Variable Universal Life Offers Numerous Tax Advantages

Jul 12, 2023

By Dan Schulte, Senior Vice President and Manager, Annuities and Insurance

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Investing in a retirement account such as a 401(k) and/or an IRA is typically considered the foundation of a successful retirement plan. However, these plans have limitations – such as contribution limits for high income earners. And distributions will typically have a penalty tax if taken prior to age 59½.  High income earners, who are currently maxing out their IRA and/or other retirement plan contributions, often seek additional tax-advantaged vehicles to supplement retirement income. For these individuals – particularly parents with dependent children – using the tax advantages of variable universal life insurance may be very appealing.

Unlike IRA and Roth IRA contributions, with life insurance there is no IRS funding limit based upon an individual’s annual income. Funding limits are based on the amount of insurance purchased, along with the underwriting and age of the insured. As a result, policy owners can deposit more than they need to keep the insurance in force to take advantage of the savings component of life insurance. In addition to providing a valuable income tax free death benefit for beneficiaries, these polices also provide savings in tax-deferred, mutual-fund type subaccounts. These subaccounts give you greater control over how your cash value is invested and give you the potential to grow your cash value more quickly, but they also expose you to market risk and could potentially lose value. Your death benefit and the cash value available to you are directly impacted by the performance of your subaccounts.

Unlike with IRAs, retirement plans or annuities, there is no IRS 10% penalty tax on cash value distributions prior to age 59½. This allows the policy owner to access the cash surrender value prior to retirement age, if needed. In addition, when the policy owner begins to take distributions from the contract at retirement (or any other time), the cash value can be paid out income tax-free, via policy loans and withdrawals. One thing to keep in mind: all life insurance policies are different and have various fees and charges including withdrawal charges. In addition, you must be able to qualify medically and financially via the insurance company’s underwriting process to purchase insurance.

Variable Life Insurance Taxable Investments Qualified Plan/Traditional IRA Roth IRA Municipal Bonds
Tax-Favored Withdrawals Yes No No *Yes Yes
Mandatory Distributions No No Yes *No No
Income Tax-Free Death Benefit Yes No No *Yes No
Tax Penalties for Early Withdrawals No No Yes *Yes No
Income Based Deposit Restrictions **No No Yes Yes No
Cost of Insurance Charges Yes No No No No


* Roth IRA distributions are not required during your lifetime and are income tax free when withdrawn after a five-year holding period and age 59 ½.  Withdrawals of after-tax contributions(basis) prior to age 59 ½ are not taxable or subject to the 10% penalty, but earnings withdrawn prior to the combination of 5 years and age 59 ½ would be taxable and subject to a 10% penalty unless an exception applies.  Roth IRA death benefits are income tax-free as long as held for 5 years but are required for non-spouse beneficiaries.
** Premium funding limits are based on the amount of insurance purchased, and the underwriting and age of the insured individual.

Adding variable universal life insurance to your portfolio can be a great compliment to your existing retirement income savings tools by offering additional protection and tax-advantages. Your financial advisor can help you determine your life insurance needs and show you how variable universal life insurance can be part of your portfolio.