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Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Office of Thrift Supervision

Interagency Statement on the Purchase and Risk Management of Life Insurance


Common Types of Life Insurance
Life insurance can be categorized into two broad types: temporary (also called "term") insurance and permanent insurance. There are numerous variations of these products. However, most life insurance policies fall within one (or a combination) of the following categories.

    Temporary (Term) Insurance
    Temporary (term) insurance provides life insurance protection for a specified time period. Death benefits are payable only if the insured dies during the specified period. If a loss does not occur during the specified term, the policy lapses and provides no further protection. Term insurance premiums do not have a savings component; thus, term insurance does not create CSV.

    Permanent Insurance
    In contrast to term insurance, permanent insurance is intended to provide life insurance protection for the entire life of the insured, and its premium structure includes a savings component. Permanent insurance policy premiums typically have two components: the insurance component (e.g., mortality cost, administrative fees, and sales loads) and the savings component. Mortality cost represents the cost imposed on the policyholder by the insurance company to cover the amount of pure insurance protection for which the insurance company is at risk.

    The savings component typically is referred to as CSV. The policyholder may use the CSV to make the minimum premium payments necessary to maintain the death benefit protection and may access the CSV by taking out loans or making partial surrenders. If permanent insurance is surrendered before death, surrender charges may be assessed against the CSV. Generally, surrender charges are assessed if the policy is surrendered within the first 10 to 15 years.

    Two broad categories of permanent insurance are:

    • Whole Life - A traditional form of permanent insurance designed so that fixed premiums are paid for the entire life of the insured. Death benefit protection is provided for the entire life of the insured, assuming all premiums are paid.

    • Universal Life - A form of permanent insurance designed to provide flexibility in premium payments and death benefit protection. The policyholder can pay maximum premiums and maintain a very high CSV. Alternatively, the policyholder can make minimal payments in an amount just large enough to cover mortality and other insurance charges.

Purposes For Which Institutions Commonly Purchase Life Insurance

    Key Person
    Institutions often purchase life insurance to protect against the loss of "key persons" whose services are essential to the continuing success of the institution and whose untimely death would be disruptive. For example, an institution may purchase insurance on the life of an employee or director whose death would be of such consequence to the institution as to give it an insurable interest in his or her life. The determination of whether an individual is a key person does not turn on that individual's status as an officer or director, but on the nature of the individual's economic contribution to the institution.

    The first step in indemnifying an institution against the loss of a key person is to identify the key person. The next and possibly most difficult step is estimating the insurable value of the key person or the potential loss of income or other value that the institution may incur from the untimely death of that person.

    Because the most appropriate method for determining the value of a key person is dependent upon individual circumstances, the agencies have not established a formula or a specific process for estimating the value of a key person. Instead, the agencies expect institutions to consider and analyze all relevant factors and use their judgment to make a decision about the value of key persons.

    Key person life insurance should not be used in place of, and does not diminish the need for, adequate management succession planning. Indeed, if an institution has an adequate management succession plan, its reliance on a key person should decline as the person gets closer to retirement.

    Financing or Cost Recovery for Benefit Plans
    Like other businesses, institutions often use life insurance as a financing or cost recovery vehicle for pre- and post-retirement employee benefits, such as individual or group life insurance, health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, tuition reimbursement, deferred compensation, and pension benefits.

    Permanent insurance is used for this purpose. In these arrangements, an institution insures the lives of directors or employees in whom it has an insurable interest to reimburse the institution for the cost of employee benefits. The group of insured individuals may be different from the group that receives benefits. The institution's obligation to provide employee benefits is separate and distinct from the purchase of the life insurance. The life insurance purchased by the institution remains an asset even after the employer's relationship with an insured employee is terminated. The employees who receive benefits, whether insured or not, have no ownership interest in the insurance (other than their general claim against the institution's assets arising from the institution's obligation to provide the stated employee benefits).

    There are two common methods of financing employee benefits through the purchase of life insurance. The first is the cost recovery method, which usually involves present value analysis. Typically, the institution projects the amount of the expected benefits owed to employees and then discounts this amount to determine the present value of the benefits. Then, the institution purchases a sufficient amount of life insurance on the lives of certain employees so that the gain (present value of the life insurance proceeds less the premium payments) from the insurance proceeds reimburses the institution for the benefit payments. Under this method, the institution absorbs the cost of providing the employee benefits and the cost of purchasing the life insurance. The institution holds the life insurance and collects the death benefit to reimburse the institution for the cost of the employee benefits and the insurance.

    The second method of financing employee benefits is known as cost offset. With this method, the institution projects the annual employee benefit expense associated with the benefit plan. Then, the institution purchases life insurance on the lives of certain employees. The amount earned on the CSV each year should not exceed the annual benefit expense.

    Split-Dollar Life Insurance Arrangements
    Institutions sometimes use split dollar life insurance arrangements to provide retirement benefits and death benefits to certain employees as part of their compensation. Under split dollar arrangements, the employer and the employee share the rights to the policy's CSV and death benefits. The employer and the employee may also share premium payments. If the employer pays the entire premium, the employee may need to recognize taxable income each year in accordance with federal income tax regulations.

