If you run your business as an S corporation, you’re probably both a shareholder and an employee. As such, the corporation pays you a salary that reflects the work you do for the business. This means you (and your company) must remit payroll tax on some or all of your wages.
By distributing profits in the form of dividends rather than salary, an S corporation and its owners can avoid payroll taxes on these amounts. Because of the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on wages in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers and $125,000 for married filing separately), the potential tax savings from classifying payments as dividends rather than salary may be even greater than it once would have been.
IRS audit target
But beware – paying little or no salary can be risky. The IRS targets S corporations with owners’ salaries that it considers unreasonably low and assesses unpaid payroll taxes, penalties and interest.
To avoid this, S corporations should establish and document reasonable salaries for each position using compensation surveys, comparable industry studies, company financial data and other evidence. Spell out the reasons for compensation amounts in your corporate minutes. Have the minutes reviewed by a tax professional before being finalized.
Prove a salary is reasonable
There are no specific guidelines for reasonable compensation in the tax code or regulations. Various courts, which have ruled on this issue, have based their determinations on the facts and circumstances of each case. Factors considered in determining reasonable compensation include:
- Training and experience,
- Duties and responsibilities,
- Time and effort devoted to the business,
- Dividend history,
- Payments to non-owner employees,
- Timing and manner of paying bonuses to key people, and
- Compensation agreements.
Ascertain the right mix
Do you have questions about compensation and dividends? Contact us. We can help you determine the mix of salary and dividends that can keep your tax liability as low as possible while standing up to IRS scrutiny.