When incorporating your small business (or in some cases your professional corporation), there are a multitude of issues to consider. Some of these concerns were discussed in my blog on Advice for Entrepreneurs. One of the most important decisions to be made upon incorporation is the determination of the corporate structure. Today, I will focus solely on the benefits of using discretionary shares in that corporate structure.
I have previously discussed using a family trust as the shareholder of a new entity in my blog post Should Your Corporation’s Shareholder be a Family Trust instead of a Holding Company?
and thus, will not broach that topic today.
Discretionary Shares – What are They?
Discretionary shares allow a corporation to pay dividends on one class of shares to the exclusion of another class or at varying percentages. This concept is best illustrated through an example: If Mr. Bean has discretionary Class A shares and Mrs. Bean has discretionary Class B shares and the directors wish to pay a dividend of say $25,000, they could pay the entire $25,000 dividend to Mr. Bean and nothing to Mrs. Bean. Alternatively, they could pay the entire $25,000 to Mrs. Bean and nothing to Mr. Bean. They could also pay any other combination that totals $25,000; say $10,000 to Mr. Bean and $15,000 to Mrs. Bean, or $7,000 to Mr. Bean and $18,000 to Mrs. Bean.
This differs significantly from the standard garden variety common shares many lawyers automatically issue upon incorporation. Those shares pay dividends based on the ownership of the shares. So if Mr. Bean owned 35 common shares and Mrs. Bean owned 65 common shares, any dividends must be paid in the 35/65 ratio with no discretion.
The Income Splitting Benefit
Discretionary shares allow for income splitting with adult family members. Typically the shares are issued to the husband and wife or common-law spouses; however, in some cases it may make sense to issue shares to children, especially those 18 and over (the kiddie tax limits the benefits for children under 18).
The benefit is again best described by an example. Say Mr. Bean owns 75% of the common shares of Baked Beans Inc. and Mrs. Bean owns 25% of the common shares. Mr. Bean, as a working owner of the company, also receives a salary of $100,000. Under the above 75/25 ownership scenario, if a $100,000 dividend was issued and Mrs. Bean had no other income, Mr. Bean would pay approximately $27,000 in income tax on his $75,000 dividend (assume dividend is non-eligible), and Mrs. Bean would not pay any tax on her $25,000 dividend. However, if the shares had been set up as discretionary upon incorporation, the company could pay the entire dividend to Mrs. Bean and she would pay approximately $16,700 in tax, a $10,300 tax savings over standard common shares.
Another benefit of discretionary shares is that they can be issued to a holding company and used to creditor proof a company to ensure it qualifies for the capital gains exemption.
Why Not Always Use Discretionary Shares?
In some cases, spouses do not want their spouse involved in the corporate ownership; or if the spouses are involved, they prefer to own standard common shares, with at minimum 51% common share ownership. Not necessarily the best tax planning, but you would be surprised at how often people want this type of structure.
Care should be taken to ensure any other family corporations are not considered associated because of the discretionary shares; this would cause the corporations to have to share the $500,000 small business deduction.
While not relevant for a newly incorporated company; because of the income splitting opportunities afforded discretionary shares, the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) has done some sabre-rattling with respect to the valuation of the shares when they are issued as part of an estate freeze. It is important in these cases that the fair market value (“FMV”) of the property is accurately determined.
Discretionary shares are a valuable tool in the income splitting toolbox. However, in order to ensure you handle that “tool” with care, you must obtain income tax advice before implementing any structure with discretionary shares.
This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.