There are three main ways the federal tax law picks your pocket and becomes your legal partner: payroll taxes, the income tax and the estate tax. So, how can you fight back? One day, just for fun, we (four tax guys) started to count the ways to legally get around paying the three taxes listed. We were just getting warmed up when we counted 227 options and stopped. The following are five areas in which you can save money from taxes:
1. Payroll Taxes. This money-stealing parasite is persistent and expensive: This year, $16,404 on the first $106,800 of your earnings goes to the tax man. That’s a scandalous 9.76 percent. For earnings of more than $106,800, you pay an additional 2.9 percent.
Here are examples of the three most common ways to lose payroll taxes to the IRS: The first mistake involves Joe, the owner of an S corporation who taxes a large salary (often $500,000 or more) and takes a huge bonus at the year’s end to bring down profits. For this S corporation, a tax-free dividend instead of compensation would save a bundle of unnecessary payroll taxes and would cost no more in income taxes. A second payroll tax mistake is when owners’ wives and moms take a salary when they either don’t work or are overpaid. It is much better tax-wise to give them a gift. The third mistake is operating a business as an LLC, which makes all income to the owner(s) subject to payroll taxes.
2. Asset Protection. In a heartbeat, your family wealth, including your business, can be depleted or even destroyed by a lawsuit.
Keep your business thin by keeping only those assets—typically, necessary cash, inventory and receivables—needed for operations in your business. Here are some basic sub-strategies: Elect S corporation status; personally own (via separate LLCs) any new real estate or expensive equipment, and lease it to your operating company; and never own delivery vehicles in your operating company. Put the vehicles into a separate corporation or LLC.
The sad fact is, we can’t protect the assets inside of your operating company, but we can protect you and your spouse. All of your significant assets are simply retitled using typical lifetime planning documents—such as family limited partnerships, LLCs and appropriate trusts.
3. Life Insurance. You can save money in taxes whether you, your spouse or your kids own the insurance.
Critical issues concerning life insurance are premium cost, the death benefit and the tax due on the benefit at death (usually the estate tax). The following are common ways to modify insurance plans to save premiums or increase the death benefit without additional costs:
• For single life or second-to-die insurance, you can get a cash-surrender value of more than $200,000 on a policy that is 9 years old or older. This results in significantly more death benefit for the same premium cost or a significantly reduced premium cost for the same death benefit.
• If you, the husband, are at least 55 years old, worth more than $5 million and have insurance on your life only, you are wasting premium dollars. Second-to-die coverage with your wife will typically give you the same death benefit for about 35 percent less premium cost.
• If you have more than $400,000 in a qualified plan such as a 401(k) or IRA, that amount is subject to a double tax (income and estate) of as much as 73 percent to the IRS. On average, you can turn every $270,000 of after-tax dollars into $3 to $5 million (tax-free), depending on your age and health. This plan works for second-to-die or single life insurance.
4. Business Succession. This affects your business and your business kids. The typical business owner wants to transfer the business to his kid(s) so that he and his kid(s) don’t get killed by taxes. He also wants to treat his non-business kids fairly, ensure that he controls his business for as long as he lives and ensure that the company stock stays in the family by never going to a kid’s ex-spouse. Every one of these goals is easily accomplished. Best of all, the business can be transferred tax-free, with no income tax, gift tax or estate tax for the owner or the kids.
5. Estate Plan. A proper estate plan is actually two plans: a lifetime plan and a death plan. The plans are designed to cover every significant tax-saving possibility—from the minute the lifetime plan is created until after you get hit by the final bus (covered by the death plan).
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