Are your structured settlement payments taxable?
For federal income tax purposes, it is not relevant whether a plaintiff receives proceeds from a judgment or settlement. No matter how the result is reached, amounts received are characterized either as income, or are specifically excluded from income. Section 104 of the Internal Revenue Code generally excludes from gross income: amounts received as personal injury damage awards (to the extent that the damages are compensatory and not punitive); amounts received through accident or health insurance for personal injury or sickness; and amounts received as pension, annuity, or for personal injuries or sickness resulting from active service in the armed forces of any country. Punitive damages are almost always included in gross income. Essentially, judgments resulting from personal injury lawsuits and the like are meant to make a plaintiff whole and compensate them for something that they lost that was not income (e.g. loss of an arm), therefore any amount received in compensation of such an injury also must not be income.
If your settlement payments are not covered by Section 104, you need to determine if your structured settlement payments must be included in your income by considering the item that the settlement replaces. Business injury or non-personal injury judgments are generally regarded as gross income. Here are a few examples of judgments usually included in gross income: interest on any award; compensation for lost wages or lost profits in most cases; punitive damages (in most cases); pension rights (if you did not contribute to the plan); damages for patent or copyright infringement, breach of contract, or interference with business operations; and back pay and damages for emotional distress received to satisfy a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Structured periodic payments for business injury judgments or settlements should generally be included as income to the extent that the payments fit under the definition above. With respect to the personal injury plaintiffs, Section 104 explicitly excludes from gross income periodic payments that are otherwise excluded from gross income. Portions of periodic payments specifically labeled as interest may not be excluded from gross income. If properly structured, personal injury settlement payments can be tax free generally irrespective of the number of years the payments continue.
A note of caution, the analysis above is very general and simplistic, even with respect to the examples provided above. You should consult your tax attorney to determine whether your settlement should be included in gross income pursuant to Section 104.
What happens if you sell your right to structured settlement payments for a lump sum?
The information above is very important to an original beneficiary of a structured settlement who may be interested in selling their right to receive structured settlement payments. This is because Section 104 still controls characterization of any lump sum payment received in return for transferring the right to structured settlement payments. The end result is that any lump sum payment you receive from selling your structured settlement payments is likely to have the same tax treatment as the payments under the structured settlement.
Therefore, if the current structured settlement payments you receive are tax free, then the money you receive from selling your payments are likely to be tax free. Conversely, if the current structured settlement payments you receive are are likely to be included in your income, then the money you receive from selling your right to payments are also likely to be included in your income.
Again, the exact determination of whether the proceeds from the sale of a structured settlement need to be included in the gross income should be made by a tax attorney. Only a tax professional is likely to have the expertise necessary to take into account all factors of your particular tax situation and conduct correct legal analysis.
Are there tax consequences for the company purchasing the right to your structured settlement payments?
Section 5891 of the Internal Revenue Code was added in 2002 to protect structured settlement payees/recipients that decide to sell the right to their structured settlement payments. Section 5891 requires the sale of structured settlement payments must be approved by a qualified court order in accordance with the relevant state statute. In Minnesota, the applicable state statute is Minn. Stat. §549.31 (2010).
Section 549.31 requires among other things that: the transfer is not unlawful; the transferee discloses certain facts to the payee in writing; the payee has established that the transfer is in the best interests of the payee and the payee’s dependents; the payee has received independent professional advice regarding the legal, tax, and financial implications of the transfer; the transferee has given written notice of the transferee’s name, address, and taxpayer identification number to the annuity issuer and the structured settlement obligor and has filed a copy of the notice with the court or responsible administrative authority; and that the transfer agreement provides that any disputes between the parties will be governed, interpreted, construed, and enforced in accordance with the laws of Minnesota and that the domicile state of the payee is the proper place of venue to bring any cause of action arising out of a breach of the agreement. The transfer agreement must also provide that the parties agree to the jurisdiction of any court of competent jurisdiction located in Minnesota.
If a sale of the right to payment under a structured settlement does not comply with Section 5891, then Section 5891 imposes on any person who acquires directly or indirectly structured settlement payment rights in a structured settlement factoring transaction a 40-percent excise tax.
Tax consequences of selling a structured settlement should be analyzed by a tax professional who will be able to conduct proper legal analysis based on the particular facts of your case. Sherayzen Law Office can help you analyze your case and provide an independent advice on the legal and tax consequences of the sale. Call us to discuss your case with an experienced Minneapolis tax lawyer!