What Should You Know About Valuing a Company for Incentive Compensation in LLCs Taxed as Corporations?

As we notch up the sixteenth mark on our voyage through the comprehensive world of incentive compensation, your consistent presence, your unwavering curiosity, and the thirst to gain insight speak volumes about your entrepreneurial spirit. Today, we turn our spotlight onto a pivotal piece of the puzzle - the valuation of an LLC taxed as a corporation. Just as the heart is crucial to human survival, understanding company valuation is crucial for any business owner or manager seeking to design compelling incentive compensation plans in LLCs taxed as corporations. The game is all about making the numbers talk, and that’s exactly what we are set to explore.

Understanding Valuation Methods for LLCs Taxed as Corporations

When it comes to LLCs taxed as corporations, one size certainly doesn’t fit all. Just as a navigator adjusts his compass for different voyages, the approach to corporate valuation adjusts based on whether the company is public or private. This distinction isn’t merely academic; it wields significant influence over the selection of the appropriate valuation method. By understanding this, you’re laying a sturdy foundation for strategic incentive compensation planning.

Deciphering the Need for Valuations in LLCs Taxed as Corporations

While navigating the ocean of incentive compensation, it's essential to understand when and why LLCs, taxed as corporations, need to ascertain their Fair Market Value (FMV). The valuation needs vary hinging on the type of incentive compensation plan in question, as outlined below:

  • Stock Options: To maintain compliance with Section 409A, a company must conduct a valuation if the exercise price of the stock option is lower than its Fair Market Value (FMV). This step ensures accurate tax determination tied to the incentive.
  • Restricted Stock: In cases of termination initiated either by the team member (for a valid reason) or by the company (without cause), vested stocks are often redeemed at their FMV. To determine the income from the grant, an accurate valuation is imperative.
  • Restricted Stock Units (RSUs): When RSUs transition to actual granted shares upon vesting, a valuation of the FMV must be conducted. This process accurately assesses the income to the team member.
  • Stock Appreciation Rights (SARs): Upon the exercise of SARs, a company must perform a valuation to discern the difference between the FMV and the exercise price, which is recognized as ordinary income.
  • Phantom Stock: Phantom stocks, being cash-based incentives, necessitate a valuation upon vesting to decide the cash value to be paid to the team member.
  • Performance Awards: If performance awards are designed to align with the company's value, conducting a valuation becomes vital. This process equips a company to gauge the award amounts accurately.
  • Other Equity-Based Awards: If a company offers other equity-based incentive compensation, such as performance shares, these too may necessitate a valuation. It ensures an accurate determination of the incentive's financial implications.

Arming oneself with knowledge about when a valuation is essential is the initial step toward curating effective incentive compensation plans. It's not just about knowing your numbers; it's about understanding how these numbers can fuel your company's growth.

The Risks of Skipping a Valuation

Missing or skimping on a valuation isn't a risk-free venture. A lapse in accurate valuation could lead to discrepancies in award values and associated tax implications. Mistakes in the valuation process could result in substantial penalties under Section 409A. A firm grasp of the valuation process isn't just good practice, it's critical for ensuring compliance and avoiding hefty penalties.

Preferred Valuation Methods: Navigating the Safe Harbors

For LLCs seeking to steer clear of rocky waters, the Internal Revenue Code's Section 409A provides a compass in the form of safe harbor valuation methods. These include:

  • Independent Appraisal: An external, impartial third party evaluates the class of stock using methods such as book value, market comparisons, or cash flow analyses.
  • Non-Lapse Restriction: If a team member can only sell their stock at a predetermined price via a universally applicable formula that doesn't lapse, then that formula-based price is deemed the FMV.
  • Good Faith Valuation for Startups: For startup companies with less liquidity, a valuation backed by a written report that considers both quantitative and qualitative factors can serve as the FMV. This valuation must be conducted by an individual or group with significant knowledge or training in similar valuations.

While these safe harbor methods provide a structured approach, they are not the only path to valuation. Companies can chart their own course, using other valuation methods that best suit their unique circumstances.

Charting Your Own Course: Independent Valuation

Even if your company doesn't fit neatly into a safe harbor method, you can still achieve a credible valuation by considering a mix of tangible and intangible factors. Concrete metrics like historical profits, cash flows, and liabilities serve as your compass, while softer factors like income projections and cash flow forecasts act as your rudder, steering the future direction. Intangible assets, such as patents or brand reputation, add weight and stability to your valuation. Considerations such as industry evaluations and market value of similar companies provide guidance, much like a captain's intuition at sea. Your company's valuation is as dynamic as the ocean tides, influenced by a vast array of interconnected elements.


We hope this article has been informative and useful for your business. If you have any questions or comments, please contact us at info@wilkinsonlawllc.com. We plan to answer general questions in an upcoming FAQ series. If you need legal advice specific to your situation, please ask to schedule a consultation with an attorney to discuss your company’s goals.

We sincerely hope to have you join us in our next installment as we delve into the intricacies of how the termination of team members can impact incentive compensation within LLCs taxed as corporations.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as tax or legal advice. Please consult professionals for advice tailored to your specific situation. The author and publisher assume no responsibility for any errors or omissions or for any actions taken based on the information presented.