Split-Dollar Life Insurance with A Comprehensive Guide for Americans


What Is Split-Dollar Life Insurance?

Split-dollar life insurance is a contract between two (or more) parties that specifies how the benefits of a permanent life insurance policy will be shared. The name “split-dollar” is derived from the method of sharing or “splitting” the cash value and death benefits.


As part of an employee compensation package, an employer might pay the premiums for an executive’s life insurance policy. In return, if the executive dies, the employer might be reimbursed by the death benefit for any premiums they paid, and the remaining death benefit would go to the executive’s beneficiaries.

There are two main types of split-dollar policies: one where you own the policy (collateral assignment split dollar) and one where your employer owns it (endorsement split dollar).

In the realm of life insurance, individuals are often presented with a plethora of options, each tailored to meet specific needs and objectives. Among these options is split-dollar life insurance, a strategy that has gained traction due to its versatility and potential benefits. In the United States, where financial planning is crucial for securing the future, understanding split-dollar life insurance can be invaluable. This article aims to elucidate the intricacies of split-dollar life insurance, its mechanics, benefits, and considerations for those considering it as part of their financial portfolio.

What is Split-Dollar Life Insurance?

Split-dollar life insurance is a collaborative arrangement between two parties, typically an employer and an employee, although it can also involve other relationships such as family members or business partners. In this arrangement, both parties agree to share the costs and benefits of a life insurance policy.

The core concept revolves around the sharing of premium payments, cash value, and death benefits between the parties involved. While the specifics can vary, the typical structure involves one party, often the employer, paying a portion of the premiums, while the other, usually the employee, pays the remainder.

Mechanics of Split-Dollar Life Insurance

Split-dollar life insurance can be structured in various ways, but two primary methods are commonly employed: endorsement split-dollar and collateral assignment split-dollar.

  1. Endorsement Split-Dollar: In this arrangement, the policy is owned by one party, usually the employee, who designates a beneficiary. The employer pays the premiums and is entitled to receive reimbursement of the premiums paid, plus interest or other agreed-upon benefits, upon the death of the insured. The policy’s cash value may also be divided between the parties according to the agreement.
  2. Collateral Assignment Split-Dollar: In this method, the employer owns the policy and is the beneficiary of the death benefit equal to its premium contributions, while the employee is typically named as the beneficiary for the remaining death benefit. The employee may have certain rights to the policy’s cash value, subject to the terms of the agreement.

Benefits of Split-Dollar Life Insurance

Split-dollar life insurance offers several benefits for both parties involved:

  1. Death Benefit Protection: The primary purpose of life insurance is to provide financial protection in the event of death. Split-dollar arrangements ensure that both parties have a stake in the policy’s death benefit, offering a degree of security to beneficiaries.
  2. Tax Advantages: Depending on the structure of the split-dollar arrangement, there may be tax advantages for both parties. For example, the premiums paid by the employer may be considered a form of compensation and deductible as a business expense, while the death benefit proceeds may be received tax-free by the beneficiary.
  3. Cash Value Accumulation: Many permanent life insurance policies accrue cash value over time, which can be accessed through withdrawals or policy loans. In a split-dollar arrangement, both parties may have access to a portion of the policy’s cash value, providing liquidity and flexibility.
  4. Employee Benefits: For employees, split-dollar arrangements can serve as an attractive employee benefit, providing life insurance coverage at a reduced cost or even no cost to the employee. This can be particularly appealing for key employees or executives.
  5. Employer Retention and Incentives: Employers can use split-dollar arrangements as a tool for retaining key talent and providing additional incentives. By offering life insurance coverage as part of an employee’s compensation package, employers can enhance overall compensation and incentivize loyalty.

Considerations and Risks

While split-dollar life insurance can offer significant benefits, there are also considerations and risks to be aware of:

  1. Complexity: Split-dollar arrangements can be complex, requiring careful planning and documentation to ensure compliance with tax and regulatory requirements. It’s essential to work with knowledgeable professionals, such as insurance agents and tax advisors, when implementing these strategies.
  2. Tax Implications: The tax treatment of split-dollar arrangements can vary depending on the structure and parties involved. It’s crucial to consider the potential tax consequences for both parties, including income tax, gift tax, and estate tax implications.
  3. Legal Agreements: Split-dollar arrangements should be formalized through written agreements outlining the rights and obligations of each party. These agreements should address key terms such as premium payments, ownership rights, beneficiary designations, and termination provisions.
  4. Termination and Exit Strategies: It’s essential to consider what happens if the split-dollar arrangement needs to be terminated or if one party wishes to exit the agreement prematurely. Termination and exit strategies should be addressed in the initial agreement to avoid potential disputes or unintended consequences.
  5. Financial Stability: Split-dollar arrangements may involve a degree of financial dependency between the parties, particularly if one party is relying on the other for premium payments or access to cash value. It’s important to assess the financial stability and reliability of the other party before entering into such an arrangement.


Split-dollar life insurance can be a valuable financial planning tool for individuals, businesses, and employers in the United States. By sharing the costs and benefits of a life insurance policy, split-dollar arrangements can provide death benefit protection, tax advantages, and employee benefits. However, these arrangements require careful planning, documentation, and consideration of potential risks and implications. Before implementing a split-dollar arrangement, it’s essential to consult with qualified professionals to ensure that it aligns with your financial goals and objectives. With proper guidance and oversight, split-dollar life insurance can be an effective strategy for achieving long-term financial security and peace of mind.

Benefits of Split-Dollar Life Insurance

Split-dollar life insurance comes with many benefits that make it a versatile tool for employers and individuals.

  • Cost sharing. For most employer/employee split-dollar plans, your employer pays all the premiums. But the split could be 50-50 or another agreed-upon ratio in other situations.
  • Benefit sharing. When the insured person passes away, the death benefit may be split, depending on the agreement. The party that paid the premiums usually gets back what they paid, and the remaining amount is given to the life insurance beneficiaries.
  • Tax efficiency. Split-dollar plans can provide some tax advantages. In an employer-employee setup, the premiums paid by the employer might be deductible as a business expense.
  • Enhanced employee retention. For employers, offering split-dollar plans can help recruit and retain high-value executives. The executive sees it as a valuable perk, which can increase loyalty and reduce turnover.

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