May 16, 2023
4 ways corporate business owners can help ensure their compensation is “reasonable”
If you’re the owner of an incorporated business, you know there’s a tax advantage to taking money out of a C corporation as compensation rather than as dividends. The reason: A corporation can deduct the salaries and bonuses that it pays executives, but not dividend payments. Therefore, if funds are paid as dividends, they’re taxed twice, once to the corporation and once to the recipient. Money paid out as compensation is only taxed once — to the employee who receives it.
However, there are limits to how much money you can take out of the corporation this way. Under tax law, compensation can be deducted only to the extent that it’s reasonable. Any unreasonable portion isn’t deductible and, if paid to a shareholder, may be taxed as if it were a dividend. Keep in mind that the IRS is generally more interested in unreasonable compensation payments made to someone “related” to a corporation, such as a shareholder-employee or a member of a shareholder’s family.
Steps to help protect yourself
There’s no simple way to determine what’s reasonable. If the IRS audits your tax return, it will examine the amount that similar companies would pay for comparable services under similar circumstances. Factors that are taken into account include the employee’s duties and the amount of time spent on those duties, as well as the employee’s skills, expertise and compensation history. Other factors that may be reviewed are the complexities of the business and its gross and net income.
There are four steps you can take to make it more likely that the compensation you earn will be considered “reasonable,” and therefore deductible by your corporation:
- Keep compensation in line with what similar businesses are paying their executives (and keep whatever evidence you can get of what others are paying to support what you pay).
- In the minutes of your corporation’s board of directors’ meetings, contemporaneously document the reasons for compensation paid. For example, if compensation is being increased in the current year to make up for earlier years in which it was low, be sure that the minutes reflect this. (Ideally, the minutes for the earlier years should reflect that the compensation paid then was at a reduced rate.) Cite any executive compensation or industry studies that back up your compensation amounts.
- Avoid paying compensation in direct proportion to the stock owned by the corporation’s shareholders. This looks too much like a disguised dividend and will probably be treated as such by the IRS.
- If the business is profitable, pay at least some dividends. This avoids giving the impression that the corporation is trying to pay out all of its profits as compensation.
You can avoid problems and challenges by planning ahead. Contact us if you have questions or concerns about your situation.
May 11, 2023
Avoiding challenges to your estate plan
A primary goal of estate planning is to ensure that your wishes are carried out after you’re gone. So, it’s important to design your estate plan to withstand potential will contests or other challenges down the road.
The most common grounds for contesting a will are undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity. Other grounds include fraud and invalid execution.
There are no guarantees that your plan will be implemented without challenge, but you can minimize the possibility by taking these actions:
Dot every “i” and cross every “t.” The last thing you want is for someone to contest your will on grounds that it wasn’t executed properly. So be sure to follow applicable state law to the letter. Typically, that means signing your will in front of two witnesses and having your signature notarized. Be aware that the law varies from state to state, and an increasing number of states are permitting electronic wills.
Treat your heirs fairly. One of the most effective ways to avoid a challenge is to ensure that no one has anything to complain about. But satisfying all your family members is easier said than done.
For one thing, treating people equally won’t necessarily be perceived as fair. Suppose, for example, that you have a financially independent 30-year-old child from a previous marriage and a 20-year-old child from your current marriage. If you divide your wealth between them equally, the 20-year-old — who likely needs more financial help — may view your plan as unfair.
Demonstrate your competence if you’re concerned about a challenge. There are many techniques you can use to demonstrate your testamentary capacity and lack of undue influence. Examples include:
- Have a medical practitioner conduct a mental examination or attest to your competence at or near the time you execute your will.
- Choose witnesses you expect to be available and willing to attest to your testamentary capacity and freedom from undue influence years or even decades down the road.
- Videotape the execution of your will. This provides an opportunity to explain the reasoning for any atypical aspects of your estate plan and will help refute claims of undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity.
Consider a no contest clause. Most, but not all, states permit the use of no contest clauses. In a nutshell, it will essentially disinherit any beneficiary who challenges your will or trust.
For this strategy to be effective, you must leave heirs an inheritance that’s large enough that forfeiting it would be a disincentive to bringing a challenge. An heir who receives nothing has nothing to lose by challenging your plan.
Use a living trust. By avoiding probate, a revocable living trust can discourage heirs from challenging your estate plan. That’s because without the court hearing afforded by probate, they’d have to file a lawsuit to challenge your plan.
