Building Your Business Becoming an Owner Business Types What Is a Reasonable Salary for an S Corporation Officer? By Jean Murray Updated on August 15, 2022 In This Article View All In This Article S Corporations and Taxes How S Corp Officer Pay Works How To Figure a Reasonable Salary Deducting Officer Salaries Reporting Officer Salaries to the IRS Photo: Eric Audras/Getty Images S corporation owners are in a unique situation when it comes to federal income taxes. To help you understand it all, let's look at why S corporations are different from corporations, and then how to avoid tax issues for S corp owners. Key Takeaways One of the advantages of an S corporation is that earnings are passed through to the corporation's owners, and taxed at personal tax rates.Owners of S corporations are required to be paid a "reasonable" wage, in addition to any distributions from earnings they may receive.The IRS has guidelines for determining a "reasonable" wage that boil down to the prevailing wage for the position and role.Wages paid to S corporation officers are treated by the firm just like wages paid to any employee, including withholding for income and FICA taxes. S Corporations and Taxes The S corporation (S corp) is a special kind of corporation that passes corporate taxes through to its shareholders. Then, the shareholders report this income on their personal tax returns and pay taxes on their total combined income at personal tax rates. How S Corporation Employee Pay Works An S corporation officer (president, chief operating officer, etc.) is considered an employee and payments they receive for their services as an employee are considered wages. This person is also an owner/shareholder, but each of these roles is separate. S Corp Officer Wages Must Be Reasonable The IRS requires that distributions and other payments by an S corporation to a corporate officer must be treated as wages "to the extent the amounts are reasonable compensation for services rendered to the corporation." This means the employee's wages must be reasonable compensation, not cash distributions, payments of personal expenses, or loans. The wage payments to the officer must be made first, before other distributions. Withholding From Pay The business must withhold FICA taxes (Social Security/Medicare) and federal income taxes from employee pay and the business must pay its share of the FICA taxes along with other employment taxes, including unemployment tax and worker's compensation. Here's an example: Carol and John are 50/50 shareholders in an S Corp and they both work as employees in managing the business. Their net profit last year was $250,000. They would like to split the profits and take them as a distribution, to avoid self-employment tax, but since they work in the corporation, they must first take a "reasonable" salary. Note The IRS can reclassify payments to shareholders from distributions that weren't correctly classified and call them wages. These wages are then subject to federal income taxes and Social Security/Medicare tax for the employee and employment taxes for the company. This may mean the employee may be charged penalties for underpayment. How To Figure a Reasonable Salary What does "reasonable" mean? To find a reasonable salary for an S corporation owner/employee, consider how you would find a reasonable salary amount for any new employee. The IRS guidelines suggest you look at the following factors to determine reasonable salaries for your corporate officers: Training and experienceDuties and responsibilitiesTime and effort devoted to the businessDividend historyPayments to non-shareholder employeesTiming and manner of paying bonuses to key peopleWhat comparable businesses pay for similar servicesCompensation agreementsThe use of a formula to determine compensation. Use Comparable Salaries To Back Up Your Salary Figures Your ability to prove that officer salaries are reasonable will help keep you on the right side of the IRS when it comes time for them to review your company's tax returns. Note Check to see what other companies of similar size and type pay for such services. Search websites like The Ladders and Salary.com for comparable positions, or hire a compensation consultant. Medical Insurance for Corporate Officers The IRS looks closely at payments to shareholders who own more than 2% of the shares in the company: The IRS calls them "more-than-2%-shareholders." If your company pays health and accident insurance premiums for these employees, you must include them as taxable wages for the employee. Include these medical/accident insurance payments on the shareholder-employee's Form W-2, Box 1, but not Boxes 3 and 5. Deducting Officer Salaries as a Business Expense Wage payments to S corp officers, including medical and accident insurance premiums, are tax-deductible to your company, in the same way as other types of employee expenses. Reporting Officer Salaries to the IRS Each year, when you complete the income tax forms for your corporation or S corporation, you must report corporate officer salaries if the corporation's total receipts are $500,000 or more. You will need to use IRS Form 1125-E - Compensation of Officers, listing compensation for each corporate officer, along with information about the percentage of time devoted to the business and the percentage of stock owned by this officer. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Internal Revenue Service. "Wage Compensation for S Corporation Officers." Internal Revenue Service. "Instructions for Form 1120-S U.S. Income Tax Return for an S Corporation." Page 16. Internal Revenue Service. "S Corporation Compensation and Medical Insurance Issues." Internal Revenue Service. "S Corporation Compensation and Medical Insurance Issues."