S Corporations

The S corporation combines the limited liability of corporate shareholders with the pass-through tax treatment of partnerships. Shareholders of S corporations can offset losses against other income. A good alternative to the S corporation is the limited liability company or the limited liability partnership, which offers many of the same benefits as the S corporation but with fewer requirements.

The primary reasons for selecting an S corporation include:

S corporations are named after the subchapter of the Internal Revenue Code that governs their taxation, specifically by 26 USC Chapter 1, Subchapter S - Tax Treatment of S Corporations and Their Shareholders. Although most states recognize S corporations, some states may assess special taxes, such as the corporate franchise tax, on S corporations as a separate entity and some states do not even recognize S corporate status, so they treat them as C corporations.

Income and losses pass through to shareholders who pay tax according to their own individual rates, thus eliminating the double taxation of business profits that occurs with C corporations. The S corporation must file annual tax returns with both the IRS and the incorporation state and provide information returns to the shareholders.

Many businesses start as an S corporation (after the necessary brief initial existence as a C corporation) to take advantage of pass-through losses that are common in the startup phase of a business. Later on, the S corporation can be converted into a C corporation which offers many tax-free fringe benefits. Income can be split between the shareholders and the corporation, offering more options to reduce taxes, because, depending on their respective incomes, corporate tax rates may be lower than the marginal tax rates of the shareholders.

Qualification requirements for an S corporation include:

State law may also have additional rules for S corporations operating within their state. Nonresident aliens cannot be shareholders because the taxes paid on income earned by the S corporation are paid by the shareholders and the United States cannot tax nonresident aliens.

S Corporation Disadvantages

S Corporation Taxation

An S corporation not only reports profits and losses but also separately stated items, such as capital gains or losses, which are taxed differently from ordinary income. Profits or losses and separately stated items are divided proportionately among the shareholders according to their ownership interest. The corporation must send Form K-1 (Form 1120S), Shareholder's Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, etc. both to the shareholders and to the IRS, which lists the apportionment of profits or losses and separately stated items for each shareholder, including the following:

However, even if the shareholder's Schedule K-1 shows a loss, the loss that can be claimed are limited by:

At-risk limitations are figured on Form 6198, At-Risk Limitations, then the information on that form is used to figure passive loss limitations on Form 8582, Passive Activity Loss Limitations. A shareholder would then fill out Part II of Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Losses, using the information provided in the K-1 informational report. Shareholders must also pay estimated taxes. S corporations must also file the annual corporate tax return Form 1120S, U.S. Income Tax Return for an S Corporation.

Generally, the S corporation must pay income taxes and employment taxes on wage income paid to the shareholders. However, some of the profits can be treated as dividends which are not subject to employment tax, which is one of the major advantages of using an S corporation. However, the amount of income that can be declared as a dividend is limited by IRS rules: the shareholders who work in the business must pay themselves market wages for the position that they hold in the corporation. Whether compensation is reasonable is determined by the following factors:

If the IRS deems the apportionment of dividends over compensation to be unreasonable, then all of the dividend income may be re-classified as wages, which will be subject to employment taxes and tax penalties.

For shareholders to be able to deduct losses against other active income, such as from another business or employment, they must satisfy the material participation rules, which means they must be active employees in the corporation — passive investors can only deduct losses against other passive income. Furthermore, the losses that can be claimed by a shareholder are limited to the shareholder's tax basis in the corporation.

Tax Basis = Shareholder's Investment + Shareholder's Loans to the S Corporation

One problem with S corporations is that the shareholders cannot claim a home office deduction. Instead, the expenses must be claimed as unreimbursed employee expenses on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, which are subject to the 2% AGI floor of miscellaneous itemized deductions. However, the S corporation can adopt an accountable plan that reimburses a shareholder for the business use of his home, in which case, the income is not taxable to the shareholder and the cost is deductible by the S corporation. However, the establishment of an accountable plan must be done pursuit to a written corporate resolution, following specific rules.

Forming an S Corporation

S corporations begin as C corporations that elect the S corporation status. After receiving a corporation charter from the state of incorporation, the shareholders must file Form 2553, Election by a Small Business Corporation no later than the 15th day of the 3rd month after the corporation's taxable year begins. Since most S corporations must use a calendar tax year, the form must be filed by March 15. However, if the deadline is missed, the taxpayer can request an extension under Revenue Procedure 2004-48 and Rev. Proc. 2007-62.

Form 2553, Election by a Small Business Corporation must be signed by all shareholders or future shareholders in writing and filed with the IRS within 2 months and 15 days of the corporation's formation. Everyone who could potentially be a shareholder should sign the form, since there is no penalty if one or more the signatories do not become a shareholder of the corporation. The taxpayer should send Form 2553 to the IRS address of the corporation president's individual tax return. The IRS should respond within 30 days, acknowledging the S corporation status.

Tax Consequences of Converting Between a C and an S Corporation

All S corporations must begin as C corporations, at least briefly, but if the corporation operated as a C corporation, there may be tax consequences on converting to an S corporation. Because a C corporation is a separate taxable entity, and the S corporation is a pass-through entity, the C corporation may have certain gains or income for which taxes must be paid after changing to a pass-through entity. The 3 types of income that may have to be recognized upon conversion are built-in gains, corporate income, and LIFO recapture.

Generally, converting from an S corporation to a C corporation can easily be done, but the C corporation cannot convert back into an S corporation for at least 5 years, unless it receives IRS permission.

Ending the S Corporation

If the shareholders wish to revoke the S corporation status, then shareholders with at least 50% of the ownership interest in the corporation must agree to it, and a letter must be sent to the IRS with the name of the corporation, tax identification number, and number of shares outstanding, and it must be signed by all shareholders. When the status of the S corporation is revoked, then the corporation is taxed as a C corporation.

To dissolve an S corporation, all corporation debts must be paid, then any remaining assets are distributed to the shareholders in proportion to their ownership interest. Each shareholder is taxed on the difference between the value of the property received minus the shareholder's tax basis in the stock. The last Form 1120S should be marked "Final Return" at the top of the tax return.