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Assurance Vie, an Alternative Way to Save For Your Retirement

By Michael Doyle - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Luxembourg, Retirement
This article is published on: 15th March 2021

Many people are looking for an alternative to setting up a regulated pension for their retirement savings. Whilst there is tax relief on pension contributions in the savings phase, they are happy to give this up for more flexible and tax-effective income during retirement. In France, the most popular vehicle used for long-term savings is a contrat d’assurance vie, in which investors have the opportunity to invest regular premium savings or a temporary amount.
What Is an Assurance Vie?

An assurance vie is an insurance-based investment that can be as straightforward or as nuanced as you like. The following are the benefits of assurance vie for French residents:

  • While the funds remain within the assurance vie, there is usually no tax on any income or gains (i.e., the tax is deferred). However, social contributions are now withheld on an annual basis (rather than when the funds are withdrawn) for sums invested in a fonds en euros portfolio, just as they are for French bank deposits
  • A portion of any withdrawal is regarded as a capital withdrawal and is tax-free
  • An assurance vie becomes more tax-effective over time, and after eight years, the income can be offset against a tax-free allowance of (currently) € 9,200 per year for a couple submitting a joint tax return or €4,600 for an individual
  • You have total control of your money and may obtain monthly income payments from the insurance provider. However, withdrawals in the policy’s early years you can incur penalties, depending on the contract you select
  • If your circumstances or attitude toward investment risk changes, you might be able to change the funds in which you invest
  • For inheritance purposes, assurance vie is extremely tax-efficient
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Assurance vie is the traditional form of saving for millions of French citizens. Several billions of euros are invested by French banks and insurance firms that sell their own branded products.

Additionally, a much smaller group of non-French companies have designed French-compliant policies for the expatriate market in France. These businesses are generally located in heavily regulated financial hubs like Dublin and Luxembourg.

However, before selecting such a firm, make sure that it is a product completely compatible with French law to get the same tax and inheritance benefits as the French equivalent product.

Below are some of the benefits of a foreign assurance vie policy over a French assurance vie policy:

  • Other currencies, such as sterling, US dollars, and Swiss Francs, may be used to save
  • There is a wider variety of investment options available, including access to top investment management firms and capital-guaranteed products and funds
  • The report is written in English, making it easier for you to comprehend the terms and conditions of the assurance vie program
  • The assurance vie policy is generally portable, which is beneficial when travelling within the EU (or many other countries in the world)

When it comes to EU countries, the taxes can be confusing. In these jurisdictions, the plan is often accepted for its beneficial tax performance.

How Does Assurance Vie Work?
Your one-time or regular investment or premiums are paid to an insurance firm, which then invests the funds with the investment managers of your choosing. These are typically unit-linked investments, such as equity or bond funds, but they may also be deposits or unique products sold by different financial institutions.

You may invest in a range of funds which the insurance provider can pool together to create a mutual bond, which is your assurance vie policy. The value of the units you keep in managed funds is likely to increase over time if you have selected your investment wisely.

As a consequence, the value of your assurance vie policy will grow accordingly. You must, however, be fully conscious of and comfortable with the level of risk you are taking. As with any unit-linked investment, your fund’s value will go up or down depending on what is happening in the investment markets. Short-term market instability, on the other hand, typically has a lower impact over time

Smoothing out the bumps of market volatility

How Do I Choose What to Invest Inside My Assurance Vie?
You may hold strong opinions on the subject or have no opinions at all. In any case, having an excellent financial planner on hand is helpful. His or her job is to help you comprehend the full definition of investment and decide your attitude toward investment risk.

Without acknowledging any risk, there is little reasonable chance of making a significant return on your savings. Even leaving your savings in a bank these days carries the risk of not receiving a ‘real’ rate of return, i.e., one that keeps up with inflation.

An adviser can show you various types of investment options, clarify how they operate, their track record, and the nature and level of risk that the investment entails. Although you make the ultimate decision, his or her support may be helpful.

Following the initial investment, there should be regular follow-up meetings to assess your investment’s success and make any appropriate adjustments. This may be because your circumstances have changed or because certain funds aren’t performing as well as anticipated, and you’d like to replace them with funds that are.

Can Capital Be Guaranteed Via a French Assurance Vie?
The willingness to invest in a fonds en euros is a common feature of the French assurance vie (though this is also available, in limited circumstances, from insurance companies outside France).

Since your money, as well as any interest and year-end bonus applied to it, is guaranteed, this unique type of fund is structured to shape a very conservative base for your overall investment.

The majority of foreign companies that supply these forms of funds also provide sterling and US dollar equivalents. Intending to increase returns, the funds invest mainly in government and corporate bonds, with some exposure to equities and assets (real estate). Your money will earn interest over the year.

The insurance firm is allowed by statute to refund the bulk of the funds to your account in the form of a year-end bonus. The remaining portion of the fund’s return is kept in the insurance company’s reserves to smooth out potential investment gains, such as in periods of weak market results. However, the rate of return on the fonds en euros is ordinarily low due to the quality of the guarantees. Still, it is generally better than the interest received on a bank deposit account with immediate access.

However, the French tax authorities consider this form of a fund to be so without risk that annual social charges are imposed on the gain, potentially lowering the return rate over time.

