S Corporations:
The Basics


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S corporations are regular corporations formed under the laws of the state where incorporated. Incorporation provides the usual personal liability protection to its shareholders for corporate debt. What makes S corporation’s different than regular corporations (sometimes referred to as C Corporations) is that they elect to be treated as an S corporation under federal and state law. Such an election changes who is taxed on the income of the S corporation and who can report losses from S corporation operations while still providing for insulation from personal liability for corporate debts of shareholders.

Later, when the business is sold, the S corporation is not subject to tax on such sale of its business. The gain on such sale is passed through to its shareholders, thus avoiding double taxation. In a regular C corporation situation double taxation results as the corporation is first taxed on the sale of its business and then its shareholders are taxed on their receipt of the liquidating distributions from such sale. This is one of the major reasons for electing S status and especially in the case where real estate is owned by the S corporation.

The bottom line here is that the taxable gain on the business sale will almost always be less than what it would have been had the corporation operated as a regular corporation.The following provides the basic requirements for qualification of a corporation as an S corporation, operational rules and guidelines under the Internal Revenue Code:

Domestic Corporation

The corporation must be a domestic corporation. Foreign entities cannot qualify for S status.

Must Be An Eligible Corporation

Ineligible corporations are any of the following corporations:

  • Foreign corporations
  • Certain banks, and
  • Insurance companies

Subsidiariaries of an S corporation called qualified subchapter S corporation subsidiaries (QSSS) are eligible S corporations.

Number of Shareholders

A maximum of 100 shareholders are permitted. Family members may be treated as one shareholder for counting purposes. However, if shares are held jointly by two unrelated shareholders, they are both treated as separate shareholders.

One Class of Outstanding Stock

Voting common and voting preferred are treated as two classes of stock and would result in a loss of S status.

Two classes of common stock are permitted if they differ only as to voting rights but are identical in all other aspects such as rights to dividends, liquidations rights and distributions.

Shareholders Must Be Qualified Shareholders

All shareholders of an S Corporation must be either:

  • Individuals,
  • Estates or
  • Certain qualifying trusts and exempt organizations.

Partnerships, LLCs and corporations can not hold stock in an S corporation.

A single member LLC classified as a disregarded entity can qualify as a shareholder of an S corporation.

Nonresident Alien Is Prohibited Shareholder

An S corporation may not have a nonresident alien as a shareholder. Individuals who are not US citizens must live in the US to own S corporation stock. Basically each S corporation shareholder must be a U.S. citizen or resident.

Profit and Loss Sharing Allocations and Limitations of Losses

The profits and losses may be allocated only in proportion to each shareholder’s interest in the company.

An S corporation shareholder cannot not deduct losses which are more than his/her “basis” in corporate stock which equals the amount of the shareholder’s investment in the company plus or minus a few adjustments.

Fringe Benefit Limitations for 2% Shareholders

S corporations cannot not deduct the cost of fringe benefits provided to employee-shareholders who own more than 2% of the corporation.

Social Security Tax Implications

S corporation shareholders are not subject to self-employment taxes on the allocation of the taxable income from the S corporations. In contrast, the pass through of income from an LLC is automatically treated as subject to social security taxes. These social security and medicare taxes may be more than 15% of income. As a result S corporations may offer savings in social security taxes that LLC cannot provide.

Caveat: The IRS however is aware of this tax strategy. As a result they may argue that the salary paid to S shareholders is unreasonably low. For more on these issues review “Reasonable” Compensation: IRS Auditors Favorite Issue

Making the S Election

For the election procedure for obtaining S status please see the article entitled S Corporation Election.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Before choosing an S corporation, an LLC or a regular C corporation or some other entity, each particular situation needs to be analyzed.

The above provides only an overview of the issues involved and the requirements for qualifying and maintaining an S corporation.

So before forming a business entity, a discussion with a tax attorney will avoid costly mistakes and a mismatch of entity for the particular business involved.

“I have always found Steve to be very responsive, accurate and creative in legal matters presented to him. He demonstrates a good business sense. We have collaborated on several highly technical issues over the years. I look forward to our continuing relationship.”
Mike Massa, Owner, Klatzkin & Company, LLP

1420 Walnut Street Suite 300
Philadelphia, PA 19102

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From their offices in Philadelphia, PA, the law firm of Steven J. Fromm & Associates, P.C. provides a full range of estate planning, probate and estate administration, tax, business and corporate legal services to clients throughout eastern Pennsylvania and the Delaware Valley, the Lehigh Valley Area, the Five-County Area, Bucks County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, Chester County, Philadelphia County, Berks County, Lehigh County, Lancaster County, York County, Harrisburg, Norristown, Doylestown, Media, West Chester, Allentown, Lancaster, and Reading.