Leaving a Business: Which Exit Plan is Best?

Selecting your business successor is a fundamental objective of planning an exit strategy and requires a careful assessment of what you want from the sale of your business and who can best give it to you.

There are only four ways to leave your business: transfer ownership to family members, Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP), sale to a third party, and liquidation. The more you understand about each one, the better the chance is that you will leave your business on your terms and under the conditions you want. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about each one.

1. Transfer Ownership to your Children

Transferring a business within the family fulfills many people’s personal goals of keeping their business and family together, but while most business owners want to transfer their business to their children, few end up doing so for various reasons. As such, it’s necessary to develop a contingency plan to convey your business to another type of buyer.

Transferring your business to your children can provide financial well-being for younger family members unable to earn comparable income from outside employment, as well as allow you to stay actively involved in the business with your children until you choose your departure date.

It also affords you the luxury of selling the business for whatever amount of money you need to live on, even if the value of the business does not justify that sum of money.

On the other hand, this option also holds the potential to increase family friction, discord, and feelings of unequal treatment among siblings. Parents often feel the need to treat all of their children equally. In reality, this is difficult to achieve. In most cases, one child will probably run or own the business at the perceived expense of the others.

At the same time, financial security also may be diminished, rather than enhanced, and the very existence of the business is at risk if it’s transferred to a family member who can’t or won’t run it properly. In addition, family dynamics in general, may also significantly diminish your control over the business and its operations.

2. Employee Stock Option Plans (ESOP)

If your children have no interest or are unable to take over your business, there is another option to ensure the continued success of your business: the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

ESOPs are qualified retirement plans subject to the regulatory requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). There’s one important difference however; the majority (more than half) of their investment must be derived from their own company stock.

Whether it’s due to lack of interest from your children, an economic downturn or a high asking price that no one is willing to pay, what an ESOP does is create a third-party buyer (your employees) where none previously existed. After all, who more than your employees has a vested interest in your company?

ESOPs are set up as a trust (complete with trustees) into which either cash to buy company stock or newly issued stock is placed. Contributions the company makes to the trust are generally tax deductible, subject to certain limitations and because transactions are considered stock sales, the owner who is selling (you) can avoid paying capital gains. Shares are then distributed to employees (typically based on compensation levels) and grow tax free until distribution.

If your company is a stable, well-established one with steady, consistent earnings, then an ESOP might be just the ticket to creating a winning exit plan from your business.

If you have any questions about setting up an ESOP for your business, give us a call today.

3. Sale to a Third Party

In a retirement situation, a sale to a third party too often becomes a bargain sale–and the only alternative to liquidation. But if the business is well prepared for sale this option just might be your best way to cash out. In fact, you may find that this so called “last resort” strategy just happens to land you at the resort of your choice.

Although many owners don’t realize it, most or all of your money should come from the business at closing. Therefore, the fundamental advantage of a third party sale is immediate cash or at least a substantial up front portion of the selling price. This ensures that you obtain your fundamental objectives of financial security and, perhaps, avoid risk as well.

If you do not receive the bulk of the purchase price in cash, at closing, however, your risk will suddenly become immense. You will place a substantial amount of the money you counted on receiving in the unpredictable hands of fate. The best way to avoid this risk is to get all of the money you are going to need at closing. This way any outstanding balance payable to you is “icing on the cake.”

4. Liquidation

If there is no one to buy your business, you shut it down. In liquidation the owners sell off their assets, collect outstanding accounts receivable, pay off their bills, and keep what’s left, if anything, for themselves.

The primary reason liquidation is considered as an exit plan is that a business lacks sufficient income-producing capacity apart from the owner’s direct efforts and apart from the value of the assets themselves. For example, if the business can produce only $75,000 per year and the assets themselves are worth $1 million, no one would pay more for the business than the value of the assets.

Service businesses in particular are thought to have little value when the owner leaves the business. Since most service businesses have little “hard value” other than accounts receivable, liquidation produces the smallest return for the owner’s lifelong commitment to the business. Smart owners guard against this. They plan ahead to ensure that they do not have to rely on this last ditch method to fund their retirement.

If you need assistance figuring out which exit strategy is best for you and your business, please don’t hesitate to contact us. The sooner you start planning, the easier it will be.

How to Save for College Tax-Free

According to a 2014 study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, researchers found that over a lifetime, the average U.S. college graduate will earn at least $800,000 more than the average high school graduate–even after taking into consideration the cost of college tuition and the four years of lost wages it entails. So even though tuition and fees are always on the rise, most people still feel that a college education is well worth the investment. That said however, the need to set money aside for their child’s education often weighs heavily on parents.