It is also possible to invest in structured bank deposit offerings through some foreign assurance vie policies. The investment return is related to the stock market, but the capital invested is guaranteed.

French Tax Changes 2019

How Is an Assurance Vie Taxed?
Only the benefits portion of every amount you withdraw is taxable, and after January 1, 2018, the tax treatment differs depending on whether premiums were charged before September 27, 2017, or after that date.

Premiums paid before September 27, 2017
You may either be taxed at the set prelevement rate or file an annual income tax return, depending on your tax situation. The following is how the prelevement scale works:

  • Withdrawals made within the first four years are taxed at a rate of 35 percent
  • Withdrawals made between years four and eight are taxed at a rate of 15 percent
  • After eight years, withdrawals are taxed at a rate of 7.5 percent

Furthermore, social charges are imposed on the benefits portion of the amount withdrawn, at a rate of 17.2 percent. People prefer the progressive rate tax if it is lower than their marginal rate of income tax.

In France, the highest income tax rate is officially 45 percent. As a result, even though 35 percent appears to be a high rate, it is still the best choice for higher-rate taxpayers. After four years, you’ll have to reconsider which form to use. If your marginal tax rate is at least 30 percent, a prevelement rate of 15 percent is a better choice.

If you are a non-taxpayer (as more people are now since the 5.5 percent tax bracket was eliminated), you can opt to report the withdrawal on your annual income tax return.

After eight years, there is an extra income tax incentive to encourage people to save more for the long term. A single taxpayer is entitled to a €4,600 income tax credit against the benefits portion of any withdrawals made during the tax year. This is raised to €9,200 for married couples who are subject to joint taxation. There will be no income tax to pay if the benefits portion of total withdrawals made during the year does not surpass the allowances.

This might not seem like much, but it’s a valuable allowance, as shown by this example of Peter and Pam’s assurance vie policy, which they began nine years ago with a €100,000 investment. They have not taken any withdrawals, and the account is now worth €160,000. They want to buy a new car and need €15,000 to help pay for it, so they withdraw this amount. They receive a tax certification from the insurance firm when they make this withdrawal, showing how much gain is included in the amount withdrawn. The guaranteed value has risen by 60%, but the taxable benefit factor is only 37.5 percent (or €5,625) in this case. Since they have a tax-free allowance of €9,200 and they are subject to joint taxes, there is no income tax to pay.

Premiums paid from September 27, 2017
The tax rate varies based on the contract’s duration, plus whether capital remaining in the contract as of December 31 of the year before the withdrawal was above a threshold sum for contracts longer than eight years. The threshold amount is €150,000 per person (across all assurance vie policies), measured by the amount of premiums invested minus any money already withdrawn, rather than the contract’s value. Couples taxed as a household cannot share each other’s threshold because the threshold is not cumulative between individuals. As a consequence, one spouse can meet the threshold while the other does not.

On January 1, 2018, France adopted a 30 percent flat tax,’ consisting of 12.8 percent income tax and 17.2 percent social charges. As a result, for contracts that are less than eight years old, a flat tax is levied on gains in withdrawals which are deducted automatically by the insurance provider. The flat tax replaces the pre-September 27, 2017 rate of 52.2 percent (35 percent tax plus 17.2 percent social charges) for contracts of up to four years and 32.2 percent (15 percent tax plus 17.2 percent social charges) for contracts of four to eight years.

After eight years, the tax rate is 7.5 percent. In addition, there is 17.2 percent social charges to pay. The tax free allowance of €4,600 for a single taxpayer or €9,200 for a couple is still in place after eight years. When filing their French tax return, taxpayers can also choose to pay tax at their marginal rate in the ordinary income tax brackets (rates varying from 0-45%) plus social charges. Any excess tax already charged would be refunded after processing the tax declaration made in the year after payment of the withdrawal since the insurance provider will have already deducted 12.8 percent or 7.5 percent.

However, taxpayers should be mindful that if ordinary band taxation is selected for assurance vie dividends, this will extend to all other sources of investment profits, such as interest and persons, as well as capital gains from the selling of shares.

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Does Assurance Vie Have Other Advantages?
Without question, assurance vie is also a powerful tool for estate planning, both in reducing French inheritance taxes and giving you leverage over who inherits your properties after you die. This form of investment is considered outside of your estate for

When you set up this form of investment before you turn 70, each beneficiary is entitled to a tax-free deduction of €152,500 for money invested before you turn 70, with taxes limited to 20% for everything beyond that (although sums exceeding €700,000 per beneficiary are subject to a higher tax rate of 31.25 percent).

The inheritance benefits are limited for sums invested after the age of 70. There is a €30,500 tax-free exemption in this situation (plus the investment return on the total invested) for all of the people who profit from it. Any portion of the premium that reaches €30,500 is subject to regular French inheritance allowances, which differ based on the beneficiaries’ connections to the policyholder. Any gain in the scheme paid out as a death benefit is also subject to social taxes at the current rate of 17.2 percent.

Assurance vie can be a valuable tool for estate planning and providing a tax-efficient source of income for the policyholder over his or her lifetime.

Article by Michael Doyle

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