Executive Bonus Plan: The Ideal Golden Handcuffs

Why the Executive Bonus Plan Is the Ideal Golden Handcuffs

The Executive Bonus Plan can be the ideal “golden handcuffs” for the top talent you can’t afford to lose.  In truth, associating long-term dedicated employment with slavery seems a bit archaic and melodramatic.  We all know you can’t keep good people by holding them hostage.  Instead, you’ve got to set the table that attracts them and makes them want to stay. 

That’s where the Executive Bonus Plan rises to the occasion.  It can help you serve up a scrumptious benefits package to find and keep the best people so your business can fulfill its mission.

In today’s show, we’ll discuss options for deferred compensation and fringe benefits that create a win-win for the employer and the employee.  And we’ll show how the Executive Bonus Plan is a recipe made with cash value life insurance.  That makes it the perfect way to offer something of future value that they’ll have to – and want to – maintain employment to get.

The Competition Today’s Employers Faces

In a growing economy with declining unemployment rates, everyone’s hiring, but few people are looking for work. So, employees, who have their pick of employers, are in the position of leverage.  Because the pool of available labor is smaller, it costs more. 

So, companies have steeper competition to get the best employees.  They have to be willing to pay more, and often will have to do quite the song and dance to win them over.  That means paying more or offering more benefits and perks.

The competition businesses face is compounded by the current mindset towards employment in general.  

Company loyalty is a lower priority than personal advancement.  Long gone are the days when people worked for one company their whole life.  A good person needs to feel engaged, appreciated, rewarded, and fulfilled.  If not, there’s little stopping them from leaving in search of another place of employment where they’ll thrive.

Fringe Benefits Help Employers Spend Less to Compete

That also means that businesses are the ones with the most at stake if good people leave. They could lose contracts, revenue, and momentum when their intellectual capital walks out the front door.  And it could be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to find a replacement.

Therefore, the onus is on employers to create an employment dynamic that great people want to be a part of.  Offering high-quality fringe benefits is one way that employers can extend the handshake that turns into the ideal kind of loyalty.

Employers have to exert more effort upfront – and more dollars – to reach ideal candidates to fill their most important roles.  And to keep them as long as possible.

In “HR speak,” this is attracting and retaining top talent. 

Where the Executive Bonus Plan Fits into the Cash Flow System

Executive compensation and benefits are just one part of a bigger journey to building time and money freedom. 

That’s why we have created the 3-step Business Owner’s Cash Flow System.  It’s your roadmap to take you from just surviving financially, to living a life of significance, purpose, and financial freedom.

Livelihood Safeguard

The first step is keeping more of the money you make by fixing money leaks.  Then, you’ll protect your money with insurance, legal protection, and Privatized Banking.  Finally, you’ll put your money to work, increasing your income with cash-flowing assets.

Executive Bonus Plans are part of Stage 2.  They help you attract and retain talent, drive down costs, and protect your business’s revenue production.

If you utilize a Specially Designed Whole Life Insurance Policy, your Executive Bonus Plan can be a tool for Privatized Banking. 

And this protection also touches Unique Ability Investing, because you’re securing the value of your business as one of your greatest assets.

Deferred Compensation

When you’re talking about benefits for the C-suite, most employers first think of deferred compensation.  It’s seen as a way to both help employees better prepare for retirement and incentivize loyalty by offering future benefits at the same time.  Instead of paying everything in today’s salary, the business allocates a portion of pay to be delivered on a future date. 

Deferred compensation comes in two main varieties: qualified and non-qualified. 

Qualified plans, like the 401(k), are often insufficient for execs, because contribution limits make them seem like a drop in the bucket.  Not an enticing, high-quality benefit.

Non-qualified deferred compensation is more suitable for high-paid executives. 

The employer can pay into a defined benefit plan like Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans (SERPs). 

Or, it can be set up as a deferred savings plan.  In this case, the executive would defer compensation through a salary reduction arrangement or bonus deferral plan.

