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Should your business add Roth contributions to its 401(k)?

If your business sponsors a 401(k) plan, you might someday consider adding designated Roth contributions. Here are some factors to explore when deciding whether such a feature would make sense for your company and its employees.

Key differences

Roth contributions differ from other elective deferrals in two key tax respects. First, they’re irrevocably designated to be made on an after-tax basis, rather than pretax. Second, if all applicable requirements are met and the distribution constitutes a “qualified distribution,” the earnings won’t be subject to federal income tax when distributed.

To be qualified, a distribution generally must occur after a five-year waiting period, as well as after the participant reaches age 59½, becomes disabled or dies. Because of the different tax treatment, plans must maintain separate accounts for designated Roth contributions.

Pluses and minuses

The Roth option gives participants an opportunity to hedge against the possibility that their income tax rates will be higher in retirement. However, if tax rates fall or participants are in lower tax brackets during retirement, Roth contributions may provide less after-tax retirement income than comparable pretax contributions. The result could also be worse than that of ordinary elective deferrals if Roth amounts aren’t held long enough to make distributions tax-free.

Nonetheless, if your business employs a substantial number of relatively highly paid employees, a Roth 401(k) component may be well-appreciated. This is because participants can make much larger designated Roth 401(k) contributions than they can for a Roth IRA — in 2020 and 2021, $19,500 for designated Roth 401(k) versus $6,000 for Roth IRA.

Catch-up contributions for individuals 50 or older are also considerably higher for designated Roth 401(k) contributions — in 2020 and 2021, $6,500 for designated Roth 401(k)s versus $1,000 for Roth IRAs. And higher-paid participants who are ineligible to make Roth IRA contributions because of the income cap on eligibility could make designated Roth contributions to your plan.

Yet participants will need to know what they’re getting into. They’ll have to consider:

  • Current and future tax rates,
  • Various investment alternatives,
  • The risk of needing a distribution before they qualify for tax-free treatment of earnings (which would trigger taxation of those earnings), and
  • Loss of some rollover options.

For plan sponsors, the separate accounting required for Roth contributions may raise plan costs and increase the risk of error. (One common mistake: treating elected contributions as pretax when the participant elected Roth contributions, or vice versa.)

And because Roth contributions are treated as elective deferrals for other purposes — including nondiscrimination requirements, vesting rules and distribution restrictions — plan administration and communication will be more complex.

Not for everyone

Before adding Roth contributions to your 401(k), be sure participants are adequately engaged and savvy, and will derive enough benefit, to make it worth the risks and burdens. We can assist you in deciding whether this would be an appropriate move for your business.

© 2021

Lessons of 2020: Change management

The year 2020 has taught businesses many lessons. The sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic followed by drastic changes to the economy have forced companies to alter the size of their workforces, restructure work environments and revise sales models — just to name a few challenges. And what this has all meant for employees is change.

Even before this year’s public health crisis, many businesses were looking into and setting forth policies regarding change management. In short, this is a formalized approach to providing employees the information, training and ongoing coaching needed to successfully adapt to any modification to their day-to-day jobs.

There’s little doubt that one of the enduring lessons of 2020 is that businesses must be able to shepherd employees through difficult transitions, even (or especially) when the company itself didn’t bring about the change in question.

Why change is hard

Most employees resist change for many reasons. There’s often a perceived loss of, or threat to, job security or status. Inconvenience and unfamiliarity provoke apprehension. In some cases, perhaps because of misinformation, employees may distrust their employers’ motives for a change. And some workers will always simply believe the “old way is better.”

What’s worse, some changes might make employees’ jobs more difficult. For example, moving to a new location might enhance an organization’s image or provide safer or more productive facilities. But doing so also may increase some employees’ commuting times or put employees in a drastically different working environment. When their daily lives are affected in such ways, employees tend to question the decision and experience high levels of anxiety.

