Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Taxation of Disability Insurance

I was recently reviewing an individual tax return. There was something on there that distresses me.

This client walked into a tax trap, and that trap has gone off.  Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done.

Let’s talk about disability insurance.

This client is a personal friend. You and I would agree that he is a high-incomer. He works for a large employer on the Kentucky side. One of the advantages of a large employer is the benefits. One of the benefits his provides is employer-funded long-term disability insurance.

He got hurt and hurt badly. He is now collecting on the disability insurance, and probably will be for a long time.  

Did you know that disability insurance can be taxable?


There is extensive tax law on the taxation of disability insurance, and there are different answers depending upon who is paying the premiums and whether it is a group or individual policy. There is an overarching theme, though:

Disability benefits are taxable to the extent that the premiums were not included in income.

His long-term insurance was 100% employer-paid and 100% excluded from W-2 income. While this was beneficial to him then, it is the worst-case scenario now.

Long-term policies can be expensive. Take someone who is pushing the top tax brackets, and a recommendation to pay tax can mean thousands of extra dollars. Combine that with an all-too-human “it cannot happen to me” response, and it is easy to understand the reluctance.

And that is assuming the tax advisor is even aware of what is happening. Employer-provided disability insurance would not necessarily appear on any documents one would be reviewing. There are good odds that you and your tax advisor will be learning about your disability insurance together.

And so he has to pay tax on disability at the same time that his earning power is reduced.

Is there a compromise?

I think so, but – again – it has to be done upfront. I have no problem with short-term disability being taxable, whether because the premiums are employer-paid or because you run the premiums through your cafeteria plan. This is the insurance you buy from Aflac, for example, and it pays you for six months or a year if you get hit by the proverbial bus. Yes, it would stink to have to pay taxes, but it would only be for a short period of time. The expectation of this insurance is that you will heal and get back to work.

But long-term disability is different enough to warrant a different answer. You almost surely want to make sure this is paid with after-tax monies. If you are unfortunate enough to collect on this type of insurance, you do not need to compound the misfortune by having taxes as part of your household budget.

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