Micro Captives Dropped from IRS’ 2020 ‘Dirty Dozen’; Reason to Celebrate?

By Sandra Fenters

For the first time since 2014, micro captives have been omitted from the IRS’ list of what it perceives as areas of tax avoidance.

This is good news for our industry and the broader industry as well.

However, we need to be realistic in understanding that the IRS has not dropped captive insurance from its’ focus in the future.  You will see in the article below that the IRS explicitly states that it will continue to address issues related to micro-captives.

But given all that is on the plate of the IRS and the government in general, we may see less enforcement activity in 2020.



Micro captives were not listed on the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) 2020 ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of tax scams, for the first time in five years.

Published in Captive Insurance Times, July 16, 2020

The annual list is a compilation of a variety of common scams that the IRS suggests represent “the worst of the worst tax scams” and should be avoided by taxpayers.

For the last five years, the IRS has referred to micro captives as an “abusive tax shelter” and suggested that certain micro captive “structures, promoters, accountants or wealth planners persuade owners of closely-held entities to participate in schemes that lack many of the attributes of insurance.”

Although micro captives were not mentioned on the IRS’ official list, it did state that an upcoming series of releases will be published on topics such as abusive micro captives and fraudulent conservation easements.

The IRS said that these releases “will emphasize the illegal schemes and techniques businesses and individuals use to avoid paying their lawful tax liability”.

The IRS has had a number of tax court successes against micro captives over the past few years.

In the Avrahami case in 2017, the US tax court disallowed the “wholly unreasonable” premium deductions the taxpayer had claimed in a micro captive arrangement and concluded that the arrangement was not insurance under long-established law.

Last year, in the Reserve Mechanical case, the tax court determined that the transactions in another micro captive arrangement were not insurance.

Prior to those two rulings, the IRS issued guidance that micro captive transactions have potential for tax avoidance and evasion in 2016, and established reporting requirements for them via Notice 2016-66.

More recently, the IRS mailed a time-limited settlement offer for certain taxpayers under audit who participated in ‘abusive’ micro captive insurance transactions last September.

The IRS announced earlier this year that 80 percent of taxpayers who received offer letters elected to accept the settlement terms.

SIIA Objects to IRS Notification Letter

By Sandra Fenters

On March 20th, just four days after the National Covid-19 Emergency was declared, The IRS sent 150,000 letters to captive insurance companies who take the 831(b) election.

This memo was clearly designed to ignite fear in the minds of captive insurance owners.  It’s yet another scare tactic in the Services’ bullying efforts to induce doubt about the health and viability of captive insurance arrangements.

The timing for the IRS could not have been poorer. Despite presenting massive challenges to the global economy, the coronavirus pandemic may well be captive insurance companies’ finest hour. Last week a number of publications highlighted that high severity, low-frequency events like Covid-19 are when captive insurance shows its’ real value in protecting America’s small and mid-sized businesses from disaster.

SIIA Expresses Concerns about Ill-Timed Letters

The Self-Insurance Institute of America (SIIA) wrote to Treasury and IRS on March 30, calling the letters “insensitive and draconian.”

Ryan Work, SIIA VP of Government Relations who leads the SIIA Advocacy Committee on which I am very active, requested that the IRS reconsider its letter and its timeframes given the crisis.

Given the current crisis, combined with the timing and the burden being placed on small- and medium-sized businesses, the IRS should suspend further audit activity until the National COVID-19 Emergency Declaration is withdrawn so as to allow businesses operating captive insurance to mitigate the risks that Congress and the Tax Code allow them to appropriately address. Furthermore, while the deadline is suspended, the overall need for the IRS Letter itself should be reconsidered and information clarified as it is possible for the IRS to deduce the answers to its own questions from information that has already been reported by taxpayers who have complied with the requirement to file Form 8886 over the past two years.

Here is a link to the full SIIA letter to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Rettig.

We are hopeful that captive insurance companies play a pivotal role in covering losses in the coming months of the pandemic and that the IRS recognizes their critical and legitimate role in mitigating risk not properly covered by other insurance products.

Partnering with SIIA to Shape Captive Insurance Policy in DC

By Sandra Fenters

Over the last 5 years, we have seen a whirl wind of activity around captive insurance in Washington. Some very positive; some less so.

Consider the following:

  • Farm mutuals received a boost with the 2015 PATH (Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes) Act.
  • In the initial versions, small business captives (taking the 831b election) were originally omitted, but with some lobbying, they were ultimately included in the final bill. Consequently, these captives enjoyed a healthy increase in tax deductibility limits of insurance premiums; this was a big boost for small business captives, and it looked like the captive market for small businesses would boom.
  • The Treasury and IRS had seen abuses over the years with select captive plans and began to cast a suspicious eye on many existing captive policies. The IRS issued a series of onerous Notices (for example: 2016-66), ramped up audits and filed a number of lawsuits to target broadly any possible abuses.
  • Part of the challenge was that Congress did not specify much of the detail of the new rules which led to industry and government confusion.
  • So despite the gains for small business captives (taking the 831b election) in 2015, an aggressive IRS has muted much of the gains.


Helping to Steer the Policies

With this uncertainty, SIIA (The Self-Insured Institute of America) and its Captive Advocacy Team have been active for the last few years to help shape the legislation and policies related to small business captives utilizing the small captive tax election.

I have been active on the Captive Advocacy Team since 2015 and have made over a dozen trips to DC to support these efforts. We focus on informing the legislators about the benefits of captives and are aware of the onerous reporting requirements.

My most recent trip was this Spring when colleagues and I met with the legislative teams of Richard Burr (NC), PatToomey (PA) and David Perdue (GA). During the blitz, 13 SIIA Advocacy Team members met with 38 legislative teams.


SIIA Advocacy Going Forward

Ryan Work, Vice President, Government Relations of SIIA, leads this governmental advocacy program and comments that after a few years of a more reactive mindset of ‘putting out fires,’ the Team plans to be more proactive in its lobbying efforts in Washington.

My next scheduled visit is November 20, 2019.

Please let me know if you have any questions or input on this program.

IRS Announces Settlement Offers for Select Captives

Update from Sandra Fenters

The IRS issued a notice earlier this week which provides a settlement offer to certain taxpayers who are currently under audit and possess bad fact patterns within their captive program.

According to DugganBertsch, the IRS has touted several recent victories with respect to “micro-captive” transactions, but these cases have illustrated bad taxpayer fact patterns that were strongly in the IRS’s favor. By litigating these bad fact pattern cases first, the IRS hopes to discourage taxpayers with stronger fact patterns from continuing their defense of their positions. However, many of the several hundred pending cases in Tax Court have more taxpayer-favorable facts and circumstances; they are likely to create a more favorable precedent.

Capterra Risk is very active on Capitol Hill, and our staff regularly conducts Congressional meetings focused on key committees of jurisdiction, including Senate Finance and House Ways and Means, as well as leadership and Chairman offices. This ongoing engagement centers around educating Members of Congress and their staff about captive insurance in general, the importance of risk mitigation and the issues facing the captive owners and managers. As part of this effort, Capterra is working to establish a set of proactive principles to help further advance and benefit the industry, in partnership with state and federal regulators.

While the recently announced settlement only applies to a small percentage of captives under current IRS examination, we wanted to make you aware of the Notice.

If you would like to discuss this news further, please contact Capterra Risk at 412.802.2600.