A little but significant change to federal tax law snuck inside the year-end omnibus budget and coronavirus relief measure applies some new arithmetic to the interest rates used to qualify some life insurance plans. According to analysts, the revisions, which were passed as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (H.R. 133), might bring in a stronger sales climate for life insurers and a bigger savings chance for customers.
- A provision in the federal budget agreement signed into law at the close of the fiscal year modifies a tax code regulation that applies to certain life insurance plans.
- The statute modifies important interest rates that were established more than 35 years ago and are utilized to define tax-advantaged, permanent life insurance plans under IRC Section 7702.
- The shift is notable since more individuals now depend on life insurance for reasons other than death benefits.
Section 7702 of the Internal Revenue Code, which outlines how plans qualify as life insurance contracts under the tax code, is amended by the bill. It also specifies how much money may be accumulated within a life insurance policy without being taxed at the time.
These plans must pass one of two criteria to qualify as life insurance for federal tax purposes: the cash value accumulation test or the guideline premium test. They are intended to limit the amount of premiums that may be paid as well as the percentage of cash value to the entire face amount of a policy.
Previously, the rule required life insurers to credit 4% interest rates on the cash value of permanent life insurance and other long-term life insurance plans in order for the policies to continue to provide coverage until death. What is the problem? Section 7702 was written in 1984, when interest rates were significantly higher than they are now.
Without adjusting the outdated rates to better match current, pandemic-influenced economic conditions, insurer groups feared that issuing new permanent life insurance policies, as well as the rates of return the companies generate on the investments that support their life insurance contract payouts, would be jeopardized.
These worries were justified, considering that permanent life insurance plans now account for 59% of the individual life insurance market, according to statistics from the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI).
“The effect of COVID on already historically low interest rates has pushed the design and financing of permanent life insurance plans to breaking point,” says Paul Graham, senior vice president for policy development at ACLI. “With these adjustments, the substantially lower interest profits may now be offset by premium dollars paid in by the policyholder, allowing plans to achieve their intended death benefit during the term of the policy.”
The new legislation reduces the primary interest rate used in generating life insurance plans to 2% in 2021, and after that, future rates are tied to regularly revised benchmarks. For new policies, the decrease takes effect on January 1, 2021. Section 7702 would return to earlier rates if market interest rates normalized in the future.
What’s the Impact?
Section 7702 was designed to distinguish between actual life insurance policies and investment vehicles masquerading as them, ensuring that only genuine plans got advantageous tax treatment.
The new rule should assist permanent life insurance policies in remaining categorized as tax-advantaged life insurance contracts and avoiding classification as other assets whose benefits are taxed as regular income.
Furthermore, according to Michel Leonard, CBE, vice president and senior economist at the Insurance Information Institute, the adjustment makes it easier for insurers to issue and sell permanent life plans. Furthermore, for customers and policyholders, the adjustment may provide greater financial stability by raising the sums that policyholders may contribute to cash-value life insurance accounts. (Permanent life insurance plans have a savings component that accumulates cash value that policyholders may access.)
What’s Driving Life Insurance Need?
The legislation reform is especially significant in light of changing consumer intentions in obtaining life insurance, with more people depending on these policies for financial and retirement security.
According to LIMRA consumer data, more than half of American individuals (54%) have some sort of life insurance. However, in the last two years, the motivations for having it have evolved. According to LIMRA, covering last costs fell as a motivator in 2020, but saving for retirement climbed.
While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted life insurance sales in the first half of 2020, LIMRA anticipates that most whole life and term policies will recover to pre-pandemic sales growth in 2021 and 2022.
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