In recent years, the use of Deferred Compensation Plans has grown considerably. This is largely due to the current job market … employers are looking for new ways to appeal to and retain skilled employees. Looking at new ways to approach employee benefits is one way to work toward accomplishing that. Make sure you read your employee handbook and completely understand the rules of your deferred compensation plan.
What are Deferred Compensation Plans?
In the simplest terms, a Deferred Compensation Plan allows an owner or an employee to set aside a portion of their income to be paid out at a future date. These plans are broken down into two basic categories: Qualified and Non-Qualified plans. Each type of plan holds certain advantages, but the major difference between them is in the way the plans are taxed by the IRS.
In a non-qualified plan, the employer does not receive tax deductions until the time when the employee’s benefits have been paid out … and at that time the benefits are taxable to the employee. On the plus side, setting up a non-qualified plan is generally less expensive. Also, employer contributions are not limited and these plans do not have substantial reporting or filing regulations.
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In a qualified plan, reporting requirements are more significant, highly paid employees may be prohibited from participating, and the amount an employer may contribute is limited. However, qualified plans include benefits that are allowed to mature tax-deferred until they are dispersed. Additional tax deferral may be possible as well, because qualified plans are commonly eligible for rollover to an IRA or other (qualified) plan.
Which Deferred Compensation Plan is Best?
Well, that’s a tricky question. Although tax deferral is generally thought of as a benefit, it could be a disadvantage if an employee’s tax rate has increased before compensation has been paid out. However, if tax rates do not rise (or if they drop), a well-compensated employee is almost always likely to benefit by deferring a portion of their income.
Tax rates are a major factor to consider when contemplating a Deferred Benefit Plan, and there are other aspects to consider as well. The best thing to do is speak with a qualified financial professional who can take a look at your unique situation and help you to determine if setting up a Deferred Benefit Plan will be a good move for you.
Most deferred compensation plans will have some sort of vesting schedule. I once had a very attractive deferred comp plan, but the only hitch was that it had a 9 year vesting schedule. This is commonly referred to as “golden handcuffs“. It's a nice benefit, but makes it a much tougher decision if you are ever faced with a attractive offer elsewhere. Be sure you understand all the rules when it comes to your deferred comp plan.