Small business owners have many legitimate complaints these days: taxes, regulations, competition (from home and abroad), can’t find good people. The list goes on and on. Always has. Always will.
Almost all successful SBOs accumulate excess cash not needed in their business. Naturally, they invest these funds. Over the years the quote that follows has been nicknamed the SBO’s lament: "I know how to make money in my business... but when it comes to making money with my investment money, either I don’t have time to watch it, don’t know how to watch it or I rely on my investment advisor. When the market is up, my advisors do fine... when it’s down they do lousy."
For the past couple of years, the lament usually ends with, "Now the market is lousy (or down, or uncertain, or similar words). What should I do?"
NOTE: Yes, yes... millions of Americans -- other than SBOs -- have the same investment dilemma as SBOs: "Where do I invest my money?"
Many investors have abandoned the stock market (read "Wall Street") and have turned to investing in CDs, tax-free bonds, U.S. Treasury notes or similar so called "safe" investments and must tolerate the pain of paltry rates of return. Often these rates are lower than the annual inflation percentages. Sadly, their wealth erodes.
Is there an alternative?... Yes!... Keep reading, you are about to be delighted.
Okay, here comes the alternative to the Wall Street risks and the low-yielding "safe" investments... Say hello to life settlements.
What is a Life Settlement (LS)?
An LS is simply, the purchase of an existing life insurance policy from a senior (typically 65 years old or older) by an investor. The selling senior, who no longer wants to pay premiums, gets a much larger price for the policy than taking the cash surrender value (CSV) from the insurance company. The senior wins. The investor wins by making a large profit without risk (the senior is sure to die).
The best way to understand the LS concept is by an example that follows:
Joe, 79 years old, owns a life insurance policy with a $500,000 death benefit and an $80,000 CSV. Joe would like to stop paying premiums. Of course, he can cancel the policy and get the $80,000 CSV from the insurance company.
Why the secret?
An investor (really a group of investors) buys Joe’s policy for $160,000... Paid in cash to Joe immediately. The investor now owns the policy and must continue to pay the policy premiums. The investor will receive the $500,000 death benefit when Joe dies.
A little background about the life insurance industry before answering the question. There are basically two types of life insurance policies: permanent (have CSV) and term (no CSV, which are never used in an LS transaction). According to Milliman and Robertson, an international actuarial firm, 89.5% of Universal Life policies (have CSV) never result in a death claim. The policies are either surrendered, or worse, allowed to lapse.
NOTE: Universal life is the most common type of permanent life insurance sold in the United States.
Terminated policies are highly profitable for insurance companies. Of course, they want to keep the entire life settlement industry a secret. Why?... Well, go back to Joe’s example. If Joe had cashed in his policy for the $80,000 CSV, the life insurance company would have been off of a $500,000 death benefit hook. The insurance companies love people like Joe when they terminate their policies.
It’s easy to see why Joe is delighted with his $160,000 LS. Of course, the insurance company is anything but delighted and would like to keep LSs secret. The pure economic fact is that LS investors stand tall in the profit shoes of the insurance company. Here the investor stands to profit with a gross of $340,000 ($500,000 death benefit less an acquisition cost of $160,000), reduced by future premiums (until Joe passes on).
Big-hitter investors paved the way for smaller investors
For many years, LS were the sole playground of institutional investors: large companies (such as CNA, Morgan Stanley and Citibank). Following is a quote from the May 18, 2005, issue of The Wall Street Journal titled, "Moving the Market...":
"AIG [American International Group, Inc., the insurance giant] has bought less than 1,500 policies since 2001..."
These five giant companies (and other big hitters) provide immense credibility to the LS concept because of the due diligence required before committing to invest their own dollars.
"A few years ago, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the investment vehicle of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, began buying life settlements, according to securities filings."
Why do the big hitters invest in LS?
» The ideal alternative to low-yield, fixed-rate investments.
» No correlation to stocks or bonds.
» LS policies are underwritten by highly rated (A or better) insurance companies.
» Return of principal and profit is tied to a certain event: death.
» A portfolio of policies helps reduce volatility and risk.
Interesting. My estate planning clients want alternative investments (to Wall Street) for exactly the same reasons.
Can you become an investor in LS?
A new fund called "Tall Oakes Life Settlement Fund" has been established to allow the smaller investor to get into the LS profit game. Tall Oakes will acquire the policies and become owner and beneficiary. As policies mature, the fund will make distributions based on available proceeds to the investors.
The average age of all insureds in the fund portfolio is targeted to be in the excess of 80 years old. Average life expectancy is projected to be 54 months. The term of the fund will be 8 years. Finale distributions will be made at the end of the 8th year by selling any remaining policies that have not yet matured and liquidating the fund.
The targeted annual compounded rate of return for each investor is between 8% and 10%.
What are the tax consequences of LS?
The tax consequences of an LS investment actually has three possible answers:
1. Taxable. Your own funds or funds you control (like your corporation or other business entities, family limited partnerships and any non-charitable trust.) There are only two simple rules: (1) the tax on your profit is deferred until you actually receive your principal and profit; (2) Your profit is taxes as ordinary income.
2. Tax-Deferred. Almost everyone can play this profitable game via their qualified plan (IRAs -- traditional or rollover, 401(k) plan, profit-sharing plan and any other qualified plan). The trustees of pension plans or other plans that are not self-directed can join the profitable fun by investing the plan funds in LS for the benefit of all participants.
3. Tax-Free. A Roth IRA can fatten your tax-free accumulations. Charitable entities (like a family foundation, charitable lead trust or charitable remainder trust) are a perfect fit.
And finally, if you want to make a killing on your investments, LS are not for you. But if a high rate of return, with no Wall Street risk is of interest to you (or your IRA, 401[k] or other qualified plan), fax me (847.674.5299) your name, address, phone numbers (business/home/cell) and estimated amount to invest (the minimum is $100,000 for accredited investors). Have a question?... call me (Irv) at (847) 674-5295.
IRVING L. BLACKMAN has been practicing accounting and law more than 50 years, specializing in wealth transfer, business succession and valuation. He was a founding partner of Blackman Kllick Bartelstein LLP, CPAs, one of the largest accounting firms in the country, and is a member of the Illinois Society of CPAs, American Institute of CPAs and the American Speakers Association, among other organizations. Blackman has authored 21 books on taxation and penned hundreds of articles for trade publications. His company, Tax Secrets of the Wealthy, is headquartered in Naples, FL. He may be contacted at (847) 674-5295 or Irv@IrvBlackman.com.