Business-Owned Life Insurance: Preliminary Observations on Uses, Prevalence, and Regulatory Oversight

GAO-04-191T Published: Oct 23, 2003. Publicly Released: Oct 23, 2003.
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Business-owned life insurance is held by employers on the lives of their employees, and the employer is the beneficiary of these policies. Unless prohibited by state law, businesses can retain ownership of these policies regardless of whether the employment relationship has ended. Generally, business-owned life insurance is permanent, lasting for the life of the employee and accumulating cash value as it provides coverage. Attractive features of business-owned life insurance, which are common to all permanent life insurance, generally include both tax-free accumulation of earnings on the policies' cash value and tax-free receipt of the death benefit. To address concerns that businesses were abusing their ability to deduct interest expenses on loans taken against the value of their policies, Congress passed legislation to limit this practice, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Justice pursued litigation against some businesses. But concerns have remained regarding employers' ability to benefit from insuring their employees' lives. This testimony provides some preliminary information from ongoing GAO work on (1) the uses and prevalence of business-owned life insurance and (2) federal and state regulatory requirements for and oversight of business-owned life insurance.

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