Captive Insurance Buyers Beware

Captive Insurance – Buyers Beware!

lance wallachHerol Graham has turned defensive boxing into a poetic art. Trouble is, nobody ever got knocked out by a poem. — Eddie Shaw

Every accountant knows that increased cash flow and cost savings are critical for businesses in 2009. 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 range 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 percent 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. Small companies have been copying a method to control insurance costs and reduce taxes that used to be the domain of large businesses: setting up their own insurance companies to provide coverage when they think that outside insurers are charging too much. A captive insurance company would be an insurance subsidiary that is owned by its parent business(es). There are now nearly 5,000 captive insurers worldwide. More than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies take advantage of some sort of captive insurance company arrangement. Now small companies can, too.

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