Taxes are frustrating to nearly every small business owner I speak with. Most people agree that we should all pay our fair share. But after working countless thousands of hours to build a viable business, it’s easy to feel like Uncle Sam’s reaching into our pockets too far. That’s why I focus on helping my clients who own businesses make sure they’re not paying more in taxes than they need to. One great tool we can use in this endeavor is a defined benefit retirement plan. Whatever you want to call it, DB plan, defined benefits pension plan, etc., it can be a killer way to defer a huge portion of your income from taxation.
I realize you might cringe when you read the words “pension” or “defined benefit”. The idea of promising employees a monthly check throughout their retirement may not foster warm and fuzzies. But if you don’thave employees, or only have a few, a defined benefit plan can offer some pretty major tax advantages.
Read on to learn how you might take advantage of them.
For business owners starting to think about the next generation, the phrases”estate tax” or “transfer tax” almost seem like curse words. The bad news is that when you build an estate of a certain size, the IRS wants to get in your pockets regardless of what, when, or how you transfer your assets to beneficiaries. The good news is that there are plenty of strategies available to help you minimize these taxes. The grantor retained annuity trust is one of them, and will be the topic of today’s post. We’ll cover what they are, why they’re beneficial, and how you might go about using one.
Gift Tax Review
Ok – before we dive into the details, let’s review what taxes typically apply when you gift an asset to someone else.
First off, you’re allowed to give away $14,000 per year, per person tax free. If you’re married, you and your spouse are both allowed $14,000 per person per year, or $28,000 total. So, if you and your spouse want to gift each of your kids $28,000 for their birthday every year, you could do so tax free. (It’d be one heck of a birthday present, too).
You also have a lifetime gift exclusion. This is the amount that you can give away, either while you’re alive or after you die, without incurring any federal estate or gift taxes. Anything that exceeds the $14,000 annual limit (or doesn’t qualify) works against your lifetime exclusion. The lifetime gift exclusion in 2017 is $5.49 million, which inches higher with inflation over time. Here again you can combine your lifetime exclusion with your spouse, for a total of $10.98 million.
So let’s say that one year you and your spouse decide to gift your oldest child $128,000. The first $28,000 would be covered under your annual allowance and excluded from tax. The remaining $100,000 would work against your lifetime exclusion. Neither you nor your child would owe tax on the gift, but you’d have worked your lifetime exclusion from $10.98 million down to $10.88 million. If your future gifts (either while you’re alive or after death) exceed $10.88 million, they’ll be subject to the federal gift/estate tax:
“I paid out the ears in taxes this year. How can I reduce my tax burden?”
This is a question I’m hearing a lot from business owners recently. And while it may not sound flashy, the best way to reduce taxes is to incorporate some smart planning into your decision making. More often than not, business owners simply don’t have the time to research and apply the opportunities offered in the tax code.
So to make your life a little easier, today’s post will cover an often unused tax saving opportunity:the Section 105 medical reimbursement plan.
An Overview of Section 105 Health Reimbursement Plans
A section 105 health reimbursement plan is a tax-efficient way to repay your employees for their health care costs. Rather than purchasing group coverage that your qualifying employees can opt into, you allow them to find their own coverage and then reimburse them for qualified expenses. This can include premiums, deductibles, or a wide variety of other out of pocket costs. (Side note, there are section 105 plans that combine traditional group coverage with reimbursement for qualified out of pocket costs, but that’s a subject for a future post).
Whereas this would not have been a popular way to offer benefits a decade ago, it’s more palatable now that individual health insurance is widely available through the state and federal marketplaces.
The main benefits of section 105 plans are the tax advantages. Most small businesses deduct the cost of health insurance premiums for their employees, and possibly for themselves. But when it comes to their own out of pocket health care costs, business owners normally pay for them with taxable dollars. These expenses can be deductible at the personal level, but only when they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.
With a Section 105 plan you can deduct your entire family’s medical expenses with without being subject to the 10% AGI floor. Even better, it’s a deduction from income tax at the state and federal levels, AND a deduction from payroll taxes. For some business owners this can be a savings of thousands of dollars per year.
The tax benefits don’t apply to all types of business entities, though. S-Corps don’t get to deduct reimbursements through section 105 plans from state or federal income tax. And if you own a sole prop, a partnership, or an LLC you aren’t considered an employee. That means you can’t be reimbursed by a plan, and would need to employ your spouse in order to reap the benefits.
You own a thriving art supply store in your home town of New Orleans. You’ve put years of your life and thousands of dollars into building the store into what it is now. You make a nice living, and the business mostly runs itself at this point.
Then Hurricane Katrina comes to town. The building you lease is ruined. Your storefront and merchandise are ruined. You have no cash flow to pay creditors, and are forced to close the store.
This is a pretty extreme example, but is exactly what happened to thousands of businesses in the wake of the disaster in 2005. It’s also a risk that can be completely covered with business interruption insurance.
Virtually any disaster that is out of your control and risks your business’s profitability can be covered in a business interruption policy. In other words, you can protect business profits and your personal income from a fire, flooding, earthquake, or other disaster.
This post will cover the ins and outs of business interruption insurance. We’ll address what it does and doesn’t cover, when you should consider buying it, how much coverage you need, and how to purchase a policy.
“How can I know for sure my savings will last after I stop working?”
“I”m concerned I’ll spend through my savings too fast and run out of money when I’m 80.”
