The Life Insurance Dividend Season (Continued)

In an earlier entry, we reported on the dividend declarations from two of the gold standard mutual insurance companies – Northwestern Mutual and Massachusetts Mutual. Both are very highly rated carriers, and have paid dividends each year for well over 100 years. However, like most insurance companies these days, both are feeling the effects of the historic low interest rate environment, and as a result, have reported lower dividend interest rates (DIR).

MassMutual’s reported DIR for 2018 is 6.40% – a drop from the 2017 rate of 6.70% (which was down from the 2016 DIR rate of 7.10%). Northwestern Mutual declared a 2018 dividend interest rate that dropped to 4.9% from the 2017 DIR rate of 5% (which was down from the 2016 DIR rate of 5.45%).

Since our last post, both New York Life and Guardian Life have reported their dividend interest rates.

New York Life reported a 2018 dividend payout of $1.78 billion, the largest in the history of the company and the 164th consecutive year of dividend payouts. The DIR rate for NY Life was 6.1% (which was down from their 2017 rate of 6.2%). In announcing the DIR drop, their first since 2012, New York Life referenced, “the continued historic low level of interest rates, which constrain our investment returns.”

Guardian Life, who has paid dividends each year since 1868, reported a $911 million dividend payout. The DIR for Guardian remained the same as it was in 2017- 5.85% (which was down from their 2016 rate of 6.05%).

So, for 2018, 3 of the 4 carriers mentioned lowered their DIR. It will take a while for portfolio returns to turn around for insurance carriers. Almost exactly 3 years ago we reported on the dividends for these same four carriers. In that entry, our visual was a battleship and the title referenced the fact that raising dividends is much like turning a battleship around. We featured a quote from the chairman of New York Life at the time, who noted, “The downward pressure on interest rates continues to be challenging for life insurers.”  In announcing the 2018 dividend, Roger Crandall, MassMutual Chairman, President and CEO, referenced the “backdrop of a prolonged low interest rate environment.” Not much has changed.

However, this week the Fed raised rates by a quarter of a percentage point to a range of 1.25 to 1.50 percent, its third rate hike this year, with its forecast of three additional rate increases in 2018 and 2019 unchanged.

Maybe by next year the battleship will really begin to turn around.

Trustee Alert: New Tax Law Changes (Simplifies) Tax Reporting On Life Settlement Sales

Back in May we wrote about the need for trustees to be aware of life settlements. A life settlement can provide a TOLI trust with more value than a policy surrender. The role of a TOLI trustee dictates that all assets are maximized – including “unwanted” life insurance policies.

In the past, tax reporting around a life settlement was onerous, primarily because of an IRS ruling enacted in 2009. IRS Ruling 2009-13 dictated that policy sellers reduce the cost basis in the policy sold by the cumulative cost of insurance charges incurred. The requirement was, at best, burdensome. Often it was impossible to comply with. Most carriers had difficulty providing the information, for some policies it was virtually impossible to compute the amount. The reduction in cost basis also increases the tax burden to the seller, reducing the net amount available to the trust and the beneficiaries.

The new tax bill, The Tax Cut and Jobs Act, in Section 13521, Clarification of Tax Basis of Life Insurance Contracts, reverses the IRS ruling, allowing for “proper adjustment” … for… “mortality, expense or other reasonable charges incurred under an annuity or life insurance contract”.

The taxation of a life settlement is now similar to the taxation of a policy surrender – with a twist since in a sale the policyholder is receiving an amount greater than just the cash surrender value. In a policy surrender, ordinary income tax rates apply to the amount received (cash surrender value) above cost basis. With a life settlement, the policyholder receives more than the cash surrender value and that amount is considered an “investment” taxed at capital gains rates.

Determining the taxation of a life settlement is now an easier three-step process. Let’s look at an example:LSTax.jpg

Assume a policy holder sold a policy and received $375,000. Further assume total premium paid (we will assume this is the cost basis for simplicity, as it usually is) was $100,000 and the policy had cash value of $125,000.

In the first step, you simply subtract the cost basis from the amount received to arrive at the total gain in the sale.

In Step #2, you determine the amount that is attributable to ordinary income tax rates by subtracting the cash value from the cost basis to arrive at the ordinary income received. In Step #3, to compute the capital gains amount you simply subtract the ordinary income amount in the second step from the total gain found in the first step. Note that if there is no cash value (a term policy, for example) the entire amount received would be taxable at capital gains rates.

