Employing a Family Member

A way to reduce the overall family tax bill is by employing family members to work in your business by shifting income to them and providing them with employment benefits.

  • Employing your Spouse. Reasonable wages paid to your spouse entitles you to a business deduction. Although the wages are subject to both income and FICA taxes, your spouse may qualify for Social Security benefits to which he or she might not otherwise be entitled. In addition, your spouse may also be entitled to receive coverage under the qualified retirement and health plans of your business, allowing you to obtain business deductions for contributions to your spouse's retirement nest egg and health insurance premium payments made on behalf of your employed spouse. While maintaining the same family medical care coverage, you increase your business deductions by providing your spouse with family health insurance coverage as an employee.
  • Employing your child. By employing your child, the income tax advantages include obtaining a business deduction for a reasonable salary paid to that child, thus reducing your self-employment income and tax by shifting income to the child. Since the salary paid to your child is considered earned income, it is not subject to the "Kiddie Tax" rules that apply to children under the age of 19, as well as some older children. The maximum standard deduction available to your child in 2013 is $6,100 (up from $5,950 in 2012) if he or she has at least that amount of earned income. Therefore, the standard deduction eliminates all tax on this income if you pay your child $6,100 (2013) in compensation. If your business is unincorporated, wages paid to your child under age 18 are not subject to social security taxes. Not only are there significant income tax advantages to employing your child, but you may provide him or her with fringe benefits such as group-term life insurance and qualified pension plan contributions.

Your child may also make deductible contributions to an IRA of the lesser of earned income or the annual limitation. These contributions can offset earned and unearned income. As example, in 2013 your child could receive $11,600 gross income ($6,100 earned and $5,500 unearned) by combining the IRA deduction ($5,500) with the standard deduction ($6,100) and pay no tax. You should consider giving him or her part or all of the money needed to fund the IRA (as part of your $14,000/$28,000 annual exclusion for gifts) if your child does not want to use his or her earned income to fund an IRA contribution.

Please keep in mind that when you employ a family member in your business, the wages should be reasonable for the work performed and that the services performed are necessary to the business.