Income that you generate conducting your business as a sole proprietorship (or through a wholly-owned limited liability company (LLC)) is subject to both income tax and self-employment tax. The self-employment tax is imposed on 92.35% of self-employment income at a 12.4% rate for social security up to the social security maximum ($142,800 for 2021; $147,000 for 2022) and at a 2.9% rate for Medicare. An additional 0.9% Medicare tax is imposed on income exceeding $250,000 for married couples ($125,000 for married persons filing separately) and $200,000 in all other cases. No maximum tax limit applies to the Medicare tax. Similarly, if you conduct your business as a partnership in which you are a general partner, in addition to income tax you would be subject to the self-employment tax on your distributive share of the partnership’s income. On the other hand, if you conduct your business as an S corporation you will be subject to income tax, but not self-employment tax, on your share of the S corporation’s income.
An S corporation is not subject to tax at the corporate level. Instead, the corporation’s items of income, gain, loss, and deduction are passed through to the shareholders. However, the income passed through to the shareholder is not treated as self-employment income. Thus, by using an S corporation, you can avoid self-employment income tax.
There is a problem, however, in that IRS requires that the S corporation pay you reasonable compensation for your services to the S corporation. The compensation is treated as wages subject to employment tax (split evenly between the corporation and the employee), which is equivalent to the self-employment tax. If the S corporation does not pay you reasonable compensation for your services, IRS may treat a portion of the S corporation’s distributions to you as wages and impose social security taxes on the deemed wages. There is no simple formula regarding what is reasonable compensation. Presumably, reasonable compensation would be the amount that unrelated employers would pay for comparable services under like circumstances. There are many factors that would be taken into account in making this determination.
Give us a call today to discuss the practical aspects of conducting your business through an S corporation and how much the S corporation would have to pay you as compensation.
A corporation can deduct the compensation that it pays, but not its dividend payments. Thus, if funds are withdrawn as dividends, they’re taxed twice, once to the corporation and once to the recipient. Money paid out as compensation is taxed only once, to the employee who receives it.
However, there’s a limit on how much money you can take out of the corporation in this way. The law says that compensation can be deducted only to the extent that it’s reasonable. Any unreasonable portion is nondeductible and, if paid to a shareholder, may be taxed as if it were a dividend. As a practical matter, IRS rarely raises the issue of unreasonable compensation unless the payments are made to someone “related” to the corporation, such as a shareholder or a member of a shareholder’s family.
How much compensation is “reasonable”? There’s no simple formula. IRS tries to determine the amount that similar companies would pay for comparable services under like circumstances. Factors that are taken into account include:
There are a number of concrete steps you can take to make it more likely that the compensation you earn will be considered “reasonable,” and therefore deductible by your corporation. For example, you can:
As in most tax situations, planning ahead avoids problems later. Contact our office today to discuss this or any other aspect of your current or deferred compensation strategies.