Acuity Blog

If your business has co-owners, you probably need a buy-sell agreement

Are you buying a business that will have one or more co-owners? Or do you already own one fitting that description? If so, consider installing a buy-sell agreement. A well-drafted agreement can do these valuable things:

  • Transform your business ownership interest into a more liquid asset,
  • Prevent unwanted ownership changes, and
  • Avoid hassles with the IRS.

Agreement basics

There are two basic types of buy-sell agreements: Cross-purchase agreements and redemption agreements (sometimes called liquidation agreements).

A cross-purchase agreement is a contract between you and the other co-owners. Under the agreement, a withdrawing co-owner’s ownership interest must be purchased by the remaining co-owners if a triggering event, such as a death or disability, occurs.

A redemption agreement is a contract between the business entity and its co-owners (including you). Under the agreement, a withdrawing co-owner’s ownership interest must be purchased by the entity if a triggering event occurs.

Triggering events

You and the other co-owners specify the triggering events you want to include in your agreement. You’ll certainly want to include obvious events like death, disability and attainment of a stated retirement age. You can also include other events that you deem appropriate, such as divorce.

Valuation and payment terms

Make sure your buy-sell agreement stipulates an acceptable method for valuing the business ownership interests. Common valuation methods include using a fixed per-share price, an appraised fair market value figure, or a formula that sets the selling price as a multiple of earnings or cash flow.

Also ensure the agreement specifies how amounts will be paid out to withdrawing co-owners or their heirs under various triggering events.

Life insurance to fund the agreement 

The death of a co-owner is perhaps the most common, and catastrophic, triggering event. You can use life insurance policies to form the financial backbone of your buy-sell agreement.

In the simplest case of a cross-purchase agreement between two co-owners, each co-owner purchases a life insurance policy on the other. If one co-owner dies, the surviving co-owner collects the insurance death benefit proceeds and uses them to buy out the deceased co-owner’s interest from the estate, surviving spouse or other heir(s). The insurance death benefit proceeds are free of any federal income tax, so long as the surviving co-owner is the original purchaser of the policy on the other co-owner.

However, a seemingly simple cross-purchase arrangement between more than two co-owners can get complicated, because each co-owner must buy life insurance policies on all the other co-owners. In this scenario, you may want to use a trust or partnership to buy and maintain one policy on each co-owner. Then, if a co-owner dies, the trust or partnership collects the death benefit proceeds tax-free and distributes the cash to the remaining co-owners. They then use the money to fund their buyout obligations under the cross-purchase agreement.

To fund a redemption buy-sell agreement, the business entity itself buys policies on the lives of all co-owners and then uses the death benefit proceeds buy out deceased co-owners.

Specify in your agreement that any buyout that isn’t funded with insurance death benefit proceeds will be paid out under a multi-year installment payment arrangement. This gives you (and any remaining co-owners) some breathing room to come up with the cash needed to fulfill your buyout obligation.

Create certainty for heirs 

If you’re like many business co-owners, the value of your share of the business comprises a big percentage of your estate. Having a buy-sell agreement ensures that your ownership interest can be sold by your heir(s) under terms that you approved when you set it up. Also, the price set by a properly drafted agreement establishes the value of your ownership interest for federal estate tax purposes, thus avoiding possible IRS hassles.

As a co-owner of a valuable business, having a well-drafted buy-sell agreement in place is pretty much a no-brainer. It provides financial protection to you and your heir(s) as well as to your co-owners and their heirs. The agreement also avoids hassles with the IRS over estate taxes.

Buy-sell agreements aren’t DIY projects. Contact us about setting one up.

© 2024


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Be aware of the tax consequences of selling business property

If you’re selling property used in your trade or business, you should understand the tax implications. There are many complex rules that can potentially apply. To simplify this discussion, let’s assume that the property you want to sell is land or depreciable property used in your business, and has been held by you for more than a year.

Note: There are different rules for property held primarily for sale to customers in the ordinary course of business, intellectual property, low-income housing, property that involves farming or livestock, and other types of property.

Basic rules

Under tax law, your gains and losses from sales of business property are netted against each other. The tax treatment is as follows:

  1. If the netting of gains and losses results in a net gain, then long-term capital gain treatment results, subject to “recapture” rules discussed below. Long-term capital gain treatment is generally more favorable than ordinary income treatment.
  2. If the netting of gains and losses results in a net loss, that loss is fully deductible against ordinary income. (In other words, none of the rules that limit the deductibility of capital losses apply.)

The availability of long-term capital gain treatment for business property net gain is limited by “recapture” rules. Under these rules, amounts are treated as ordinary income, rather than capital gain, because of previous ordinary loss or deduction treatment.

There’s a special recapture rule that applies only to business property. Under this rule, to the extent you’ve had a business property net loss within the previous five years, any business property net gain is treated as ordinary income instead of long-term capital gain.

