IRS and 831(b)s… Here we go again!

rich-groundhogThis past Tuesday, the Internal Revenue Service called for more information on microcaptives, as it seeks to determine whether the companies are used as tax shelters.  This has become a never-ending story in some respects. Even with the recent Congressional action to curtail the abuse of some captive insurance companies using the tax election, 831(b) captive insurers have, for the second year in a row, ended up on the IRS annual Dirty Dozen list of “tax scams” this year.

Through the end of this year, parents of 831(b) captives can make up to $1.2 million in tax-deductible premium contributions to the captives each year, and such captives’ underwriting income is exempt from federal taxes.  Legislation passed last year, raises, effective in 2017, the maximum tax-deductible annual premium contribution to $2.2 million but imposes new limits on how much in 831(b) written premiums can come from any one policyholder.

In its latest notice on 831(b) captives the IRS states 831(b) transactions have “a potential for tax avoidance or evasion” and that it lacks “sufficient information to identify which 831(b) arrangements should be identified specifically as a tax avoidance transaction…”  It goes on to describe various types of transactions involving 831(b) captives that it is looking into and asks for comments to be submitted by January 30, 2017 on “how the transaction might be addressed in published guidance.”

I agree with our good friends Chaz Lavelle at Bingham Greenebaum Doll and Mike Serricchio with Marsh Captive Solutions that the notice seems to suggest that the IRS isn’t condemning all captives that take the 831(b) election as fraudulent.  As we see the growth of captives for small-to mid-sized enterprises, it behooves us all to support better regulation of captives at all levels, and especially microcaptives. To me, the 831(b) concern points to state regulators who haven’t done enough to police this activity. Perhaps all this attention will help to correct that. And it is another example where we often see a backlash, either in the press or in public policy, that have consequences potentially harming our industry as a whole.

Thank you all very much, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith,
VCIA President

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