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What Role Does Life Insurance Play In Financial Planning?

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Can buying life insurance be a good investment?

The basic benefit of life insurance is that it provides money to one’s beneficiaries when the policyholder passes away. But there are many different types of life insurance policies, and the costs and benefits vary considerably.

Permanent life insurance policies cover the policyholder for their entire life and build cash value beyond the death benefit. Term life insurance provides a death benefit for a specified period of time and does not accrue cash value.

The common wisdom among many financial advisers is that people should buy term life insurance, which is much less expensive than permanent life insurance, and invest the difference in other types of investments. Hence, the common phrase, “By ‘term’ and invest the difference.”

The fact of the matter, however, is that many people do buy permanent life insurance as an investment. Whether or not it is the best use of the investor’s money depends on a number of factors.

The scenarios discussed in this article apply in the United States. Readers are encouraged to consult their accountants about tax considerations related to buying insurance.

Permanent Life Insurance Benefits

In the United States, one benefit of permanent life insurance is that the cash value accrued is not taxed until the policyholder withdraws those earnings. The same is also true of retirement accounts such as IRAs, 401k plans and 403b plans. But there is a maximum amount of money that one is allowed to contribute to these retirement accounts in a given year. An investor who wants to invest beyond the maximum allowed by his retirement accounts could accomplish this by also having a permanent life insurance policy.

The holder of a permanent life insurance policy can also transfer a policy’s death benefit income-tax-free to beneficiaries, according to retirement planner George D. Lambert, writing in Investopedia. The same cannot be said for other investments.

When a beneficiary inherits an IRA, tax-deferred annuities and qualified retirement plans, they can pay up to 35% to the IRS, according to Lambert.

Lambert further notes that earnings that grow within a life insurance policy are one of the few items that do not increase the tax on the owner’s Social Security income when they start receiving Social Security benefits.

As the cash value in the policy increases, it is possible to borrow that money without incurring taxes or penalties. This is not true for most retirement accounts such as annuities or 401k plans, which often incur a 10% penalty in addition to income taxes.

It is important to note that interest accrues on the borrowed money in a life insurance account until it is repaid.

Accelerated Death Benefits

Depending on the policy, a policyholder can receive a portion of the death benefit before they die if they develop certain medical conditions. These are known as accelerated benefits, which can be used to pay medical bills. These benefits are deducted from the death benefit that will go to the policyholder’s beneficiaries upon the policyholder’s death.

Some policies charge extra for accelerated benefits.

Such benefits are also offered under some term life insurance policies.

Another benefit of permanent life insurance is that unless the policy is surrendered prior to death, the policyholder is insured for life. A term life insurance policy, by definition, lasts for a specific period of time.

These are important benefits of permanent life insurance, but they will not apply to everyone. As noted above, permanent life insurance is considerably more expensive than term life insurance.

The Case For Term Versus Permanent Life

Personal finance expert Amy Fontinelle, also writing in Investopedia, offers the example of a 30-year-old female in excellent health who paid $9,370 annually for a permanent life insurance policy with a $1 million death benefit.

After five years, the policyholder paid $46,850 in premiums and the policy generated $19,880 cash value.

After 10 years, she paid $93,700 in premiums and the policy brought $65,630 cash value.

After 20 years, she paid $187,400 in premiums and the policy delivered $181,630 cash value.

(These cash values are offered as an example and do represent all policies, as cash values will vary based on the returns the insurance company was able to generate.)

Had that same investor bought a 20-year term life insurance policy with a $1 million death benefit, the policy would have cost $9,600 in premiums ($480 per year) and the investor would have had an extra $8,890 to invest every year. She would have saved $177,800 in premiums after 20 years.

Had she invested that $177,800 and gotten an 8% annual return for 20 years, she would have had $480,806 before taxes and inflation. Even if the $177,800 earned only a 1% annual return over 20 years, she would have had $208,671, which is still greater than the $181,630 cash value from the permanent life insurance policy.

Fontinelle concludes that permanent life insurance as an investment usually makes sense for high net worth individuals looking to minimize estate taxes.

Factors To Consider

Liz Davidson, a financial educator writing in Forbes, points out that the decision to buy life insurance should be based on three factors.

The first is how much life insurance one needs to take care of their beneficiaries in the event something happens to them.

The second consideration is how long one needs the insurance. One reason permanent life insurance is more expensive than term life insurance is that it covers the policyholder for their entire life. Many people do not need life insurance in their older years when their children are grown. But some need assets to cover their final expenses to spare their heirs from this expense.

