Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Agreements

By Person, Stanley | Journal of Accountancy, August 1996 | Go to article overview

Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Agreements


Person, Stanley, Journal of Accountancy


Small closely held businesses operating as C corporations (not including personal service corporations) often overlook the tax saving benefits of nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements. To determine whether these arrangements are best suited to a C corporation, a CPA must be aware of the corporation's tax rate and the potential future costs of improperly using the low 15% rate (up to $50,000) during the corporation's less profitable or early-development years.

Closely held corporations often minimize their taxes by paying yearend bonuses to shareholder-owners. Although the strategy is time-honored and generally makes sense, when it is done incorrectly the IRS can determine the bonuses are unreasonable compensation, resulting in double taxation. The approach generally is favored because it can lessen the chances for double taxation in other occurrences, such as liquidations and unreasonable accumulations of retained earnings.

By using a nonqualified deferred compensation plan, a C corporation can

* Defer to a future year the actual payout to the shareholder-owners.

* Pay the tax on the deferred amount at the current lowest corporate tax rate (15%). There is no deduction for the deferral until it actually is paid. Likewise, the income is not reportable by the shareholder-owners until it is received.

* Take the deduction in the year the compensation is paid, preferably at a time when the higher corporate rates (25% to 39%) apply.

* Lower the threat of unreasonable compensation.

* Preserve current cash flow.

Generally, the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) and Medicare taxes must be paid on the deferred amount. However, the amount would include the Medicare tax only if the bonus was paid out after the shareholder-owners reached the FICA limit. …

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