S Corp vs LLC - The Difference Between an LLC and S Corp

Deciding whether to run your small business as an S Corp vs LLC is easier than it may seem.

If an S corporation (S corp) is a good fit for your business, you can save on self-employment taxes.

In our S Corp vs LLC - The Difference Between an S Corp and LLC guide, we'll show you how to decide if an S corp or LLC is better for your business.

In this article:

Recommended: Use a formation service to get your LLC or S corp started in no time. Formation services will handle the paperwork so you can focus on growing your new business.

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S Corp vs LLC

The S corporation is a tax status that  as a business owner you can elect for your limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation. You have to form an LLC or a corporation (or already have an LLC or a corporation) to elect S corporation status.

Forming an LLC is the first step to starting an S corporation. 

A limited liability company (LLC) is a type of legal business entity that offers limited liability protection. When a business isn't structured as a legal business entity, it's called a sole proprietorship or partnership.

When you don't form a legal business entity like an LLC, your personal assets are exposed to lawsuits and creditors.

An LLC can choose to be taxed as an S corporation under Subchapter S of the IRS Internal Revenue Code. As an S corporation, LLC owners are taxed as employees of the company.

The Difference Between an LLC and an S Corp

The difference between running a business as a normal LLC vs S corp is that S corp status allows business owners to be taxed as employees of the business (instead of paying self-employment taxes as a normal LLC, sole proprietorship, or partnership).

diagram showing the differences between s corporations and L L Cs

S Corp vs LLC Taxes

An LLC can be taxed as a default LLC or as an S corporation.

Default LLC Taxes

When an LLC's net profit and/or distributions pass through to the owner's individual tax return, it is subject to income taxes and self-employment payroll taxes (full FICA and Medicare). This is what happens in the "default" scenario for an LLC.

S Corp Taxes

Electing S corp status allows business owners to be treated as employees of the business.

In an S corp, the business must pay the owner "reasonable compensation" or "reasonable salary" per IRS guidelines. The owner pays income taxes and payroll taxes (FICA and Medicare) on their salary. Distributions are only subject to income taxes (no FICA).

In a default LLC, the owner would pay income taxes and full self-employment FICA and Medicare taxes on their percentage of net profit and any distributions or draws from the LLC. 

S corp tax status reduces taxes owed by eliminating self-employment tax. S corp status allows business owners to contribute pre-tax dollars to a 401(k) or health insurance premiums.

The business might need to spend more on accounting, bookkeeping, and payroll services. To offset these costs, a business owner would need to be saving about $2,000 per year on taxes.

When To Elect S Corporation Status

We estimate that if business owners can pay themselves a reasonable salary and at least $10,000 in annual distributions, they could benefit from S corp status.

$10,000 in annual distributions is the estimated amount that would create enough tax savings to offset estimated additional accounting, bookkeeping, and payroll costs that can arise when you run an S corporation.

You can start an S corp with our guide or use an LLC formation to do the work for you.

Save yourself the hassle and let Tailor Brands start your S corporation for you.

S Corp vs. LLC Calculator

Use our S Corp vs. LLC Calculator to estimate whether electing S corp tax status makes sense.

S Corp Savings Calculator

Calculate how much you can save by choosing an S Corp tax classification

S Corp Benefits and Requirements

The following criteria determine whether electing the S corp tax classification makes sense for an LLC:

  • The LLC business owners must earn "reasonable compensation" or a "reasonable salary."
  • The business should consistently earn a profit and pay distributions.
  • The financial tax advantage must offset the cost of maintaining the S corp.
  • The business must meet IRS S corp requirements.

diagram showing the requirements of an s corp

Reasonable Salary

Under an S corp election, LLC owners become employees. The IRS requires owner-employees to be paid a reasonable salary, referred to by the IRS as "reasonable compensation." A reasonable salary is any salary that you would pay someone to do the same job.

LLCs taxed as S corps are subject to increased scrutiny by the IRS. If the owner is not paid a reasonable salary, this may lead to the IRS denying S corp status and may lead to fines and back taxes.

To determine a reasonable salary for your position, you can compare similar salaries on websites like Glassdoor or the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Profit and Distribution

S corp election allows a business owner to disburse an LLC's profit to owner-employees in the form of salary and distributions. The IRS then applies FICA and income taxes to only the salary. Distributions are subject to only income tax.

