Updated. I have been the President and CEO of a profitable US corporation for over 10 years. I’m also all the other executive positions – CIO, CFO, COO – as there is only one employee (me). Here’s a brief overview of why I chose to incorporate my business into an S-corporation. Please don’t take this as tax advice, this is simply an explanation of my own actions.
I chose to an S-Corporation over an LLC for a variety of reasons (some of which I don’t remember anymore), but one of them was – why else? – to save some money. I wrote a wordy post years back – Forming An S-Corporation To Reduce Self-Employment Taxes. Here’s a more concise example from MyCorporation, a website that will complete and file the incorporation documents for a fee*:
In an S-Corporation, only earnings paid to an owner as salary is subject to payroll taxes. Any money left in the business for reinvestment or distributed to the shareholder as a dividend is not subject to self-employment tax.
Maria is a sole proprietor bringing in sales of $90,000. After she pays her costs & expenses, her profit is $60,000. As a sole proprietor, she is required to pay self- employment tax of 15.3% on this entire $60K of profit, which equates to $9,180.
Now, let’s assume Maria formed an S-Corporation for her business, and chooses to pay herself $35K for the year in salary, and take the remaining $25K of profit through a distribution. She still earns the same $60K in profit. But, let’s look at the tax situation. Because corporations only pay Social Security & Medicare taxes on salaries, she’s only liable for $5,355, saving over $3,800 in taxes!
I must add that the IRS states that the salary has to be “reasonable” based on the compensation of similar work elsewhere, so don’t get crazy with this. You can’t pay yourself $20 and a Diet Coke.
If you have a single-person LLC, the default tax situation is very similar to that of a sole-proprietorship. The income passes through to an individual’s tax return on Schedule C. However, there are other benefits like limited liability protection of personal assets. (You can also choose to have the LLC taxed as an S-Corporation. Confused yet? I would consult a local attorney for more details on this.)
Additional costs of S-Corporations. As an employer, the S-Corporation has to pay unemployment taxes. The exact rate varies from state to state, but the federal minimum is about $450 per year if your annual income is at least $7,000. However, as both the employer and employee, it is difficult for me to “lay myself off” and claim unemployment benefits. You may also be required to provide other benefits as required by your local area, such as short-term disability insurance.
In addition, I have to run payroll for myself. You can deal with all the federal, state, and local employment forms yourself, which I did for a while, but it can get tedious and the penalties for mistakes can be high. You can also hire a professional payroll service, which can run from $30 to $100 a month.
These additional S-Corp costs can quickly add up to over a thousand dollars per year. As a result, if I had a relatively small income, I would have been better off either staying a sole proprietorship or with a single-member LLC (taxed as a sole proprietorship). The S-Corp starts becoming more worthwhile as the annual profits increase.
Additional costs of LLCs. LLCs can also be subject to state-specific fees. For example, the state of California charges an annual minimum franchise tax of $800 to both S-Corps and LLCs.
Bottom line. There are many facets to the S-Corporation vs. LLC discussion. Unfortunately, it can get quite complicated. I’ve just tried to provide an example of potential differences in taxation and payroll expenses.
* I actually used LegalZoom to file my incorporation papers, which is their main competitor. I don’t really remember any big differences between them, but was happy with my Legalzoom experience.