An insurance agents renewal commissions, which were used by his former employer to repay outstanding advances and loans, constituted unreported income according to the Tax Court in Diers. v. Comm., TC Memo 2003-229.
Everett Diers worked as an insurance agent for American Income Life Insurance Company for approximately six years. American paid Diers the years commissions in advance for each insurance policy he sold during the year. In addition, Diers received a renewal commission so long as the insured renewed the policy.
American also lent Diers funds to cover expenses related to his business for American. Because of the advance payment of commissions and loans made to him, American regularly carried a debt on its books for Diers. When Diers left American in 1994, he had an obligation to repay the company for the commission advances and loans.
After Diers resigned from the company, American sued Diers for advances and loans made to him during his employment. In 1995, Diers and American entered into a settlement agreement providing that American would look exclusively to renewal commissions due (or to become due) to Diers to satisfy the outstanding loan balance. In exchange, Diers released all claims and rights to renewal commissions attributable to past services rendered for American that were due to him (or that would become due in the future).
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When insurance agents receive advances based on future commission income, whether those advances constitute income depends on whether at the time of the making of the payment: (1) the agent had unfettered use of the funds, and (2) there was a bona fide obligation on the part of the agent to make repayment.
In many instances, repayment is made simply out of future earned commissions. Where the repayments will be taken only from future commissions earned and the agent will not become personally liable in the event the future income does not cover the repayment schedule, the payments will constitute income to the agent for each year to the extent he received them. Such payments are nothing more than disguised salary.
However, where the advances are actually loans, when the repayments are offset directly by the future earned commissions, then the agent will have either commission income or cancellation of indebtedness income at the time of the offsets.