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Lawsky urges Lew to order IRS review of life insurance loophole

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(Bloomberg) — U.S. life insurers take billions of dollars in undeserved tax deductions by shifting capital to states with looser reserve requirements and the practice should be halted by the Internal Revenue Service, a New York regulator said.

Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of the state’s Department of Financial Services, criticized the “insurance inversions” in a letter last month to U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. Lawsky said insurers have completed $48 billion in such “shadow” deals in New York and more than $300 billion nationwide. He didn’t name any firms in the letter.

“Life insurers are trying to have their cake and eat it too,” Lawsky wrote in the Nov. 21 letter. “The firms siphon off cash for other purposes through these insurance inversions, then still take the full tax deduction on the original amount of reserves. This loophole defies any form of logic or common sense.”

Insurers create special-purpose entities in states with less-restrictive rules and shift customer policies into those units, Lawsky wrote.

He has previously called for tighter governance of the insurancesubsidiaries, known as captives. The Treasury Department received the letter and is reviewing it, a spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement.

The American Council of Life Insurers, an industry group, has said that captives benefit consumers by allowing companies to charge less for coverage without taking on excessive risk.


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