Foreign Life Insurance Taxation – IRS Common Questions & Answers
- 1 Foreign Life Insurance Taxation
- 2 Different Components of Life Insurance Policies
- 3 Foreign Life Insurance – Surrender Value
- 4 Foreign Life Insurance – Income and Bonus
- 5 Foreign Life Insurance – Non-Interest Bearing Policy
- 6 Potential Tax Requirements
- 7 Some of the Potential Reporting Requirements
- 8 IRS Penalties
Foreign Life Insurance Taxation
Foreign Life Insurance Taxation is not easy to understand, and its impact on U.S. tax and reporting requirements are highly complex issues to evaluate. Taxation may include issues such as:
- Excise Taxes
- PFIC Issues
The reason it can be so daunting, is because oftentimes when individuals have foreign life insurance, they don’t necessarily see it as an asset, or consider that it would need to be reported on an FBAR.
For most individuals, Foreign Life Insurance is merely a type of leverage investment, wherein the investor purchases the Foreign Life Insurance Policy(s) in the earlier part of their life hoping to either cash-in during the later years (aka Annuity) — or designate a beneficiary to inherit the benefit.
In many different countries, there are various different types of life insurance policies that people purchase, which may also have an investment component to it, which may also be called “Life Assurance“:
- India: LIC, Prudential or ICICI – dual investment/term policies
- U.K./Isle of Mann: Friends Life policies – dual investment/term policies
- Singapore: AXA – dual investment/term policies
Different Components of Life Insurance Policies
A Foreign Life Insurance policy has different components to it. They typically include:
Foreign Life Insurance – Surrender Value
A Surrender Value is generally defined as what price the insurance company will pay the policyholder if there is a voluntary termination or other cancellation of the policy before it becomes due. Not all insurance policies have a surrender value, and if the insurance policy does not have a surrender value (in other words, the beneficiary of the life insurance policy will only receive a payout if the policyholder dies) then there are generally no reporting requirements under FBAR and FATCA. That is because at this moment, the policy has no value and therefore, there is nothing to report.
Foreign Life Insurance – Income and Bonus
Foreign Life Insurance Policies in particular come in all different shapes and sizes. Some of them earn interest or payments that are categorized as “bonus” payments. Just as with a bank account, the life insurance policy earns interest on an annual basis. When a life insurance policy earns interest, it will have to be reported. In addition, when a foreign life insurance policy earns interest, then most of the time it will also have a surrender or cash-out value, since the interest or bonus is being generated off of a “Value.”
Foreign Life Insurance – Non-Interest Bearing Policy
If you own an overseas foreign life insurance policy that does not have a cash-out value and does not have any interest or bonus being earned on the money, then you may not need to report the policy on your FBAR – but this is not always the case. If you otherwise reported your foreign accounts and the only asset you did not report was a non-interest-bearing foreign life insurance policy that does not have a cash value or surrender value, you may be able to simply amend your prior FBAR and avoid any penalty.
*If your non-interest bearing insurance policy is being held in a foreign corporation or a foreign trust that was not previously reported, you should speak to an experienced international tax lawyer before taking any action.
Potential Tax Requirements
Just because a person is not actually receiving interest income, dividends, or bonus being generated from the policy does not mean it is exempted from reporting. In other words, if you have a policy that has investment component to it and it generates income, even if it is reinvested and not distributed to you, it still must be reported.
This is where it gets very complex: whether or not your life insurance policy is considered a PFIC, and whether you actually received any distributions or not will impact whether you have to file a Form 8621 and either report the income that was distributed now (possibly) as an excess distribution, or whether you do not have to report the income now, but either may have to report it in the future under the excess distribution rules and/or whether you can make a mark-to-market election.
While the standard life insurance policy may not be a PFIC, in many countries linked to the fact that the life insurance is more of an investment vehicle than a life insurance policy or maybe other PFIC issues to contend with.
Some of the Potential Reporting Requirements
Depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding the type of investment your life insurance policy really is (e.g., how much of it is life insurance and how much it is investment) you may have other forms to file other than just reporting income.
