What Is It?
If your life insurance policy is a participating policy, then you are entitled to receive shares--a dividend--of the divisible surplus of the insurer at the end of the business year. The dividend is, in effect, your share of the insurer's earnings. Good earnings figures result from successful investments, positive claims experience, and careful management of expenses.
How Are Dividends Treated For Tax Purposes?
Generally, Dividends Are Not Taxable Income to You
Dividends are generally not taxed as income to you. They are deemed a return of your premiums (up to the total amount of premiums paid) regardless of whether you receive them in cash, use them to purchase paid-up additions to your policy, use them to reduce future premiums, or leave them invested with the insurer.
Caution: The taxation of dividends is treated differently if the policy is a modified endowment contract (MEC).
Dividends Received In Excess of Total Premiums Paid Are Taxable
When the dividend received plus all previous non-taxable distributions from the contract exceed the total of all premiums and other consideration paid for the contract, then the excess is included in your gross income for tax purposes. At that point, you have recouped your costs and the remainder is income to you. These dividends are generally taxable as ordinary income. Dividends paid by mutual life insurance companies are not eligible for capital gains tax treatment.
Is Interest on Dividends Taxable Income?
If you leave your dividends on deposit with your insurer and you earn interest on those dividends, the interest is taxable income to you (you will receive a Form 1099 from your insurer), provided there are no substantial limitations on your right to withdraw the dividend interest. Under the tax regulations, it is not a substantial limitation if:
- You are required to withdraw interest in even amounts
- You are required to withdraw all, or a specified portion of, your dividend account
- You are required to give notice in advance of a withdrawal
- A higher rate of interest would be paid in the year following the current taxable year
Technical Note: When dividend interest is used to increase the payment under the life insurance policy, it is added to your cost basis for computing income tax due upon subsequent surrender or conversion of the policy.
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