In a nutshell, a tax shelter allows your investments to grow free of tax. Many people think tax shelters are only for the rich but the biggest users of tax shelter is the middle class. When you buy a RRSP (IRA or 401K in the US), you are in fact buying a tax shelter. The money made inside the RRSP is allow to grow tax free until it’s taken out.
There are a few problems with a RRSP. The first is the Canadian government won’t allow you to put more than 18% of your income or $16,500, whichever is less, into a RRSP. The second problem is the money is subject to income tax when it’s taken out.
Another way to shelter income is by using life insurance. Life insurance proceeds are passed tax free to your beneficiaries. That’s good for your beneficiaries but what if you want the money? All whole life and universal life insurance policies have a cash surrender value that you get if you give up the insurance. If you take the cash, your beneficiaries get nothing and the money taken out gets taxed. Not a good deal. However, there is a way around this.
With the exception of term insurance, all other life insurance policies are made up of two components, the insurance component and an investment component. The key here is the investment component. While the money is inside the policy, its allowed to grow tax free, just like a RRSP. Knowing this, many investors put way more money than they have to into their policy. For example, a 37 year old non smoking female has to pay $622.50 a year to get $1 million of life insurance. If all she does is put $622.50 into her plan, all she’ll have is insurance. Anything above that amount goes into the investment component.
To prevent people from dumping in their life savings, the government sets limits on the maximum premium you can pay into a policy and still keep its tax shelter status. In the above example, the maximum is $41,847.61 a year. The higher your insurance needs, the higher the limit. Let’s assume that the above put $41,000 a year into her policy for 3 years and then stops after that. After paying for insurance cost the rest will go into the investment component, where it will grow tax free. If we assume an 8% yearly rate of return the policy will have a cash value of $1.3 million and death benefit of $2.15 million when our 37 year old female reaches 65. If she takes the cash, it gets taxed and she loses the death benefit. How can she take cash out, keep the death benefit and not pay taxes? By borrowing against the cash value.
A bank will lend up to 90% of the cash value on an insurance policy. So our investor can borrow up to $1.17 million from the bank to spend as she feels like. The money would not be taxed because it’s not income. The bank would capitalize the loan so she doesn’t have to make any payments. How does the bank get its money back? When she dies, the death benefit will pay off the bank loan plus accrue interest and any money left over will go to her beneficiary tax free.
So here you have an investment strategy that is completely sheltered from tax, allows you to take money out of the plan tax free, and allows you to transfer your estate to your heirs’ tax free. As with all investments, you should seek out the advice of an experience financial planner before proceeding.