These are a few common phrases I hear from people who are approaching retirement. Many people I speak with in the their mid 50s and early 60s these days have saved diligently for years for their own retirement. But now as they approach the transition from accumulating wealth to spending their savings, the question of whether they’ve saved enough becomes extremely important.
Plus, when you mix in longer life expectancies, rising health care costs, and expensive stock and bond markets, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the issue.
So in today’s post, I’ll cover some of the leading ways you can determine whether you have enough saved up to stop working. Without putting you and your family’s future at risk, that is.
Inheriting an IRA is quite a bit different than inheriting any other asset. Unlike cash or investments in a traditional investment account, if you inherit an IRA you’ll need to start withdrawing from the account in order to avoid hefty penalties. In this post we’ll cover what your options are when you inherit an IRA, and how you can best manage it for you & your family.
How IRAs are Passed After Death
Whereas many of your assets will be distributed to heirs according to your will, IRAs are instead distributed by contract. Your custodian (the brokerage firm that holds your account, like Vanguard or TD Ameritrade) lets you designate as many beneficiaries and contingent beneficiaries as you like. Once you die, your account bypasses your will, the probate process, and is distributed according to this beneficiary designation.
When account holders don’t designate any beneficiaries things get a little murkier. When the account holder dies, their account is distributed according to their custodian’s default policy. At most custodians this default policy diverts the IRA back to their estate (and goes through probate) but at some it’s diverted to their spouse first. Unfortunately, if the account holder didn’t designate a beneficiary while they were alive, you’re at the mercy of your custodian’s policy.
If the account is indeed diverted back to their estate, it’ll be distributed according to your state’s interpretation of their will. And if they didn’t have one (meaning they died intestate), the state will make its own decision on who should inherit the asset.
The moral of the story? Take advantage of the opportunity to bypass probate, and designate your beneficiaries formally while you’re still alive.
Managing your financial affairs is a big job. You have to keep track of your income, manage your assets for long term growth, pay taxes, and arrange for your estate to be distributed after you die.
You can do some of these things on your own. But others, like writing a will, are jobs you’ll probably want to hire a professional for.
Since we’re in the middle of tax season, I thought it might be helpful to cover exactly what to look for when hiring an accountant. Paying taxes is a fact of life. But if you can find creative ways to reduce the amount of tax you pay, there will be more left over for you and your family. It’s for this reason that an accountant is often one of the professionals families hire for money advice.
You can certainly prepare your own taxes if you prefer. Programs like TurboTax and TaxAct provide quick and affordable ways to compile your financial records and file your taxes.
There is no program that can help you with tax planning, though. TurboTax and TaxAct are great for tax compliance, where you’re reporting on transactions that’ve already happened. But if you’d like to know how you might reduce your tax burden in the future, you’ll need some help making decisions on transactions that haven’t happened yet. This is tax planning, and something that many accountants are very good at.
In general I’m a pretty big nerd when it comes to all things financial. I love a good spreadsheet, and really enjoy analyzing a solid set of statistics.
Since I do a lot of this in my day job, it’s rare for me to be truly surprised by individual statistics. But I came across a few recently that really boggled my mind, and they all have to do with college planning:
Student loan debt in the U.S. has increased 510% over the last 10 years
Across the country, we’re taking on $2,701 in student loan debt every second
16% of student loan borrowers are currently in default, and another 27% are either delinquent or in postponement
These are some pretty astounding numbers. You may have already heard that tuition costs are going up 7% each year, or that as a country we now have more student loan debt than we do credit card debt. But a 510% increase over ten years is astronomical.
Since saving for & affording college is relevant to the majority of parents, I thought it’d make a great post on the blog. So, today’s post covers affording college & need based financial aid.
To get to the bottom of the issue, I’d like to welcome Melissa Ellis to the blog. Melissa is the founder of Sapphire Wealth Planning, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, and a subject matter expert when it comes to education planning.
Insurance agents love to pitch whole life insurance.
This is sometimes a controversial topic, but the truth is that insurance agents make massive commissions on permanent life insurance when compared to term policies. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to see agents find creative ways to work permanent life insurance into a financial plan.
The truth is that most people simply don’t need permanent insurance, and are far better served with a term policy. Whole life insurance is costly, and offers very poor return potential. This post will cover what whole life insurance is, and why most people are better off with lower cost alternatives.
How Life Insurance Works
In order to understand whole life insurance, we really need to understand term life insurance first. With term life insurance policies, you’re paying an insurance company a monthly premium in exchange for old fashioned, plain vanilla insurance on your life. If you die while the policy is in force, the insurance company will pay your beneficiaries a death benefit.
Since it’s a term policy, it’s only good for a certain amount of time. Most term policies are written for 10, 20, or 30 years, and have level premiums throughout the life of the policy.
By and large, term policies are the best way to insure your life. They’re inexpensive and straightforward. Plus, the whole reason most people insure their lives is to protect against the chance that they die before becoming financially independent. Once they become financially independent there’s rarely a need for life insurance. You have enough assets to pay for your lifestyle, which can be distributed to your heirs after you go.
Incentive stock options, or ISOs, are a pretty common way for companies to compensate management and key employees. Otherwise known as “statutory” or “qualified” options, ISOs are a way to give management a stake in the company’s performance without doling out a bunch of cash.
While they can have wonderful tax benefits, far too many people who own ISOs fail to exercise them wisely. Some estimates even claim that up to 10% of in the money ISOs expire worthless every single year. If you own incentive stock options but aren’t sure how to manage them, read on. This post will cover a few of the top management strategies at your disposal.