Small businesses overlooking tax shelters

An integrated tax strategy is essential for small businesses, but too few have one, say financial advisers.

An integrated tax strategy is essential for small businesses, but too few have one, say financial advisers.

“Overlooking tax strategies is a common mistake business owners make. The right planning can help them keep more of their returns,” said BlueShore Financial’s David Lee. “It’s not what you make, but what you keep.”

He pointed to several strategies.

Structuring investments

Bonds and term deposits are an attractive investment for risk-averse small businesses, but they might not provide the best after-tax alternative.

Investing in high-dividend stocks or property can reduce a company’s tax burden because income generated from dividends or property sales is subject to less tax than is interest on income.

Deferring income

In Canada, taxes on business income can be deferred when earned through a company, but when those funds are transferred to shareholders via dividends, the overall tax paid is approximately the same. By taking a dividend instead of a salary, small-business owners can avoid having to pay Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contributions. The strategy offers immediate cash savings, but Lee pointed out that it’s a trade-off because while small-business owners won’t have to pay into CPP, they also won’t have access to its benefits.

Charitable remainder trusts

Typically used to minimize current tax liabilities, charitable remainder trusts can act as a donation and an investment.

By putting securities in a charitable remainder trust, individuals can avoid having to pay capital gains tax on the stock while still receiving the charitable donation tax credit on the fair market value of the investment. 

Because the charitable donation tax credit is calculated using the highest marginal tax rate, charitable remainder trusts can eliminate large tax bills from capital gains associated with publicly traded securities transferred to trusts.

Holding companies

Holding companies, which own other operating companies but don’t produce goods or services, provide tax-deferral options. Small-business owners can defer tax on income earned until it is withdrawn from the holding company via dividends. Holding companies also offer non-tax-related benefits. Keeping excess earnings in a holding company can safeguard equity from creditors and bankruptcy.