Some people also have dependents who will need the death benefit once the policyholder passes away.

Davidson further points out that individuals who have a taxable estate worth more than $5 million can use the death benefit to pay their estate tax and not pass that burden on to their heirs.

Life insurance policies can play an important role in financial planning, but the type of policy a person needs will depend on their individual circumstances.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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Interview: Tax Strategies for Crypto Traders

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Crypto taxes

With cryptocurrencies going mainstream, more and more people are asking how trading and holding of it should be reported to the tax authorities in their respective countries. And not only are people wondering, even the tax authorities themselves sometimes seem to have a hard time figuring out how they should deal with it.

Although guidelines in many countries remain unclear, we do know that the authorities have stepped up their efforts in uncovering unreported crypto fortunes with new measures. One recent example is from California where a judge last year ordered Coinbase to turn over personal details on all accounts worth over $20,000 between the years 2013 and 2015, to the US Internal Revenue Service.

According to current regulations in the US, the IRS considers cryptocurrency as “property” for tax purposes, meaning each and every transaction is in fact reportable and taxable. This includes trading from fiat to crypto as well as from one crypto to another crypto.

For active traders and day traders, manually reporting this on forms to the IRS obviously involves a lot of work, something many people have complained loudly about in online discussion forums:

crypto taxes

The early days – “see no evil, hear no evil”

In the early days of bitcoin and crypto trading, the number of people involved, and the amount of money it represented, was so small that the tax authorities didn’t bother looking much after it. Although everyone was, of course, technically required to report their holdings and profits, very few did.

The tax authorities didn’t know anything about bitcoin, and the risk of getting caught was small.

This first started to change after the dark web marketplace Silk Road was shut down, most recently in 2014. That’s when the IRS in particular first started to become aware of bitcoin, and became interested in figuring out ways to trace bitcoin payments that were used for illegal activities and tax evasion.

Then came the extreme bull market of 2017, a lot more people got involved with crypto, and a lot of money was made in the market. And as always when someone is making a lot of money, the government wants its share of it.

The tax situation today

Today, taxes are again a hot topic of discussion among cryptocurrency investors, with many feeling anxious about previously unreported gains made in the crypto market.

Andrew Henderson, founder of Nomad Capitalist, told Hacked.com that there is indeed a lot of confusion among crypto traders these days, in particular with regards to the new Trump tax reform in the US.

“The number one issue people come to me with is obviously taxation. The new Trump tax reform in the US really screwed a lot of people, and now even intra-crypto trades are taxable,” Andrew explained.

“The second problem I typically hear about from people in the crypto community is that they cannot participate in ICOs because they are living in the US.”

“Many of these people say they are missing out on a lot of good investment opportunities because of that, and they want to find out what they can do to no longer be considered US Persons,” he added.

Andrew, who has been advising people on offshore tax strategies since 2013, explains that the solution for most of these people is to go out and set up a base of operations somewhere outside of their home country.

Unfortunately, he said, the old strategy of leaving one’s home country only to “become a resident of nowhere” is increasingly not working. In other words, people who want to invest in certain ICOs or lower their crypto tax bill therefore need to find a new country that is accepting of crypto and have low or zero capital gains tax.

Is not reporting an option?

When asked if crypto traders should even bother reporting all of their transactions and profits to the tax authorities, Andrew is pretty clear that at least people from Western countries, and the US in particular, should respect the taxman.

He explains that the IRS in the US is “really aggressive,” and that there is a real risk they will bust anyone who tries to evade taxes. In addition, Andrew said, “you’re probably going to want to spend the money some day. If your crypto holdings by this time has grown into a lot of dollars, you’ll have a problem explaining where all that money came from if the tax man asks.”

Going offshore

Given the fact that US citizens are liable to pay taxes on their worldwide income, Andrew’s advise to big crypto traders is clear:

“I think if you’re a US citizen, you might just want to consider not being one anymore.”

Although this measure may sound extreme to a lot of people, the suggestion appears to be backed up by statistics. Each quarter, the IRS publishes a list of Americans who have renounced their citizenship in the quarter. According to the statistic, there has been a steady increase in the number of people who have renounced over the past decade, with 2017 being the first year to show a slight decline from the previous year since 2013.

The United States is one of very few countries in the world that taxes its non-resident citizens on their global income.

Unfortunately for many of the readers, non-US citizens will therefore have an easier time implementing some of the strategies for lowering their crypto tax bill.

