What is a reasonable salary for an S corporation officer?

Owners of S corporations (actually shareholders) are in a unique position with regard to income tax. Unlike corporations, S corporations pass the sales tax on to the owners, while C corporations pay their own taxes.

S corporation shareholders do not pay self-employment taxes (Social Security and Medicare) on their business distributions.
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However, S corp owners who work as employees must receive a
Reasonable Salary for S Corp Owners before they share in the profits.

Let’s look at an example: Carol and John are 50/50 shareholders in S Corp, and they both work for the company. His net profit last year was $250,000. They want to split their profits and avoid self-employment taxes, but since they work in a company, they must first get a “reasonable” salary.

How S Corporation Owners Are Trying to Avoid Taxes

Some S corporation shareholders who are corporate executives try to avoid paying employment taxes by minimizing salaries and bonuses paid to company executives and instead treat these payments as loan payments or personal expense payments.

About S Corporation Employees

Specifically, the IRS states that company officials are employees, and companies must comply with all employment laws related to these employees, including:

  • Pay payroll taxes on your wages and withhold federal and state income taxes from those wages
  • Pay unemployment and workers’ compensation taxes on wages.
  • In its August 2008 article Compensation for S Corporation Officers, the IRS stated,

What is a reasonable salary for an S Corp owner/employee?

To find a S Corp Reasonable Salary for an S corporation owner/employee, consider how to find a reasonable salary amount for any new employee. IRS guidelines recommend that you consider the following factors when determining a “reasonable” salary for a company officer:

  • training and experience
  • Obligations and responsibilities
  • Time and energy to focus on business
  • Dividend History
  • Payments to non-shareholder employees
  • When and how to pay bonuses to key figures
  • What comparable companies pay for similar services
  • compensation agreement
  • Use the formula to determine compensation

Back up your salary data with comparable salaries

Another way to determine a reasonable salary for a business executive is to look at what other companies of a similar size and type pay for such services. Check out similar jobs on sites like The Ladders and, or hire the services of a compensation consultant. Your ability to demonstrate that the salaries you pay to senior management and company officials will help you stay on the right side as the IRS reviews your company’s tax returns.

Report officer salaries to the IRS

Each year when you fill out your corporation or S corporation income tax form, you must report the salaries of corporate officers if the corporation’s gross income is $500,000 or more.

You’ll need to use IRS Form 1125, which lists the compensation of each company officer, along with information on the percentage of time spent on the business and the percentage of stock the officer owns. IRS limits how much companies can deduct from company wages; IRS says

Public corporations may not deduct compensation for “insured employees” if compensation exceeds $1 million.

How business owners can pay themselves

When looking to start a business in the US for the first time, it is very likely that the question will arise: “How do I pay myself?”, for this reason, it is important to know how the different business structures work, and how to get paid correctly afterward. of hard work, so that there are no problems in the future. There are different tax implications depending on the way in which you decide to pay yourself, from salaries, dividends, loans, or a withdrawal from the owners (Owner’s Draw).

The type of company is an important factor

You can structure your business as a Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC), S Corporation, or C Corporation. You can read what each type of company means, and how they work, and based on this, make a decision about which one is more convenient for you and for your business model. Once you’ve selected the type of company you want to establish, you’ll be able to explore options to pay for yourself as a business owner: 

*Note: Each situation is different, these are generalizations, your situation may vary or be an exception, we recommend consulting a financial advisor if you have questions about the best way to pay yourself.

Wages (W-2)

Many business owners choose to become employees and receive a W-2 form. The W-2 is issued if the employee (in this case, the owner) earns $600 or more in wages or equivalent. W-2 employees are subject to tax withholding, which is subtracted each pay period. A withholding tax is an IRS apportionment tax and can be calculated using the deductions on the W-4 form and the IRS withholding calculator.


Business owners can also receive dividends. Dividends are not taxed if capital is returned to shareholders. Most dividends are paid in cash, but you can also get them from stocks or other assets.

Shareholder loan

It is not a “pay yourself”, however, some owners may choose to lend money through their business. A shareholder loan must have a stated interest rate, a due date, and agreements if the default is incurred. There is some risk, if the loan is below market, it will be treated as a gift, dividend, contribution to capital, salary payment, or other payment, depending on the substance of the transaction.

Owner’s Draw

A business owner can choose to make a withdrawal of the money. Unlike W-2 wages, a withdrawal is not taxed at the company level. If you are a sole proprietor or a partner in a partnership, your income is made through a withdrawal. However, it is also possible to withdraw into an LLC or even an S-Corp. However you decide to pay yourself, make sure you follow all laws and pay yourself a reasonable amount. Your business (and accountant) will thank you.

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