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Top performers often seek the kind of incentives that will provide them with the financial rewards they feel they deserve. Like most successful business owners, you need to establish the kind of executive benefit program that will fulfill your key employees’ expectations, without putting financial strain on your balance sheet. Many business owners find that an Executive Bonus Plan can help them achieve both objectives.

What is an Executive Bonus Plan?

What is an Executive Bonus Plan?

A basic Executive Bonus Plan is very simple. The employee purchases a life insurance policy on his/her life, and the employer pays the premium (i.e., the “bonus”). The employer is eligible to take an income tax deduction on the bonus, only if reasonable,1 and the employee pays the taxes on the bonus. In some cases, the employer even pays the taxes for the employee through what is called a “double bonus.” The employee has full access to the policy cash value2 and the valuable tax-free death benefit3 will be paid to the employee’s beneficiaries upon the employee’s death.

Advantages for your business

Recruit, reward, and retain key employees

The plan helps to ensure that your top performers will stay with your firm for the long term.

Simplicity

The plan is easy for your company to set up, and requires minimum administration. Documentation for the plan is straightforward. Neither ERISA reporting nor IRS qualification is required.

Immediate tax deduction

Your business is eligible for an immediate tax deduction for the bonus that you give
to your executive.

Selective participation

You may choose which executives will be given bonuses — and the amount of each bonus.

Advantages for your employees

Valuable protection

There is an income-tax free death benefit for your employee’s beneficiaries.

Cash value control

The employee retains ownership of policy cash values that grow tax deferred and can be used for any purpose, including supplementing income in retirement.4

Low cost

The employee’s only out-of-pocket cost for the plan is the tax on the bonus. Some employers use a double bonus and there is no cost to the employee.

No government control or penalties

There are no Internal Revenue Code contribution limits, and there’s no penalty for early surrenders or loans — provided the policy isn’t classified as a Modified Endowment Contract.

Plan Variations

Executive Bonus Plans can be customized to meet the needs of your business. Following are some creative variations.

The Executive Wealth-Building Strategy

The Executive Wealth-Building Strategy

The employer pays the base premium on a whole life insurance policy and the employee may contribute additional funds as paid-up additions,5 which fuels the growth of the cash value and death benefit.

The Restricted Executive Bonus Plan

The Restricted Executive Bonus Plan

With this arrangement, the employer retains some rights in the policy for a specified period of time. An agreement is drawn up between the employer and the employee, detailing the obligations of each party. At the same time, a rider is added to the policy that restricts the employee’s access to the policy’s cash value until the employee has completed a specified number of years of service with the employer, as specified in the contract.6 The employee must fulfill all obligations under the contract before he or she can assume full ownership of the policy.

The Premiums Paid in Advance (PPIA) Bonus Plan

The Premiums Paid in Advance (PPIA) Bonus Plan

The employer pays a one-time bonus to the executive, who uses Guardian’s Payment of Premium in Advance feature to make a one-time payment that will cover all the policy premiums (without creating a Modified Endowment Contract).7

Fill out this form to let us help you structure your Executive Benefits package to be more advantageous to you, your business, and your most valuable asset: your people.

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1 IRC Section 162 requires compensation to be “reasonable” in order for it to be tax deductible to the business.
2 Policy benefits are reduced by any outstanding loan or loan interest and/or withdrawals. Dividends, if any, are affected by policy loans and loan interest. Withdrawals above the cost basis may result in taxable ordinary income. If the policy lapses, or is surrendered, any outstanding loans considered gain in the policy may be subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy is a Modified Endowment Contract (MEC), loans are treated like withdrawals, but as gain first, subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy owner is under age 59½, any taxable withdrawal may also be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty.
3 Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents, and employees do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. Consult your tax, legal, and accounting professional regarding your individual situation.
4 Cash values in a whole life policy grow from dividends. Dividends are not guaranteed and are declared annually by Guardian’s Board of Directors.
5 Paid-up Additions (PUA) are purchases of additional insurance (death benefit) that have a cash value. These purchases are made with dividends and/or a rider that allows the policyholder to pay an additional premium over and above the base premium. This creates the growth of death benefit and cash values in a participating whole life policy. Adding large amounts of Paid-up Additions may create a Modified Endowment Contract (MEC). A MEC is a type of life insurance contract that is subject to last-in-first-out (LIFO) ordinary income tax treatment, similar to distributions from an annuity. The distribution may also be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty on the gain portion of the policy if the owner is under age 59½. The death benefit is generally income tax free.
6 Care must be taken to avoid “vesting schedules,” and any requirement to pay an amount that is specifically defined with reference to the premium payments. Such provisions may jeopardize the employer’s income tax deduction under IRC §162.
7 IRC Section 162 requires compensation to be “reasonable” in order for it to be tax deductible to the business. If the policy is a Modified Endowment Contract (MEC), loans are treated like withdrawals, but as gain first, subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy owner is under age 59½, any taxable withdrawal is also subject to a 10% tax penalty. Prepayment interest rates are based on current factors. Prepaid premiums cannot be withdrawn except upon surrender of the contract and are subject to a surrender penalty. Management approval is required on premiums paid in advance for more than 20 years or amounts that exceed $100,000.