Is Life Insurance Tax Deductible?


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Updated: July 3, 2024

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Life insurance premiums are typically not tax deductible because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers them an optional personal expense. However, there are specific scenarios where you might be able to claim a deduction.

The tax treatment of life insurance premiums paid by an employer may be different. If your employer pays your premiums, those amounts could be deductible for the employer. If you have spousal or child support agreements made before 2019 that include life insurance premiums, those may be deductible. Additionally, if the beneficiary of your policy is a charitable organization, the premiums could qualify for a charitable deduction. These scenarios reflect the broader tax benefits of a life insurance policy.

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Key Takeaways

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The IRS generally does not allow a tax deduction for life insurance as it is considered a personal, optional expense.

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There are exceptions, such as when the premiums are paid by an employer or the policy is part of a pre-2019 spousal or child support agreement.

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While premiums may not be deductible, life insurance may offer other tax advantages. For example, the death benefit is usually tax-free for beneficiaries, and the cash value in certain policies grows on a tax-deferred basis.

Why Life Insurance Premiums Usually Are Not Tax Deductible

Life insurance premiums are generally not eligible for tax deductions. The IRS views these premiums as personal expenses, so they do not provide tax advantages on life insurance like those seen with certain other types of allowable deductions, such as mortgage interest or qualified medical expenses.

Life insurance is not a legal requirement at the federal or state level. This sets it apart from other types of insurance, such as auto insurance or health insurance, which may offer some tax benefits under specific conditions.

What Is a Tax Deduction?

According to the IRS, a tax deduction is an amount that “can reduce the amount of your income before you calculate the tax you owe.” It incentivizes specific financial activities, such as investing in retirement accounts or making charitable contributions. Claiming deductions can effectively decrease tax liability.

The IRS offers two main types of deductions: the standard deduction, which varies based on your filing status, and itemized deductions, which allow you to list individual expenses. The choice between the two depends on which option results in a lower taxable income. Some common tax deduction examples include charitable contributions, education expenses and certain retirement vehicles, like a traditional IRA.

While life insurance tax benefits are not typically available through these deductions, understanding how other expenses can be deducted helps maximize your tax savings.

When Life Insurance Is Tax Deductible

Life insurance is tax deductible in some instances. If you meet any of these circumstances, you might get a life insurance deduction by claiming it on your tax return.

Life Insurance Benefit From Employer

Life insurance is a business expense when an employer pays the premiums. If you are a business owner, you can deduct life insurance premiums you pay on behalf of your employees or corporate officers, as long as the company is not a policy beneficiary, whether directly or indirectly.

You can write off life insurance as a business expense on the first $50,000 of life insurance benefits for an employee on group life insurance coverage, as long as the amount is not part of their compensation.

Alimony and Other Agreements Made Before 2019

The IRS allows life insurance premiums as a tax deduction in certain situations for alimony and separate maintenance agreements made before January 1, 2019. If a judge ordered either spouse to purchase life insurance as part of an alimony agreement, the payments and life insurance premiums may be tax deductible.

Policies purchased before the divorce, even if the ex-spouse remains the beneficiary, do not qualify for this deduction. Similarly, agreements enacted after December 31, 2018, do not receive these benefits due to amendments introduced by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which altered the tax advantages of life insurance related to divorce settlements.

Life Insurance Beneficiary Is a Charitable Institution

A life insurance policy might also be tax deductible if the policy ownership is transferred to a charitable organization or the institution is named the beneficiary. The premiums you pay for both term and whole life insurance are tax deductible in these cases. This setup provides term and whole life insurance tax benefits, as the smaller of the premiums or cash value of the policy may be eligible for a tax deduction.

Transferring ownership of a whole life insurance policy is different from surrendering it for the cash value, which could trigger a tax obligation for the amount greater than the total premiums paid toward the policy.

