Corporate Income Tax, Small Business

Consider the Taxes

Develop a strategy for distributing earnings and reducing corporate income taxes.

For most owner-managers, their goal is to create personal wealth through the operation of a successful business. Unfortunately, corporate and personal tax liabilities (among other things) stand in the way. Owner-managed businesses must struggle with tax on two fronts:

  1. making a profit while minimizing the corporate tax liability
  2. minimizing personal taxes while taking remuneration out of the company.

Have a Strategy

The first step to minimizing personal and corporate taxes is to put a tax strategy in place. Such a strategy depends on each individual owner’s personal cash-flow needs. Because tax rates applicable to corporate income are often lower than to personal income and because this differential is only levied when the owner-manager withdraws the funds, taxes can be deferred to the extent such income is left in the corporation.

Often, this is not a realistic option since the owner-managers may need all or most of this business income for personal use. Then the owner-managers must remunerate themselves in the form of:

  • salary
  • dividends
  • a combination thereof.

Deducting salary expenses reduces taxable income and lowers corporate income taxes. However, because dividend payments are not a deductible expenditure (i.e., it is a distribution of profits), personal taxes will be higher. Personal income taxes applicable on the dividends are lower than on salary to adjust for the difference (i.e., tax integration).

Tax integration works well for corporations earning active income under $500,000 as the “combined” (i.e., corporate and personal) tax rate differential is minimal (though it varies for different provinces). Therefore, employees are normally indifferent whether they receive salary or dividends, aside from how each affects CPP deductions or RRSP contribution room. However, this is not the case for corporations earning active income above $500,000 as the “combined” tax rate applicable to this layer of income is higher roughly by two-to-five percentage points depending on the provinces.

Avoiding High Tax Rates

Because profits in excess of $500,000 are not eligible for the small-business deduction, consideration must be given to declaring a salary that will drop the corporate taxable income below the $500,000 limit. By declaring a salary, taxpayers do not have to lose two to five percentage points.

After this decision is made, however, employees may find themselves in a higher personal income tax bracket because this remuneration must be added to the regular salary and other benefits received.

Once your personal taxable income exceeds predetermined thresholds, the rate on any excess amount rises significantly. For example, the rates in Ontario for tax year 2016 are scaled as follows for taxable income in excess of:

  • $150,000 (47.97%)
  • $200,000 (51.97%)
  • $220,000 (53.53%).

Sometimes corporate taxpayers may want to be taxed at the higher corporate rate (i.e., decide not to pay the corporate income out in salaries) and leave the corporate income in excess of $500,000. Because the higher corporate rate still provides much lower “immediate” taxes, the corporate taxpayers may choose to pay the extra two-to-five percentage points if their rate of return on the deferral can exceed this eventual cost. Again, such strategy depends on the particular owner-manager’s annual cash flow needs and circumstances.

Be careful when purchasing capital assets.

Purchasing Capital Assets To Save Corporate Taxes

Many owner-managers believe that purchasing capital assets will significantly reduce corporate taxable income. Certainly, purchasing assets will reduce taxable income, but not as significantly as one might believe. Two factors come into play:

  1. The capital cost allowance permitted by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is a percentage of the cost of the asset and not the entire cost.
  2. The half-year rule usually comes into play in the year in which the asset is purchased, which restricts your percentage by another 50%.

Example:

Your business purchases equipment for $300,000, which is subject to the prescribed depreciation at the rate of 20%. Therefore, in the year of purchase, your business can deduct $30,000 (i.e., $300,000 × 20% × 50% half-year rule) which only represents 10% of the total purchase price. Assuming the 15% small business rate in Ontario, this provides a tax benefit of $4,500, which is minuscule compared to the actual spending.

The primary purpose of purchasing capital assets should be the need for the capital asset in the business; the tax savings should never be a main objective in arriving at this decision. The need to consider other aspects of purchasing, such as cash flow requirements to meet loan obligations as well as additional expenses for insurance, upkeep and operational costs, should be primary considerations in the decision-making process.

Family

To achieve tax effectiveness, owner-managers may consider bringing family members into the business. There may be benefits to distributing profits through salary or dividends to family members earning lower incomes. However, a caution must be given in both situations. For salary, the amounts paid to the family members must be reasonable and should be a fair consideration for their efforts. For dividends, the family member must own the shares and ensure there is no conferral of benefit when transferring the shares to them. Also, the owner-manager must consider any ownership and control issues consequent upon giving shares to family members.

Bringing family members into the business may also be useful as a long-term strategy in order to reduce or defer the overall impact of personal and “combined” taxes should the owner-manager suddenly die or decide to take early retirement.

Aside from tax objectives, succession planning is also essential should family members want to be part of your successful business. When there is more than one owner, bringing family members into the business needs to be discussed before any problems arise. Original owners will not only want to protect their percentage ownership in the business but will also want to ensure their remuneration is not impacted by distributions to others.

Tax and succession planning require careful review of everyone’s intentions and circumstances and are often technically complex. Your CPA and solicitor should be able to provide guidance as to how to structure ownership through different classes of shares that protect existing owners while providing new shareholders with the rewards of ownership. Such carefully restructured shareholdings can selectively distribute dividends so all shareholders can receive the rewards of ownership and tax savings without undue stress on corporate cash flow.

Plan Early

Because most tax-planning strategies cannot be put in place retroactively, leaving tax planning until the end of your fiscal year end is not a good idea.

Owner-managers should work with their CPA early in the development of the business to establish long-term goals. From then on, they should meet with their CPA annually to monitor whether the goals are being realized. Any adjustments necessary to ensure current financial needs are being met and that the long-term strategy required to build wealth for retirement or succession is on track can be made at these meetings.


The preceding article is reprinted from the April 2017 newsletter Business Matters with the permission of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada.  Business Matters is a bi-monthly newsletter, the full version of which can be obtained on request. 

This post deals with a number of complex issues in a concise manner; it is recommended that accounting, legal or other appropriate professional advice should be sought before acting upon any of the information contained therein.

Although every reasonable effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this article, no individual or organization involved in either the preparation or distribution of this letter accepts any contractual, tortious, or any other form of liability for its contents or for any consequences arising from its use.

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