Here’s a summary of a few of those forms:
Reporting Foreign Accounts (FBAR)
There is a lot of information online regarding the FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Account Form) due to the extremely high penalties involved with this form. We have written countless articles, which you can find in our International Tax Library, by clicking here.
If you are a U.S. Person, it does not matter whether or not you have to file a US tax return to determine if you have to file an FBAR. The threshold question is whether you have an annual aggregate total of foreign/offshore bank accounts, financial accounts, retirement accounts, etc. that when combined, exceed $10,000. If so, you are required to file the FBAR Form and report all of the accounts.
It does not matter if the money is all in one account, or in 15 different accounts. It also does not matter if the majority of the money is in one account, with minimal amounts of money in the remaining accounts – rather, once you meet the threshold requirements, you have to report all the accounts.
Penalty: The civil penalty for willfully failing to file an FBAR can be as high as the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the total balance of the foreign financial account per violation. See 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5). Non-willful violations that the IRS determines were not due to reasonable cause are subject to a $10,000 penalty per violation.
FATCA Form (8938)
FATCA is the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. For individuals, it requires reporting of financial accounts and certain specified foreign assets (ownership in businesses, life insurance, etc.). There are different threshold requirements, depending on whether a person is Married Filing Jointly (MFJ) or Married Filing Separate (MFS)/Single, and whether a person resides in the United States or outside of the United States.
Penalty: The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return.
Passive Foreign Investment Company (PFIC) or Form 8621
One of the most vilified type of financial assets/investments (from the U.S. Government’s perspective) is the infamous PFIC. A PFIC is a Passive Foreign Investment Company. The reason the United States penalized this type of investment is because it cannot oversee the growth of the investment and income it generates. In other words, if a U.S. person invests overseas in a Foreign Mutual Fund or Foreign Holding Company — the assets grows and generates income outside of IRS and U.S. Government income rules and regulations.
As a result, the IRS requires annual disclosure of anyone with even a fractional interest in a PFIC (unless you meet very strict exclusionary rules)
Penalty: The Penalties for not filing an 8621 run concurrent with the 8938 penalties (see above).
Foreign Trust (3520-A)
A Foreign Trust is another type of Foreign Investment that is frowned upon by the IRS. From the IRS’ perspective, the only purpose behind a Foreign Trust is to illegally avoid US reporting and income tax requirements by moving money offshore. While there are many people who may operate illegally in this fashion, there are various legitimate reasons why you would be a trustee or beneficiary of a Foreign Trust (Your cool grandma really loves you and placed $5 million in trust for you overseas). Form 3520-A is a relatively complex form, which must be filed annually by anybody that owns a foreign trust.
Penalty: The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns or for filing an incomplete return, is the greater of $10,000 or 5 percent of the gross value of trust assets determined to be owned by the United States person.
Golding & Golding Resources: Form 3520-A Foreign Trust Penalties
The IRS has the right to issue excessive fines and penalties against you for failing to report. We have provided a summary of those penalties for you below as provided by the IRS:
A penalty for failing to file FBARs. United States citizens, residents and certain other persons must annually report their direct or indirect financial interest in, or signature authority (or other authority that is comparable to signature authority) over, a financial account that is maintained with a financial institution located in a foreign country if, for any calendar year, the aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during the year. The civil penalty for willfully failing to file an FBAR can be as high as the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the total balance of the foreign financial account per violation. See 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5). Non-willful violations that the IRS determines were not due to reasonable cause are subject to a $10,000 penalty per violation.
Beginning with the 2011 tax year, a penalty for failing to file Form 8938 reporting the taxpayer’s interest in certain foreign financial assets, including financial accounts, certain foreign securities, and interests in foreign entities, as required by IRC § 6038D. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return.
A penalty for failing to file Form 3520, Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts. Taxpayers must also report various transactions involving foreign trusts, including creation of a foreign trust by a United States person, transfers of property from a United States person to a foreign trust and receipt of distributions from foreign trusts under IRC § 6048. This return also reports the receipt of gifts from foreign entities under IRC § 6039F. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or for filing an incomplete return, is the greater of $10,000 or 35 percent of the gross reportable amount, except for returns reporting gifts, where the penalty is five percent of the gift per month, up to a maximum penalty of 25 percent of the gift.
