There are three generally accepted methods for determining Reasonable Compensation for the owner of a closely-held business. It is important to match each method with the businesses size and business owner’s job duties.
Cost Approach (AKA Many Hats Approach)
- The Cost Approach breaks the duties of the business owner into its components such as company administration, accounting, finance, marketing, advertising, engineering, purchasing, etc.
The Cost Approach breaks down the time spent by the business owner into the various duties performed and quantifies the amount of time devoted to the different duties. Next, salary surveys are used to determine a comparable wage for each job duty performed by the business owner, then added up to arrive at the total "cost" to replace the services of the business owner.
The Cost Approach generally works best for small businesses where the business owner provides multiple services for the business (wears many hats).
Market Approach (AKA Industry Standard Approach)
- Compares the business owner's compensation to compensation within the same industry. The market approach focuses as much as possible on the owner's business and the specific position being analyzed (often the CEO or General Manager who also owns the business). The question to be answered is: How much compensation would be paid for this same position, held by a non-owner in an arms-length employment relationship, at a similar company?
The Market Approach generally works best for medium and large businesses where the business owner provides only one duty: management of the business.
Income Approach (AKA Independent Investors Test)
- Seeks to determine whether a hypothetical investor would be satisfied with their return on investment when looking at the financial performance of the business in conjunction with the compensation level of the owner.
The income approach can only be correctly applied when the Fair Market Value (FMV) of the company is available for each year that compensation is examined.
The rationale behind the Independent Investor Test is that investors pay employees to work to increase the value of the assets entrusted to their management. A high rate of return indicates that the assets' value increased and that the employee provided valuable services. Thus, if investors obtain returns above what they should reasonably expect, an employee's salary is presumptively reasonable. The Income Approach generally works best when there is no comparability data available.