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Abusive Insurance and Retirement Plans

Abusive Insurance and Retirement Plans: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Some of the listed transactions CPA tax practitioners are most likely to encounter are employee benefit insurance plans that the IRS has deemed abusive. Many of these plans have been sold by promoters in conjunction with life insurance companies. As long ago as 1984, with the addition of

Lance Wallach - Google

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Advisers Staring at a New 'Slew' of Litigation From Small-Business Clients

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Expert Tax Advice on 6707A

Expert Tax Advice on 6707A and more

The Team Approach to Tax, Financial and Estate Planning

by Lance Wallach CLU, ChFC, CIMC


CPAs are the best and most qualified professionals when it comes to serving their clients needs, but they need to know when and how to coordinate with other experts.

Over the last twenty years we have worked with thousands of practitioners who have decided to add financial services to their practices. They do it for a variety of reasons, but the most common are as follows:

*They don’t want to refer their client elsewhere when they request financial services.

* They want to remain competitive.

*They want to diversify and increase their revenue as opposed to depending solely on tax and accounting revenue.

While helping these professionals add planning and investment services to their core offerings, we have found that they achieve four main benefits after doing so:

1. They are more satisfied with their work.

2. Their clients are more satisfied because they can work with someone they trust to meet financial goals.

3. Their clients give them more referrals.

4. Their incomes increase.

We believe that CPAs are the most appropriate--and perhaps the only--professionals who can provide comprehensive financial services to clients because they understand their clients' tax and financial situations. Their clients trust these practitioners to provide professional advice that is in their best interest. In fact, we believe that tax professionals have an obligation and responsibility to advise their clients, and clients expect their professionals to advise them in these important areas.

With a combination of never-ending tax reform, the Tax Code's significant and complex changes, and the market volatility we've experienced over the past few years, clients need guidance more than ever. Practitioners who provide financial planning and investment advisory services are in a position to advise and assist their clients with these issues.

Practitioners just starting out in this arena may not possess the myriad skill sets and substantive knowledge required to embark on new business ventures.

CPAs who don't have all of the necessary talent in-house may find it easier to associate themselves with strategic "partners" who can provide the proper skill sets, training, technology, support and turnkey solutions in their specialized disciplines and niches, to help identify and meet their clients' financial goals.

Adapted from "The Team Approach to Tax, Financial & Estate Planning," edited by Lance Wallach, with chapters by Katharine Gratwick Baker, Fredda Herz Brown, Dr. Stanly J. Feldman, Ira Kaplan, Joseph W. Maczuga, Roger E. Nauheimer, Roger C. Ochs, Matthew J. O'Connor, Richard Preston, Steve Riley, Carl Lloyd Sheeler, Peter Spero, Paul J. Williams, and Roger M. Winsby. Product 017235.

Lance Wallach, the National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year, speaks and writes extensively about retirement plans, Circular 230 problems and tax reduction strategies. He speaks at more than 40 conventions annually, writes for over 50 publications, is quoted regularly in the press, and has written numerous best-selling AICPA books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Business Hot Spots. Contact him at 516.938.5007 or visit www.vebaplan.com.

The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any other type of advice for any specific individual or other entity. You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.

Captive Insurance and Other Tax Reduction Strategies



The Good, Bad, and Ugly

By Lance Wallach                                                                  


Every accountant knows that increased cash flow and cost savings are critical for businesses.  What is uncertain is the best path to recommend to garner these benefits.

Over the past decade business owners have been overwhelmed by a plethora of choices designed to reduce the cost of providing employee benefits while increasing their own retirement savings. The solutions ranged from traditional pension and profit sharing plans to more advanced strategies.

Some strategies, such as IRS section 419 and 412(i) plans, used life insurance as vehicles to bring about benefits. Unfortunately, the high life insurance commissions (often 90% of the contribution, or more) fostered an environment that led to aggressive and noncompliant plans.

The result has been thousands of audits and an IRS task force seeking out tax shelter promotion. For unknowing clients, the tax consequences are enormous. For their accountant advisors, the liability may be equally extreme.

Recently, there has been an explosion in the marketing of a financial product called Captive Insurance. These so called “Captives” are typically small insurance companies designed to insure the risks of an individual business under IRS code section 831(b). When properly designed, a business can make tax-deductible premium payments to a 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 as capital gains.

While captives can be a great cost saving tool, they also are expensive to build and manage. Also, captives are allowed to garner tax benefits because they operate as real insurance companies. Advisors and business owners who misuse captives or market them as estate planning tools, asset protection vehicles, tax deferral or other benefits not related to the true business purpose of an insurance company face grave regulatory and tax consequences.

A recent concern is the integration of small captives with life insurance policies. Small captives 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 at corporate rates, and then will be taxable again when distributed.  The consequence of this double taxation is to devastate the efficacy of the life insurance, and it extends serious liability to any accountant who 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 419 and 412(i) plans mentioned above.

