Make Sure Your Compensation Plans Are in Order and Documented

I recently finished resolving a dispute between a client and the IRS regarding the amount of compensation for the founder and owner of a corporation. While the amount of compensation during one of the years at issues was probably unjustifiably high if viewed by itself, the person's compensation over the years (and including the year in dispute) was readily justifiable when viewed over the entire period that the person worked for the business. We ended up resolving the dispute and the resolution was within $50,000 in compensation from my initial evaluation of the case. But it was an expensive "victory" for the client.

The strongest point for the IRS, and the reason it took as much time and expense to resolve, was the client’s lack of documentation of a consistently applied compensation plan. The client had annual minutes (which many clients do not), but those minutes did not address how the owner’s compensation was determined. The client also did not have a written employment agreement, nor did they have any written (or “understood”) basis for calculating the client’s incentive compensation each year. This lack of a consciously determined pattern to the compensation ended up costing the client several thousand dollars in attorneys fees, and a like amount in additional taxes.

The moral of the story: properly pay and report compensation to employee/owners as such; have a written employment agreement or at least some sort of documentation in your minutes of the oral arrangements for compensation; make sure you have a documented or easily proved method for determining incentive compensation that is reasonable in amount.

 

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