Are Life Insurance Premiums Tax-Deductible?

March 10, 2020
Jonathan Fritz
B.A. Risk Management
Life Insurance Agent
Life insurance premiums are generally not tax-deductible. There are some instances where you might be able to claim a tax deduction for premiums, but they are rare. As a rule, the payments won't be tax-deductible if you're paying for your own policy.

Premium payments are generally affordable if you've shopped around for a good rate, especially if you have a term life insurance policy. However, over the years, premiums can add up.

For example, let's say you have a 20-year policy with a $500,000 benefit amount and you pay a $25 a month premium. That means that over the course of your policy, you'll pay $6,000 dollars in premiums. Knowing the tax regulations that apply to that $6,000 can help you make important financial decisions. 

Tax Deduction Basics

Tax deductions are expenses you can exclude from your taxable income for the year. The IRS designates specific expenses that can be deducted. They generally include costs such as:

  • Health insurance premiums
  • Retirement account contributions
  • Travel and other work expenses your job doesn't compensate you for
  • Professional membership fees
  • Moving expenses
  • Some types of home repairs

There are additional deductions available if you're self-employed or run your own business. Many of the costs associated with running a small business are tax-deductible. At the end of year, you'll owe taxes on your total income, minus any deductions you claim.

Why Aren't Life Insurance Premiums Tax-Deductible?

Life insurance premiums are considered a personal expense by the IRS, so they are not normally tax-deductible. Although having a life insurance policy is important for your family's financial security, it is not considered essential. 

However, on the plus side, life insurance payouts are not considered income. This means that your beneficiary won't be assessed taxes on the payout amount.

When Can I Deduct Life Insurance Premiums?

The exceptions to the general rule occur when you're paying premiums for a policy in someone else's name. You might be able to deduct your payments, in that case. This doesn't happen often, but can occur in some instances, such as:

Running a business 

If you own an LLC, an S corporation, or are a sole proprietor, you might be able to deduct premium payments. You can claim payments for your employees' premiums as a tax deduction if you offer life insurance as a benefit. However, neither the owner or the company can be the beneficiary of policy. This often comes up in the case of spouses who are in business together. For example, if your company is set up so that you're the owner and your spouse is an employee, and you are the beneficiary of your spouse's life insurance policy, you can't claim premium payments for your spouse as a tax deduction.

Additionally, you can only deduct premiums that go toward the first $50,000 of life insurance coverage. The IRS considers payments for life insurance above this amount to be wages and will tax your employees on it. Keep in mind that most people purchase life insurance policies with a face value of at least 10 times their annual income. This means that most people don't see much of a tax benefit from this exception.

Certain Alimony Agreements

Alimony agreements and divorce settlements that require you to purchase a life insurance policy on behalf of your former spouse might result in tax-deductible premium payments. However, it only applies if your alimony agreement or divorce decree went into effect before 2019. Tax code laws have recently changed, and this rule does not apply to current divorce cases.

Charity-Owned Life Insurance

Premium payments are tax-deductible if you name a charity the beneficiary of your life insurance policy and transfer ownership to them. In this case, you'll still be paying the premiums, but you'll no longer be the owner of the policy. It's important to note that you cannot deduct premiums paid if you have only named the charity as the beneficiary. You'll need to transfer ownership as well to take this tax deduction.

What about taxes on the benefit amount?

While premiums are taxable, the payout amount isn't normally taxed. Neither the policy owner nor the beneficiaries need to pay taxes on the benefit amount in most cases. However, there are a couple of exceptions to this rule.

Policies that Gain Interest

Generally, any interest your policy gains can be taxed. This happens in two primary ways:

  • The payout is delayed — Normally, benefit claims are processed within a set timeframe. However, sometimes a delay in processing might occur. This is often because the insurance company needs to investigate the death. In those cases, the beneficiary may receive interest on the delayed payment amount. This interest will be taxable.
  • The cash value of whole life policies — Whole life policies normally have a cash-value component. This component works like a savings account and can gain interest. You'll need to pay taxes on this interest, just like you would with a standard savings account.

Policies Purchased From Someone Else

You can purchase someone else's life insurance policy. You'll pay the premiums and receive the death when the original owner dies. You might need to pay taxes on part of the benefit payout in this case.

Withdrawing Cash From Your Whole Life Policy

You can borrow cash from your life insurance policy if you have a whole life policy with a cash-value component. This is called a cash surrender and works like a loan. You'll pay taxes on any amount you withdraw that exceeds the total of premiums you've paid so far. You'll also reduce the amount of the eventual life insurance benefit payout if you don't pay the loan back in full. 

Taxes on Term Life Insurance vs. Whole Life Insurance

The tax rules don't change depending on the type of insurance you have. Both term life and whole life policies are subject to the same IRS regulations. The only exception is the taxation of cash withdrawals from a whole life policy.

The Bottom Line

You shouldn't plan on your premiums being tax-deductible, because in most cases, they won't be. However, the total cost of life insurance premiums is generally minor when compared to the benefit of your life insurance policy. That amount generally will not be taxed. This means your insurance premiums are a strong investment in your family's financial security, even if they're not tax-deductible.