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How to Save Taxes with an S Corporation
by Stephen L. Nelson, CPA

Ever wondered why so many small businesses--more than 3,000,000 at last count--operate as an S corporation? Simple. An S corporation saves business owners big taxes in three separate ways:

First, as compared to regular corporations (sometimes called C corporations), S corporation owners can use the business's losses incurred during the early lean years on the owner's personal returns as deductions.

For example, suppose a new S corporation suffers a $20,000 loss its first year and that the corporation is equally owned by two shareholder-employees, Smith and Jones. Smith and Jones each get a $10,000 business deduction on their individual tax returns because of the S corporation loss. This $10,000 deduction might save them each as much as $4,000 in federal and state income taxes.

A second, big S corporation benefit: As compared to almost every other business form, S corporations can save their owners self-employment or Social Security/Medicare taxes.

Suppose, for example, that Adams, Brown and Cole independently each own businesses that make $90,000 a year in profits. Each business owner may pay $13,000 in income taxes. But, unfortunately, that's not the only tax they pay. Each owner also pays self-employment or Social Security/Medicare taxes.

For example, Adams operates his business as an LLC and therefore pays 15.3%, or roughly $13,500, in self-employment taxes on his profits.

Brown operates his business as a C corporation which pays all of its profits to him as a salary. Accordingly, Brown (through his corporation) also pays 15.3%, or roughly $13,500, in Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Cole's situation is different. Cole operates his business as an S corporation which means that Cole can split his $90,000 of profits into two payment amounts: salary and S corporation distributions.

Suppose that Cole says only $40,000 of his profits are salary and takes the other $50,000 as a "dividend" distrbution. In this case, Carter pays the 15.3% Social Security/Medicare tax only on the $40,000 in salary. Carter therefore pays roughly $6,000 in Social Security/Medicare taxes--and annually saves $7,000 in taxes as compared to Adams or Brown.

S corporations also, sometimes, provide a third form of tax savings because S corporations don't pay corporate income taxes. This means that S corporations avoid the often-talked about "double-taxation" problem. However, the "no corporate income taxes" benefit often isn't a savings for small corporations and their owners.

But let me explain. Suppose that two corporations each earn the same pretax profit of $100,000 and are owned by Ms. DaVinci who pays the highest federal income tax rate of 35%. One corporation is an S corporation and the other is a C corporation.

The S corporation can distribute the entire $100,000 in profits to DaVinci as dividends because there is no corporate income tax. DaVinci then pays $35,000 in personal income taxes on the S corporation profits, which means she nets $65,000 in after-tax profits from the S corporation.

In comparison, the C corporation can't pay the entire $100,000 in profits to DaVinci. The C corporation first pays $22,250 in corporate income taxes. When the C corporation pays the remaining $77,750 to DaVinci as a dividend, DaVinci pays another $11,663 in 15% "dividend" taxes on the C corporation profits. This means that DaVinci nets roughly $66,000 in after-tax profits from the C corporation profits. In this case, DaVinci saves money with a C corporation in spite of having to pay the corporate income tax.


How to Get S Corporation Benefits

To create an S corporation and receive S corporation tax savings, you need to do two things: First, you must incorporate the business either as a regular corporation or as a limited liability company. Second, you need to make an election with the IRS to have the corporation or LLC treated as an S corporation. The S election is made with form 2553, available from the www.irs.gov web site. Note that some states (such as New York) require a separate state S election.

A final tip: S corporations can save you thousands of dollars annually, but your tax savings can't start until you elect S corporation status. If you're interested is electing S status to save on taxes for next year, you may want to call your tax advisor or attorney right now!

Bellevue WA CPA Stephen L. Nelson is the author of both Quicken for Dummies and QuickBooks for Dummies and an adjunct tax professor for Golden Gate University's graduate tax school.

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