If the LLC doesn't earn enough profit to cover a reasonable salary and distribution, it won't make financial sense to elect the S corp tax classification. And, if the LLC owner(s) would like to forfeit salary for any reason, they could be subject to fines by the IRS. 

Positive Return on Investment

It costs money to elect and maintain an S corp. Filing fees with the IRS are minimal but the additional bookkeeping and payroll costs are not. For LLCs that already have employees and payroll costs, this factor won't hold as much weight. 

Business owners should weigh the cost of maintaining these services against the fiscal tax advantage of electing the S corp classification. Generally speaking, a reasonable salary plus $10,000 in annual distributions is often enough to make electing the S corp financially viable.

IRS S Corp Requirements

The IRS requires that businesses that elect the S corp status have 100 shareholders or less and they are only allowed to issue one class of stock.

The owners of the business must be US citizens or permanent resident aliens. Owners must also be private individuals and not business entities such as LLCs, corporations, or trusts.

You can start an S corp yourself or have a professional service start an S corp for you.

Recommended Service: Tailor Brands

For detailed, step-by-step instructions for starting an S corp in your state, choose your state from below:

LLC vs. S Corp: When to Choose LLC Default Status

Many LLCs will benefit most from the default LLC tax classification. LLC owners often put any profit back into their small businesses each year to promote growth. And without substantial distributions, there's no basis for electing the S corp tax status.

Default LLC Tax Benefit: Business owners can choose to reinvest as much of the business's profit as they see fit in any given tax year.

The default LLC tax structure is best suited for businesses with these characteristics:

  • Their owners reinvest profit back into the business to promote growth
  • The cost of bookkeeping and payroll services would outweigh the tax benefit of an S corp

diagram showing the requirements of a default L L C

Reinvesting LLC Profit and Pass-Through Taxation

If you expect to reinvest most of the profit back into your small business, default LLC status is the right choice.

Small businesses usually have a low amount of net profit in any given year. This is because small businesses usually spend most of their income on expenses like marketing, software, and office equipment to help the business grow. Some owners also want the choice to not pay themselves and that's not possible with an S corp classification.

Pass-Through Taxation

When LLC owners choose to reinvest profit, very little net income (profit minus expenses) from the business will pass through to the LLC member(s) individual tax returns. 

You can visit our LLC Pass-Through Taxation guide to learn more about how default LLCs are taxed.

Return on Investment

For some LLCs, the cost of hiring a payroll service and bookkeeper would outweigh the financial tax advantages of electing S corp tax classification. These LLCs would be best to operate as a default LLC.

For step-by-step instructions for starting an LLC, choose your state from the list below:

You can also use an LLC formation service to register your LLC for you.

Should Your LLC Elect S Corp Classification?

Whether or not an LLC should elect S corp status depends on how much profit the business is going to earn and carry over from tax year to tax year.

Generally, if you know your business is going to have an annual distribution that is greater than $10,000 after paying yourself a reasonable salary, then your business has enough profit to justify becoming an S corp.

If you are unsure how much profit the LLC will make or if you want to reinvest the profits back into your LLC, it’s best to remain in the default LLC classification with the IRS. You can apply for an S corp status when it better suits your business. 

To elect to become an S corp, file Form 2553 with the IRS. Visit our instructions for Form 2553 page for help with completing the form.

Ready to start your business today? Use a professional service to form your LLC or start your S corp, so you can focus on the things that matter most.

LLC vs. S Corp: FAQ

What is an LLC?

LLC stands for limited liability company. An LLC is a relatively simple type of business structure that business owners can use to protect their personal assets. LLCs can have one or more owners called “members.”

How do I pay myself from my LLC?

How LLC owners pay themselves depends on how the LLC is taxed, the number of members, and any agreements regarding profit sharing and sweat equity

In a single-member LLC (SMLLC) or multi-member LLC (MMLLC), you can pay yourself:

  • a distribution that passes through to your individual tax return, or
  • a reasonable salary and distribution as an S corporation (S corp)

Our How Do I Pay Myself From My LLC guide will help you choose the best scenario for your small business.

What is an S corp?

An S corporation (S corp) is a tax designation for which an LLC or a corporation can apply. 

