412i Plans Attacked by IRS, Lawsuits

By Lance Wallach, CLU, ChFC, CIMC
IRS has been attacking abusive 412i plans for years. Business men have been suing the insurance agents who sold the plans. The IRS has attacked 412i, 419 plans for years. As a result promoters are now promoting section 79 and captive insurance plans. They are just starting to be attacked by the IRS.
A 412(i) plan differs from other defined benefit pension plans in that it must be funded exclusively by the purchase of individual life insurance products.

In the late 1990's brokers and promoters such as Kenneth Hartstein, Dennis Cunning, and others began selling 412(i) plans designed with policies created and sold through agents of Pacific Life, Hartford, Indianapolis life, and American General. These plans were sold or administered through companies such as Economic Concepts, Inc., Pension Professionals of America, Pension Strategies, L.L.C. and others.

These plans were very lucrative for the brokers, promoters, agents, and insurance companies. In addition to the costs associated with administering the plans, the policies of insurance had high commissions. If they were cancelled within a few years of purchase the had very little cash value.

These plans were often described as Pendulum Plans, or other similar names. In theory, the plans would work as follows. After the plan was set up, the plan would purchase a life insurance policy insuring the life of an individual. The plan would have very little (and high surrender charges) for 5 or more years. The Corporation would pay the premium on the policy and take a deduction for the entire amount. In year 5, when the policy had little or no cash value, the plan would transfer the policy to the individual, who would take it at a greatly reduced basis. Subsequently, the policy would spring up with cash value, thus the name springing cash value policy. The insured would have cash value which he could withdraw almost tax free .

Attorney Richard Smith at the law firm of Bryan Cave issued tax opinion letters opinion which stated that the design of many of the plans met the requirements of section 412(i) of the tax code.

In the early 2000s, IRS officials began questioning the insurance representatives, brokers, promoters, and their attorneys and giving speeches at benefits conferences wherein they took the position that these plans were in violation of both the letter and spirit of the Internal Revenue Code. When I spoke at the annual national convention of the American Society of Pension Actuaries in 2002 I heard such a speech given by Jim Holland, IRS chief actuary.

In February 2004, the IRS issued guidance on 412(i) and began the process of making plans "listed transactions." Taxpayers involved in listed transaction are required to report them to the IRS. These transactions are to be reported using a form 8886. The failure to file a form 8886 subjects individual to penalties of very large amounts, and failure of insurance agents, accountants and others to file 8918 results in a $100,000 fine.

In late 2005, the IRS began obtaining information from advisors and actively auditing plans and more recently, levying section 6707 penalties. First the IRS would audit the business owner and deny the deduction. The business owner would also owe interest and penalties. Then another unit of the IRS would assess large additional fines for failure to properly file, or failure to file 8886 forms. The directions for these forms is very complicated, especially if the forms are filed after the fact. Many business owners still got fined even if they filed the forms. If the forms were not filled in exactly right a fine was still assessed.

The IRS's response to these 412(i) plans was predictable. They made it clear that the IRS would not be gentle and even indicated that potential criminal liability existed. The IRS made speeches and people like me wrote articles about the problems.

Insurance company representatives attended these conferences and heard the IRS warnings. Many of them ignored them.

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