and health insurance market, traditional agents, etc. It seems the most unique way to get insurance today is through a dedicated life insurance agent. Times change. For full post, click here…

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Why Fund a Buy-Sell Agreement?

May 14th, 2018 No comments

Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Occasionally, I run into the business owner who questions the merit of funding a buy-sell agreement with life insurance. Some people are so anti-insurance they’ll say no regardless of what’s put in front of them.

I understand this sentiment. We’re sold on so many things so regularly that our automatic defense mechanism is often to say no. I’ve been there. However, there have been a number of times when I caught myself doing this and then challenged myself to listen, and every once in a while I came away with a different mindset. For example, this happened when I discovered that a commercial lawn service would treat my lawn several times a season for less than I was paying for the product to do it myself. For full post, click here…

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Defined Benefit Life Insurance

April 17th, 2018 No comments

Clients need to pay attention, as the world has changed
By Bill Boersma

In my ongoing effort to educate people on how life insurance works, I seek out new analogies and examples on a regular basis.

Along with others, I’ve written exhaustively about underperformance and management of life insurance. Charlie Ratner is fond of saying it isn’t underperforming, it’s under-explained. I completely agree. If your car runs out of gas and stops along the side of the road, is it really underperforming? Life insurance policies need gas, and if they don’t get it, they stop too. Fortunately no one at the dealership needs to explain this to society because a critical mass of people understand this and help educate others as they come along. For full post, click here…

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Life Insurance with an Infinite Return?

April 9th, 2018 No comments

Warn clients not to bail on policies.

An advisor recently called me regarding a client who has a $2.5 million second-to-die guaranteed universal life policy. The contract was put in force in 2012, so those who are familiar with the market understand that was near the bottom of the pricing curve. Nonetheless, the clients want to bail on this policy, purportedly due to the change in estate tax laws.

Given the fact that this policy is an unduplicable contract with a premium so relatively modest they probably can’t notice it, and noting the sunset provision and probable estate tax uncertainty moving forward, I’m not sure this is a wise choice, but it’s not for me to say. Maybe the kids have been ticking them off lately. For full post, click here…

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