One of the most common reasons individuals become business owners is to have more control over their time and financial decisions—to create and be able to drive their own vision in an environment that they choose, and hopefully enjoy.
Those decisions include, among others, what types of solutions the business will offer, how clients will be serviced, which vendors the business will use, and who the business will hire and fire.
Moreover, the IRS’s website states, “One of the advantages of operating your own business is hiring family members.” The IRS is very clear that businesses can and should hire family members. They know that at times family members are the glue that keeps small businesses functioning and often provides owners with the time needed to lead and grow their companies. Small businesses are an essential part of the US economy. The most common family members hired by small companies are spouses since the success of a small business owner is often entwined with the support they receive from their life partner. This is so common that even 401K plans for single-owned businesses include spouses. Though more common, hiring family members can go beyond the spouse and includes anyone that is related, a sibling, a parent AND even a child. [see more details on the IRS perspective on hiring family https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/family-help].
When hiring family members (either as employees or as 1099 consultants) a business owner must adhere to the same rules as for nonfamily members. From a strictly operational point of view, one clear advantage of hiring family is that a family member can provide support or services that the owner, for whatever reason, is uncomfortable having performed by a nonfamily member. This may be particularly true when the business wishes to keep its financial reports “for family eyes only” or if the business relies on sensitive proprietary information or compliance rules that could be jeopardized by employee turnover. Similarly, a family member can provide cohesion and ensure the retention of corporate knowledge when employees leave the firm – this is invaluable to many small businesses. On the other hand, owners might hire a parent or a child solely to provide them with a taxable income while they engage in work that benefits the business owner’s vision.
The business owner does have the responsibility of deciding on a fair level of compensation for all employees. To avoid potential conflicts within the firm, compensation ought to be similar to that of any regular employee performing the same function. Another more flexible option, is to hire family members as 1099 consultants. Consultants have more flexibility on the tasks they can perform and the compensation they are awarded.
Hiring family can be a straightforward way to reward family members who contribute to the success of the business. Providing spouses, siblings, children and even parents with taxable earnings while serving in roles that provide benefit to the business owner and the running of the business.
For business owners in high tax brackets, hiring family (who are in lower tax brackets) can garner meaningful tax relief. If hiring children, it also provides for “good parenting” opportunities and leadership development. The key to hiring your child is to strictly abide by standards of bona fide age-appropriate work, ensure a reasonable wage, and follow federal and state regulations relating to labor standards. Getting a handle on all of this, can feel overwhelming but it is actually fairly straight forward.
When hiring a minor (family or not) the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) must be followed which has restrictive language on the type of employment for those under the age of 14. FLSA actually states the specific jobs that are permitted which include delivering papers, casual babysitting, or modeling/acting. Starting at age 14 the regulations only limit the amount of time (not the type of job) but also that the work doesn’t expose the minor to dangerous environments such as radioactive areas and working in demolitions (among others).
Hiring family as employees (rather than consultants) is a constant balancing act that requires careful consideration but can deliver financial benefits. It may be prudent, at least initially, to place hired family under the direct supervision of a trusted nonfamily employee that will have full authority over mentoring. This works well for minors but not so well with adults. The potential for unhealthy rivalries and vying for attention amongst siblings and hired staff can sour what is often an exceptional opportunity. Open communication and clear accountability is the key to success when hiring family as employees. Everyone involved must have a clear picture of where they stand, eliminating time wasted on misunderstandings and second guessing one another’s motives and intentions.
The process is a bit easier and the rules a bit more advantageous if family members have their own business (1099 reporting business) and are hired as consultants to support the business owner. In addition, as a 1099 consultant, they have the flexibility to also work outside the family business. Often their total earnings will be taxable at much lower tax brackets than they would be if it was earned by the higher earning business owner. They will also qualify for tax-deferral and social security on their net business earnings.
We encourage you to consider hiring family members particularly if you are a business owner with high earnings and high tax liability. We strongly recommend hiring family members when we discover that family already provide unpaid assistance to the business owner and are in need of financial support or need to increase their social security income.
Let us know if you are considering including a family member (parents, spouse or children are the most common) in your business. We’ll provide a summary of the benefits to you, your family and your specific business.
Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS