Fair Compensation for S-Corporation Owners: Finding Balance and Compliance


As the owner of an S-corporation, determining your compensation can be a complex and nuanced process. On one hand, you want to ensure you’re fairly compensated for your contributions to the company. On the other, you need to navigate IRS regulations to avoid potential audits and penalties. In this blog post, we’ll explore the considerations involved in determining reasonable compensation for S-corporation owners.

Understanding the S-Corporation Structure

Before diving into compensation considerations, let’s briefly review what an S-corporation is. An S-corporation is a type of business entity that passes corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits through to its shareholders for federal tax purposes. This means that the corporation itself generally does not pay federal income taxes; instead, shareholders report the income on their personal tax returns.

The Importance of Reasonable Compensation

One of the key benefits of an S-corporation is the ability to avoid double taxation. However, this benefit can be jeopardized if the IRS determines that the owner’s compensation is unreasonably low. The IRS requires that S-corporation owners receive “reasonable compensation” for the services they provide to the corporation.

Factors to Consider

Determining what constitutes reasonable compensation involves considering various factors, including:

  1. Industry Standards: What is the typical salary for someone in your position and industry?
  2. Job Responsibilities: What are your specific duties and level of involvement in the business?
  3. Company Profits: How well is the company performing financially?
  4. Comparable Positions: What do similar businesses pay their owners for similar roles?
  5. Location: Compensation norms can vary significantly depending on the geographical location of the business.

Methods for Determining Reasonable Compensation

Several methods can be used to determine reasonable compensation:

  1. Third-Party Salary Surveys: Utilize industry-specific salary surveys to benchmark compensation levels for similar positions.
  2. Comparable Salary Data: Look at the salaries of employees in comparable positions within the company or industry.
  3. Financial Analysis: Consider the company’s financial performance and ability to pay a reasonable salary.
  4. Consulting Professionals: Seek guidance from tax professionals or compensation consultants familiar with S-corporation regulations.

Risks of Underpaying Yourself

Underpaying yourself as an S-corporation owner can have serious consequences, including:

  1. IRS Scrutiny: The IRS may audit your company if it suspects that you’re underreporting your income.
  2. Tax Penalties: If the IRS determines that your compensation is unreasonably low, you may face penalties and interest on unpaid taxes.
  3. Loss of Tax Benefits: The entire company’s tax status as an S-corporation could be at risk if the IRS reclassifies distributions as wages.

Best Practices for Setting Compensation

To mitigate the risks associated with determining reasonable compensation, consider the following best practices:

  1. Document Your Decision: Keep detailed records of how you arrived at your compensation figure, including any research or consultations you relied on.
  2. Review Regularly: Reevaluate your compensation annually to ensure it remains reasonable based on the factors mentioned earlier.
  3. Be Consistent: Treat your compensation decisions as you would for any other employee, following established policies and procedures.
  4. Seek Professional Advice: When in doubt, consult with tax professionals or legal advisors who specialize in S-corporation taxation.


Determining reasonable compensation as an S-corporation owner requires careful consideration of various factors, including industry norms, job responsibilities, and company finances. Failing to adequately compensate yourself can result in IRS scrutiny and potential penalties. By following best practices and seeking professional guidance when needed, you can navigate this process with confidence and ensure compliance with IRS regulations while fairly compensating yourself for your contributions to the company.

Ilir Nina CPA, EA, MSAT

Ilir Nina CPA, EA, MSAT

The Owner Ilir Nina is an experienced CPA and Enrolled Agent. He also obtained a Master’s of science of accountancy and taxation at Boise State in 2009. He has two undergraduate degrees (accountancy & information systems). He has prepared taxes in Boise area for over 15 years and also has many years in tax resolution.

Over the years he has prepared tons of Individual, business and nonprofit returns. He also has represented many clients successfully in front of the IRS. Has filed many successful offers in compromise and helped clients by settling IRS liabilities for less (literally pennies on the dollar). Ilir is honest and he will tell you the truth. He will fight for you hard and solve all your tax wows. He is a trusted Idaho CPA. We encourage you to call and talk to us and let’s see what Ilir can do for you.

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