IRS Advice On How to Pay Yourself When You Have a Business

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People go into business to make money. Figuring out how to account for the money they make can be a challenge. Thankfully, the IRS has provided guidance on how to handle accounting for the money business owners make.

Here is the guidance:

The procedures for compensating yourself for your efforts in carrying on a trade or business will depend on the type of business structure you elect. Below are topics that frequently arise when new business owners ask the Internal Revenue Service questions about paying themselves.


Corporate officers

An officer of a corporation is generally an employee, but an officer who performs no services or only minor services, and who neither receives nor is entitled to receive any pay, is not considered an employee. Refer to “Who Are Employees?” in Publication 15-A, Employer’s Supplemental Tax Guide (PDF).

Partners

Partners are not employees and should not be issued a Form W-2 in lieu of Form 1065, Schedule K-1, for distributions or guaranteed payments from the partnership. Refer to partnerships for more information.

Dividend distributions

Any distribution to shareholders from earnings and profits is generally a dividend. However, a distribution is not a taxable dividend if it is a return of capital to the shareholder. Most distributions are in money, but they may also be in stock or other property. For information on shareholder reporting of dividends and other distributions, refer to Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses.

Form 1099-MISC or Form W-2

You cannot designate a worker, including yourself, as an employee or independent contractor solely by the issuance of Form W-2 or Form 1099-MISC. It does not matter whether the person works full time or part time. You use Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income (PDF) to report payments to others who are not your employees. You use Form W-2 to report wages, car allowance, and other compensation for employees.

Treating employees as nonemployees

You will be liable for social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax if you do not deduct and withhold them because you treat an employee as a nonemployee, including yourself if you are a corporate officer, and you may be liable for a  trust fund recovery penalty. Refer toPublication 15, Circular E, Employer’s Tax Guide for details about the trust fund recovery penalty orIndependent Contractor for more information on employee classification.

Shareholder loan or officer’s compensation?

A loan by a corporation to a corporate officer should include the characteristics of a loan made at arm’s length. That is, there should be a contract with a stated interest rate, a specified length of time for repayment, and a consequence for failure to repay the loan. Collateral would also be an indication of a loan. A below-market loan is a loan which provides for no interest or interest at a rate below the federal rate that applies. If a corporation issues you, as a shareholder or an employee, a below-market loan, the lender’s payment to the borrower is treated as a gift, dividend, contribution to capital, payment of wages, or other payment, depending on the substance of the transaction.

See “Below-market interest rate loans” under Employees’ Pay / Kinds of Pay / Loans or Advances in Publication 535, Business Expenses for more information.

Reasonable compensation

Because an officer of a corporation is generally an employee with wages subject to withholding, corporate officers may question what is considered reasonable compensation for the efforts they contribute to conducting their trade or business. Wages paid to you as an officer of a corporation should generally be commensurate with your duties. Refer to “Employee’s Pay, Tests for Deducting Pay” in Publication 535, Business Expenses for more information. Public libraries may have reference sources that provide averages of compensation paid for various types of services. The Internal Revenue Service may determine that adjustments must be made to the income and expenses of tax returns for both the corporation and an individual shareholder if the officer is substantially underpaid for services provided.

Draw account

If you are a sole proprietor  or partner in a partnership, the money or other forms of payment you take from your business should be accounted for in a draw account. This helps you know what amount of benefits you have taken from the business during the year. You cannot deduct the sole proprietor s own salary or any personal withdrawals made from the business.

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Wills Are Not Enough for Business Owners

brand1-e1383682355561Most business owners will leave the business they own to their family in their will. Before those with large estates do that however they have a few important questions to think about and answer about that will. First, do their heirs have the money to pay the estate taxes on the value of the business? Next, do their heirs know what the business is worth?

Business Owners Need to Value the Business

The owners will need to find the answers to those questions because their heirs either don’t know what the value of the business is or aren’t interested in what it is. Here’s the challenge though, when it comes time to assess the value of the estate of the owner, the IRS will tell the heirs what the business is worth. Then they’ll want taxes paid on that value. Do they have the money to pay those taxes?

When it comes to the valuation process, naturally to avoid a higher estate tax bill the heirs will want the IRS to put a lower value on the business while the IRS will want to put a higher value on the business. Guess who usually wins out?

Many times heirs will have to sell homes, stock or other assets to pay that estate tax bill. Worst case scenario they may have to borrow money or even sue remaining partners to satisfy the IRS. This is not what the owners wanted to do to their loved ones and their former partners.

So how do owners figure out what their business is worth? The following are the most common methods used to value a business:

  • Book Value
  • Straight Capitalization Method
  • Capitalization of Earnings Method
  • Years’ Purchase Method
  • Discounted Future Earnings Method

Solutions with a Fully Funded Buy Sell Agreement

These methods of valuation answer the question of what the business is worth but leave another one unanswered. Namely, how do you set aside money to pay the estate taxes based on the value of the business?

In many cases the answer is, by setting up a guaranteed fully funded buy sell agreement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buy-sell_agreement ).This is an agreement where the terms are laid out what happens to a business should something happen to one of the owners. As part of the agreement it looks to put a value on the business and determines a way to pay for it.

 Need for Updated Business Valuation

Here’s a challenge for business owners when it comes to valuing their business with the buy sell agreement. Simply put, the value changes. The business owners started 20 years ago is worth more today than it was 20 years ago.  And since most owners don’t know when they will create their estate for the IRS to value, they should look to update the value in their guaranteed fully funded buy sell agreement every few years or so. Remember the IRS will want taxes to be paid by the heirs based on what the business is worth and if the heirs don’t have the money to pay that estate tax bill, problems arise.

Are Heirs Qualified to Run the Business?

Finally, is a partner’s spouse or children qualified to take over the business if they pass away? Again, the buy sell agreement can spell out what happens to the business if one of the owners passes away. This even applies if the business is owned by one person.

Wills are a great way to start the process of transferring a business to loved ones and friends however there are a few gaps with it that can be filled by a guaranteed fully funded buy sell agreement. Working with a qualified and licensed insurance advisor and other team members can go a long way in filling those gaps.

 

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