If you’ve formed an S Corp to manage your real estate investments, you probably already know about the benefits that come with S Corp taxes. In fact, the primary difference between S and C corporations is the way the businesses are taxed:
That’s the beauty of an S Corp compared to a C Corp. C Corp income is taxed twice: once at the corporate level, and once at the individual level (as a dividend). S Corps avoid this double taxation by passing all of their income through to their owners. The business doesn’t pay taxes; only the owners do.
Whether you’ve started a corporation, an LLC, or a series LLC, you can elect to be taxed as an S Corp. If you’ve gone this route, congratulations! You’ve made a great economic decision that can save you some serious dough that would otherwise go to Uncle Sam. Now the question is: how do you take the money you earn out of your S Corp?
In addition to tax benefits, a major advantage to forming a corporation is the protection it offers your personal assets in case the business gets sued. You should never use business money to pay for personal expenses; you could lose the protection of the corporation in the event of a lawsuit because you have commingled assets.
So how do you access the money that your S Corp makes? I’m assuming you didn’t start a business for your health: you’re doing it to make money to cover personal expenses.
If you want to take money out of your S Corp, you have three options:
Distributions are the best way to get money from your S Corp. Because you’ll report it as “passive income” on your income tax return, it won’t be subject to employment taxes. This saves you money!
Because S Corps are pass-through entities, you have to report your business’s income on your personal return whether you actually receive it as a distribution or not. The upside of this is that you won’t have to pay additional taxes on a distribution unless it constitutes a capital gain. A lawyer or tax accountant can help you determine the most advantageous way to take your distributions.
Unfortunately, Uncle Sam won’t let you take all of the money out of your S Corp as distributions, because the government wants your tax money. For this reason, the IRS requires that you pay yourself a “reasonable” salary for your contributions to the company. You should try to minimize the amount of salary you take while still meeting the “reasonable” standard.
True to form, the IRS doesn’t give any specific guidance as to what “reasonable” means. Some factors that courts have considered when deciding whether a salary is reasonable include:
Another way to look at it is to pay yourself what you would pay somebody else to do your job.
When you’re taking money out of an S Corp other than your salary, you can set up a line of credit between you and your business. Then, you’ll take cash out as a loan against that line of credit. At the end of the year, you and your accountant can decide if you should convert some of that loan to a distribution or leave it as a loan (you’ll need to pay interest on the loan). If you borrow money from the corporation (via a loan), you’re never going to have capital gains.
However, even if you list your withdrawal of funds as a loan on your financial statements, the IRS can recharacterize it as a distribution. If Uncle Sam recharacterizes your loan, you’ll have to pay income taxes on it just as you would a distribution.
If you take out a loan from your S Corp, you need to dot your i’s and cross your t’s to make sure it stays characterized as a loan. For example, creating a legally enforceable promissory note helps prove that the transaction was actually meant to be a loan. Before you take a loan from your S Corp, you should seek advice from your lawyer and your accountant.
Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.
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