Search Knowledge Base by Keyword
S Corp Salary Starting Point
By Jason Watson, CPA
Posted Thursday, November 2, 2023
There are plenty of professions that have great data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Risk Management Association (RMA) or RCReports. But let’s say your job is some odd-duck, whacky thing for which comparable data doesn’t exist. Where do we start quantitatively? At the end of the day, we need a number!
One argument that we and others have made is the concept of 1/3, 1/3, 1/3-
- 1/3 paid as shareholder salary, plus
- 1/3 retained for expenses (if necessary, otherwise flushed out at end of quarter), plus
- 1/3 distributed as return on investment (distributions)
Where the heck did we get this? A rule of thumb for service trades or businesses such as accountants, attorneys, consultants and the usual suspects is to bill three times the salary. For example, if WCG pays a CPA $100,000 per year we hope to bill $300,000. 1/3 of this goes to salary, 1/3 goes to expenses and 1/3 goes to Jason’s new boat in a land-locked state. Most professional firms should have net profits of about 30 to 35%.
Sidebar: This is why CPA firms sell for about 1.0 to 1.1 times gross revenue. This translates to a 3-year payback period at 100% retention or about 5-6 years with the usual 60% retention. This is an acceptable return on investment as compared to other investments and the accounting industry. Remember the rule of 72? Divide 72 by the rate of return, and that is your payback period (or the time it takes to double your money… same thing). 72 divided by 6 is still 12% which is not super great given the risk (oh well). We digress…
Even if your profession is easily teased out from labor data, this 1/3 concept can still be used. The middle 1/3 above is allocated to expenses- why should you be penalized for running a leaner, meaner firm than the bloated clowns down the street?
Using the 1/3 concept is just a starting point- since we have to start somewhere, using a mathematical formula makes it easy. From there, similar to the “plus” and “minus” approach by the IRS and Tax Court judges, we massage this salary to be reasonable for you and your business’s situation.
Using the 1/3 concept is just a starting point- since we must start somewhere, using a mathematical formula makes it easy. From there, and similar to the “plus” and “minus” approach by the IRS and Tax Court judges, we massage this salary to be reasonable for you and your business’s situation.
What does WCG CPAs & Advisors do?
- If we don’t have good data from BLS.gov or other resources, and
- RCReports is not available, and
- We are not affected by other influences (max out 401k, defined benefits pension, etc.), then
- WCG starts off at around 35% to 45% depending on the profession, and then
- Massages the number with the client using IRS guidance.
From there, we-
- Create a payroll plan with monthly Processing, and
- Create a tax plan for the household to project tax obligations (holistic tax planning), and
- Increase income tax withholdings to land on tax neutrality for April 15 (no surprises) and try to avoid estimated tax payments, and
- Re-tweak May, June and July, maybe in November
We expand on this in the next chapter. Yay!
Taxpayer's Comprehensive Guide to LLCs and S Corps 2023-2024 Edition
This KB article is an excerpt from our 400+ page book (some picture pages, but no scatch and sniff) which is available in paperback from Amazon, as an eBook for Kindle and as a PDF from ClickBank. We used to publish with iTunes and Nook, but keeping up with two different formats was brutal. You can cruise through these KB articles online, click on the fancy buttons below or visit our webpage which provides more information at-