Remember, if something looks too good to be true, it usually is. There are safe and conservative ways to use captive insurance structures to lower costs and obtain benefits for businesses. And, some types of captive insurance products do have statutory protection for deducting life insurance premiums (although not 831(b) captives). Learning what works and is safe is the first step an accountant should take in helping his or her clients use these powerful, but highly technical insurance tools. 

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Lance Wallach speaks and writes extensively about VEBAs, retirement plans, and tax reduction strategies.  He speaks at more than 70 conventions annually, writes for 50 publications, and was the National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year.  Contact him at 516.938.5007 or visit www.vebaplan.com.
    The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any other type of advice for any specific individual or other entity.  You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.


Abusive 412(i) Retirement Plans Can Get Accountants Fined $200,000



By Lance Wallach & Ira Kaplan

Most insurance agents sell 412(i) retirement plans.  The large insurance commissions generate some of the enthusiasm.  Unlike other retirement plans, the 412(i) plan must have insurance products as the funding mechanism.  This seems to generate enthusiasm among insurance agents.  The IRS has been auditing almost all participants in 412(i) plans for the last few years.  At first, they thought all 412(i) plans were abusive.  Many participants’ contributions were disallowed and there were additional fines of $200,000 per year for the participants.  The accountants who signed the tax returns (who the IRS called “material advisors”) were also fined $200,000 with a referral to the Office of Professional Responsibility.  For more articles and details, see www.vebaplan.com and www.irs.gov/.

On Friday February 13, 2004, the IRS issued proposed regulations concerning the valuation of insurance contracts in the context of qualified retirement plans. 

The IRS said that it is no longer reasonable to use the cash surrender value or the interpolated terminal reserve as the accurate value of a life insurance contract for income tax purposes.  The proposed regulations stated that the value of a life insurance contract in the context of qualified retirement plans should be the contract’s fair market value.

The Service acknowledged in the regulations (and in a revenue procedure issued simultaneously) that the fair market value standard could create some confusion among taxpayers.  They addressed this possibility by describing a safe harbor position.

When I addressed the American Society of Pension Actuaries Annual National Convention, the IRS chief actuary also spoke about attacking abusive 412(i) pensions.

A “Section 412(i) plan” is a tax-qualified retirement plan that is funded entirely by a life insurance contract or an annuity.  The employer claims tax deductions for contributions that are used by the plan to pay premiums on an insurance contract covering an employee.  The plan may hold the contract until the employee dies, or it may distribute or sell the contract to the employee at a specific point, such as when the employee retires.

“The guidance targets specific abuses occurring with Section 412(i) plans”, stated Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Pam Olson.  “There are many legitimate Section 412(i) plans, but some push the envelope, claiming tax results for employees and employers that do not reflect the underlying economics of the arrangements.”  Or, to put it another way, tax deductions are being claimed, in some cases, that the Service does not feel are reasonable given the taxpayer’s facts and circumstances. 

“Again and again, we’ve uncovered abusive tax avoidance transactions that game the system to the detriment of those who play by the rules,” said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. 

The IRS has warned against Section 412(i) defined benefit pension plans, named for the former IRC section governing them. It warned against certain trust arrangements it deems abusive, some of which may be regarded as listed transactions. Falling into that category can result in taxpayers having to disclose such participation under pain of penalties, potentially reaching $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for other taxpayers. Targets also include some retirement plans.
One reason for the harsh treatment of 412(i) plans is their discrimination in favor of owners and key, highly compensated employees. Also, the IRS does not consider the promised tax relief proportionate to the economic realities of these transactions. In general, IRS auditors divide audited plans into those they consider noncompliant and others they consider abusive. While the alternatives available to the sponsor of a noncompliant plan are problematic, it is frequently an option to keep the plan alive in some form while simultaneously hoping to minimize the financial fallout from penalties.
The sponsor of an abusive plan can expect to be treated more harshly. Although in some situations something can be salvaged, the possibility is definitely on the table of having to treat the plan as if it never existed, which of course triggers the full extent of back taxes, penalties and interest on all contributions that were made, not to mention leaving behind no retirement plan whatsoever.  In addition, if the participant did not file Form 8886 and the accountant did not file Form 8918 (to report themselves), they would be fined $200,000.

Lance Wallach, the National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year, speaks and writes extensively about retirement plans, Circular 230 problems and tax reduction strategies.  He speaks at more than 40 conventions annually, writes for over 50 publications and has written numerous best selling AICPA books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Business Hot Spots.  Contact him at 516.938.5007 or visit www.vebaplan.com.

The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any other type of advice for any specific individual or other entity.  You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.


CAHALY vs. BENISTAR PROPERTY EXCHANGE TRUST COMPANY

CAHALY vs. BENISTAR PROPERTY EXCHANGE TRUST COMPANY, INC., 451 Mass. 343