As you are aware, income that you generate conducting your business as a sole proprietorship (or through a wholly-owned limited liability company (LLC)) is subject to both income tax and self-employment tax. The self-employment tax is imposed on 92.35% of self-employment income at a 12.4% rate for social security up to the social security maximum ($118,500 for 2015; $117,000 for 2014) and a 2.9% rate for Medicare, without any maximum. In addition, there is an additional 0.9% Medicare tax on income exceeding $250,000 for married couples ($125,000 for married persons filing separately) and $200,000 in all other cases. Similarly, if you conduct your business as a partnership in which you are a general partner, in addition to income tax you would be subject to the self-employment tax on your distributive share of the partnership’s income. On the other hand, if you conduct your business as an S corporation you will be subject to income tax, but not self-employment tax, on your share of the S corporation’s income.
An S corporation is not subject to tax at the corporate level. Instead, the corporation’s items of income, gain, loss, and deduction are passed through to the shareholders. However, the income passed through to the shareholder is not treated as self-employment income. Thus, by using an S corporation, you can avoid self-employment income tax.
There is a problem, however, in that IRS requires that the S corporation pay you reasonable compensation for your services to the S corporation. The compensation is treated as wages subject to employment tax (split evenly between the corporation and the employee), which is equivalent to the self-employment tax. If the S corporation does not pay you reasonable compensation for your services, IRS may treat a portion of the S corporation’s distributions to you as wages and impose social security taxes on the deemed wages. There is no simple formula regarding what is reasonable compensation. Presumably, reasonable compensation would be the amount that unrelated employers would pay for comparable services under like circumstances. There are many factors that would be taken into account in making this determination. These and other techniques can save businesses tax dollars.