Is an S corp an LLC?

No. An S corp is a tax designation for which an LLC or a corporation can elect.

How do you form an S corp?

Forming an S corp is easy. Simply follow our free How to Start an S Corp guide to get started.

Or, you can elect S corp status for an existing LLC by filing Form 2553 with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Visit our instructions for Form 2553 page for help with completing the form.

What are the requirements for an S corp?

S corps must meet four requirements:

  • They can have no more than 100 shareholders.
  • All shareholders must be private individuals (not other business entities).
  • Shareholders cannot be nonresident aliens.
  • The business may only issue one class of stock.

What are the benefits of an S corp?

Owners of S corps are considered employees of their company and they can save thousands of dollars on self-employment taxes as a result.

Which business structure is better for taxes — an LLC or S corp?

First, it’s important to note that an S corp is a tax designation — not a business structure. This means a company can be both an LLC and an S corp at the same time (i.e., an LLC that’s taxed as an S corp).

Businesses that net enough profit can sometimes benefit from electing the S corp classification. 

Are taxes for LLCs and S corps the same?

No. The default taxes for an LLC and taxes for an S corp are not the same.

With an S corp, owners pay personal income tax and self-employment tax on a predetermined salary. They may then withdraw any remaining profits from the business as a “distribution,” which isn’t subject to self-employment tax.

With an LLC, all company profits pass through to the owners’ personal tax returns, and then the owners must pay personal income tax and self-employment tax on the entire amount.

Both LLCs and S corps benefit from a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that allows qualifying owners of pass-through entities to deduct 20% of qualified business income (QBI) from their tax returns. However, for S corps, the deduction doesn’t apply to profits paid out as wages.

Is an LLC or an S corp better for rental properties?

While it may depend on your specific circumstances, in general, a default LLC tax structure is better than an S corp for holding rental properties. This is because rental income is typically considered passive income, which means it’s not subject to self-employment tax.

Should an S corp own real estate?

Every situation is different, so it’s best to consult a tax attorney or other professional when deciding which tax structure is right for your real estate investment business. 

What is a reasonable salary for an S corp?

Unlike the default LLC business structure, in which owners must pay self-employment tax on all of the company’s profits, owners of S corps are considered employees of the business and only have to pay self-employment tax on a salary they receive. Any other money they take from the company’s profits in the form of disbursements isn’t subject to self-employment tax.

S corp owners are required to earn a “reasonable” salary, referred to by the IRS as "reasonable compensation," which basically means a fair market rate based on the individual’s qualifications as well as their duties and responsibilities at the company. The purpose of this requirement is to prevent S corp owners from paying themselves an artificially low salary in order to pay less self-employment tax.

What is a distribution?

A distribution is a dividend that a shareholder/owner can take from the business profits that remain after a company pays all of its employee salaries. Shareholders must pay personal income tax on distributions, but distributions aren’t subject to self-employment tax.

What is pass-through taxation?

Pass-through taxation is a system of taxation that generally applies to sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, and S corps. In this system, the profits or losses of the business are not taxed at the business level. Instead, they pass through to the owners’ personal tax returns and are taxed at each owners’ personal income tax rate.

What is the S corp tax rate?

There’s no corporate tax rate for S corps. Instead, owners of S corps pay personal income tax on the company’s profits. This rate depends on each owner’s personal income tax bracket.

Do LLCs and S corps use the same business insurance?

Yes. People sometimes use the term LLC insurance, but all forms of business insurance can work for LLCs and corporations, no matter the tax structure.

Can I still use my DBA name if I elect to be an S corp?

LLCs and corporations that operate under a DBA name can choose the S corp election.

Why you need a business bank account?

For both S corps and LLCs, you'll need a separate bank account to separate your business expenses from personal expenses. There are several reasons why you need a business bank account, but the main reasons are to build business credit and avoid piercing the corporate veil. The best banks for small business are ones that meet your business needs. 

How do I start an S corp?

You can start an S corp yourself or hire a professional formation service to start an S corp for you.

Learn more in our How to Start an S Corp guide.

What federal tax forms does an S corp file?

S corps use IRS Form 1120-S, US Income Tax Return for an S Corporation, to file their federal income tax returns. Learn more in our S Corp Tax Return guide.

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