If your estate plan does anything unusual, it’s critical to communicate the reasons to your family. Indeed, explaining your motives can go a long way toward avoiding misunderstandings or disputes. They may not like it, but it’ll be more difficult for them to contest your will on grounds of undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity if your reasoning is well documented. Contact us for additional details.
May 9, 2023
Take advantage of the rehabilitation tax credit when altering or adding to business space
If your business occupies substantial space and needs to increase or move from that space in the future, you should keep the rehabilitation tax credit in mind. This is especially true if you favor historic buildings.
The credit is equal to 20% of the qualified rehabilitation expenditures (QREs) for a qualified rehabilitated building that’s also a certified historic structure. A qualified rehabilitated building is a depreciable building that has been placed in service before the beginning of the rehabilitation and is used, after rehabilitation, in business or for the production of income (and not held primarily for sale). Additionally, the building must be “substantially” rehabilitated, which generally requires that the QREs for the rehabilitation exceed the greater of $5,000 or the adjusted basis of the existing building.
A QRE is any amount chargeable to capital and incurred in connection with the rehabilitation (including reconstruction) of a qualified rehabilitated building. QREs must be for real property (but not land) and can’t include building enlargement or acquisition costs.
The 20% credit is allocated ratably to each year in the five-year period beginning in the tax year in which the qualified rehabilitated building is placed in service. Thus, the credit allowed in each year of the five-year period is 4% (20% divided by 5) of the QREs with respect to the building. The credit is allowed against both regular federal income tax and alternative minimum tax.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was signed at the end of 2017, made some changes to the credit. Specifically, the law:
- Requires taxpayers to take the 20% credit ratably over five years instead of in the year they placed the building into service
- Eliminated the 10% rehabilitation credit for pre-1936 buildings
Contact us to discuss the technical aspects of the rehabilitation credit. There may also be other federal tax benefits available for the space you’re contemplating. For example, various tax benefits might be available depending on your preferences as to how a building’s energy needs will be met and where the building is located. In addition, there may be state or local tax and non-tax subsidies available.
Getting beyond these preliminary considerations, we can work with you and construction professionals to determine whether a specific available “old” building can be the subject of a rehabilitation that’s both tax-credit-compliant and practical to use. And, if you do find a building that you decide you’ll buy (or lease) and rehabilitate, we can help you monitor project costs and substantiate the compliance of the project with the requirements of the credit and any other tax benefits.
May 3, 2023
Have you planned for long-term health care expenses?
No matter how diligently you prepare, your estate plan can quickly be derailed if you or a loved one requires long-term home health care or an extended stay at an assisted living facility or nursing home. Long-term care (LTC) expenses aren’t covered by traditional health insurance policies or Medicare. So it’s important to have a plan to finance these costs, either by setting aside some of your savings or purchasing insurance. Let’s take a closer look at three options.
1) LTC insurance
An LTC insurance policy supplements your traditional health insurance by covering services that assist you or a loved one with one or more activities of daily living (ADLs). Generally, ADLs include eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring (getting in and out of a bed or chair) and maintaining continence.
LTC coverage is relatively expensive, but it may be possible to reduce the cost by purchasing a tax-qualified policy. Generally, benefits paid in accordance with an LTC policy are tax-free. To qualify, a policy must:
- Be guaranteed renewable and noncancelable regardless of health,
- Not delay coverage of pre-existing conditions more than six months,
- Not condition eligibility on prior hospitalization,
- Not exclude coverage based on a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or similar conditions or illnesses, and
- Require a physician’s certification that you’re either unable to perform at least two of six ADLs or you have a severe cognitive impairment and that this condition has lasted or is expected to last at least 90 days.
It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of tax-qualified policies. The primary advantage is the premium tax deduction. But keep in mind that medical expenses are deductible only if you itemize and only to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), so some people may not have enough medical expenses to benefit from this advantage. It’s also important to weigh any potential tax benefits against the advantages of nonqualified policies, which may have less stringent eligibility requirements.
2) Hybrid insurance
Also known as “asset-based” policies, hybrid policies combine LTC benefits with whole life insurance or annuity benefits. These policies have advantages over standalone LTC policies.
For example, their health-based underwriting requirements typically are less stringent and their premiums are usually guaranteed — that is, they won’t increase over time. Most important, LTC benefits, which are tax-free, are funded from the death benefit or annuity value. So, if you never need to use the LTC benefits, those amounts are preserved for your beneficiaries.