Residents of other high-tax countries such as the EU countries or Australia can in most cases simply declare themselves a tax non-resident in their home country by moving overseas and making sure they spend no more than a specified number of days each year in their home country.

While some countries require their citizens to continue to file and pay taxes for a number of years after they moved out, other countries will consider those who have moved a non-resident for tax purposes right away.

Because of all this, it’s important to distinguish between US citizens and citizens of other high-tax countries when it comes to regulations and taxes related to crypto.

If you’re a US citizen, what it all comes down to is basically how big of a problem it is for you not to be able to participate in a lot of the ICOs that are coming out. If this means a significant monetary loss to you, it may well be worth it exploring options for relocating yourself. For citizens of other countries, moving abroad for a period of time can be an effective way to slash your crypto tax bill without having to completely cut ties with your home country and give up your passport.

Featured image from VCG.com.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.3 stars on average, based on 37 rated postsFredrik Vold is an entrepreneur, financial writer, and technical analysis enthusiast. He has been working and traveling in Asia for several years, and is currently based out of Beijing, China. He closely follows stocks, forex and cryptocurrencies, and is always looking for the next great alternative investment opportunity.




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Considerations For Choosing An Immediate Annuity

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When it comes time to retire, one method for receiving income from your savings is to purchase an immediate annuity. The purpose of an immediate annuity is to provide a regular payment over a certain period of time or over the investor’s lifetime.

 

An immediate annuity can preserve a minimum level of income that you cannot outlive. Allocating a portion of your retirement money to an option that will provide income for life can make sense for many retirees.

So how does an investor decide what immediate annuity to purchase?

The scenarios discussed in this article apply in the United States. Readers are encouraged to consult their accountants about tax considerations related to buying annuities.

It’s also important to consider that when earnings from an annuity are withdrawn, they will be taxed as ordinary income, no matter how long the owner has owned the account.

Different Types Of Immediate Annuities

Steve Vernon, a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, writing for CBS News’ “Money Watch,” noted that immediate annuities can be fixed, inflation adjusted and variable and guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit (GLWB). GLWB combines the features of traditional annuities and systematic withdrawals.

Once you purchase a fixed or inflation adjusted immediate annuity, your payout is locked in, Vernon noted. Your payments will not be adjusted based on changes in capital markets.

The monthly payout on a variable annuity, by contrast, will change based on the annuity’s stock and bond portfolio. The owner can modify the portfolio even after they start receiving payments. Vernon recommends keeping the stock allocation between one third and two thirds.

When shopping for GMWB annuities, Vernon recommends annuities with management fees around 50 basis points or lower, and insurance fees round 100 basis points.

Vernon encourages people to use online annuity purchase services like www.immediateannuities.com and Income Solutions and Immediateannuities.com to compare different immediate annuities.

Immediate Fixed Annuity Considerations

Steve Goldberg, an investment adviser writing in Kiplinger, thinks of an immediate fixed annuity as term life insurance in reverse, the longer you live, the better you do.

The insurance company pools the premiums from thousands of its annuities and invests them primarily in bonds. The company also makes educated guesses about how long its annuity buyers will live. It then makes monthly payments to policyholders each month based upon both expected longevity and expected investment returns.

In today’s low-interest-rate environment, that’s much better than an investor can do in all but the riskiest bonds, according to Goldberg. It’s also likely better than an investor can do if he put all his money into stocks.

But there is a catch: With an annuity, you don’t get your money back, unless the buyer opts for what’s known as a “certain period annuity” or similar option. Additional features, however, usually bring additional costs.

Goldberg believes immediate fixed annuities usually make sense only for retirees. The older the retiree, the fewer years the insurance company will have to pay the benefits – so the bigger the monthly checks.

Immediate annuities seldom make sense for all of an investor’s money, Goldberg notes.

Like Vernon, Goldberg suggests going to ImmediateAnnuities.com to compare different immediate annuities. Plug in the state you live in, your age and your gender, and the website provides quotes from numerous companies.

How Immediate Annuities Are Bought

There are three typical ways to purchase immediate annuities, according to Rich White, a financial writer writing in Investopedia.

One method is the annuitization of a tax-deferred annuity. The purpose of a tax-deferred annuity, unlike an immediate annuity, is to build funds to create an income stream at a later date. Most tax-deferred annuities permit the account to be converted at some point in time to a guaranteed income stream.