The change in the tax code will simplify the tax computation of a policy sale and perhaps prompt more policyholders to investigate a life settlement. It will certainly make the transaction more profitable for those that do. In our example above, the policyholder received $375,000, with taxes due on $275,000 ($25,000 at ordinary rates, $250,00 at capital gains rates). If the policy in question had $50,000 in cost of insurance taken out, taxes would be due on $325,000 ($25,000 at ordinary rates, $300,000 at capital gains rates).

One final note…the effective date of the amendment was listed in the new bill for “transactions entered into after August 25, 2009,” which corresponds to the date of IRS Ruling 2009-13. Does this mean that those who may have paid higher taxes in the last eight years are in for a tax rebate? That part is not clear.

TRUSTEE ALERT- Why We Started An Affiliated Trust Owned Life Insurance (TOLI) Trust Company

On November 21, 2017, ITM TwentyFirst received a South Dakota charter for an affiliated trust company, the Life Insurance Trust Company, the first trust company focused solely on life insurance trusts.  On December 22, 2017 President Trump signed into law The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act with sweeping tax changes that included a doubling of the federal estate tax exemption amount to just over $11 million, lowering the number of estates affected annually by the federal estate tax from 5,000 to 1,700, less than 0.1 percent of all deaths (1).  Yet, we are extremely bullish about the prospects for our affiliated company.

The federal estate tax is fluid. It has been repealed four times only to reappear again.  If less than 100,000 voters had changed their votes in the last presidential election we could be looking at a $3.5 million exemption and a top estate tax rate of 65% (2).  News reports focused on the $1.7 trillion the tax bill will add to the federal deficit (3), but this is on top of the current $20 trillion dollars in debt ($170,000 per taxpayer) (4), and the additional $10 trillion that was already projected to be added to the debt over the next 10 years (5).

That much debt should raise interest costs. Interestingly, since 2008, while $8.4 trillion was added to the federal government debt, federal net interest costs incurred were near the lowest levels in 50 years (6).  That is going to change as the historically low interest rates rise.  It is projected that net interest costs will more than double in real terms and as a share of the economy over the next decade (7).  More government revenue will be needed, and if the political climate changes, the estate tax will be a target.  “We think there will be times when Congress is looking for new revenue sources, and this is a fairly easy one,” said one executive with a group that is a proponent of the estate tax (8).

But even if the political climate and federal estate tax situation does not deviate from the current, post Tax Cuts and Jobs Act climate, our affiliated trust company is still primed for success.

Life insurance, is at best, a cumbersome asset.  And ramping up internal resources – human and capital – to successfully manage an asset fraught with liability is a tougher business decision for financial institutions to make these days.  Some are looking for an opportunity to offload their life insurance trusts to a firm that will be a partner, not a competitor, and that is the business model that has been created at the Life Insurance Trust Company.  Managing life insurance trusts well without interest in the other assets a client may have, creates the perfect win/win scenario.  In some situations, a firm may wish to offload only those trusts with grantors that have no other relationship with the institution, so called orphan or stand-alone accounts.  The new company stands ready to accept only those trusts, leaving a more profitable ILIT business line.  For each situation, a tailored approach can be created.

Compliance managers at accounting and law firms whose members and partners have accepted the TOLI trustee role for clients are beginning to understand that the unchecked liability this creates is simply unacceptable with an asset such as life insurance.  A specialized trust company with robust individual and portfolio reporting provides a built-in tracking mechanism found nowhere else.

Financial and life insurance advisors looking for a home for life insurance trusts created over the years will find the advantages of this new trust company hard to pass up.  The life insurance experts servicing the Life Insurance Trust Company are advisor-friendly, and though the trust company bears a fiduciary duty solely to the beneficiary, its professionals understand that the success of the policy comes partly from working with the advisors in the field.  Another plus – advisors are provided with one of the most complete annual policy reviews available anywhere, alleviating them of this back-office expense, a welcome benefit for those advisors looking to downsize or reduce office expenses.

Life insurance trusts have many benefits besides tax advantages, including protection from creditors and the ability to control the passing of wealth to beneficiaries, important in those situations where spendthrift, mental illness or addiction issues may play a role.  But in the last few years, we have seen that the management of this asset may best be handled by an organization with specialized resources and talents.

For those who would like to learn more about the Life Insurance Trust Company, a special one hour webinar is planned for Tuesday, January 30th, 2018 at 2PM eastern.  To register, click here.