Fortunately, there are two savings plans available to help parents save money that also provide certain tax benefits. Let’s take a closer look.

The two most popular college savings programs are the Qualified Tuition Programs (QTPs) or Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Whichever one you choose, try to start when your child is young. The sooner you begin saving, the less money you will have to put away each year.

Example: Suppose you have one child, age six months, and you estimate that you’ll need $120,000 to finance his college education 18 years from now. If you start putting away money immediately, you’ll need to save $3,500 per year for 18 years (assuming an after-tax return of 7 percent). On the other hand, if you put off saving until your son is six years old, you’ll have to save almost double that amount every year for 12 years.

How Much Will College Cost?

It depends on whether your child attends a private or state school. For the 2013-2014 school year the total expenses–tuition, fees, board, personal expenses, and books and supplies–for the average private college were about $40,917 per year and about $18,391 per year for the average public college. However, these amounts are averages: the tuition, fees, and board for some private colleges can cost more than $55,000 per year, whereas the costs for a state school can be kept under $10,000 per year.

According to the College Board, the annual increase in inflation-adjusted average tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities has declined in each of the past five years, from 9.5 percent in 2009-10 to 0.9 percent in 2013-14. Despite the decline, college is still expensive and proper planning can lessen the financial squeeze considerably, especially if you start when your child is young.

Saving with Qualified Tuition Programs (QTPs)

Qualified Tuition Programs, also known as 529 plans, are often the best choice for many families. Every state now has a program allowing persons to prepay for future higher education, with tax relief. There are two basic plan types, with many variations among them:

  1. The prepaid education arrangement. With this type of plan one is essentially buying future education at today’s costs, by buying education credits or certificates. This is the older type of program and tends to limit the student’s choice to schools within the state; however, private colleges and universities often offer this type of arrangement.
  2. Education Savings Account (ESA). With an ESA, contributions are made to an account to be used for future higher education.

Tip: When approaching state programs, one must distinguish between what the federal tax law allows and what an individual state’s program may impose.

You may open a 529 plan in any state, but when buying prepaid tuition credits (less popular than savings accounts), you will want to know what institutions the credits will be applied to.

Unlike certain other tax-favored higher education programs, such as the American Opportunity Credit (formerly the Hope Credit) and Lifetime Learning Credit, federal tax law doesn’t limit the benefit to tuition, but can also extend it to room, board, and books (individual state programs could be narrower).

The two key individual parties to the program are the Designated Beneficiary (the student-to-be) and the Account Owner, who is entitled to choose and change the beneficiary and who is normally the principal contributor to the program.

There are no income limits on who may be an account owner. There’s only one designated beneficiary per account. Thus, a parent with three college-bound children might set up three accounts. Some state programs don’t allow the same person to be both beneficiary and account owner.

Tax Rules Relating to Qualified Tuition Programs

Income Tax. Contributions made by an account owner or other contributor are not tax deductible for federal income tax purposes, but earnings on contributions do grow tax-free while in the program.

Distributions from the fund are tax-free to the extent used for qualified higher education expenses. Distributions used otherwise are taxable to the extent of the portion which represents earnings.

A distribution may be tax-free even though the student is claiming an American Opportunity Credit (formerly the Hope Credit) or Lifetime Learning Credit, or tax-free treatment for a Coverdell ESA distribution, provided the programs aren’t covering the same specific expenses.

Distribution for a purpose other than qualified education is taxable to the one getting the distribution. In addition, a 10 percent penalty must be imposed on the taxable portion of the distribution, which is comparable to the 10 percent penalty in Coverdell ESAs.

The account owner may change beneficiary designation from one to another in the same family. Funds in the account roll over tax-free for the benefit of the new beneficiary.

Tip: In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) added expenses for computer technology/equipment or Internet access to the list of qualifying expenses. Software designed for sports, games, or hobbies does not qualify, unless it is predominantly educational in nature. In general, however, expenses for computer technology are not considered qualified expenses.

Gift Tax. For gift tax purposes, contributions are treated as completed gifts even though the account owner has the right to withdraw them. Thus they qualify for the up-to-$14,000 annual gift tax exclusion in 2014 (same as 2013). One contributing more than $14,000 may elect to treat the gift as made in equal installments over the year of gift and the following four years, so that up to $70,000 can be given tax-free in the first year.

However, a rollover from one beneficiary to another in a younger generation is treated as a gift from the first beneficiary, an odd result for an act the “giver” may have had nothing to do with.

Estate Tax. Funds in the account at the designated beneficiary’s death are included in the beneficiary’s estate, another odd result, since those funds may not be available to pay the tax.

