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Funding Non-Qualified Deferred Compensation Plans

One question I get when reviewing retirement plans is what are the consequences of having my money in non-qualified plans – specifically, what are the tax implications, and should I have my money in this account? It’s important to understand that no two retirement plans look the same. It is equally important that you work with a professional who knows how to design your plan so that it is balanced, safe, (relative to your risk tolerance,) and positioned to grow your assets. Let’s look at non-qualified compensation plans offered by employers. Let’s also discuss how life insurance impacts this type of plan.

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Nonqualified Deferred Compensation

Non-Qualified Deferred Compensation (NQDC) plans are a popular benefit offered by employers to key executives and highly compensated employees. These plans allow participants to defer a portion of their income to a future date, typically during retirement, providing a valuable tool for retirement planning and wealth accumulation. One effective method of funding NQDC plans is by utilizing life insurance policies. In this article, we will explore the concept of funding NQDC plans with life insurance, its advantages, considerations, and potential drawbacks.

Understanding Non-Qualified Deferred Compensation Plans

Non-Qualified Deferred Compensation plans are employer-sponsored arrangements that allow certain employees to defer a portion of their compensation until a later date, usually retirement. These plans are termed "non-qualified" because they do not meet the eligibility criteria of qualified retirement plans like 401(k)s or IRAs. Common features of NQDC plans include:

  1. Elective Deferrals: Participants can choose to defer a portion of their salary, bonuses, or other forms of compensation into the plan.

  2. Employer Contributions: Employers often match or contribute additional funds to the plan on behalf of the participant.

  3. Vesting: Funds are typically subject to a vesting schedule, ensuring employees remain with the company for a specified period to access the deferred funds.

  4. Tax Deferral: Contributions to NQDC plans are not tax-deductible for the employer but provide tax-deferred growth for the employee.

  5. Timing of Distributions: Distributions usually occur at retirement, disability, or another pre-determined event.

Funding NQDC Plans with Life Insurance

One method to fund NQDC plans is by using life insurance policies. Here's how it works:

  1. Premium Payments: The employer purchases a life insurance policy on the life of the participant, with the company as the policy owner and beneficiary.

  2. Premium Payments: The employer pays the policy premiums, which are typically not tax-deductible for the employer.

  3. Policy Cash Value: Over time, the life insurance policy accumulates cash value, which can be invested and grow tax-deferred.

  4. Death Benefit: In the event of the participant's death, the policy pays out a death benefit to the company.

  5. NQDC Distribution: At the time of distribution, the company can access the accumulated cash value of the policy, using it to fund the NQDC plan's payouts to the participant.

Advantages of Funding NQDC Plans with Life Insurance

  1. Tax Efficiency: Life insurance policy cash values grow tax-deferred, providing a potentially tax-efficient source of funding for NQDC plans.

  2. Risk Mitigation: The death benefit ensures that even if the participant passes away prematurely, the NQDC plan will still be funded, benefiting their heirs or estate.

  3. Competitive Benefit: Offering NQDC plans funded by life insurance can be an attractive benefit for key executives, aiding in recruitment and retention efforts.

  4. Investment Control: The employer has control over the policy's investments, allowing them to tailor the growth potential of the funds.

  5. Flexibility: NQDC plans can be customized to meet the specific needs and goals of the participant and the company.

Considerations and Potential Drawbacks

While funding NQDC plans with life insurance offers several advantages, there are also important considerations and potential drawbacks to keep in mind:

  1. Cost: Premium payments for life insurance can be substantial, and they are not tax-deductible for the employer.

  2. Investment Risk: The performance of the life insurance policy's investments can impact the growth of the NQDC plan's funds.

  3. Policy Type: Selecting the right type of life insurance policy (e.g., whole life, universal life) is crucial, and the choice depends on the specific goals of the plan.

  4. Regulatory Compliance: NQDC plans are subject to strict regulatory rules, and it's essential to ensure that the plan complies with IRS regulations to avoid penalties.

  5. Participant Risk: Participants should be aware that their NQDC benefits are subject to the financial stability of the employer and any changes in the plan's terms.

Funding Non-Qualified Deferred Compensation plans with life insurance can be a strategic financial planning tool for both employers and highly compensated employees. It offers tax-efficient growth, risk mitigation, and flexibility, making it an attractive option for long-term retirement planning. However, it's essential to carefully consider the associated costs, investment strategies, and regulatory compliance to maximize the benefits of this approach. Employers and participants should work closely with financial advisors and legal experts to structure and manage these plans effectively.

If you would like an expert to review your plan, reach out to us at or call 775-325-4649.

It’s extremely important that you educate yourself on how these plans work, and what additional enhancements can be made for a better outcome in retirement.


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