Simmons Wants to Kiss Life Insurance Worries Away
The Makeup Master
Gene Simmons, lead singer of rock group Kiss, was born as Chaim Witz in Israel 60 years ago. After 40 years of rocking & rolling, the band is still alive and well and touring this spring in the U.K. I am no stranger to Gene Simmons – as a matter of fact, Kiss was the first concert I attended as a kid at the San Francisco Cow Palace in the 1970s. Despite his early professional career success, all the limelight and money was not enough for Gene Simmons, so he put his entrepreneurial skills to the test and aggressively added a broad Kiss merchandising line (over 3,000 licensed/merchandise items), including everything from Kiss baby clothing and Kiss wine to Kiss dart boards and Kiss caskets. Yep, soup to nuts, from the cradle to the grave, and you can even purchase the merchandise with your Kiss Visa credit card!
All Aboard the Premium Financing Train
Now, Mr. Simmons has expanded his business interests to a broader set of financial services. Specifically, Simmons has co-founded a company (Cool Springs Life) that sells premium finance life insurance targeted at high net worth individuals. Simmons and CEO Samuel Watson stopped off at Bloomberg to spread the premium finance gospel:
Premium financing arrangements set up for life insurance are primarily designed for wealthy individuals with large, multi-million dollar estates. This explains a little about whom are the prime targets for life insurance premium financing, but why would wealthy individuals potentially want this financing tool?
Premium Financing Benefits:
- Pay for Estate Taxes: The primary advantage of life insurance for the wealthy is to provide liquidity to beneficiaries (in the form of a death benefit) at the death of the “insured” to fund future estate taxes. Estate tax legislation is still up in the air, but in my view will likely increase to a hefty 45% to 55% rate over the next year. The tax-free liquidity (see a knowledgeable CPA to confirm tax status) provided to the surviving beneficiary by the insurance policy can be especially important if the deceased person’s assets are tied up in illiquid assets like real estate. The government is impatient in regards to tax collections, so gaining immediate access to the death benefit proceeds is a more attractive alternative than forced sales of illiquid assets (potentially at fire-sale prices).
- Other People’s Money: Some people prefer to purchase things with other people’s money. The cost of the financing can be another benefit to the strategy. The interest rate owed on a premium financing deal may be lower than the return a client can earn on alternative investments. If the investment strategy proves successful, the borrower will earn a positive spread on the loan (borrow low, invest high).
- Lower Estate Value: By gifting life insurance assets to a trust (e.g., an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust – ILIT), there are ways for a wealthy donor to lower his estate value by employing gifting strategies and other estate planning structures. These estate planning tactics often preserve asset values for designated beneficiaries, rather than forking over unnecessarily high taxes to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). In some cases a knowledgeable attorney can structure premium payments in such a fashion that exemption allowances alleviate any potential gift tax consequence.
Normally nothing in life comes risk-free and the same principle applies to life insurance premium financing.
Premium Financing Risks:
- Interest Rate Risk: Many of these contracts are constructed based on a floating interest rate structure like LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate) , therefore if interest rates rise, the borrowers could expose themselves to higher interest payments.
- Credit Risk of Lender: Heaven forbid we go through another financial crisis of the same scale as 2008-2009, but insurance players such as AIG were large players in the premium financing market during this period and caused significant disruption to all relevant participants in the premium financing food chain. Failure of a lender could compromise the integrity of the life insurance and estate planning strategy.
- Risk of Deteriorating Borrower Assets: Depending on the circumstances and facts surrounding the premium financing structure, the lender may require different forms of borrower collateral (i.e., stocks, bonds, real estate, letter of credit, etc.) on top of the cash value/surrender value of the life insurance policy. If the borrower’s collateral value decreases below a certain threshold, the borrower may be forced to supply additional collateral.
For those people who want to rock and roll all night and party every day, perhaps life insurance premium financing is not for you. However, if you got a lot of dough and want to preserve the value of your estate, maybe you should give Gene Simmons a call. With a signed contract, he might even include a Kiss casket for your future funeral plans.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and a derivative security of an AIG insurance subsidiary, but at time of publishing had no direct positions in AIG. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.