Usually, there is a vesting schedule, so the employee would have to work a set number of years to receive the full benefit.

The Problems with Deferred Compensation for Execs

However, the main drawback to non-qualified deferred compensation is that the business doesn’t get an immediate tax deduction for money they put aside.

Also, the business needs reserves, an investment strategy, and often, life insurance to back the whole program. 

Then, there’s a future liability to pay out benefits, layering on risk.

Executive Bonus Plans solve the Problems of Deferred Compensation

Executive Bonus Plans solve the main problem of deferred compensation. They allows the employer to get an immediate tax deduction on the money they pay in.

Here’s how it works:

What Is an Executive Bonus Plan?

The Executive Bonus Plan is a way for you to provide permanent life insurance as a fringe benefit to your top execs. 

It’s surprisingly simple to administer and use. 

The business purchases life insurance on the life of the executive. 

As the policy payor, the employer can pay premiums directly or through a salary bonus. 

The executive, then, is the owner and insured of a personally-owned life insurance policy. 

Because Executive Bonus Plans aren’t subject to ERISA guidelines, employers don’t need IRS approval. 

And there’s no discrimination rules, so you can pick and choose who to reward. You even have the discretion to bonus different amounts for different execs. 

You Both Win with Executive Bonus Plans

Tax Treatment

Executive Bonus Plan: The Ideal Golden Handcuffs

As the employer, you now have a desirable benefit to offer, and you get an immediate tax deduction, too.

Because the premium is considered additional compensation for the executive, you write it off as an ordinary and necessary business expense.  This makes it tax-deductible to your business, giving you an immediate tax deduction on the money you pay in premiums today. 

At the same time, the premium is considered additional compensation to your exec. The executive pays income tax on the amount in the same year, just like they would on any other cash bonus they receive. 

Lower Risk

Because the insurance company provides the policy values, your responsibility ends with the premium payment.  You’ve defined your contribution and left the benefit up to the insurance provider. That means you don’t have a future liability to pay, so you’re in a safer financial position.

Huge Benefits for Your Executive

And with the Executive Bonus Plan, your best talent wins, too.

Because your employee is the owner of the policy, they have ownership and use rights. That means that they choose the beneficiary who will receive the death benefit.

They get tax-deferred policy growth and income-tax-free policy loans as long as the policy stays in force and doesn’t MEC.

That means that they gain access to use the available cash value, income-tax-free, for anything, including buying a house, a boat, vacation, or paying for kids’ college, or supplemental retirement income.

(The amount of cash value they have in the policy is based on their age and health when the policy began and how long you’ve been paying policy premiums.)

Policy ownership comes with an income-tax-free death benefit. So, you’re also giving them immediate peace of mind that their loved ones will be taken care of.

The Downside of Executive Bonus Plans

But, just as Executive Bonus Plans solve the main problems of deferred compensation, they create another.

Without adding in a legal agreement, you incur the following problems. But stay with us as we show you a solution for that too.

You forfeit control over the bonus once you’ve paid for the insurance premiums.  So, if you were hoping for benefits that your employee would need to stay with you to get, this wouldn’t automatically suffice.

That’s because the executive gets the ownership benefit right away.  If they quit, they’d take the policy with them.  That means they wouldn’t lose out on any of the benefits of the bonuses they’ve already received.

Sure, you wouldn’t continue funding future premiums, so the policy values wouldn’t continue to grow as illustrated.  And maybe that’s enough incentive to stay. 

But it doesn’t require loyalty or tenure to use the bonus you’ve already paid. 

How Executive Bonus Plans Can Be the Ideal Golden Handcuffs

Executive Bonus Plans aren’t a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Instead, there’s plenty of design options to completely customize the benefit. This flexibility makes Executive Bonus Plans that much sweeter. 

As the employer, you can’t own the policy, be the beneficiary, or have the right to cancel the policy. 

However, just about anything else is fair game, so long as all parties agree at the beginning.  And, it’s essential to set up a written legal agreement with an excellent attorney to lay out the terms of the bonus.

