Beware: The IRS is cracking down on small-business owners who participate in tax-reduction insurance plans sold by insurance agents, including defined benefit retirement plans, IRAs, and even 401(k) plans with life insurance. In these cases, the business owner is motivated by a large tax deduction; the insurance agent is motivated by a substantial commission.
A few years ago, I testified as an expert witness in a case in which a physician was in an abusive 401(k) plan with life insurance. It had a so-called “springing cash value policy” in it. The IRS calls plans with these types of policies “listed transactions.” The judge called the insurance agent “a crook.”
If your client was currently is in a 412(i), 419, captive insurance, or Section 79 plan, they may be in big trouble. Accountants who signed a tax return for a client in one of these plans may be what the IRS calls a “material advisor” and subject to a maximum $200,000 fine.
If you are an insurance professional who sold or advised on one of these plans, the same holds true for you.
Section 79 scams
The attack on 412(i) and 419 plans has been going on for some time now, but the IRS will likely begin cracking down on Section 79 plans more heavily in the near future. So what is a Section 79 plan? It is a tax plan where small-business owners are told that they’re allowed to take a tax deduction through their businesses in order to purchase life insurance. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? When you break down the math and the sales pitch, however, it just doesn’t make sense.
Agents try to sell Section 79 plans for two simple reasons:
- Many small business clients will buy any plan that is “deductible” because they hate paying income taxes.
- Insurance advisors want to sell life insurance.
This brings up an interesting issue: If the plan is marginal from a wealth-building standpoint, then why are agents selling it? Again, there are two reasons:
- Most advisors have not broken down the math so they can come to a correct conclusion, which is that the plans are not worth implementing from a pure financial standpoint.
- Some advisors know the plan is marginal from a financial standpoint and don’t care because they know they can still sell it to business owners who are looking for deductions. The IRS considers them abusive, and will audit them.
How to avoid the fines
In order to avoid substantial IRS fines, business owners and material advisors involved in the sale of any of the above type plans must properly file under Section 6707A. Yet filing often isn’t enough; many times, the IRS assesses fines on clients whose accountants did file the form yet made a mistake – an error that usually results in the client being fined more quickly than if the form were not filed at all.
Everyone in a Section 79 should file protectively under Section 6707A – and anyone who has not filed protectively in a 419 or 412(i) had better get some good advice from someone who knows what is going on, and has extensive experience filing protectively. The IRS still has task forces auditing these plans, and will soon move on to Section 79 scams, including many of the illegal captives pushed by the insurance companies and agents (though not all captives are illegal).
As an expert witness in many of cases involving the 412(i) and 419, I can attest that they often do not go well for the agents, accountants, plan promoters, insurance companies, and other involved parties.
Here is one example: Pursuant to a settlement with the IRS, a 412(i) plan was converted into a traditional defined benefit plan. All of the contributions to the 412(i) plan would have been allowable if they had initially adopted a traditional defined benefit plan. Based on negotiations with the IRS agent, the audit of the plan resulted in no income and minimal excise taxes due.
Toward the end of the audit, the business owner received a notice from the IRS. The IRS had assessed a $400,000 penalty for the client under Section 6707A, because the client allegedly participated in a listed transaction and failed to file Form 8886 in a timely manner.
The IRS may call you a material advisor for selling one of these plans and fine you $200,000.00. The IRS may fine your clients over a million dollars for being in a retirement plan, 419 plan, etc. Anything that the Service deems, at its sole discretion, a “listed transaction” is fair game. As you read this article, hundreds of unfortunate people are having their lives ruined by these fines. You may need to take action immediately.