Hiring Your Children in the Family Business Can Result in Big Tax Breaks

Please note that this blog is based on laws effective in August 2020 and may not contain later amendments. Please contact Cray Kaiser for most recent information.

With jobs at a premium during the COVID-19 pandemic, you might consider hiring your children to help out in your business. Rather than helping to support your children with your after-tax dollars, you can instead hire them and pay them with tax-deductible dollars. Of course, the employment must be legitimate and the pay commensurate with the hours and the job worked.

If this is something you’re considering, we encourage you to read the following situations that are typically encountered when choosing to hire your child:

Hiring Your Children – Under the Age of 19, or a Student Under the Age of 24

A reasonable salary paid to a child reduces the self-employment income and tax of the parents (business owners) by shifting income to the child. When a child under the age of 19 or a student under the age of 24 is claimed as a dependent of the parents, the child is generally subject to the kiddie tax rules, if their investment income is upward of $2,200. Under these rules, the child’s investment income is taxed at the same rate as the parent’s top marginal rate using a lower $1,100 standard deduction.

However, earned income (income from working) is taxed at the child’s marginal rate, and the earned income is reduced by the lesser of the earned income plus $350, or the regular standard deduction for the year, which is $12,400 for 2020. Assuming that a child has no other income, the child could be paid $12,400 and incur no federal income tax. If the child is paid more, the next $9,875 he or she earns is taxed at 10%.

Example: Let’s say you are in the 24% tax bracket and own an unincorporated business. You hire your child (who has no investment income) and pay the child $16,000 for the year. You reduce your income by $16,000, which saves you $3,840 of federal income tax (24% of $16,000), and your child has taxable income of $3,600, $16,000 less $12,400 standard deduction, on which the federal tax is $360 (10% of $3,600).

Hiring Your Children – Under the Age of 18

If the business is unincorporated and the wages are paid to a child under age 18, he or she will not be subject to FICA – Social Security and Hospital Insurance (HI, aka Medicare) – taxes since employment for FICA tax purposes doesn’t include services performed by a child under the age of 18 while employed in an unincorporated business owned by the parent. Thus, the child will not be required to pay the employee’s share of the FICA taxes, and the business won’t have to pay its half of these payroll taxes either. In addition, by paying the child and thus reducing the business’s net income, the parent’s self-employment tax payable on net self-employment income is also reduced.

Example: Continuing the same parameters as above, assume your business profits are $130,000, by paying your child $16,000, you not only reduce your self-employment income for income tax purposes, but you also reduce your self-employment tax (HI portion) by $429 (2.9% of $16,000 times the SE factor of 92.35%). And since your net profits for the year are less than the maximum SE income ($137,700 for 2020) that is subject to Social Security tax, then the savings would include the 12.4% Social Security portion in addition to the 2.9% HI portion. Thus, your total SE tax savings would be $2,261.

A similar but more liberal exemption applies for FUTA, which exempts from federal unemployment tax the earnings paid to a child under age 21 while employed by his or her parent. The FICA and FUTA exemptions also apply if a child is employed by a partnership consisting solely of his parents. However, the exemptions do not apply to businesses that are incorporated or a partnership that includes non-parent partners. Even so, there’s no extra cost to your business if you’re paying a child for work that you would pay someone else to do anyway.

Additional Savings from Retirement Plans

Additional savings are possible if the child is paid more (or works part-time past the summer) and deposits the extra earnings into a traditional IRA. For 2020, the child can make a tax-deductible contribution of up to $6,000 to his or her own IRA. The business also may be able to provide the child with retirement plan benefits, depending on the type of plan it uses and its terms, the child’s age, and the number of hours worked. By combining the standard deduction ($12,400) and the maximum deductible IRA contribution ($6,000) for 2020, a child could earn $18,400 of wages and pay no federal income tax.

Example: Referring back to the original example, the child’s federal tax to be saved by making a $6,000 traditional IRA contribution is only $360 (tax rate of 10% of $6,000 would be $600, but the savings is limited to the actual tax of $360). So, it might be appropriate to make a Roth IRA contribution instead, especially since the child has so many years before retirement and the future tax-free retirement benefits will far outweigh the current $360 savings.

State Considerations

The above only considers federal income tax savings. As every state has its own rules on tax rates and dependency exemptions, it’s important to speak with your tax advisor about potential state implications of the above federal tax planning.

If you have questions about the implications of hiring your children or other possible tax benefits, please contact Cray Kaiser.

Note: Wages paid to children and other relatives aren’t eligible for the Employee Retention Credit created by Congress in 2020 as part of the COVID-19 emergency relief measures for employers.