Funds in the account at the account owner’s death are not included in the owner’s estate, except for a portion thereof where the gift tax exclusion installment election is made for gifts over $14,000. For example, if the account owner made the election for a gift of $70,000 in 2014, a part of that gift is included in the estate if he or she dies within five years.

Tip: A Qualified Tuition Program can be an especially attractive estate-planning move for grandparents. There are no income limits, and the account owner giving up to $70,000 avoids gift tax and estate tax by living five years after the gift, yet has the power to change the beneficiary.

State Tax. State tax rules are all over the map. Some reflect the federal rules, some reflect quite different rules. For specifics of each state’s program, see College Savings Plans Network (CSPN). If you need assistance with this, please contact us.

Saving with Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)

You can contribute up to $2,000 in 2014 to a Coverdell Education Savings account (a Section 530 program formerly known as an Education IRA) for a child under 18. These contributions are not tax deductible, but grow tax-free until withdrawn. Contributions for any year, for example 2014 can be made through the (unextended) due date for the return for that year (April 15, 2015). There is no adjustment for inflation; therefore the $2,000 contribution limit is expected to remain at $2,000 for 2014 and beyond.

Only cash can be contributed to a Coverdell ESA and you cannot contribute to the account after the child reaches his or her 18th birthday.

The beneficiary will not owe tax on the distributions if they are less than a beneficiary’s qualified education expenses at an eligible institution. This benefit applies to higher education expenses as well as to elementary and secondary education expenses.

Anyone can establish and contribute to a Coverdell ESA, including the child. An account may be established for as many children as you wish; however, the amount contributed during the year to each account cannot exceed $2,000. The child need not be a dependent, and in fact does not even need to be related to you. The maximum contribution amount in 2014 for each child is subject to a phase out limitation with a modified AGI between $190,000 and $220,000 for joint filers and $95,000 and $110,000 for single filers.

A 6 percent excise tax (to be paid by the beneficiary) applies to excess contributions. These are amounts in excess of the applicable contribution limit ($2,000 or phase out amount) and contributions for a year that amounts are contributed to a Qualified Tuition Program for the same child. The 6 percent tax continues for each year the excess contribution stays in the Coverdell ESA.

Exceptions. The excise tax does not apply if excess contributions made during 2014 (and any earnings on them) are distributed before the first day of the sixth month of the following tax year (June 1, 2015, for a calendar year taxpayer). However, you must include the distributed earnings in gross income for the year in which the excess contribution was made. The excise tax does not apply to any rollover contribution.

The child must be named (designated as beneficiary) in the Coverdell document, but the beneficiary can be changed to another family member–to a sibling for example, when the first beneficiary gets a scholarship or drops out. Funds can also be rolled over tax-free from one child’s account to another child’s account. Funds must be distributed not later than 30 days after the beneficiary’s 30th birthday (or 20 days after the beneficiary’s death if earlier). For “special needs” beneficiaries the age limits (no contributions after age 18, distribution by age 30) don’t apply.

 

Withdrawals are taxable to the person who gets the money, with these major exceptions: Only the earnings portion is taxable (the contributions come back tax-free). Also, even that part isn’t taxable income, as long as the amount withdrawn doesn’t exceed a child’s “qualified higher education expenses” for that year.

The definition of “qualified higher education expenses” includes room and board and books, as well as tuition. In figuring whether withdrawals exceed qualified expenses, expenses are reduced by certain scholarships and by amounts for which tax credits are allowed. If the amount withdrawn for the year exceeds the education expenses for the year, the excess is partly taxable under a complex formula. A different formula is used if the sum of withdrawals from a Coverdell ESA and from the Qualified Tuition Program exceeds education expenses.

 

As the person who sets up the Coverdell ESA, you may change the beneficiary (the child who will get the funds) or roll the funds over to the account of a new beneficiary, tax-free, if the new beneficiary is a member of your family. But funds you take back (for example, withdrawal in a year when there are no qualified higher education expenses, because the child is not enrolled in higher education) are taxable to you, to the extent of earnings on your contributions, and you will generally have to pay an additional 10 percent tax on the taxable amount. However, you won’t owe tax on earnings on amounts contributed that are returned to you by June 1 of the year following contribution.

 

Professional Guidance

Considering the wide differences among state plans, federal and state tax issues, and the dollar amounts at stake, please call us before getting started with any type of college savings plan.

Cash Flow: The Pulse of your Business

Cash flow is the lifeblood of any small business. Some business experts even say that a healthy cash flow is more important than your business’s ability to deliver its goods and services! While that might seem counterintuitive, consider this: if you fail to satisfy a customer and lose that customer’s business, you can always work harder to please the next customer. If you fail to have enough cash to pay your suppliers, creditors, or employees, then you’re out of business!

