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William Byrnes (Texas A&M) tax & compliance articles

Archive for February, 2018

Deferred Compensation, Part VII: Taxation of Benefits

Posted by fhalestewart on February 26, 2018


I often refer to reading the tax code as “hop, skip and jump” reading because one paragraph or section of the code will require the reader to reference several other sections in order to comprehend the meaning behind the first code section.    §402, which explains the taxability of deferred compensation, is a prime example of this approach.   Section (a) states:

Except as otherwise provided in this section, any amount actually distributed to any distributee by any employees’ trust described in section 401(a) which is exempt from tax under section 501(a) shall be taxable to the distributee, in the taxable year of the distributee in which distributed, under section 72 (relating to annuities)

Section 401(a) provides the relevant rules for a trust to obtain tax-exempt status.  By way of quick review, these include certain vesting timelines, minimum participation standards, and non-alienability requirements.  Section 501(a) is the tax code section that grants tax-exempt status to certain organizations as well as trusts specifically mentioned in §401(a).  And §72 contains the rules for annuities, which provides rules allowing the recipient to not be taxed on his return of principal.

In 2009, F. Hale Stewart, JD. LL.M. graduated magna cum laude from Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s LLM Program.  He is the author of three books: U.S. Captive Insurance LawCaptive Insurance in Plain English and The Lifetime Income Security Solution.  He also provides commentary to the Tax Analysts News Service, as well as economic analysis to TLRAnalytics and the Bonddad Blog.  He is also an investment adviser with Thompson Creek Wealth Advisors. 

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Deferred Compensation, Pt. VII: Vesting

Posted by fhalestewart on February 19, 2018


The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “vesting” as “the conveying to an employee of inalienable rights to money contributed by an employer to a pension fund or retirement plan especially in the event of termination of employment prior to the normal retirement age”

The purpose of the vesting rules is to make sure that the money the employee contributes to the plan is his, and can never be taken away.  Here, there are actually two rules — one for contributions made by the employee.  These rights are “non-forfeitable” — they cannot be taken away.

The second rules apply to the employer’s contributions.  The statute contains two approved vesting schedules.  The first is the “3-year rule.”  If an employee has at least three years of service, he has a non-forfeitable right to 100% of the employer’s contributions.   The second is a schedule based on the years of service:

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Due to its somewhat stricter nature, most this schedule is more attractive from the employer’s perspective.

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Deferred Compensation, Part VII: Profit-Sharing

Posted by fhalestewart on February 13, 2018


Adding a profit-sharing component to your 401(k) plan can increase your contributions while also motivating employees.  All of the previously-discussed rules apply: you can’t have a top-heavy plan, you can’t discriminate in favor of certain employees, etc…

Here’s a general description of what’s involved from the code:

A profit-sharing plan is a plan established and maintained by an employer to provide for the participation in his profits by his employees or their beneficiaries. The plan must provide a definite predetermined formula for allocating the contributions made to the plan among the participants and for distributing the funds accumulated under the plan after a fixed number of years, the attainment of a stated age, or upon the prior occurrence of some event such as layoff, illness, disability, retirement, death, or severance of employment. A formula for allocating the contributions among the participants is definite if, for example, it provides for an allocation in proportion to the basic compensation of each participant.

The best part is the company is not required to make contributions every year; they can also determine the total amount of their contribution in the first quarter of the year, after sitting down with their accountant and getting a good idea for the previous year’s performance.

The total contribution is limited to the lesser of 25% of compensation or $55,000 (for 2018; $54,000 for 2017, subject to cost-of-living adjustments for later years).

In 2009, F. Hale Stewart, JD. LL.M. graduated magna cum laude from Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s LLM Program.  He is the author of three books: U.S. Captive Insurance LawCaptive Insurance in Plain English and The Lifetime Income Security Solution.  He also provides commentary to the Tax Analysts News Service, as well as economic analysis to TLRAnalytics and the Bonddad Blog.  He is also an investment adviser with Thompson Creek Wealth Advisors. 

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Deferred Compensation, Part VI: Minimum Participation Standards

Posted by fhalestewart on February 6, 2018


In general, a plan cannot specifically require that employees work for the company at least 1 year or attain the minimum age of 21.  For large employers with several divisions, this can happen accidentally.  Here are two examples from the accompanying Treasury Regulations:

Example 1. Corporation A is divided into two divisions. In order to work in division 2 an employee must first have been employed in division 1 for 5 years. A plan provision which required division 2 employment for participation will be treated as a service requirement because such a provision has the effect of requiring 5 years of service.

Example 2. Plan B requires as a condition of participation that each employee have had a driver’s license for 15 years or more. This provision will be treated as an age requirement because such a provision has the effect of requiring an employee to attain a specified age.

Second, the plan cannot exclude an employee who attains a specific age.

Finally, there are minimum participation standards, which must comply with one of the following three rules.

1.) The plan must benefit at least 70% of the “non-highly compensated” employees

2.) The plan benefits—

(i) a percentage of employees who are not highly compensated employees which is at        least 70 percent of

(ii) the percentage of highly compensated employees benefiting under the plan.

3.) The company sets up its own classification system approved by the Secretary that benefits at least 70% of the non-highly compensated individuals.

In 2009, F. Hale Stewart, JD. LL.M. graduated magna cum laude from Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s LLM Program.  He is the author of three books: U.S. Captive Insurance LawCaptive Insurance in Plain English and The Lifetime Income Security Solution.  He also provides commentary to the Tax Analysts News Service, as well as economic analysis to TLRAnalytics and the Bonddad Blog.  He is also an investment adviser with Thompson Creek Wealth Advisors. 

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