For more information about this new trust company, contact Leon Wessels, Director of Business Development, at 605.574.1703, or lwessels@lifeinsurancetrustco.com

 

 

  1. Howard Glickman, Tax Policy Center, December 6, 2017, http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxvox/only-1700-estates-would-owe-estate-tax-2018-under-tcja
  2. While President Trump won 290 electoral college votes, 70 electoral college votes were won by less than 1.5% of the vote, including; Wisconsin (10), Pennsylvania (2), Florida (29) and Minnesota (10). Michigan (16) and Vermont (3) were won by less than .4% of the vote.  Clinton proposed a $3.5 million estate tax exemption and a top tax rate of 65%, Hillary Clinton Proposes 65% Top Rate for Estate Tax, Wall Street Journal, Richard Rubin, September 22, 2016
  3. Congressional Budget Office, Estimated Deficits and Debt Under the Chairman’s Amendment in the Nature of a substitute to H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, https://www.cbo.gov/publication/53297
  4. org, amount as of 1/24/2018
  5. CBO’s January 2017 Budget and Economic Outlook, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, January 24, 2017
  6. Policy Basics: Deficits, Debt, and Interest, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, August 29, 2017, https://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-budget/policy-basics-deficits-debt-and-interest
  7. Congressional Budget Office, The 2016 Long-Term Budget Outlook, July 12, 2016
  8. Death Tax Repeal In 2017?, Ashley Ebeling, Forbes, June 6, 2013.

John Hancock To Raise Cost Of Insurance (COI) On Performance Universal Life Policies

In February of last year, we reported on limitations placed on inforce illustrations for John Hancock Performance universal life policies. At that time, the carrier announced a “temporary” situation, saying they were unable to provide current inforce illustrations because “regulatory standards that govern illustration practices . . . prevent us from illustrating currently payable amounts based on our current non-guaranteed elements.”

In that report, we mentioned that in the past, the inability to provide inforce ledgers was often a precursor to a cost of insurance (COI) increase. It appears as if it was for John Hancock.

On January 18th, The Life Settlements Report, a trade publication, reported that John Hancock will be raising the cost of insurance (COI) on 1,700 Performance policies. The publication cited a representative of the New York Department of Financial Services, who confirmed that the carrier had provided “voluntary” notice to the regulatory body.

In September of 2017, we reported on a regulation approved in New York state that required carriers to notify the department “at least 120 days prior to an adverse change in non-guaranteed elements of an in-force life insurance policy.” Though the regulation has not gone into effect, the agency spokesman did confirm that the carrier provided notice, according to the earlier report.

Our New York City office was told that John Hancock is “expecting to have illustration availability in early 2018.” We manage approximately 200 of the 1,700 policies affected and as soon as we receive the information and analyze it, we will report on the size of the cost increase.

Another Insurance Executive Rings An Ominous Industry Bell Because Of Low Interest Rates

In the last few years we have written over 20 articles on the cost of insurance (COI) increases that have plagued the life insurance policies we manage.  The main reason for those increases?  Most would say the historic low interest rate environment that we are (still) in. In a post published just over a year ago, we listed some low rate winners and losers. When rates are historically low, the winners are the borrowers, the losers are the lenders…and who are bigger lenders than insurance companies?  They take in premium, invest it, and hopefully make enough to support future benefits. By regulation they must invest the vast majority of those premiums in fixed investments. It has been widely reported that the industry has been hurting, but this week in an article in the Financial Times, an industry executive took it a step further saying that because of “anemic” returns, the environment in the insurance industry is “unsustainable.”

Moody’s, in a report we wrote about back in December, downgraded the insurance industry for 2017 from Stable to Negative.  At that time, they cited the low interest rate environment as the main reason for the negative rating, and though much had been written about the Trump bump possibly helping raise interest rates, that has not really happened.  Moody’s believes the low rates will continue to “depress the sector’s investment returns and profitability” (1).

One of the first executives to speak out on the severity of the issue was Larry Fink,CEO of BlackRock, Inc., the world’s largest asset manager and biggest investor in insurance companies.  At a conference, Mr. Fink commented that the “persistent low rates” were “destroying the viability of insurance companies.”  He believes that there is not enough discussion of the negative effects that low rates have on “pension funds, retirees, savers and insurance companies” (2).