What is Cash Flow?

Cash flow, simply defined, is the movement of money in and out of your business; these movements are called inflow and outflow. Inflows for your business primarily come from the sale of goods or services to your customers, but keep in mind that inflow only occurs when you make a cash sale or collect on receivables. It is the cash that counts! Other examples of cash inflows are borrowed funds, income derived from sales of assets, and investment income from interest.

Outflows for your business are generally the result of paying expenses. Examples of cash outflows include paying employee wages, purchasing inventory or raw materials, purchasing fixed assets, operating costs, paying back loans, and paying taxes.

Note: An accountant is the best person to help you learn how your cash flow statement works. Please contact us and we can prepare your cash flow statement and explain where the numbers come from.

Cash Flow versus Profit

While they might seem similar, profit and cash flow are two entirely different concepts, each with entirely different results. The concept of profit is somewhat broad and only looks at income and expenses over a certain period, say a fiscal quarter. Profit is a useful figure for calculating your taxes and reporting to the IRS.

Cash flow, on the other hand, is a more dynamic tool focusing on the day-to-day operations of a business owner. It is concerned with the movement of money in and out of a business. But more important, it is concerned with the times at which the movement of the money takes place.

In theory, even profitable companies can go bankrupt. It would take a lot of negligence and total disregard for cash flow, but it is possible. Consider how the difference between profit and cash flow relate to your business.

Example: If your retail business bought a $1,000 item and turned around to sell it for $2,000, then you have made a $1,000 profit. But what if the buyer of the item is slow to pay his or her bill, and six months pass before you collect on the account? Your retail business may still show a profit, but what about the bills it has to pay during that six-month period? You may not have the cash to pay the bills despite the profits you earned on the sale. Furthermore, this cash flow gap may cause you to miss other profit opportunities, damage your credit rating, and force you to take out loans and create debt. If this mistake is repeated enough times, you may go bankrupt.

Analyzing your Cash Flow

The sooner you learn how to manage your cash flow, the better your chances for survival. Furthermore, you will be able to protect your company’s short-term reputation as well as position it for long-term success.

The first step toward taking control of your company’s cash flow is to analyze the components that affect the timing of your cash inflows and outflows. A thorough analysis of these components will reveal problem areas that lead to cash flow gaps in your business. Narrowing, or even closing, these gaps is the key to cash flow management.

Some of the more important components to examine are:

  • Accounts receivable. Accounts receivable represent sales that have not yet been collected in the form of cash. An accounts receivable is created when you sell something to a customer in return for his or her promise to pay at a later date. The longer it takes for your customers to pay on their accounts, the more negative the effect on your cash flow.
  • Credit terms. Credit terms are the time limits you set for your customers’ promise to pay for their purchases. Credit terms affect the timing of your cash inflows. A simple way to improve cash flow is to get customers to pay their bills more quickly.
  • Credit policy. A credit policy is the blueprint you use when deciding to extend credit to a customer. The correct credit policy – neither too strict nor too generous – is crucial for a healthy cash flow.
  • Inventory. Inventory describes the extra merchandise or supplies your business keeps on hand to meet the demands of customers. An excessive amount of inventory hurts your cash flow by using up money that could be used for other cash outflows. Too many business owners buy inventory based on hopes and dreams instead of what they can realistically sell. Keep your inventory as low as possible.
  • Accounts payable and cash flow. Accounts payable are amounts you owe to your suppliers that are payable at some point in the near future – “near” meaning 30 to 90 days. Without payables and trade credit, you’d have to pay for all goods and services at the time you purchase them. For optimum cash flow management, examine your payables schedule.

Some cash flow gaps are created intentionally. For example, a business may purchase extra inventory to take advantage of quantity discounts, accelerate cash outflows to take advantage of significant trade discounts, or spend extra cash to expand its line of business.

For other businesses, cash flow gaps are unavoidable. Take, for example, a company that experiences seasonal fluctuations in its line of business. This business may normally have cash flow gaps during its slow season and then later fill the gaps with cash surpluses from the peak part of its season. Cash flow gaps are often filled by external financing sources. Revolving lines of credit, bank loans, and trade credit are just a few of the external financing options available that you may want to discuss with us.

Monitoring and managing your cash flow is important for the vitality of your business. The first signs of financial woe appear in your cash flow statement, giving you time to recognize a forthcoming problem and plan a strategy to deal with it. Furthermore, with periodic cash flow analysis, you can head off those unpleasant financial glitches by recognizing which aspects of your business have the potential to cause cash flow gaps.

Need assistance? We can help you analyze and manage your cash flow more effectively and make sure your business has adequate funds to cover day-to-day expenses. www.onts9.com