by Scott Richardson, CEO & President of IZALE
Some background. Deductions for compensation as a business expense are available through Section 162(m) of the code. For many years, deductions for compensation that wasn’t performance-based compensation were limited to $1 million. (No surprise – the vast majority of organizations paid nearly all compensation above $1m as performance-based compensation, thereby preserving the deduction.) TCJA 2017 eliminated the exception for performance-based compensation. So, if a for-profit employer pays $2.5 million in compensation this year to their highest paid executive, the employer would not be able to deduct $1.5 million that exceeds the limit – effectively costing the employer 21% more in federal income taxes.
New excise penalty on Credit Unions. Since credit unions generally don’t have deductions, the loss of one isn’t that concerning. In order to have “equal” treatment of for-profit and non-profit employers, TCJA 2017 imposes a 21% excise penalty on non-profit employers on any compensation they pay to an executive that exceeds $1 million. (This only applies to the top 5 executives.) If your credit union pays $2.5 million to an executive in total W-2 compensation this year, that would cost the credit union an additional $315,000.
Disparate impact on Credit Unions. The problems stems with how supplemental executive retirement plan (SERP) benefits are taxed in a tax-exempt credit union vs. a for-profit employer like a bank.
- For example, assume a for-profit employer has promised a SERP benefit of $100,000 for 20 years. As long as the SERP benefit remains an unfunded liability of the for-profit employer, the executive owes income tax only on each payment as it is received despite being fully vested in the benefit upon retirement.
- In the tax-exempt world of credit unions, however, the executive owes income tax immediately upon vesting in the SERP benefit. The amount of tax is based on the net present value of the payments, which could result in a significant, immediate tax bill. To avoid a crushing cash flow burden on the executive from this timing difference (i.e., $100,000 of annual payments with a current tax bill of $500,000+), almost all SERPs in the tax-exempt world are paid in a lump sum. While having a lump sum is helpful to the executive, now under TCJA 2017 that results in W-2 compensation in a year that can very easily exceed $1 million.
Options. SERPs in a credit union (aka 457f plans) remain a strong planning option but more attention will have to be paid to design for new plans. THERE WAS NO GRANDFATHERING UNDER TCJA 2017, so existing arrangements may be causing your credit union some pain. IZALE Financial Group has worked with multiple institutions since the enactment of TCJA 2017 to restructure credit union SERPs (aka 457f plans) to reduce – even eliminate – the excise penalty. While not all plans can be restructured, if you have a 457(f) SERP we welcome the opportunity to do a no-obligation review and share ideas we have successfully implemented at your peers.
Contact your IZALE representative directly or email us to learn how we can assist your Credit Union with these changes.