Mr. Fink’s comments are two years old and many believe the situation has worsened.  In the Financial Times article, Evan Greenberg, the head of Chubb, the world’s largest publicly traded insurer, said “the current environment is unsustainable over any reasonable period of time.” Because of the low rate environment, “many companies are not earning their cost of capital — and many are losing money, or will lose money in the future.” The article points out that the investment income for property and casualty insurers last year was $48 billion, which was $10 billion less than a decade ago.

The investment income drop has also affected life insurance. In an ITM TwentyFirst University webinar, we pointed out one carrier that was required by contract to credit their life insurance policies with a rate higher than the return on their investments. That carrier has raised the cost of insurance on many policies.

More cost of insurance increases are probably on the way if interest rates do not rise, but the more dire executive predictions will hopefully not occur.  The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), in a posting on their website, noted that they are “actively monitoring the low interest rate environment” and though the low interest rates have created “spread compression on earnings, it did not materially impact life insurers’ solvency” (3).   Besides additional insurance rate increases, we will probably also see more movement and consolidation in the industry.

For those of us who manage life insurance policies for a living, these are trying times.  It looks like it may not be getting better anytime soon.

 

  1. Life Insurance – Global: 2017 Outlook – Low Interest Rates, Risk of High Volatility and Legislative Changes Turn Outlook to Negative, Moody’s Investors Service, December 5, 2016
  2. Low interest rate “destroying” insurance companies: BlackRock, Insurance Journal, April 21, 2015
  3. http://www.naic.org/cipr_topics/topic_low_interest_rates.htm

 

Second Amended Complaint Filed In The Brach Family Foundation Lawsuit Against AXA For Cost Of Insurance Increase

Late last week, a Second Amended Class Action Lawsuit was filed in the United District Court, Southern District of New York in the Brach Family Foundation vs. AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company case we first wrote about on February 2, 2016.

The 35-page document expands and adds to the original 18-page Class Action Complaint filed February 1 of last year, and follows on the heels of two unrelated lawsuits filed against AXA last week.

The suit, brought on behalf of the foundation and “similarly situated owners” of Athena Universal Life II policies subjected to the COI increase, alleges the increase was “unlawful and excessive” and that AXA violated “the plain terms” of the policy and “made numerous, material misrepresentations in violation of New York Insurance Law Section 4226.”

The rate hikes, which were applied in March of last year, were targeted to a group of approximately 1,700 policies issued to insureds with an issue age of 70 and up, and with a policy face amount of $1 million and up.  Since the increase was focused on this “subset”, the suit alleges that the increase was unlawful because the policies require that if a change in rates occurs it must be “on a basis that is equitable to all policyholders of a given class.”   The suit points out that there is no “actuarially sound basis” to treat policyholders differently simply because one may be 69 and one 70 at issue age, or because one may have a policy with a face amount above or below $1 million. The suit also points to actuarial studies that indicate there are actually “lower mortality rates for large face policies.”

The suit notes that there are six “reasonable assumptions” that COI changes can be based on: expenses, mortality, policy and contract claims, taxes, investment income, and lapses. AXA has stated that the COI increase was based on two of those: investment experience and mortality.

In order for the increase to be “based on reasonable assumptions” for investment income, the increase has to “correspond to the actual changes in investment income observed,” according to the lawsuit, which points out that “since 2004, there has been no discernible pattern of changes in AXA’s publicly reported investment income” that would “justify” any type of COI increase.

AXA defended its increase, in part, by stating that insureds in these policies were dying sooner than projected. However, the lawsuit claims that “mortality rates have improved steadily each year” since the policies were issued.   According to the lawsuit, the Society of Actuaries has performed surveys comparing observed mortality of large life insurance carriers to published mortality tables and has found that the “surveys have consistently showed mortality improvements over the last three decades, particularly for ages 70-90.”  The suit points out that AXA informed regulators in public filings as late as February 2015 that it “had not in fact observed any negative change in its mortality experience,” and answered no when asked if “anticipated experience factors underlying any nonguaranteed elements [are] different from current experience.”  When questioned whether there may be “substantial probability” that the illustrations used for sales and inforce purposes could not be “supported by currently anticipated experience,” the carrier again answered no.

The suit alleges that if AXA’s “justifications” for the COI hikes are valid, “then AXA applied unreasonably extreme and aggressive haircuts to the 75-80 mortality table when setting original pricing of AUL II, and these pricing assumptions were designed to make AXA’s product look substantially cheaper than competitors’ and gain market share” and by doing so, AXA engaged in a “bait and switch” which resulted in “materially misleading illustrations, including all sales illustrations at issuance” in violation of New York Insurance Law Section 4226(a).