Custodial Executive Bonus

You can modify an Executive Bonus Plan to meet your needs with a wide range of special provisions.

Most notably, you can limit how your executive gets to use the policy.  And that puts you in control.

Employer controls are added with a Custodial Executive Bonus, also known as a Restricted Executive Bonus Plan.  

One way to do this is by requiring employer consent for your employee to access their cash values.  This gives you veto power over the timing or purpose of their request.  This could be especially valuable to you if you were concerned that your exec may leave your company and use their cash value to start a competing business.  

To set up a deferred benefit, you could require your employee to satisfy a length of service or wait until a stated retirement age before they can use the cash value.  This would prevent the employee’s use and access to the benefit until the future.

Another option would be to add a vesting schedule and forfeiture language. This would cause them to lose some of the benefits if they leave you before the full vesting schedule. 

Or you could require them to reimburse you for premiums paid if they leave you before a specific date.

The Flexibility of Executive Bonus Plans

To sweeten the pot and make Executive Bonus Plans even more incentivizing, you can add in a double bonus. In this case, you would pay the life insurance premiums and the corresponding income tax your employee will owe in that year.

Another option is to add an executive contribution provision. This would allow your employee to add premiums on top of what you pay in. This would build up a larger policy, with higher cash values and death benefits.

Solving the Most Problems with One Policy

To get the most out of one policy and serve up true deferred compensation, you could initiate a Key Man Life Insurance policy that later converts to an Executive Bonus Plan. 

You’d start a policy that insures your executive.

At the start, your business would be the owner and beneficiary, so that you have the financial protection against losing your top executive.  (Premiums would not be a tax deduction to the business in this case.) 

Then, that same policy would then transfer ownership to the employee at a later date. 

This would put you, the business, in the position to own and use the cash value upfront, and promise the use of the benefit to your employee later. 

You gain employer control by deferring the benefit.

The advantage to your exec will be even higher policy values when they receive ownership because the policy will have more years under its belt.

Executive Bonus Plans and Infinite Banking

An additional strength of Executive Bonus Plans is that they can be a storage house for the Infinite Banking Concept

In our opinion, the best type of policy you could use would be Specially Designed Whole Life Insurance.

If you use a Specially Designed Whole Life Insurance policy, the policy owner will have access to the guaranteed cash value that can serve as reserves. 

That means that if the policy is initially set up as a Key Man policy, with employer ownership, the business gets the added benefit of using the cash value as an emergency/opportunity fund. 

And if the policy is an Executive Bonus Plan, owned by the executive, they gain the benefit of stable, predictable reserves.

Infinite Banking is a platform to get high early cash value and long-term growth. Since you earn returns in two places at the same time, you’ve given your top talent a gift within a gift.  The bonus isn’t just one-dimensional money.  It’s some of the hardest-working dollars that will benefit their lives by serving as a foundation for their wealth creation. 

Getting Started with an Executive Bonus Plan

If you want to enhance your business’s competitive ability to find and keep great people, an Executive Bonus Plan may be your ideal solution.

To get started, you would need the names, gender, and date of birth for the vital executives you want to reward.  Decide your desired coverage amount or premium you’d like to allocate and find out the tax brackets for your business and the individual executives.

Armed with this information, you’re ready to book a call with our advisor team.  We’ll help you navigate your need to deliver attractive fringe benefits.  You’ll also find out the one next thing you need to do on your path to accelerate time and money freedom.

Success leaves clues.  Model the successful few, not the crowd, and build a life and business you love.

Rachel Marshall

Rachel Marshall

Rachel Marshall is the Co-Founder and Chief Financial Educator of The Money Advantage. She is known for making money simple, fun, and doable.Rachel helps her clients create time and money freedom with cash flow strategies, Privatized Banking, and alternative investments.Rachel is the co-host of The Money Advantage podcast, the popular business and personal finance show. She teaches how to keep more of the money you make, protect it, and turn it into cash-flowing assets.
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