Life Insurance

Modified Endowment Contract (MEC)

What Is a Modified Endowment Contract?

A modified endowment contract (MEC) is a tax qualification of a life insurance policy whose funding exceeds federal tax law limits. The taxation structure and IRS policy classification change after a life insurance policy morphs into a modified endowment contract.

Key Takeaways

  • A modified endowment contract (MEC) is the term given to a life insurance policy whose funding has exceeded federal tax law limits.
  • The policy must fail to meet the Technical and Miscellaneous Revenue Act of 1988 (TAMRA) seven-pay test.
  • The taxation of withdrawals under the MEC is similar to that of non-qualified annuity withdrawals.

Understanding Modified Endowment Contracts (MEC)

A modified endowment contract (MEC) happens when the IRS no longer recognizes a policy as a life insurance contract, because the total collected premiums exceed federal tax law limits. This classification seeks to combat calling something “life insurance” to avoid taxes.

Specifically, a life insurance policy is considered an MEC by the IRS if it meets three criteria:

  1. The policy is entered into on or after June 20, 1988.
  2. It must meet the statutory definition of a life insurance policy.
  3. The policy must fail to meet the Technical and Miscellaneous Revenue Act of 1988 (TAMRA) 7-pay test.

The seven-pay test determines whether the total amount of premiums paid into a life insurance policy, within the first seven years, is more than what was required to have the policy considered paid up in seven years. Policies become MECs when the premiums paid to the policy are more than what was needed to be paid within that seven-year time frame.

Life insurance policies entered into before June 20, 1988, are not subject to the payment of premiums over the money allowed under federal laws. However, the renewal of an older life insurance policy after this date is considered new and must be subjected to the seven-pay test.

Tax Implications of an MEC

The taxation of withdrawals under the MEC is similar to that of non-qualified annuity withdrawals. For withdrawals before the age of 59 1/2, a premature withdrawal penalty of 10% may apply. As with traditional life insurance policies, MEC death benefits are not subject to taxation. Modified endowment contracts are usually purchased by individuals who are interested in tax-sheltered, investment-rich policies, and do not intend to make pre-death policy withdrawals.

Unlike traditional life insurance policies, taxes on gains are regular income for MEC withdrawals under last-in-first-out (LIFO) accounting methodology. However, the cost basis within the MEC and withdrawals is not subject to taxation. The tax-free death benefit makes MECs useful for estate planning purposes, provided the estate can meet the qualifying criteria. Furthermore, policy owners who do not take withdrawals can pass on a significant sum of money to their beneficiaries.

What are the likely tax consequences of a early withdrawal under an MEC?

Withdrawals are taxed similarly to those of a non-qualified annuity. For withdrawals before the age of 59 1/2, a penalty of 10% may apply. As with traditional life insurance policies, MEC death benefits aren’t subject to taxation.

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