Another method is the lump sum payment, in which the investor’s funds are transferred to an insurance company to purchase a revenue stream. Oftentimes, the investor is using cash from a retirement plan distribution, lottery winnings or an award from a personal injury settlement.

A third method is the terminal funding of a retirement plan. Some retirement plans offer annuity payouts. The plan in this case terminates its liability to the participant by transferring the participant’s funds to an insurance company. When retirement plans “pay out” in this manner, a “qualified immediate” annuity of offered for tax efficiency.

These choices all present options. The owner of a tax-deferred annuity who wants to annuitize is not limited to the payout offered by the insurance company, White notes. The policyholder can shop payouts offered by competing companies and conduct a tax-free transfer to the company offering the best terms. This is known as a Section 1035 exchange.

If a retirement plan offers a particular insurance company for terminal funding, the policyholder can shop for others and select the plan they find most suitable.

An annuity payout over a fixed number of years that is purchased with a single sum can be converted to an annual interest rate equivalent, White noted.

If, for example, the policyholder is quoted an annuity of $600 per month for 20 years in exchange for paying a premium of $10,000, an annuity rate calculator will find this payout converts to an annual interest rate of 3.96%. This rate can then be compared to other fixed-period annuity payouts, perhaps over longer or shorter periods, and also to rates available on bonds, money market funds or CDs.

For a lifetime annuity payout, there is no fixed period to evaluate. Death could occur at any time, and the payments would discontinue. White recommends a good starting point is to use the annuitant’s life expectancy as the payout period.

If a 67-year-old female is offered a lifetime payment of $600 per month for a $100,000 premium, her life expectancy would be 17.67 years, based on the 2007 Period Life Table published by the Social Security Administration.

Immediate Annuity Payout Options

One payout option for immediate annuities is income for a guaranteed period, which is also called “certain period annuity,” according to CNN Money, as noted in a previous article on annuities’ role in financial planning. This guarantees a specific payment for a specific time period. If the owner dies before the period ends, their beneficiary receives the remainder of the payments.

Another option is lifetime payments that guarantee a payout for the owner as long as they are alive, but there is no survivor benefit. The payouts can be variable or fixed, depending on the type of annuity selected. The amount of the payout depends on the amount invested and the owner’s life expectancy.

Still another payout option is life with a guaranteed period certain benefit, also known as “life with certain period.” The owner receives a guaranteed payout for life along with a period certain phase. If the owner dies during the certain period, the beneficiary continues to receive the payment for the remainder of that period.

Joint and survivor annuity is one in which the beneficiary continues receiving payments for the rest of their life after the owner dies.

Do Your Homework

It is important to buy an annuity from a company that holds a top credit rating from the three leading agencies of U.S. insurance companies: A.M. Best, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.

The considerations for shopping for an immediate annuity are extensive. Investors must spend their time comparing options. Many retirees will find it worth their time to work with a financial adviser.

Those who seek the assistance of an insurance agent must keep in mind that insurance agents are paid commissions by the insurance companies offering the annuities. Investors have the option of working with a non-commissioned financial adviser.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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3.9 stars on average, based on 8 rated postsLester Coleman is a veteran business journalist based in the United States. He has covered the payments industry for several years and is available for writing assignments.




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Annuities Versus Mutual Funds: What’s Best For Retirement Planning?

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An annuity, a long-term contract between a buyer and an insurance company that allows the accumulation of funds on a tax-deferred basis for later payout in the form of a guaranteed income, can be part of a retirement plan, as discussed in last month’s article, “Do Annuities Have A Role In Retirement Planning?

However, it is important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of owning an annuity against other investment options for retirement, such as mutual funds.

Before investing, one should compare the annuity fee structure with regular no-load mutual funds. No-load mutual funds levy no sales commission or surrender charge and impose average annual expenses of less than 0.5% for index funds or around 1.5% for actively managed funds.

It’s also important to consider that earnings from an annuity will be taxed as ordinary income when the earnings are withdrawn, no matter how long the policyholder has owned the account.

The scenarios discussed in this article apply in the United States. Readers are encouraged to consult their accountants about tax considerations related to buying annuities.

Annuities’ Advantages

Annuities do have some important advantages over other investments in retirement planning. Payouts can be guaranteed for life, regardless of how much the account actually earns, and they often include a guaranteed death benefit.

Income from stocks and mutual funds is not guaranteed, and there is no death benefit.

With mutual funds, the investor pays in an amount that is invested in a number of stocks, bonds, or a mixture of both, to create a stream of retirement income from stock dividends and bond interest.