3) Employer-provided plans
Employer-provided group LTC insurance plans offer significant advantages over individual policies, including discounted premiums and “guaranteed issue” coverage, which covers eligible employees (and, in some cases, their spouse and dependents) regardless of their health status. Group plans aren’t subject to nondiscrimination rules, so a business can offer employer-paid coverage to a select group of employees.
Employer plans also offer tax advantages. Generally, C corporations that pay LTC premiums for employees can deduct the entire amount as a business expense, even if it exceeds the deduction limit for individuals. And premium payments are excluded from employees’ wages for income and payroll tax purposes.
Think long term
Given the potential magnitude of LTC expenses, the earlier you begin planning, the better. We can help you review your options and analyze the relative benefits and risks.
April 28, 2023
April 20, 2023
Retirement saving options for your small business: Keep it simple
If you’re thinking about setting up a retirement plan for yourself and your employees, but you’re worried about the financial commitment and administrative burdens involved, there are a couple of options to consider. Let’s take a look at a “simplified employee pension” (SEP) or a “savings incentive match plan for employees” (SIMPLE).
SEPs are intended as an attractive alternative to “qualified” retirement plans, particularly for small businesses. The features that are appealing include the relative ease of administration and the discretion that you, as the employer, are permitted in deciding whether or not to make annual contributions.
SEP involves easy setup
If you don’t already have a qualified retirement plan, you can set up a SEP simply by using the IRS model SEP, Form 5305-SEP. By adopting and implementing this model SEP, which doesn’t have to be filed with the IRS, you’ll have satisfied the SEP requirements. This means that as the employer, you’ll get a current income tax deduction for contributions you make on behalf of your employees. Your employees won’t be taxed when the contributions are made but will be taxed later when distributions are made, usually at retirement. Depending on your needs, an individually-designed SEP — instead of the model SEP — may be appropriate for you.
When you set up a SEP for yourself and your employees, you’ll make deductible contributions to each employee’s IRA, called a SEP-IRA, which must be IRS-approved. The maximum amount of deductible contributions that you can make to an employee’s SEP-IRA, and that he or she can exclude from income, is the lesser of: 25% of compensation and $66,000 for 2023. The deduction for your contributions to employees’ SEP-IRAs isn’t limited by the deduction ceiling applicable to an individual’s own contribution to a regular IRA. Your employees control their individual IRAs and IRA investments, the earnings on which are tax-free.
There are other requirements you’ll have to meet to be eligible to set up a SEP. Essentially, all regular employees must elect to participate in the program, and contributions can’t discriminate in favor of the highly compensated employees. But these requirements are minor compared to the bookkeeping and other administrative burdens connected with traditional qualified pension and profit-sharing plans.
The detailed records that traditional plans must maintain to comply with the complex nondiscrimination regulations aren’t required for SEPs. And employers aren’t required to file annual reports with IRS, which, for a pension plan, could require the services of an actuary. The required recordkeeping can be done by a trustee of the SEP-IRAs — usually a bank or mutual fund.
Another option for a business with 100 or fewer employees is a “savings incentive match plan for employees” (SIMPLE). Under these plans, a “SIMPLE IRA” is established for each eligible employee, with the employer making matching contributions based on contributions elected by participating employees under a qualified salary reduction arrangement. The SIMPLE plan is also subject to much less stringent requirements than traditional qualified retirement plans. Or, an employer can adopt a “simple” 401(k) plan, with similar features to a SIMPLE plan, and automatic passage of the otherwise complex nondiscrimination test for 401(k) plans.
For 2023, SIMPLE deferrals are up to $15,500 plus an additional $3,500 catch-up contributions for employees ages 50 and older.
Contact us for more information or to discuss any other aspect of your retirement planning.
April 20, 2023
Breathe new life into a trust by decanting it
Building flexibility into your estate plan using various strategies is generally advised. The reason is that life circumstances change over time, specifically evolving tax laws and family situations. One technique that provides flexibility is to provide your trustee with the ability to decant a trust.
One definition of decanting is to pour wine or another liquid from one vessel into another. In the estate planning world, it means “pouring” assets from one trust into another with modified terms. The rationale underlying decanting is that, if a trustee has discretionary power to distribute trust assets among the beneficiaries, it follows that he or she has the power to distribute those assets to another trust.