Different types of property

Under the Internal Revenue Code, different provisions address different types of property. For example:

  • Section 1245 property. This consists of all depreciable personal property, whether tangible or intangible, and certain depreciable real property (usually real property that performs specific functions). If you sell Section 1245 property, you must recapture your gain as ordinary income to the extent of your earlier depreciation deductions on the asset.
  • Section 1250 property. In general, this consists of buildings and their structural components. If you sell Section 1250 property that’s placed in service after 1986, none of the long-term capital gain attributable to depreciation deductions will be subject to depreciation recapture. However, for most noncorporate taxpayers, the gain attributable to depreciation deductions, to the extent it doesn’t exceed business property net gain, will (as reduced by the business property recapture rule above) be taxed at a rate of no more than 28.8% (25% plus the 3.8% net investment income tax) rather than the maximum 23.8% rate (20% plus the 3.8% net investment income tax) that generally applies to long-term capital gains of noncorporate taxpayers.

Other rules apply to, respectively, Section 1250 property that you placed in service before 1987 but after 1980 and Section 1250 property that you placed in service before 1981.

As you can see, even with the simple assumptions in this article, the tax treatment of the sale of business assets can be complex. Contact us if you’d like to determine the tax implications of transactions, or if you have any additional questions.

© 2024


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Could a 412(e)(3) retirement plan suit your business?

When companies reach the point where they’re ready to sponsor a qualified retirement plan, the first one that may come to mind is the 401(k). But there are other, lesser-used options that could suit the distinctive needs of some business owners. Case in point: the 412(e)(3) plan.

Nuts and bolts

Unlike 401(k)s, which are defined contribution plans, 412(e)(3) plans are defined benefit plans. This means they provide fixed benefits under a formula based on factors such as each participant’s compensation, age and years of service.

For 2024, the annual benefit provided by 412(e)(3)s can’t exceed the lesser of 100% of a participant’s highest three-year average compensation or $275,000. As with other defined benefit plans, 412(e)(3)s are funded only by employers. They don’t accept participant contributions.

But unlike other defined benefit plans, which are funded through a variety of investments, 412(e)(3)s are funded with annuity contracts and insurance. In fact, the IRS refers to them as “fully insured” plans. The name “412(e)(3)” refers to Section 412(e)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, which authorizes the plan type’s qualified status.

Under Sec. 412(e)(3), defined benefit plans funded with annuity contracts and insurance aren’t subject to minimum funding requirements — so long as certain conditions are met. Companies sponsoring these plans don’t have to make annual actuarial calculations or mandatory contributions. However, they risk penalties if a plan’s insurer doesn’t satisfy certain obligations. In other words, the plan needs to be safely insured.

Potential benefits

Some experts advise relatively older business owners who want to maximize retirement savings in a short period to consider 412(e)(3)s because of the way defined benefit plans differ from defined contribution plans. That is, business owners who sponsor and participate in defined benefit plans can take a bigger share of the pie — particularly if they have few, if any, highly compensated employees. Meanwhile, they can also enjoy substantial tax deductions for plan contributions.

In addition, 412(e)(3)s may be more attractive than other defined benefit plans for some small business owners. Although they tend to sacrifice potentially higher investment returns, these plans offer greater flexibility by using potentially lower-risk and easy-to-administer annuity contracts and insurance. They might also appeal to closely held business owners who want to maximize tax-deductible contributions to a retirement plan in the early years of ownership.

As is the case with all defined benefit plans, however, sponsors must have the financial stability to support their plans indefinitely. So, 412(e)(3)s usually aren’t appropriate for start-ups.

Administrative requirements

Tax-favored treatment for 412(e)(3)s isn’t automatic. These plans must meet various requirements as spelled out in the tax code.

For example, as mentioned, 412(e)(3)s must be funded exclusively by the purchase of annuity contracts or a combination of annuity contracts and insurance. Sponsors must buy the contracts and/or insurance from insurers licensed by at least one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia.

Also, the contracts must provide for level annual (or more frequent) premium payments starting on the date each participant joins the plan. Premium payments need to end no later than the normal retirement age of a participant — or by the date the individual ceases participation in the plan, if earlier.

These are just a couple examples of the rules involved. It’s critical to fully understand all the requirements before sponsoring a plan.

An intriguing possibility

A 412(e)(3) plan may be an under-the-radar choice for some businesses under the right circumstances. For help choosing the best plan for your company, contact us.

© 2024


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2024 Q3 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the third quarter of 2024. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

July 15

  • Employers should deposit Social Security, Medicare and withheld income taxes for June if the monthly deposit rule applies. They should also deposit nonpayroll withheld income tax for June if the monthly deposit rule applies.

July 31

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2024 (Form 941) and pay any tax due. (See the exception below, under “August 12.”)
  • File a 2023 calendar-year retirement plan report (Form 5500 or Form 5500-EZ) or request an extension.

August 12

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2024 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all the associated taxes due.

September 16

  • If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the third installment of 2024 estimated income taxes.
  • If a calendar-year S corporation or partnership that filed an automatic six-month extension:
    • File a 2023 income tax return (Form 1120-S, Form 1065 or Form 1065-B) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
    • Make contributions for 2023 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
  • Employers should deposit Social Security, Medicare and withheld income taxes for August if the monthly deposit rule applies. They should also deposit nonpayroll withheld income tax for August if the monthly deposit rule applies.

© 2024


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