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ESOP: More than your average retirement plan

An employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) is a retirement plan option that offers even greater tax advantages than many other retirement plans. However, for the small business owner, ESOPs have another significant advantage: in the right situation, an ESOP can be an extraordinarily useful estate and business succession planning tool.

An employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) is a retirement plan option that offers even greater tax advantages than many other retirement plans. However, for the small business owner, ESOPs have another significant advantage: in the right situation, an ESOP can be an extraordinarily useful estate and business succession planning tool.

The Internal Revenue Code offers great benefits for tax-qualified retirement plans such as ESOPs. Employers can get a tax deduction for contributions made on employee's behalf to the plan, while employees do not have to pay immediate income tax on these contributions. An employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) is a very specialized type of qualified retirement plan that offers even greater tax advantages than many other retirement plans. However, for the small business owner, ESOPs have another significant advantage: in the right situation, an ESOP can be an extraordinarily useful estate and business succession planning tool.

Inadequate planning can be costly

Unfortunately, it is all too common for owners of closely held businesses to approach retirement age without having an adequate business succession plan in place that will allow them to comfortably retire and enjoy the fruits of their labor. In many cases, these businesses may be very successful but not readily marketable due to heavy dependence on the input from the business owners on an ongoing basis. In these situations, the owner may find it very difficult to sell the business for its full value and due to inadequate planning, may have to sell the business for a fraction of its worth at retirement.

ESOP to the rescue

If you are a business owner considering selling your business at retirement and are concerned about getting the full fair market value for your business, the answer may be right in front of you. In many cases, the most logical buyers for your business may be your key employees. These key employees are familiar with your business including customers, vendors, and processes as well as your long-term vision for the business. They have an excellent chance to continue fostering the success of your business after your departure.

However, in many circumstances, your employees will not have the cash to buy your business outright and therefore, the business must, in one way or another, provide them with the means to pay the purchase price. This is a situation when an ESOP can be used as an effective planning tool to "save the day" by providing a financially effective way to help fund the sale of your business to your key employees at full market value.

Tax benefits are many

There are numerous tax benefits that are available to you as an owner to sell your business to your employees through the use of an ESOP. These benefits allow you t

Sell your shares of stock tax-free to the ESOP;

Utilize an ESOP loan (for which the bank and your company get special tax treatment); and

Have your employees pay for the stock while the business pays back the ESOP loan using (a) deductible and enhanced contributions to the ESOP, and (b) tax deductible dividends.

These benefits mean that by using an ESOP, you can sell your business tax-free and at full value (as determined by an appraiser) to your employees who are more able to pay because they can deduct the purchase price. These tax benefits provide a mechanism for you to receive maximum value for your business in cases where there may not be any other way to accomplish this.

Benefits that keep on giving

Providing business succession to key employees through an ESOP may not only give you adequate funds on which to retire, but also can leave your family with a portfolio of liquid investments in the form of the proceeds from the tax-free stock sale of your stock back to the ESOP, instead of a business that your family may have not know-how to run nor have any desire to run. Further, an ESOP can also help if you have one or more children that want to remain active in the business, while others want to receive an equal share of the your estate and do not want to be required to remain involved in the operation of the business.

Special notes for S Corps

Subchapter S corporations have been permitted to establish an ESOP for the last couple of years. If you are operating as an S corporation and are interested in establishing an ESOP, it is important to be aware of the differences between ESOPs that can be established for standard corporations and S corporations.

An ESOP is an extremely specialized type of profit sharing or stock bonus plan and must comply with all of the requirements for any other tax-qualified retirement plan that are imposed under the Internal Revenue Code and the supporting Treasury regulations. However, an ESOP is only slightly more complicated to establish than a profit sharing or 401(k) plan. For more information about how an ESOP can be used in your business succession plans, please contact the office to schedule a consultation.

If and only to the extent that this publication contains contributions from tax professionals who are subject to the rules of professional conduct set forth in Circular 230, as promulgated by the United States Department of the Treasury, the publisher, on behalf of those contributors, hereby states that any U.S. federal tax advice that is contained in such contributions was not intended or written to be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer by the Internal Revenue Service, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer for such purpose.