What you shouldn’t do

Often, when employees resist change, a company’s decision-makers can’t understand how ideas they’ve spent weeks, months or years deliberating could be so quickly rejected. (Of course, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, tough choices had to be made in a matter of days.) Some leadership teams forget that employees haven’t had time to adjust to a new idea. Instead of working to ease employee fears, executives or supervisors may double down on the change, more strictly enforcing new rules and showing little patience for disagreements or concerns.

And it’s here the implementation effort can break down and start costing the business real dollars and cents. Employees may resist change in many destructive ways, from taking very slow learning curves to calling in sick to filing formal complaints or lawsuits. Some might even quit.

The bottom line: by not engaging in some form of change management, you’re more likely to experience reduced productivity, bad morale and increased turnover.

How to cope

“Life comes at ya fast,” goes the popular saying. Given the events of this year, it’s safe to say that most business owners would agree. Identify ways you’ve been able to help employees deal with this year’s changes and document them so they can be of use to your company in the future. Contact us for help cost-effectively managing your business.

© 2020

Family business owners must weave together succession and estate planning

It’s been estimated that there are roughly 5 million family-owned businesses in the United States. Annually, these companies make substantial contributions to both employment figures and the gross domestic product. If you own a family business, one important issue to address is how to best weave together your succession plan with your estate plan.

Rise to the challenge

Transferring ownership of a family business is often difficult because of the distinction between ownership and management succession. From an estate planning perspective, transferring assets to the younger generation as early as possible allows you to remove future appreciation from your estate, minimizing any estate taxes. However, you may not be ready to hand over control of your business or you may feel that your children aren’t yet ready to run the company.

There are various ways to address this quandary. You could set up a family limited partnership, transfer nonvoting stock to heirs or establish an employee stock ownership plan.

Another reason to separate ownership and management succession is to deal with family members who aren’t involved in the business. Providing such heirs with nonvoting stock or other equity interests that don’t confer control can be an effective way to share the wealth with them while allowing those who work in the business to take over management.

Consider an installment sale

An additional challenge to family businesses is that older and younger generations may have conflicting financial needs. Fortunately, strategies are available to generate cash flow for the owner while minimizing the burden on the next generation.

For example, consider an installment sale. These transactions provide liquidity for the owner while improving the chances that the younger generation’s purchase can be funded by cash flows from the business. Plus, so long as the price and terms are comparable to arm’s-length transactions between unrelated parties, the sale shouldn’t trigger gift or estate taxes.

Explore trust types

Or, you might want to create a trust. By transferring business interests to a grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT), for instance, the owner obtains a variety of gift and estate tax benefits (provided he or she survives the trust term) while enjoying a fixed income stream for a period of years. At the end of the term, the business is transferred to the owner’s children or other beneficiaries. GRATs are typically designed to be gift-tax-free.

There are other options as well, such as an installment sale to an intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT). Essentially a properly structured IDGT allows an owner to sell the business on a tax-advantaged basis while enjoying an income stream and retaining control during the trust term. Once the installment payments are complete, the business passes to the owner’s beneficiaries free of gift taxes.

Protect your legacy

Family-owned businesses play an important role in the U.S. economy. We can help you integrate your succession plan with your estate plan to protect both the company itself and your financial legacy.

© 2020

Hit the target with your email marketing

Online retail sales have been booming during the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend has been driven not only by the buying public’s increased inclination to minimize visits to brick-and-mortar stores, but also by the effectiveness of many retailers’ virtual marketing efforts.

One such effort that can benefit most any type of business is email marketing. Although social media marketing tends to get the lion’s share of attention these days, email remains a viable medium for getting out your message — particularly to existing customers.

As your company endeavors to continue marketing its products or services in an uncertain economy, be sure your emails hit the target by relying on some tried-and-true fundamentals.

Draw their attention

Every email starts with a subject line; be sure yours are catchy. They should be no longer than eight words and shouldn’t be in all caps. Put yourself in the customer’s place by paying close attention to demographics. Ask yourself whether you would open the email if you fit the profile. Also, clearly indicate the message’s content.