Depending on the trust’s language and the provisions of applicable state law, decanting may allow the trustee to:
- Correct errors or clarify trust language,
- Move the trust to a state with more favorable tax or asset protection laws,
- Take advantage of new tax laws,
- Remove beneficiaries,
- Change the number of trustees or alter their powers,
- Add or enhance spendthrift language to protect the trust assets from creditors’ claims, or
- Move funds to a special needs trust for a disabled beneficiary.
Unlike assets transferred at death, assets that are transferred to a trust don’t receive a stepped-up basis, so they can subject the beneficiaries to capital gains tax on any appreciation in value. One potential solution is to use decanting.
Decanting can authorize the trustee to confer a general power of appointment over the assets to the trust’s grantor. This would cause the assets to be included in the grantor’s estate and, therefore, to be eligible for a stepped-up basis.
Follow your state’s laws
Many states have decanting statutes, and in some states, decanting is authorized by common law. Either way, it’s critical to understand your state’s requirements. For example, in some states, the trustee must notify the beneficiaries or even obtain their consent to decanting.
Even if decanting is permitted, there may be limitations on its uses. Some states, for example, prohibit the use of decanting to eliminate beneficiaries or add a power of appointment, and most states won’t allow the addition of a new beneficiary. If your state doesn’t authorize decanting, or if its decanting laws don’t allow you to accomplish your objectives, it may be possible to move the trust to a state whose laws meet your needs.
Beware of tax implications
One of the risks associated with decanting is uncertainty over its tax implications. Let’s say a beneficiary’s interest is reduced. Has he or she made a taxable gift? Does it depend on whether the beneficiary has consented to the decanting? If the trust language authorizes decanting, must the trust be treated as a grantor trust? Does such language jeopardize the trust’s eligibility for the marital deduction? Does distribution of assets from one trust to another trigger capital gains or other income tax consequences to the trust or its beneficiaries?
Decanting can breathe new life into an irrevocable trust. We’d be pleased to help you better understand the pros and cons of decanting a trust.
April 17, 2023
The tax advantages of hiring your child this summer
Summer is around the corner so you may be thinking about hiring young people at your small business. At the same time, you may have children looking to earn extra spending money. You can save family income and payroll taxes by putting your child on the payroll. It’s a win-win!
Here are four tax advantages.
1. Shifting business earnings
You can turn some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income by shifting some business earnings to a child as wages for services performed. In order for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work done by the child must be legitimate and the child’s salary must be reasonable.
For example, suppose you’re a sole proprietor in the 37% tax bracket. You hire your 16-year-old son to help with office work full-time in the summer and part-time in the fall. He earns $10,000 during the year (and doesn’t have other earnings). You can save $3,700 (37% of $10,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to your son, who can use his $13,850 standard deduction for 2023 to shelter his earnings.
Family taxes are cut even if your son’s earnings exceed his standard deduction. That’s because the unsheltered earnings will be taxed to him beginning at a 10% rate, instead of being taxed at your higher rate.
2. Claiming income tax withholding exemption
Your business likely will have to withhold federal income taxes on your child’s wages. Usually, an employee can claim exempt status if he or she had no federal income tax liability for last year and expects to have none this year.
However, exemption from withholding can’t be claimed if: 1) the employee’s income exceeds $1,250 for 2023 (and includes more than $400 of unearned income), and 2) the employee can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return.
Keep in mind that your child probably will get a refund for part or all of the withheld tax when filing a return for the year.
3. Saving Social Security tax
If your business isn’t incorporated, you can also save some Social Security tax by shifting some of your earnings to your child. That’s because services performed by a child under age 18 while employed by a parent aren’t considered employment for FICA tax purposes.
A similar but more liberal exemption applies for FUTA (unemployment) tax, which exempts earnings paid to a child under age 21 employed by a parent. The FICA and FUTA exemptions also apply if a child is employed by a partnership consisting only of his or her parents.
Note: There’s no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or is a partnership that includes non-parent partners. However, there’s no extra cost to your business if you’re paying a child for work you’d pay someone else to do.
4. Saving for retirement
Your business also may be able to provide your child with retirement savings, depending on your plan and how it defines qualifying employees. For example, if you have a SEP plan, a contribution can be made for the child up to 25% of his or her earnings (not to exceed $66,000 for 2023).
Contact us if you have any questions about these rules in your situation. Keep in mind that some of the rules about employing children may change from year to year and may require your income-shifting strategies to change too.