Using other people's money (OPM) with the intent to realize a financial gain is a financial concept that has been practiced by real estate developers, investors, business owners, and entrepreneurs for centuries. Most recently, this concept is being utilized to purchase life insurance, and has raised the eyebrows of insurance promoters and financial professionals alike. But, does this concept offer economic substance or is it just another sales tool to sell life insurance?
Life insurance is an important part of any high net worth individual's financial picture. Since adequate life insurance usually requires significant premium payments, the premium financing strategy can be an effective solution for clients who do not want to liquidate assets to fund their life insurance premiums.
Premium financing is a method of funding the purchase of life insurance for those individuals who have significant net worth and the insurable need, but do not have or want to use liquid capital to pay the premium on a life insurance policy. By borrowing the money to pay the life insurance premiums with a loan, the insured individual frees up capital that can be used more efficiently. The use of premium financing may lower out-of-pocket costs and potential gift taxes.
Most lender's in this space base the current loan interest rate on the one-year London Interbank Offering Rate (LIBOR), adding a profit margin spread of 175 to 250 basis points. Essentially, lending rates are determined on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration the loan amount and the lenders' risk exposure. Loan interest rates can be fixed on an annual basis, but may vary from year to year, based on fluctuations in LIBOR or changes in the borrower's financial conditions, which must be updated annually. There was once a yen version that eventually went disastrous when markets changed and if an exit strategy was not built into the plan it could have cost the insured significantly.
There additional fees, such as loan origination fees (commonly 0.5 to 1.25%) of the expected total loan balance), associated with the loan that can offset any savings related to a low interest rate? Often times these fees must be paid up front while some lenders allow them to be financed with the policy premiums. In addition, is the interest variable or fixed, and if variable, how often does it reset? Typically, in most arrangements the interest is a variable rate, with a portion of the interest determined by an index resetting each year, but the spread on top of the index may be fixed for the life of the loan. The 12-month LIBOR is a common index as well as the prime rate. If there is a fixed interest rate, it is important to determine how long it will be fixed. In many instances the fixed rate is only for a certain time period such as five or 10 years. A cap will set on how high the loan interest rate can go during the loan term. So while the loan interest might be variable, there is a cap that will limit how high the interest rate can grow, such as 8%. When the loan interest has both a cap and a floor it is said to have a “collar.” The lender limits how high the loan rate can go, and the borrower agrees that the rate may never go a below a certain amount even if the index with the spread is below that rate. A cap by itself is more expensive than a collar, and the expense is usually expressed in a loan origination fee or in the amount of spread placed in the offer. Caps and collars are generally offered only in fairly sizable loan arrangements, generally in excess of $1 million.
The best candidates for premium-financed life insurance typically have a minimum net worth of $5 million. Collateral for the loan usually consists of personal assets and can be reduced by the cash value in the policy being financed.
Plan highlights include:
- Target market: at least $5 million estate and a minimum of $100,000 annual life insurance premium.
- Frees up business or personal investment capital for more efficient usage.
- Leverages available assets to provide needed insurance coverage with minimal out-of-pocket expenses.
- Potential to reduce gift taxes.
- Loan rate typically tied to a published rate like LIBOR, plus a spread.
- Required collateral can be offset by cash values growing tax-deferred in the policy.
- Can provide substantially greater internal rate of return on the life insurance policy death benefit over non-financed payment methods.
The power of premium financing lies within the same simple concepts related to the leveraging of permanent life insurance for estate liquidity and wealth transfer planning. The key is to evaluate premium financing not as a stand-alone transaction, but as an alternative to the traditional funding of life insurance using the same capital base.
The single greatest misconception is that the client must have an arbitrage opportunity for the financed transaction to provide a benefit over traditional funding. The power of premium financing is based on the leveraging effect created by combining the financing piece with a properly designed life insurance policy so one of the Secret Pillars predominates over the other.
I have been involved in cases where it made sense to not drain cash flow and use leverage to accomplish payments of the life premiums. If the structure is designed properly it can have an exit strategy built in. There is one planning technique for families that have done no estate planning but are uninsurable and have healthy children. This planning tool is too technical to discuss here but if you're reading this and know someone with over $10,000,000 of net worth without an estate plan and they have an illness, you can have them give my office a call.