Evaluating Variable Universal Life Insurance as a Savings Vehicle

Mar 30


Julius Giarmarco

Julius Giarmarco

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Variable Universal Life (VUL) insurance policies are often discussed as potential alternatives to Roth IRAs and Section 529 Plans for those looking to save for retirement and college expenses. While these policies can offer a combination of life insurance and investment options, they may not always be the best choice for individuals whose sole aim is to save for retirement or education. This article delves into the intricacies of VUL policies, comparing their features with those of Roth IRAs and Section 529 Plans, to help you determine if a VUL policy could be a suitable component of your financial strategy.


Understanding VUL Policies

VUL insurance is a type of permanent life insurance that offers a death benefit alongside a cash value component that can be invested in a range of professionally-managed funds. Policyholders have the flexibility to choose their investment options and adjust premium payments,Evaluating Variable Universal Life Insurance as a Savings Vehicle Articles as long as they are adequate to maintain the policy and cover the cost of insurance.

One of the key benefits of a VUL policy is the tax treatment of loans and withdrawals. Provided the policy is not classified as a Modified Endowment Contract (MEC) under IRC Section 7702A, policy loans are tax-free, and withdrawals are only taxed if they exceed the policyholder's investment in the contract. However, withdrawals within the first 15 years that reduce policy benefits are subject to income tax under IRC Section 7702(f)(7)(B). After 15 years, withdrawals are not immediately taxable, and this rule does not apply to policy loans.

Despite these tax advantages, it's important to note that VUL policies carry investment risk, as the account values can fluctuate based on the performance of the selected funds. This variability can impact the policy's death benefit, investment performance, and the tax consequences if the policy lapses.

VUL vs. Roth IRA

Both VUL policies and Roth IRAs offer tax-advantaged growth and a range of investment choices. Contributions to both are made with after-tax dollars, and neither allows for tax deductions on contributions. Roth IRAs provide tax-free withdrawals after age 59 ½, while VUL policies allow for tax-free loans and withdrawals up to the basis as long as the policy is in force.

A significant advantage of VUL policies over Roth IRAs is the absence of income and contribution limits. As of 2021, Roth IRA contributions are capped at $6,000 ($7,000 for those aged 50 or older), and income limits apply. In contrast, VUL policies have no such restrictions, making them accessible to high earners who may be ineligible for Roth IRAs.

VUL vs. Section 529 Plan

Section 529 Plans are popular for their tax benefits when saving for education expenses. Distributions for qualified education costs are tax-free, and the plans offer gift tax advantages, allowing for larger contributions without incurring gift tax. However, if funds are not used for qualified education expenses, distributions are subject to income tax and a 10% penalty on earnings.

VUL policies can provide similar benefits without the restrictions of a 529 Plan. Policyholders can access cash values tax-free for any purpose, and in the event of the insured's death, the death benefit can provide funding for future education or other needs. Additionally, if the policy is on the child's life, it secures insurability for future financial obligations.

It's worth noting that some 529 Plans have fixed asset allocations that shift towards bonds as the beneficiary ages, potentially leading to lower returns compared to more diversified or aggressive investment strategies.

Summary and Considerations

VUL policies can be thought of as a combination of term life insurance and a tax-advantaged investment account. They offer the potential for tax-free access to funds and a death benefit for estate planning. However, policyholders must manage their policies carefully to ensure they remain in force and avoid turning tax-free loans into taxable income.

Before making a decision, it's crucial to consult with legal and tax advisors to understand the specific implications for your situation. The information provided here is for general guidance and should not be used as the sole basis for financial decisions.

For more detailed information on Roth IRAs and Section 529 Plans, you can visit the IRS website and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's introduction to 529 Plans.

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