Navigating S-Corporation Reasonable Compensation Rules

If you’re a business owner operating as an S-Corporation, you’re probably already aware of the numerous tax benefits this structure offers. However, with these benefits come certain responsibilities and rules, one of which is the requirement to pay yourself a “reasonable” salary, known as reasonable compensation. In this blog, we’ll dive into the world of S-Corporation reasonable compensation rules, exploring what they are, why they matter, and how to determine the appropriate salary for yourself as a business owner.

Understanding S-Corporations

Before delving into reasonable compensation rules, let’s recap what an S-Corporation is. An S-Corporation is a tax designation that allows small business owners to pass business income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their personal tax returns. This structure often provides significant tax advantages compared to C-Corporations, as it avoids double taxation.

The Reasonable Compensation Requirement

The IRS mandates that S-Corporation owners must receive a “reasonable” salary for their roles within the company. This requirement prevents business owners from underreporting their income by taking everything as dividends, thereby reducing their payroll tax obligations. It’s essential to pay yourself a reasonable salary to ensure compliance with tax regulations.

Determining Reasonable Compensation

Determining what constitutes a “reasonable” salary can be challenging, as there is no fixed percentage or formula. Instead, the IRS evaluates each situation individually, considering various factors. Here are some key factors to consider when determining your reasonable compensation:

  1. Industry Standards: Research salary data for your industry and geographic location. Comparing your salary to industry averages can help establish what is reasonable.
  2. Job Role and Responsibilities: Your compensation should align with your actual job duties and responsibilities within the company. Consider your management role, hours worked, and expertise.
  3. Company Profitability: Your business’s financial health plays a significant role. If your company is profitable, you should typically receive a higher salary.
  4. Experience and Qualifications: Your education, experience, and qualifications should be taken into account. A business owner with more experience and education may command a higher salary.
  5. Geographic Location: The cost of living varies significantly from one location to another. Consider the local cost of living when determining your reasonable compensation.
  6. Comparable Employee Salaries: Compare your salary to what you would pay an unrelated employee with similar qualifications and responsibilities.

Penalties for Underpayment

Failing to pay yourself a reasonable salary can lead to serious consequences, including IRS audits and penalties. The IRS may reclassify distributions as salary, leading to back taxes, interest, and penalties. To avoid these issues, make a reasonable estimate of your salary and consult with a tax professional if you’re uncertain.

Regularly Review and Adjust

It’s important to review your salary regularly and adjust it as necessary. As your business grows and your responsibilities change, your reasonable compensation may need to be adjusted accordingly. Keeping accurate records of your decision-making process can help justify your salary in case of an IRS audit.


S-Corporations offer many tax benefits, but they come with the requirement to pay yourself a reasonable salary. Understanding the factors that influence reasonable compensation and staying in compliance with IRS guidelines is crucial for business owners. Consulting with a tax professional or accountant can be a wise move to ensure you’re navigating these rules correctly. Remember that the goal is to strike a balance between minimizing payroll taxes and meeting IRS requirements while fairly compensating yourself for your hard work and contributions to your business.

To delve deeper into this crucial subject, we invite you to watch our video:

Navigating the IRS’s New Initiative on S Corporation Audits and Reasonable Compensation

Then schedule your Audit-proof backed Reasonable Compensation Analysis!

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