While mutual funds use investment diversity to limit market risk, this is not a guarantee, according to Howard Kaye of Howard Kaye Insurance. Earnings can fluctuate significantly, and it is possible that no dividends or earnings will be paid out, especially if the principal is reduced.

Annuities have other advantages as well.

Unlike investments in tax-deferred retirement accounts, there is no limit on the amount that can be invested tax-deferred in an annuity, unless it is held inside a tax-deferred account, such as an IRA or a 401(k).

Variable annuities offer the opportunity to earn more than the guaranteed payment, depending on the performance of the investments. A variable annuity is essentially a mutual fund inside of a tax-deferred insurance policy, according to Trust Point, a Wisconsin based wealth management firm. Investments are made within mutual funds or mutual-fund-type accounts offered by the particular annuity, and the earnings grow tax deferred until they’re withdrawn.

Variable annuity investors can also switch from one investment to another within the annuity’s menu of choices without paying taxes. A mutual fund investor cannot switch among taxable mutual funds. Hence, annuity investors have more flexibility in adjusting their portfolios.

Annuities’ Disadvantages

Annuities are not without their disadvantages, however.

The earnings from an annuity, when withdrawn, are subject to the ordinary income tax rate, which for many is higher than the long-term capital gains rate that one incurs in owning a mutual fund, according to Daniel Kurt, writing in Investopedia.

If you buy a qualified annuity – that is, one you purchase with pretax dollars – you’ll have to pay ordinary income taxes on 100% of the disbursements you receive, Kurt noted. With a non-qualified annuity, some of the payment is considered a tax-free return of principal; only the earnings portion is subject to tax.

Stock dividends, by contrast, will be taxed at the capital gains rate rather than as ordinary income.

Trust Point offers the example of someone in a high-ticket tax bracket, who pays 39.6% on gains when they withdraw their money from their variable annuity, instead of the lower 15% or 20% long-term capital gains rates. This will be true regardless of whether the withdrawn dollars are a result of income dividends or capital gains distributions.

In addition, variable annuities can hit the policyholders’ heirs with a big unexpected income tax bill. If a $25,000 investment grows to $100,000 over the years and the policyholder dies, their heirs will owe income taxes on $75,000. If the policyholder is in a lower tax bracket than their heirs, it might make sense for a retiree to take distributions before death if there are no surrender charges.

In contrast, if they owned taxable mutual funds or other securities, the heirs would not have to pay taxes on the $75,000 in gains because taxable mutual funds enjoy a “stepped-up” basis at death for tax purposes, Trust Point noted.

The tax treatment of annuities is one reason why Kurt encourages people to buy as much income protection as needed – that is, expenses minus whatever they receive from Social Security or a pension. That way, you can invest the rest of your assets in an account that benefits from the capital gains rate.

The income guarantees of variable annuities add an expense that can clip the total return earned by the variable annuity investor, according to Trust Point.

As with mutual funds, payments from variable annuities fluctuate up or down depending on the performance of the underlying investments.

Fixed Indexed Annuities

Another choice investors have is the fixed indexed annuity. These annuities use financial indexes as a benchmark for earnings. The funds in the annuity are not directly invested in the stock market. Instead, the earnings are based on the earnings within an index, such as S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average, etc.

(A fixed indexed annuity should not be confused with a fixed annuity, which provides a fixed amount every month for the rest of the annuitant’s life.)

While fixed indexed annuities use stock market indexes as benchmarks for earnings, the investor’s funds are not directly invested in the stock market. Instead, the earnings are based on the earnings within an index.

Like variable annuities, fixed index annuities have both advantages and disadvantages compared to mutual funds and other investments.

While they offer a market-risk-free opportunity, fixed indexed annuities aren’t as liquid as cash, noted Kaye of Howard Kay Insurance.

They are, however, more liquid than most CDs or bonds, Kaye noted. In fact, nearly all offer “free withdrawals” every year. Once the surrender period is over, all of the funds are fully liquid.

Should the policy holder die during the annuity period, it’s possible that there won’t be much left for heirs. Such products are best suited for someone looking to supplement income and already has an estate plan in place for their heirs.

The decision of whether to invest in a variable annuity, fixed indexed annuity or a taxable mutual fund will depend on individual factors such as age, expected lifetime, the reason for the investment, liquidity needs, fees, estate plan and the overall portfolio.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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3.9 stars on average, based on 8 rated postsLester Coleman is a veteran business journalist based in the United States. He has covered the payments industry for several years and is available for writing assignments.




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