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Understanding Reasonable Salary in S Corporations


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Running an S Corporation (S Corp) has unique rules and advantages, especially regarding taxes. One critical area that S Corp owners must navigate carefully is the concept of a reasonable salary. Let’s break down what this entails, why it matters, and how to balance salary and distribution. 

What is an S Corp?

Before we get into salaries, let’s quickly understand what an S Corp is. An S Corp type of corporation meets specific Internal Revenue Service (IRS) criteria. The “S” refers to a subsection of the tax code. The key feature here is that it allows profits and some losses to be passed directly to the owners’ income without being subject to corporate tax rates, avoiding the double taxation often seen in C Corporations. However, this benefit comes with the requirement that S Corp shareholders who work for the company must receive a “reasonable salary.”

S Corp Reasonable Salary: The Basics

The IRS expects S Corp shareholders who perform services for the corporation to be paid a reasonable salary as employees, which means paying employment taxes. The tricky part is that the IRS hasn’t provided a clear-cut formula for a “reasonable” salary. Still, it emphasizes that the compensation must reflect the services’ value.

Why Does Reasonable Salary Matter?

The IRS scrutinizes S-corporation salaries so closely because of the tax implications. S-corporation shareholders might be tempted to take all their earnings as distributions (since distributions are not subject to employment taxes like Social Security and Medicare) rather than as a salary, which is taxed. To battle this, the IRS requires reasonable compensation to be paid out as salary before any distributions are made.

The 60/40 Rule: A Benchmark, Not a Standard

You might have heard of the 60/40 rule as a guideline for splitting earnings between salary and distributions. While it’s a standard benchmark some business owners use, it’s not an official standard. Each S Corp’s situation is unique, and the salary must reflect the work and industry standards.

Salary vs. Distribution: What’s the Difference?

Simply put, a salary is what you pay employees (including yourself) for services rendered to the corporation. It’s subject to employment taxes. Distributions are payments made from the company’s profits to its shareholders and are not subject to those taxes. The key is finding the right balance between these two to comply with IRS requirements while also taking advantage of the S Corp structure.

Determining a Reasonable Salary

So, what factors should you consider when determining a reasonable salary for S Corp shareholders who work in the business? Here are a few:

  • The Individual’s Role: Are they performing critical tasks that would require compensation in line with industry standards?
  • Hours Worked: More hours generally mean higher compensation.
  • Comparable Salaries: What are others in similar roles and industries being paid?

The Reasonable Salary Rule: Navigating IRS Expectations

The reasonable salary rule ensures that S-corporation owners who work in their business are compensated fairly for their labor before taking profits as distributions. It’s about balancing benefits with responsibilities.

The 60/40 Rule Explained

The 60/40 rule is a standard guideline that many small business owners follow. You should aim to pay yourself about 60% of your earnings as a salary while taking the remaining 40% as distributions. 

However, keep in mind that this is only a starting point. The ideal split for your situation may differ depending on your business structure, industry, expenses, and personal financial goals. If you are still determining what split is right for you, consider consulting with a tax professional or financial advisor who can provide personalized guidance. 

Remember, the 60/40 rule is not a hard-and-fast rule by the IRS but rather a general guideline.

What Constitutes a Reasonable Salary?

Determining a reasonable salary involves looking at several factors, including what similar businesses pay for comparable roles, the experience and qualifications of the shareholder-employee, and the hours worked. 

Reasonable Salary for S Corp Shareholders

When a company sets a salary for its employees, there are several things to consider. Shareholders involved in the business need to balance the value of the work with what the IRS considers reasonable. The salary should reflect the duties and responsibilities of the employee and should be similar to what others in the same industry earn for similar positions. It’s important to avoid setting a salary that would reduce the company’s taxable income too much because this could raise concerns with the IRS and cause legal problems. Therefore, shareholders need to consider all these factors carefully when deciding what salary to pay their employees.

S Corp Officer Salary: A Closer Look

Officers in an S Corporation have a dual role. They are both owners and employees of the business. As employees, they receive a salary based on their job duties. This salary should be comparable to an unrelated employee’s pay for the same work. This ensures that officers are fairly compensated for their work and that their compensation matches their level of responsibility in the company.

S Corp Owner Salary: How Much?

Determining your salary as an S Corporation owner can take time and effort. It would be best to consider various factors, such as your role in the company, industry standards, and your business’s profitability. The goal is to find the right balance between paying yourself enough to avoid unwanted attention from the IRS and avoiding overpaying and increasing your tax burden. By exploring all relevant factors, you can find the sweet spot that benefits you and your business.

