Posted on Jun 29, 2015

Why are we hearing more about Captive Insurance Companies at happy hours, networking deals and professional conferences? Well, it’s simple… people are more open now to new ideas to lessen their tax burden than they were in 2011.

It doesn’t take an Ivy League education to figure out that out of the top 5% of taxable income earners in America – (the vast majority being hard working successful business owners like you) have watched their effective tax rate increase from the low 30’s to an effective rate of almost 40% in the last couple of years. Between our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the “sucking sound” created by promises in the Affordable Care Act – there is no relief in sight from these higher tax rates in the foreseeable future.

Regardless of the reasons or your political persuasion, – John or Jane business owner operating in North Texas, whether in a growing service business, a construction company, a small manufacturer, or a franchisee with 10 dry cleaners, are getting taxed… and taxed hard.

When these business owners become tax “stunned” they become both more creative, more resilient, and more receptive to ideas to help them save on their tax bill. When that occurs certain ideas that were previously reserved for a few (the fortune 500 or fortune 1000 size companies)…. start having traction with middle market companies that may have revenues of 10MM to 200MM, have a strong cash flow, or a fairly predictable earnings history year over year.

So, enough about the why. How do captives work for the common business owner? What does he need to be aware of?  Where is the sizzle in the steak? And finally… What risks do you need to avoid if you are a 5%-er that wants to explore Captives?


How They Work

The operating or income producing company (your company) forms a captive and basically pays annual premiums to ensure against risks and pays the premiums to a newly formed insurance company that you own and/or control…

By paying premiums of $500K and you will receive a $500K deduction. Your insurance company receives the $500,000, pays $70k to $100k in operating expenses, small claims settlements and maintenance costs, and assuming no major claims occur- your insurance company makes a profit of around $400K per year.

A specific code section and available election under Sec. 831b, available only to small closely held captives with premiums of less than $1.2 MM annually, keeps the captive from having to pay tax on the premiums it receives at the insurance company level, and it only has to pay tax on its investment earnings.

Meaning, you are getting a deduction for 500K, and your captive is not paying tax on the $400K on the other side.

If your business does this for ten years with no major claims- then your insurance company and its owners has amassed $4,000,000 inside the insurance company which they can dividend or liquidate at 20 to 24% tax rates to the owners of the Captive (you and your family).

If you and your spouse’s net worth exceeds 10MM, you can also, with careful planning, set up your Captive ownership outside of your estate, saving your family an additional 50% of that 4 million in estate taxes that can be passed on to your heirs instead of the IRS.  Over ten years you have likewise saved $2,000,000 in your operating company from ten years of getting $200,000 a year in tax benefit (500,000 x 40%).

In other words, you are getting a 40% deduction and accumulating wealth on a deferred tax advantaged basis over time, which lets you accumulate faster and achieve greater returns.

So friends that’s where the SIZZLE in the steak comes from – the tax rate arbitrage and the estate planning you can accomplish by having your kids own the shares of the captive. Keeping your captive outside of your estate makes for a nifty tax advantaged structure for building wealth transfer to future generations.


So, that’s The Good News. What’s the Downsides- or Things to Avoid?

  1. First and foremost – illegitimate or thinly veneered promoters that are selling captives as promoted tax shelters versus an experienced risk management insurance company or Captive management company that operates in the fairway and will advise you correctly on insurable risks and doing it right, with real actuaries that have been doing this a long time.
  2. Insuring faux (not legitimate) or real risks inside your company. For example, anti-terrorism insurance for a small group of doctors versus real risks like malpractice.
  3. Not evaluating your liquidity needs, knowing what is reasonably possible regarding funding of premiums, and how realistic it will be annually to manage your premium levels and payments. While it is possible to change your risks that you cover to toggle or increase or decrease your premiums actuarially, it may reduce the efficacy of your insurance company.
  4. Making sure under your accounting method you can properly deduct the premiums, kind of a bad deal if you go through all this and then remember your cash basis business has to write a 500K check by 12/31 and it doesn’t have the funds to make this happen.
  5. IRS scrutiny- Captives primarily because of the promoters mentioned in #1 above have received a jaundiced eye by our friends at the IRS, and captives even made the dirty dozen list published by the IRS annually for targeted tax scams.
  6. So there are some of our clients that would not be comfortable with this kid of exposure legitimate or not , and then there are some clients that are ok with it because they have done the right things by having the right kind of advisors and captive operators that don’t deal in the fringe element.
  7. Claims- if your captive is legitimate – you will have claims and occasionally some of those could be expensive. How your operating company manages its risks as well as how your Captive manages its reserves and risk can be a difference maker in this area.


So If This Is Something You Want To Explore Further, What Are Your Steps?

First, a business owner through his insurance company, financial advisor, or CPA is referred in to a company that can help him form and organize a new Captive Insurance Company and manage its operations going forward.

The CPA works with the captive management company, the business management team, their existing insurance agents or risk manager to come up with a team approach to risk management and evaluate the overall feasibility of using a Captive as a part of the overall risk management plan of the business.

A captive insurance company is a fully licensed insurance company owned by the business or the business owners. It is a unique entity and is a standalone insurance company with policies, policy holders, risks, claims, and a license to do business in various domiciles – some domestic and some off shore.

What does this cost – well of course it varies – but the set up seems to run somewhere between $50K and $70K – with some variability to this figure if you use a domestic captive (with higher initial capital formation requirement), or a foreign captive that may have less stringent initial capitalization requirements.

Done well, a CIC strategy can be a great tool for tax-advantaged risk management and wealth preservation- the veritable combo pack that most of us are looking for. To learn more about it contact Gary Jackson or Cornwell Jackson’s strategic alliances and advisors in this area.

Blog post written by: Gary Jackson, Tax and Advisory Partner