If your subject line is compelling enough, your recipients will open the email. And the first thing readers should see upon doing so is an equally memorable headline. Make sure it’s different from the subject line, short (four or five words) and in a larger font size than the body of the message.

Make your case

When it comes to the body of the email, make it a quick and easy read. Most people won’t read a lot of text. Think of each marketing email as an “elevator speech,” a quick and concise pitch for specific products or services.

Above all, be persuasive. Customers want to fulfill their needs at a reasonable price, but they may not always have a clear idea of what those needs are. Don’t expect them to search for answers about whether you can meet these expectations. Show them what you’ve got to offer and tell them why they should buy.

Add finishing touches

Consider including visual and interactive content in your marketing emails — such as images, GIFs and videos. Bear in mind, however, that not all email providers support every type of interactivity. Use it judiciously and gather feedback from customers on whether the content is a nice touch or an annoyance.

Last, but not least, close with a “call to action.” Instill a sense of urgency in readers by setting a deadline and telling them precisely what to do. Otherwise, they may interpret the email as merely informational and file it away for reference or simply delete it. Be sure to include clear, “clickable” contact info.

Measure and improve

These are just a few of the basics to keep in mind. We can help your business measure the results of its marketing activity, email and otherwise, and come up with cost-effective ideas for improving the profit-potential of how you interact with your customers and prospects.

© 2020

Helping employees understand their health care accounts

Many businesses now offer, as part of their health care benefits, various types of accounts that reimburse employees for medical expenses on a tax-advantaged basis. These include health Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRAs) and Health Savings Account (HSAs, which are usually offered in conjunction with a high-deductible health plan).

For employees to get the full value out of such accounts, they need to educate themselves on what expenses are eligible for reimbursement by a health FSA or HRA, or for a tax-free distribution from an HSA. Although an employer shouldn’t provide tax advice to employees, you can give them a heads-up that the rules for reimbursements or distributions vary depending on the type of account.

Pub. 502

Unfortunately, no single publication provides an exhaustive list of official, government-approved expenses eligible for reimbursement by a health FSA or HRA, or for a tax-free distribution from an HSA. IRS Publication 502 — “Medical and Dental Expenses” (Pub. 502) comes the closest, but it should be used with caution.

Pub. 502 is written largely to help taxpayers determine what medical expenses can be deducted on their income tax returns; it’s not meant to address the tax-favored health care accounts in question. Although the rules for deductibility overlap in many respects with the rules governing health FSAs, HRAs and HSAs, there are some important differences. Thus, employees shouldn’t use Pub. 502 as the sole determinant for whether an expense is reimbursable by a health FSA or HRA, or eligible for tax-free distribution from an HSA.

Various factors

You might warn health care account participants that various factors affect whether and when a medical expense is reimbursable or a distribution allowable. These include:

Timing rules. Pub. 502 notes that expenses may be deducted only for the year in which they were paid, but it doesn’t explain the different timing rules for the tax-favored accounts. For example, a health FSA can reimburse an expense only for the year in which it was incurred, regardless of when it was paid.

Insurance restrictions. Taxpayers may deduct health insurance premiums on their tax returns if certain requirements are met. However, reimbursement of such premiums by health FSAs, HRAs and HSAs is subject to restrictions that vary according to the type of tax-favored account.

Over-the-counter (OTC) drug documentation. OTC drugs other than insulin aren’t tax-deductible, but they may be reimbursed by health FSAs, HRAs and HSAs if substantiation and other requirements are met.

Greater appreciation

The pandemic has put a renewed emphasis on the importance of employer-provided health care benefits. The federal government has even passed COVID-19-related relief measures for some tax-favored accounts.

As mentioned, the more that employees understand these benefits, the more they’ll be able to effectively use them — and the greater appreciation they’ll have of your business for providing them. Our firm can help you fully understand the tax implications, for both you and employees, of any type of health care benefit.

© 2020