Joe Kristan of the Tax Update Blog has a very interesting post on So What is the Right S Corporation Salary? The blog post discusses a recent 8th Circuit case where a West Des Moines accountant had to pay FICA taxes on about $91,000 of his earnings from his professional S corporation –rather than $24,000– the figure he had used as his W-2 income.

I’ve talked on this blog in the past about how S corporation salaries must be reasonable. There is definitely an opportunity for S corporation owners to save on FICA and Medicare taxes but determining what the IRS will consider as a reasonable salary is difficult at best.

The Watson case is instructive though. Watson had set his salary as $24,000 and claimed that was all his accounting firm intended to pay him. The IRS determined that $91,000 was a more reasonable salary in his case and the 8th Circuit agreed. But keep in mind that Watson earned about $200,000 out of S Corporation distributions. So all was not lost as he avoided the 12.4% combined FICA taxes and 2.9% Medicare taxes on the difference. The case demonstrates there is some happy medium for the S corporation owner and proper planning can certainly help in saving on taxes. I’ve known others who have been challenged by the IRS and faired very well when setting reasonable salaries.

Joe Kristan states, in responding to a comment from me, that every case is different and that the relationship between a reasonable salary and overall compensation is certainly not linear. He says, 

No matter how fabulously successful the company is, the salary should match the job. Heck, if the founding shareholder cuts back his hours and hires professional management, his salary might go down as profits go up. 

It’s best in these situations to get good advice from your tax advisor before setting a salary for your S corporation. And as we’ve said before, "pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered." 

For more information see:  8th Circuit Decision and District Court Decision