Expat Life Insurance & Unit Linked Insurance Plans – US Tax Treatment
One of the biggest misconceptions for U.S. Citizens or Green Card Holders who become expats, is that they believe they are no longer bound by the United States tax and reporting rules.
Unfortunately, not only is this untrue, but international and offshore enforcement is at an all-time high.
- 1 Expat Life Insurance Abroad
- 2 Unit Trusts vs. Unit Linked Insurance Plans
- 3 Common Examples of Unit Linked Insurance Plans
- 4 Expat Life Insurance Policies
- 5 U.S. Tax & Reporting and Filing Requirements
- 6 Why is this Important?
- 7 IRS Penalties
- 8 What Can You Do If You are Out of Compliance?
- 9 Golding & Golding: About Our International Tax Law Firm
Expat Life Insurance Abroad
One very common method people outside of the United States use to invest money is with various Expat Life insurance policies (aka overseas life insurance).
Of course, to those of you owning policies outside of United States, it is just a “life insurance policy,” but for purposes of explaining the tax situation from a U.S. standpoint for our expat clients — it would be considered expat or or overseas Life Insurance.
Unit Trusts vs. Unit Linked Insurance Plans
Unit Linked Life Insurance Plans operate as an investment, and have several similarities to a typical ETF or Mutual Fund, but also contain a Life Insurance component.
Meanwhile, a Unit Trust is the investment, without the life insurance component.
Let’s compare the Unit Trust vs. Unit Linked Insurance Plan.
One common example of a Unit Trust, is UOB in Singapore.
With a Unit Trust, you have a pure investment. The funds are combined into one main fund — like a mutual fund or equity fund, and then the investor may earn dividends or other investment “growth” on the overall profit of the investment.
Unit Linked Insurance Plans
As the name implies, the Unit Linked Insurance Plans combine the investment component, with the life insurance component. As with most insurance policies, the “pay-in” is via premiums.
But, unlike pure insurance policies — there is a second “investment component” as well, which is then commingled with the investment, to provide an investment component along with the life insurance coverage.
Common Examples of Unit Linked Insurance Plans
This is a very common issue we handle at Golding & Golding:
Typical Unit Linked Insurance Plan Example
A client has a life insurance investment from overseas. One very common example is a “personal pension” in the U..K.
in evaluating the life insurance investment, it turns out the investment is more than just a “Life Insurance policy,” or pension — it is actually a life insurance policy that is linked to an investment.
Some common examples, include:
Friends Life (aka Aviva)
Personal Pension in the UK or UK Offshore, such as Guernsey.
It generally will contain funds and shares, so at the end of the day, this may be considered a PFIC.
These are common life insurance policies, but they are not necessarily linked to an investment per se. There many flavors (linked and non-liked) and while some tend to take the shape more of “Life insurance” with some accrued interest — others are more investment focused linked insurance policies.
India LIC or Prudential
These may or may not have an investment component to it.
They can vary greatly depending on the type of policy.
When a U.S. Person is invested in these types of policies, and subject to U.S. Tax, they are referred to as “Expat Life Insurance.”
Expat Life Insurance Policies
There are many different types of policies, but some of the more common policies for U.S. Person Expats.
- Friends Life
Some of the more common countries in which U.S. Person expats purchase overseas life insurance, include:
- The United Kingdom
- Hong Kong
U.S. Tax & Reporting and Filing Requirements
There are two main aspects to Expat Life Insurance from a U.S. perspective. First, there is a reporting aspect. Second, there is a tax aspect.
We have provided separate articles to help provide education and understanding as to what your foreign reporting requirements are.
- U.S. Tax on Foreign Life Insurance
- U.S. Reporting Requirements for Expat Life Insurance
Why is this Important?
Because of the potential penalties. Otherwise, who really cares, right?
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.
What Can You Do If You are Out of Compliance?
Presuming the money was from legal sources, your best options are either the Traditional IRS Voluntary Disclosure Program, or one of the Streamlined Offshore Disclosure Programs.
Golding & Golding: About Our International Tax Law Firm
Golding & Golding specializes exclusively in international tax, and specifically IRS offshore disclosure.
We are the “go-to” firm for other Attorneys, CPAs, Enrolled Agents, Accountants, and Financial Professionals across the globe. Our attorneys have worked with thousands of clients on offshore disclosure matters, including FATCA & FBAR.
Each case is led by a Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist with 20 years of experience, and the entire matter (tax and legal) is handled by our team, in-house.
*Please beware of copycat tax and law firms misleading the public about their credentials and experience.
Less than 1% of Tax Attorneys Nationwide Are Certified Specialists
Sean M. Golding is one of less than 350 Attorneys (out of more than 200,000 practicing California Attorneys) to earn the Certified Tax Law Specialist credential. The credential is awarded to less than 1% of Attorneys.
Recent Golding & Golding Case Highlights
- We represented a client in an 8-figure disclosure that spanned 7 countries.
- We represented a high-net-worth client to facilitate a complex expatriation with offshore disclosure.
- We represented an overseas family with bringing multiple businesses & personal investments into U.S. tax and offshore compliance.
- We took over a case from a small firm that unsuccessfully submitted multiple clients to IRS Offshore Disclosure.
- We successfully completed several recent disclosures for clients with assets ranging from $50,000 – $7,000,000+.
How to Hire Experienced Offshore Counsel
Generally, experienced attorneys in this field will have the following credentials/experience:
- 20-years experience as a practicing attorney
- Extensive litigation, high-stakes audit and trial experience
- Board Certified Tax Law Specialist credential
- Master’s of Tax Law (LL.M.)
- Dually Licensed as an EA (Enrolled Agent) or CPA
Interested in Learning More about Golding & Golding?
No matter where in the world you reside, our international tax team can get you IRS offshore compliant.
Golding & Golding specializes in FBAR and FATCA. Contact our firm today for assistance with getting compliant.