A penalty for failing to file Form 3520-A, Information Return of Foreign Trust With a U.S. Owner. Taxpayers must also report ownership interests in foreign trusts, by United States persons with various interests in and powers over those trusts under IRC § 6048(b). The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns or for filing an incomplete return, is the greater of $10,000 or 5 percent of the gross value of trust assets determined to be owned by the United States person.
A penalty for failing to file Form 5471, Information Return of U.S. Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations. Certain United States persons who are officers, directors or shareholders in certain foreign corporations (including International Business Corporations) are required to report information under IRC §§ 6035, 6038 and 6046. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return.
A penalty for failing to file Form 5472, Information Return of a 25% Foreign-Owned U.S. Corporation or a Foreign Corporation Engaged in a U.S. Trade or Business. Taxpayers may be required to report transactions between a 25 percent foreign-owned domestic corporation or a foreign corporation engaged in a trade or business in the United States and a related party as required by IRC §§ 6038A and 6038C. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or to keep certain records regarding reportable transactions, is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency.
A penalty for failing to file Form 926, Return by a U.S. Transferor of Property to a Foreign Corporation. Taxpayers are required to report transfers of property to foreign corporations and other information under IRC § 6038B. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is ten percent of the value of the property transferred, up to a maximum of $100,000 per return, with no limit if the failure to report the transfer was intentional.
A penalty for failing to file Form 8865, Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Partnerships. United States persons with certain interests in foreign partnerships use this form to report interests in and transactions of the foreign partnerships, transfers of property to the foreign partnerships, and acquisitions, dispositions and changes in foreign partnership interests under IRC §§ 6038, 6038B, and 6046A. Penalties include $10,000 for failure to file each return, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return, and ten percent of the value of any transferred property that is not reported, subject to a $100,000 limit.
Underpayment & Fraud Penalties
Fraud penalties imposed under IRC §§ 6651(f) or 6663. Where an underpayment of tax, or a failure to file a tax return, is due to fraud, the taxpayer is liable for penalties that, although calculated differently, essentially amount to 75 percent of the unpaid tax.
A penalty for failing to file a tax return imposed under IRC § 6651(a)(1). Generally, taxpayers are required to file income tax returns. If a taxpayer fails to do so, a penalty of 5 percent of the balance due, plus an additional 5 percent for each month or fraction thereof during which the failure continues may be imposed. The penalty shall not exceed 25 percent.
A penalty for failing to pay the amount of tax shown on the return under IRC § 6651(a)(2). If a taxpayer fails to pay the amount of tax shown on the return, he or she may be liable for a penalty of .5 percent of the amount of tax shown on the return, plus an additional .5 percent for each additional month or fraction thereof that the amount remains unpaid, not exceeding 25 percent.
An accuracy-related penalty on underpayments imposed under IRC § 6662. Depending upon which component of the accuracy-related penalty is applicable, a taxpayer may be liable for a 20 percent or 40 percent penalty.
Even Criminal Charges are Possible…
Possible criminal charges related to tax matters include tax evasion (IRC § 7201), filing a false return (IRC § 7206(1)) and failure to file an income tax return (IRC § 7203). Willfully failing to file an FBAR and willfully filing a false FBAR are both violations that are subject to criminal penalties under 31 U.S.C. § 5322. Additional possible criminal charges include conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims (18 U.S.C. § 286) and conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States (18 U.S.C. § 371).
A person convicted of tax evasion is subject to a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. Filing a false return subjects a person to a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000. A person who fails to file a tax return is subject to a prison term of up to one year and a fine of up to $100,000. Failing to file an FBAR subjects a person to a prison term of up to ten years and criminal penalties of up to $500,000. A person convicted of conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims is subject to a prison term of up to not more than 10 years or a fine of up to $250,000. A person convicted of conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States is subject to a prison term of not more than five years and a fine of up to $250,000.