Tax Advantages of Life Insurance

A very common discussion around a kitchen table is “I can’t believe how much tax the Government took from my pay cheque this month”. That’s because Canadian’s are used to paying upwards of 50% of their annual income back to the government which means less money in their own pocket.

What makes it worse is when one is able to build an asset base that starts to earn interest, dividend or capital gain income on the money they’ve invested. Despite the fact that it feels good to know your portfolio is growing, it is easy to become disheartened when you realize that a good chunk of your profit is going to disappear for ever.

The best known way to minimize the tax bill that incurs on the growth of one’s portfolio is an RRSP. Just about every Canadian understands how their RRSP works, or at least the concept of how it works, but their tax planning seems to stop there.

A very common misconception is that an RRSP is the only option when it comes to saving towards one’s retirement in a tax preferred way. Thankfully, Canadian’s have more then one tax preferred vehicle available, but choosing the best financial product for your situation takes some planning since different types of financial products serve different purposes.

One specific vehicle that has been around for many decades is a permanent life insurance policy (such as Whole Life or Universal Life). These two forms of life insurance have been used by many Canadian’s to protect their families from an unexpected death, the same way other life insurance products do. What’s amazing about these policies are the tax advantages that come with owning them. In fact, many of Canada’s wealthiest people have used these types of insurance policies to shelter their investment income from tax despite the fact that they already had the necessary life insurance they needed.

How it Works

A permanent life insurance policy is generally made up of two components. The first is the obvious death benefit which is the value that is paid out to the beneficiary upon the death of the life insured. The second component is the cash value which is very similar to that of a traditional mutual fund.

The difference however is that any money invested inside of a life insurance policy can allow you to accumulate cash values, within certain regulatory limits, without paying income tax on the growth. What’s more, the cash values inside of your policy can be accessed to supplement a retirement income through a policy loan, partial surrender, or loan strategy that can actually create the equivalent of a tax free income stream when needed. There are no age limits as to when or if you have to withdraw your cash value, and the “MTAR” or “contribution limit” is in no way connected to your income but rather to your actual “Cost of Insurance”. If you want to invest more then the contribution limit allows, simply increase the size of your death benefit and away you go. However, it is important to note that straight cash withdrawals are subject to taxation based on the rates and rules in effect at the time you withdraw the funds.

Who Does it Benefit

Canadians who have maximized their RRSP contributions and are looking for an alternative method to save for their retirement are in a great position to take advantage of this tax preferred life insurance vehicle. As well, those who are interested in protecting their assets from creditors or personal liability could very well be a great fit for a tax advantaged life insurance policy.

How About an Example

There are different types of structures and products available within the permanent life insurance category. For the purpose of our example, we will look at a non smoking male, age 35, who is looking to a buy a $1,000,000 Universal Life policy, and we will assume an annual return of only 6% (if the markets perform better then that, your cash values will be even higher).

Let’s assume this individual were in a position to save $1,000 per month in addition to his monthly or annual RRSP deposits. If he were in a 46.41% tax bracket, he would be left with a total of $601,547 after taxes at the age of 65. In comparison, if he were to invest that same $1,000 per month into the above mentioned Universal Life policy, he would end up with a whopping cash value of $1,068,282! What’s more, if he wanted to prolong when he would start to withdraw his RRSP savings until the age of 69, he could draw an annual income of $85,808 from age 60 to 69. Let’s not forget that this while time our “client” owned and continues to own a million dollar life insurance policy.

As demonstrated, there are definitely many unique strategies available to Canadian’s when it comes to saving for their retirement while minimizing their tax bill. The key to finding the right solution for you is to walk through the appropriate financial planning process in order to better define which product, or combination of products, is best suited for you and your particular situation.

Chris Karram is a Founding Principal and Financial Consultant with SAFEBRIDGE Financial Group. He specializes in providing unique investment, insurance and retirement strategies to his clients in and throughout the GTA. Chris can be reached at 416.466.5858 or This article is for information purposes only and should not be considered as personal investment, tax or pension advice.

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