Is disability income taxable?

Many Americans receive disability income. If you’re one of them or know someone who is, you may wonder whether it’s taxable. As is often the case with tax questions, the answer is “it depends.”

Key factor

The key factor is who paid the disability income (or who paid for the disability insurance funding the income). If the income is paid directly to you by your employer, it’s taxable to you as ordinary salary or wages would be. Taxable disability benefits are also subject to federal income tax withholding, though, depending on the disability plan, they sometimes aren’t subject to Social Security tax.

Frequently, disability payments aren’t made by the employer but by an insurer under a policy providing disability coverage or under an arrangement having the effect of accident or health insurance. In such cases, the tax treatment depends on who paid for the coverage. If your employer paid for it, then the income is taxable to you just as if paid directly to you by the employer. On the other hand, if it’s a policy you paid for, the payments you receive under it aren’t taxable.

Even if your employer arranges for the coverage (in other words, it’s a policy made available to you at work), the benefits aren’t taxed to you if you pay the premiums. For these purposes, if the premiums are paid by the employer but the amount paid is included as part of your taxable income from work, the premiums are treated as paid by you.

Two examples

Let’s say your salary is $1,000 a week ($52,000 a year). Under a disability insurance arrangement made available to you by your employer, $10 a week ($520 for the year) is paid on your behalf by your employer to an insurance company. A total of $52,520 is included in income as your wages for the year on your W-2 form: the $52,000 paid to you plus the $520 in disability insurance premiums. In this case, the insurance is treated as paid for by you. If you become disabled and receive benefits, they aren’t taxable income to you.

Now, let’s look at an example with the same facts as above but with one exception: Only $52,000 is included in income as your wages for the year on your W-2 because the amount paid for the insurance coverage qualifies as excludable under the rules for employer-provided health and accident plans. In this case, the insurance is treated as paid for by your employer. If you become disabled and receive benefits, they are taxable income to you.

Note: There are special rules in the case of a permanent loss (or loss of the use) of a part or function of the body, or a permanent disfigurement.

Any questions?

This discussion doesn’t cover the tax treatment of Social Security disability benefits, which may be taxed under different rules. Contact us if you’d like to discuss this further or have questions about regular disability income.

4 ways to withdraw cash from a corporation

Owners of closely held corporations often want or need to withdraw cash from the business. The simplest way, of course, is to distribute the money as a dividend. However, a dividend distribution isn’t tax-efficient because it’s taxable to the owner to the extent of the corporation’s earnings and profits. It also isn’t deductible by the corporation. Here are four alternative strategies to consider:

1. Capital repayments. To the extent that you’ve capitalized the corporation with debt, including amounts that you’ve advanced to the business, the corporation can repay the debt without the repayment being treated as a dividend. Additionally, interest paid on the debt can be deducted by the corporation.

This assumes that the debt has been properly documented with terms that characterize debt and that the corporation doesn’t have an excessively high debt-to-equity ratio. If there isn’t proper documentation or the debt-to-equity ratio is too high, the “debt” repayment may be taxed as a dividend. If you make future cash contributions to the corporation, consider structuring them as debt to facilitate later withdrawals on a tax-advantaged basis.

2. Compensation. Reasonable compensation that you, or family members, receive for services rendered to the corporation is deductible by the business. However, it’s also taxable to the recipient(s). This same rule applies to any compensation (in the form of rent) that you receive from the corporation for the use of property.

In both cases, the compensation amount must be reasonable in terms of the services rendered or the value of the property provided. If it’s considered excessive, the excess will be a nondeductible corporate distribution (and taxable to the recipient as a dividend).

3. Property sales. You can withdraw cash from the corporation by selling property to it. However, certain sales should be avoided. For example, you shouldn’t sell property to a more than 50%-owned corporation at a loss, since the loss will be disallowed. And you shouldn’t sell depreciable property to a more than 50%-owned corporation at a gain, since the gain will be treated as ordinary income, rather than capital gain.

A sale should be on terms that are comparable to those in which an unrelated third party would purchase the property. You may need to obtain an independent appraisal to establish the property’s value.

4. Loans. You can withdraw cash tax-free from the corporation by borrowing money from it. However, to prevent having the loan characterized as a corporate distribution, it should be properly documented in a loan agreement or note. It should also be made on terms that are comparable to those in which an unrelated third party would lend money to you, including a provision for interest (at least equal to the applicable federal rate) and principal. Also, consider what the corporation’s receipt of interest income will mean.

These are just a few ideas. If you’re interested in discussing these or other possible ways to withdraw cash from a closely held corporation, contact us. We can help you identify the optimal approach at the lowest tax cost.

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