S Corp Salary Requirements: The Fine Print

The IRS requires that if you’re providing substantial services to the S Corp, you must be paid a reasonable salary. This means that even if you prefer to take distributions, you must first pay yourself a salary that matches the value of your contributions to the business.

S Corp Minimum Salary: Is There One?

There’s no set minimum, as salaries are context-dependent. However, paying yourself too little (or nothing) is a red flag for the IRS and could lead to audits or penalties.

Choosing the Right Payroll Software for Your S Corp

When it comes to managing reasonable salaries for S Corp shareholders, having reliable payroll software like Gusto or ADP can be a game-changer. Both platforms offer distinct advantages, whether you’re looking for user-friendliness and direct support with Gusto or comprehensive HR solutions with ADP.

Gusto: Simplifying Payroll for S Corps

Gusto is a user-friendly payroll platform designed for small to medium-sized businesses. It’s particularly beneficial for S Corps needing to manage reasonable salaries and distributions effectively.


  • Automates payroll processing, tax filings, and year-end forms.
  • Offers employee self-service for personal details and pay stub access.
  • Integrates benefits management, including health insurance and retirement plans.


  • Intuitive interface that’s easy to navigate.
  • Transparent pricing with no hidden fees.
  • Exceptional customer service with access to HR experts.


  • It may be pricier for small businesses or sole proprietorships.
  • Limited customization options for more complex payroll needs.

Exclusive Offer: For our audience, Gusto is offering a $100 gift card when you sign up using our link. It’s a great way to try their services while getting something extra for your business. Claim your $100 gift card now.

ADP: A Comprehensive Payroll and HR Solution

ADP is known for its robust payroll and HR solutions, which cater to a wide range of businesses, from small startups to large enterprises. It’s a great option for S Corps looking for a scalable solution.


  • Provides payroll processing, tax filing, and compliance management.
  • Includes HR tools such as talent acquisition, time tracking, and employee training.
  • Offers customizable plans to fit various business sizes and needs.


  • Scalable solutions that grow with your business.
  • Extensive HR resources beyond payroll.
  • Strong security measures to protect sensitive data.


  • Pricing can be on the higher side, especially for smaller businesses.
  • Some users find the platform less intuitive and harder to navigate.

Exclusive Offer: ADP is offering my audience a special promotion to help you optimize your S Corp’s payroll management. Be sure to sign up using our link to take advantage of this offer here.

Remember, the key to selecting the right tool lies in understanding your business needs, the size of your operation, and the level of support you’re looking for. And, with the exclusive offers available for my audience, now is a great time to explore these options and see how they can streamline your payroll process.

By leveraging the right payroll software, you can ensure compliance with IRS guidelines for reasonable salaries, simplify your payroll processes, and keep your focus on growing your S Corp. Check out Gusto and ADP today, and don’t forget to use my links to access those special offers designed just for you.


Setting a reasonable salary in an S Corp isn’t just about following the rules – it’s also essential for your business’s financial health. Carefully considering how you compensate yourself and other shareholder-employees can help ensure your business thrives.

However, the guidelines presented here are just a starting point. Always consult a tax professional with expertise in S-corp taxation for personalized advice tailored to your situation.

FAQs: S Corp Reasonable Salary

  • Can I take distributions and skip the salary to save on taxes?

    No, the IRS requires that S Corp shareholder-employees who are actively working in the business must receive a reasonable salary before taking any distributions. This is to ensure that employment taxes are paid on their earnings

  • What is the risk of setting my S Corp salary too low?

    Setting your salary too low risks attracting IRS scrutiny and potential audits. The IRS may reclassify your distributions as wages and impose penalties and back taxes for underpayment of employment taxes.

  • What happens if the IRS disagrees with my determined reasonable salary for my S Corp?

    If the IRS deems your salary unreasonable, it may reclassify your earnings, resulting in additional taxes, penalties, and interest. If you disagree with the IRS’s determination, you can appeal the decision, but it’s best to consult with a tax professional to navigate this process.

  • How often should I review my S Corp salary to ensure it remains reasonable?

    It’s wise to review your salary annually, considering any changes in your role, the company’s financial performance, and market salary data for similar positions. Major events like taking on new responsibilities or significant business growth should also trigger a review.

  • Can S Corp distributions be classified as salary if I don't take a formal salary?

    Yes, if you don’t take a formal salary but are actively working in the S Corp, the IRS may reclassify distributions as salary. The IRS expects you to be compensated with a reasonable wage for your labor before taking non-wage distributions.

  • Are there any tools or resources to help determine a reasonable salary for S Corp shareholders?

    Several resources are available, including salary comparison websites like PayScale and Glassdoor, which can provide insights into what others in similar roles and industries earn. Additionally, consulting with a CPA or tax advisor who understands S Corp structures can offer personalized advice.

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