Incorporated professional businesses are darned if they do, darned if they don’t. If they do elect S corporation treatment, the IRS pushes them to treat as much of the business income as possible as salaries, to maximize employment tax receipts. If they don’t, and operate as C corporations, the IRS likes to argue that the salaries are excessive, triggering tax on the “excessive” part at the highest corporation tax rate.
A Tax Court case yesterday reminds us that of these risks, the C corporation has the most to lose. A big Chicago intellectual property firm routinely paid its year-end earnings as bonuses, running its income down to zero. Professional C corporations like to do this because the “personal service corporation” rules deny professional corporations the benefit of the lower corporate tax rates; they pay a flat 35% on dollar one. Any dividends paid are non-deductible and are taxed again at a 20% individual rate.
S corporations typically make the reasonable argument that some of their income is from invested capital and accumulated goodwill, and therefore can properly be treated as corporate distributable earnings – which, incidentally, aren’t subject to FICA or Medicare taxes. The IRS turned this argument against the Chicago firm, arguing that a C corporation law firm with 65 shareholders and 150 attorneys would have such earnings not strictly attributable to the shareholder wage compensation.
The law firm conceded the tax, but argued that it shouldn’t have to pay penalties because it had “substantial authority” for bonusing out all the income. The court found otherwise:
We do not doubt the critical value of the services provided by employees of a professional services firm. Indeed, the employees’ services may be far more important, as a factor of production, than the capital contributed by the firm’s owners. Recognition of those basic economic realities might justify the payment of compensation that constitutes the vast majority of the firm’s profits, after payment of other expenses — as long as the remaining net income still provides an adequate return on invested capital. But petitioner did not have substantial authority for the deduction of amounts paid as compensation that completely eliminated its income and left its shareholder attorneys with no return on their invested capital.
The Moral? Professional corporations should usually be S corporations. The few additional fringe benefits available to C corporations don’t pay for the chance that you will get hit with 35% tax on a big chunk of corporate income.
IRS certifies class action for suit on excessive PTIN fees. Text here. Still pushing back on the IRS preparer regulation power grab.
Is there anything they can’t do? Tax credit could spur biochemical revolution (Sen. Rita Hart, Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa, Des Moines Register). Presumably just like they spurred the Iowa film industry revolution. And who better than statehouse politicians to pick the next great industry? My thoughts here.
Tony Nitti, Just Three Years Later, President Seeks To Expand Obamacare Tax On Business Owners. It’s going nowhere for now, but Tony cautions: “As a reminder, Hillary Clinton has not offered much of a tax plan of her own, and has shown a willingness to leverage off of proposals posited by the President. Which means this might not be the last we see of a mulligan on the net investment income tax.”
David Brunori, Base-Broadening and Rate-Lowering Remains a Good Idea (Tax Analysts Blog). “Whether you’re a liberal, a conservative, or a Martian, you must admit that net worth taxes are horrible tax policy.”
Scott Greenberg, More Americans than Ever are Renouncing Their Citizenship, and Taxes are to Blame (Tax Policy Blog)
Howard Gleckman, The White House Quietly Rolls Out Its Last Tax and Budget Plan (TaxVox).
TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1008
Career Corner. Reminder: Don’t Let Inside Information Turn Into a Career Limiting Move (Leona May, Going Concern). “Regardless of how you learn the inside information, don’t trade on it. Regardless of whether or not you’ll explicitly benefit, Don’t share the information -– especially not with your greedy brother-in-law.”