When You Have to Pay Taxes for Life Insurance

Although beneficiaries don’t typically pay taxes on death benefit proceeds, there are some situations where you do have to pay taxes for life insurance:

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    Selling your own policy

    If you sell your life insurance policy, the amount you get may be considered taxable income.

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    Surrendering permanent life insurance for cash

    If you surrender a permanent life insurance policy, you might pay taxes on the surrendered amount that's greater than the premiums you paid into the policy.

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    Withdrawing from your policy’s cash account

    If you withdraw money from your life insurance policy’s cash value account, you may be taxed on the withdrawn amount.

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    Beneficiaries receiving death benefits through installments

    When a beneficiary chooses to receive the death benefit through installments rather than a lump sum, any interest earned on the unpaid death benefit may be considered taxable income.

Knowing the instances when tax liabilities arise can also help you better understand life insurance tax exemption rules.

Other Potential Tax Implications and Benefits of Life Insurance

While life insurance premiums are generally not tax-deductible, there are other tax-related aspects to consider. Understanding these can help you make more informed decisions about your life insurance policy and its role in your broader financial strategy.

Death Benefit Taxation

The death benefit payout is usually not taxable, so your beneficiary will receive the full face value of the life insurance policy once a death claim is approved. Your beneficiary can then use the death benefit to pay bills and debts, replace income or use it in any other way they choose. This is why it is important to choose your beneficiary wisely, especially if you have specific ways you want the death benefit to be used.

Cash Value Growth

If you have a cash value life insurance policy, the cash value grows tax-deferred. You won't owe taxes on the gains as long as the money remains within the policy.

Loans Against Cash Value

Loans taken against the cash value of a life insurance policy are generally not taxable. This allows you to access funds without incurring a tax liability.

Business-Related Premiums

Life insurance premiums may be considered a deductible business expense in certain scenarios, like when policies are used to fund buy-sell agreements, the business is contractually obligated to maintain a life insurance policy or the employer takes out key person insurance.

Estate Tax Considerations

While the death benefit is generally income tax-free, it may still be subject to estate taxes. Strategies like setting up an irrevocable life insurance trust can help mitigate this.

Annuity Options

Some life insurance policies offer annuity options that can provide a stream of income. The tax treatment of these annuities can vary, so it's essential to understand the specifics.

Gift Tax Implications

If you're transferring a life insurance policy to someone else, be aware that this could trigger gift tax implications. The rules can be complex, so consult a tax advisor for guidance.

Dividends

Some whole life policies pay dividends. While these are generally not taxable, different rules may apply if you receive them in cash. Consulting a tax advisor is recommended.

Other Insurance-Based Tax Deductions

While life insurance premiums may not offer tax deductions, other types of insurance and related expenses can provide some tax relief. Below are some other insurance-based tax deductions that you can take.

Disability Insurance

Disability insurance replaces part of your income if you are hurt or sick and unable to work. Your employer typically offers these policies. Short-term disability policies can pay for up to two years, while long-term disability can pay up to age 65. If you pay your premiums post-tax, your benefits are not taxable. If you pay them pre-tax, they are considered taxable income.

If you are disabled as defined by the government and meet Social Security guidelines, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you must meet work history requirements for SSDI or a means test for income to qualify for SSI.

Medical Expenses

Medical expenses are costs you incur for the cure, diagnosis, mitigation, prevention or treatment of a disease. If medical or dental expenses for yourself, your spouse or your dependents are greater than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) on your tax return, the excess is eligible for a tax deduction as defined by the IRS.

If you're facing medical debt, there are ways to reduce your liability and strategies to reduce your medical bills and other related expenses. There are also government programs offering health insurance for children if you need child-only health insurance coverage.

Health Savings

If you have a high deductible health plan (HDHP) and meet other IRS qualifications, you likely qualify for a Health Savings Account (HSA). Many employer medical plans are HDHP, as are some plans available on the Health Insurance Marketplace.