By focusing the increase on older aged insureds, the suit alleges AXA “unfairly targets the elderly who are out of options for replacing their insurance contracts” and forces the policyholders to either pay “exorbitant premiums that AXA knows would no longer justify the ultimate death benefits” or reduce the death benefit, lapse or surrender the policies.  According to the lawsuit, any of these actions will allow AXA to make a “huge” profit from the “extraordinary” COI increase.  According to the lawsuit, AXA originally projected that the COI increases, which ITM TwentyFirst has noted ranged from 25-72%, would increase “profits by approximately $500 million.” The lawsuit also notes that in its latest SEC filing, the carrier said that “the COI increase will be larger than the increase it previously had anticipated, resulting in a $46 million increase to its net earnings,” which the suit points out is “in addition to the profits that management had initially assumed for the COI increase.”

For a copy of the Second Amended Class Action Lawsuit in the case, contact mbrohawn@itm21st.com

Life Insurance: An Efficient Way To Pass On Wealth

Life insurance has been a challenging financial product to manage in the last year or so and we have written often about the issues that surround this asset. But we also believe that this is a powerful financial tool. In our last blog entry we wrote about its use to mitigate the negative effect of a tax law change that may occur in 2017. At ITM TwentyFirst, we manage life insurance, we do not sell it. In fact, we are one of the few firms that manages life insurance without earning any compensation from sales. We show our support not just by managing in-force business as efficiently as possible for trustees, grantors, and especially beneficiaries nationwide, but also by pointing out the value of life insurance as a tool to efficiently leverage assets for the next generation, especially in a trust setting. We believe strongly that life insurance, when selected properly and managed efficiently, can be one of the most important assets a person owns.

For many insureds, the internal rate of return on a life insurance policy held in trust is appealing compared to alternative fixed investments, even if fixed interest rates begin to kick up a bit over the next few years. And the use of life insurance for older aged insureds can actually make the golden years more enjoyable by freeing up additional cash flow.

Here’s an example: A couple, both age 65, have come to an advisor for financial advice and estate planning as they enter their retirement years. Assuming that both are in good health (preferred, non-smoker underwriting), they could purchase a $1,000,000 Survivorship Guaranteed Universal Life (SGUL) policy from an A+ AM Best rated company for an annual premium of about $13,420. If you have attended any of our education sessions, you know that a GUL policy has a required fixed premium, one that, if paid in full and on time, guarantees the policy death benefit no matter what happens with interest rates or other market factors. (1) A survivorship policy, often used in estate planning cases, pays a death benefit at the second of the two insureds’ deaths.

If we calculate the internal rate of return (IRR) on the death benefit (2), in this example, we see that the policy’s rate of return (shown in spreadsheet to the right) is extremely attractiv1-irr-fixede. Even if the insureds do not pass away until their mid – 90’s, the rate of return on the premium funding the policy will be over 5%. Should death occur earlier, the rate of return will be much higher. Remember that a life insurance death benefit is received free of income tax and, if placed in a trust, is not subject to estate taxes. With this particular policy, the death benefit is guaranteed, locking in the returns. (3) What other asset can your clients purchase that will enable them to pass on wealth this efficiently?

For the client who wishes to maximize his or her retirement lifestyle while also leaving a legacy, life insurance can actually help to smooth out retirement income. Though an annual premium payment will have to be made to the trust (in this case, equal to 1.34% of the death benefit), the comfort in understanding that a known, completely tax-free amount will pass to beneficiaries at death can free up additional funds for retirement activities.

Life insurance is a powerful financial tool. When properly designed and managed wisely, it can create a legacy more efficiently than almost any other asset. As we mentioned in our last post….The next few years will provide challenges and opportunities for…advisors to help clients rethink their financial plans and goals. ILITs will remain a viable tool for leveraging assets.

  1. ITM TwentyFirst does not sell life insurance, nor do we advocate one type of life insurance. Every life insurance purchase should be based on the personal situation (health, cash flow, risk tolerance, etc.) of the insured. There is no one “best policy” for all situations.
  2. The IRR on death benefit is the net rate of return that would need to be earned if the cumulative premium were invested in an alternative asset.
  3. The policy death benefit is guaranteed as long as the premium is paid in full and on time. While market risk is eliminated, carrier risk must still be monitored.