    Split-dollar arrangements may be structured in a number of ways. The two most common types of split dollar arrangements are:
    • Endorsement Split-Dollar - The employer owns the policy and controls all rights of ownership. The employer provides the employee an endorsement of the portion of the death benefit specified in the plan agreement with the employee. The employee may designate a beneficiary for the designated portion of the death benefit. Under this arrangement, the employer typically holds the policy until the employee's death. At that time, the employee's beneficiary receives the designated portion of the death benefits, and the employer receives the remainder of the death benefits.
    • Collateral Assignment Split Dollar - The employee owns the policy and controls all rights of ownership. Under these arrangements, the employer usually pays the entire premium or a substantial part of the premium. The employee assigns a collateral interest in the policy to the employer that is equal to the employer's interest in the policy. The employer's interest in the policy is set forth in the split-dollar agreement between the employer and the employee. Upon retirement, the employee may have an option to buy the employer's interest in the insurance policy. This transfer of the employer's interest to the employee is typically referred to as a "roll out." If a "roll-out" is not provided or exercised, the employer does not receive its interest in the policy until the employee's death.

    Split-dollar life insurance is a very complex subject that can have unforeseen tax and legal consequences. Internal Revenue Service regulations issued in 200313 govern the taxation of split-dollar life insurance arrangements entered into or materially modified after September 17, 2003.14 These rules provide less favorable tax treatment to split-dollar arrangements than existed previously. Institutions considering entering into a split-dollar life insurance arrangement should consult qualified tax, insurance, and legal advisors.

    Life Insurance on Borrowers
    State law generally recognizes that a lender has an insurable interest in the life of a borrower to the extent of the borrower's obligation to the lender. In some states, the lender's insurable interest may equal the borrower's obligation plus the cost of insurance and the time value of money. Institutions are permitted to protect themselves against the risk of loss from the death of a borrower. This protection may be provided through self insurance, the purchase of debt cancellation contracts, or by the purchase of life insurance policies on borrowers.

    Institutions can take two approaches in purchasing life insurance on borrowers. First, an institution can purchase life insurance on an individual borrower for the purpose of protecting the institution specifically against loss arising from that borrower's death. Second, an institution may purchase life insurance on borrowers in a homogenous group of loans employing a cost recovery technique similar to that used in conjunction with employee benefit plans. Under this method, the institution insures the group of borrowers for the purpose of protecting the institution from loss arising from the death of any borrower in the homogenous pool. Examples of homogenous pools of loans include consumer loans that have distinctly similar characteristics, such as automobile loans, credit card loans, and residential real estate mortgages.

    When purchasing insurance on an individual borrower, an institution should, given the facts and circumstances known at the time of the insurance purchase, make a reasonable effort to structure the insurance policy in a manner consistent with the expected repayment of the borrower's loan. To accomplish this, management should estimate the risk of loss over the life of the loan and match the anticipated insurance proceeds to the risk of loss. Generally, the risk of loss will be closely related to the outstanding principal of the debt. The insurance policy should be structured so that the expected insurance proceeds never substantially exceed the risk of loss.

    When purchasing life insurance on borrowers in a homogenous pool of loans, an institution's management should, given the facts and circumstances known at the time of the insurance purchase, make a reasonable effort to match the insurance proceeds on an aggregate basis to the total outstanding loan balances. If allowed by state law, institutions may match the insurance proceeds to the outstanding loan balances plus the cost of insurance on either a present value or future value basis. This relationship should be maintained throughout the duration of the program.

    The purchase of life insurance on a borrower is not an appropriate mechanism for effecting a recovery on an obligation that has been charged off, or is expected to be charged off, for reasons other than the borrower's death. In the case of a charged-off loan, the purchase of life insurance on the borrower does not protect the institution from a risk of loss since the loss has already occurred. Therefore, the institution does not need to purchase insurance. Acquiring insurance that an institution does not need may subject the institution to unwarranted risks, which would be an unsafe and unsound banking practice. In the case of a loan that the institution expects to charge off for reasons other than the borrower's death, the risk of loss is so pronounced that the purchase of life insurance by the institution at that time would be purely speculative and an unsafe and unsound banking practice.

    Internal Revenue Code Section 264(f) disallows a portion of an institution's interest deduction for debt incurred to purchase life insurance on borrowers. Institutions considering the purchase of insurance on borrowers should consult their tax advisors to determine the economic viability of this strategy.

    Life Insurance as Security for Loans
    Institutions sometimes take an interest in an existing life insurance policy as security for a loan. Institutions also make loans to individuals to purchase life insurance, taking a security interest in the policy, a practice known as "insurance premium financing." As with any other type of lending, extensions of credit secured by life insurance should be made on terms that are consistent with safe and sound banking practices. For instance, the borrower should be obligated to repay the loan according to an appropriate amortization schedule.

    Generally, an institution may not rely on its security interest in a life insurance policy to extend credit on terms that excuse the borrower from making interest and principal payments during the life of the borrower with the result that the institution is repaid only when the policy matures upon the death of the insured. Lending on such terms is generally speculative and an unsafe and unsound banking practice.

    Institutions may acquire ownership of life insurance policies for debts previously contracted (DPC) by invoking their security interest in a policy after a borrower defaults. Consistent with safety and soundness, institutions should use their best efforts to surrender or otherwise dispose of permanent life insurance acquired for DPC at the earliest reasonable opportunity.15 In the case of temporary insurance acquired for DPC, retention until the next renewal date or the next premium date, whichever comes first, will be considered reasonable.

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13 68 Fed. Reg. 54336 (Sept. 17, 2003), chiefly codified at 26 CFR 1.61-22 and 1.7872-15.

14 Split-dollar arrangements entered into prior to September 17, 2003, and not materially modified thereafter may be treated differently.

15 The OCC has generally directed national banks to surrender or divest permanent life insurance acquired for DPC within 90 days of obtaining control of the policy.

Last Updated 12/07/2004

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