There are several tax advantages to an HSA. Employer contributions do not count toward gross income. Any contributions you or someone other than your employer makes to your HSA are tax-deductible, even if you don’t itemize your return. Earnings and interest grow in the account tax-free, and distributions will remain tax-free as long as they are used to pay qualifying medical expenses.

Self-Employed Insurance Deductions

Self-employed insurance deductions are specific to self-employed individuals. They include deductions for health insurance premiums and qualified long-term care premiums for the individual, their spouse and dependents.

To be eligible for self-employed insurance deductions, the business owner must meet certain IRS guideline specifications, such as earning a net profit that is reported for the tax year on Schedule C, F or K-1.

Unemployment Compensation

Unemployment compensation is income you receive while unemployed. In general, unemployment compensation is considered taxable income according to the IRS. You can either pay quarterly estimated tax payments, request that voluntary withholding for federal income tax be taken from your unemployment benefits or pay the amount when you file your tax return. However, you may incur additional late payment fees if you choose the last option.

The IRS has an Interactive Tax Assistant tool you can use to determine if your unemployment compensation is taxable income. Knowing how to manage your money when you’re unemployed can help set you up for success throughout the year.

Expert Advice on Tax Deductions

  1. How often should you review your life insurance coverage to determine if changes may need to be made due to changing financial circumstances that could impact its status as a deductible?
  2. What is the best way to ensure that you are taking advantage of all possible deductions when it comes to life insurance premiums?
  3. Are there any strategies or techniques an individual can utilize in order to maximize their potential tax deductions related to life insurance?
James Clifton
James CliftonAssistant Professor of Accounting Practice at North Dakota State University
Dr. Brandon Di Paolo Harrison
Dr. Brandon Di Paolo HarrisonAssistant Professor of Accounting at Austin Peay State University
Sebastián Leguizamón, Ph.D.
Sebastián Leguizamón, Ph.D.Director, Centre for Applied Economics, and Associate Professor, Economics at Western Kentucky University
Ann Murphy
Ann MurphyProfessor of Law at Gonzaga University
Eric Chaimowitz, CPA, CFP®
Eric Chaimowitz, CPA, CFP®Senior Tax Manager at Truepoint Wealth Counsel
James Guarino, CPA, PFS, CFP®
James Guarino, CPA, PFS, CFP®Managing Director, Tax Practice at Baker Newman Noyes
Hrishikesh (Hrish) Desai, Ph.D., CA, CFA
Hrishikesh (Hrish) Desai, Ph.D., CA, CFAAssistant Professor of Accounting at Arkansas State University
Grace Yung, CFP®
Grace Yung, CFP®CEO & Founder of Midtown Financial Group
Caroline Chen, JD, LL.M
Caroline Chen, JD, LL.MAssociate Professor at San Jose State University

FAQ About Life Insurance Tax Deductions

MoneyGeek answered some of the most frequently asked questions about life insurance tax deductions to help you navigate this topic.

Is life insurance tax deductible?
Is term life insurance tax deductible?
Is whole life insurance tax deductible?
Is IUL tax deductible?
Is life insurance tax deductible for self-employed?
Are life insurance premiums tax deductible?
Do you have to claim life insurance on your taxes?
Can you write off life insurance?
Can you write off life insurance as a business expense?
Can you write off life insurance if you're self-employed?
What percent of personal life insurance premiums is usually deductible?
Can you deduct life insurance premiums as a business expense?
Is employer-paid life insurance taxable to the employee?
Does life insurance count as income?

About Mandy Sleight


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Mandy Sleight is a licensed property, casualty, life and health insurance agent with 20 years of experience in the industry. She has worked for major insurance companies like State Farm and Nationwide, and most recently as the Operations Coordinator for a startup employee benefits company.

Sleight holds a business administration and management degree from the University of Baltimore and a master's in business administration from Southern New Hampshire University. She uses her vast knowledge of insurance and personal finance to create easy-to-understand and engaging content to help readers make smarter choices with their budgets and finances.


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