Current Tax Issues with Captive Insurance Companies
7 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2018
Date Written: February 20, 2014
Large U.S. companies have been forming captive insurance companies since the 1950s. In general, such large captives are formed for one of three main reasons. First, some companies are unable to obtain necessary insurance coverage. For example, certain nuclear power companies formed a captive named Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited, because they could find no other insurance coverage. Second, some companies seek to obtain cheaper insurance. For example, the trucking market is currently “hardening” (premiums are increasing), leading to trucking companies forming captives. Third, some companies seek to gain more control over their current insurance program. The insurance code offers a small insurance company a strategic advantage: Internal Revenue Code (IRC) § 831(b) allows insurance companies with less than $1.2 million in premiums to be taxed on their investment earnings rather than on their gross income. As a simple example, suppose a small insurance company had $500,000 in income but earned 5 percent on its total portfolio earning $25,000 for the year. The company would use the $25,000 figure as their gross income figure for the year. A captive can also be formed offshore and still be deemed a captive, provided it makes an IRC § 953(d) election agreeing to be taxed as a domestic company. For many large captives, forming offshore may provide a great deal of flexibility not found onshore. However, it should be noted that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is currently spending a great deal of time focused on offshore tax enforcement. Recently, the IRS refused to issue a positive private letter ruling to a number of foreign captives seeking 831(b) status, which may be an indication of tougher IRS scrutiny in this area. Thus, while a compliant captive should ultimately have nothing to fear from operating internationally, there is at least some chance that doing so may result in some additional compliance costs if it gets caught up in the IRS dragnet. This article will: (1) provide a brief history of captive insurance companies; (2) outline key requirements for captive insurance including insurance risks, risk shifting, risk distribution, and reinsurance; and (3) discuss certain IRS enforcement areas in captives, including excessive premiums and IRC § 831(b) tax shelter issues.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation