How to Start an S Corp

You can start an S corporation (S corp) by forming a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation and electing S corp status from the IRS when you apply for your Employer Identification Number (EIN).

An S corp is an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax classification, not a business structure. The S corp status is used to reduce a business’s tax burden in certain circumstances.

We will explain when you should choose S corp status and the steps that are needed to start an S corp in our How to Start an S Corp guide below.

Recommended: If you have an existing LLC, visit our How to Convert an LLC to S Corp guide.

Best Service To Form An S Corporation:

We recommend having ZenBusiness form your S corporation for you.


Factors to Consider Before Starting an S Corp

Before forming an S corp, you have to consider the following factors:

  • Is an S corporation the best strategy for your business?
  • S corporation restrictions
  • Why an LLC is the best structure for the S corp tax status
  • Are S corp tax advantages right for you?


Is an S Corporation the Best Strategy for Your Business?

For help with choosing the right structure for your business, visit our Choosing a Business Structure guide.


S Corporation Restrictions

S corps have several restrictions such as being limited to one class of stock and 100 shareholders, read our What is an S Corporation guide for full details.


Why an LLC is the Best Structure for the S Corp Tax Status

As entrepreneurs, we believe that starting an LLC is the best way for forming an S corporation because any advantages of forming a corporation are negated by S corp restrictions. And, LLCs are easier to maintain than corporations.

The only state where this may not be true is in New York due to LLC publication requirements in the state.


Are S Corp Tax Advantages Right for You?

You need to know if the S corp tax status versus a default LLC tax status will be better for your business. To fully understand the tax advantages of an S corp, read our LLC vs S corp guide.

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

Businesses that elect S corp status will need to hire payroll and accounting services.

Payroll Services Review | Accounting Services Review

How to Form an S Corp

There are two main ways to start an S corp:

  • By forming an LLC and electing S corp tax status from the IRS when you request your employee identification number (EIN)
  • By forming a corporation and electing S corp status from the IRS

We recommend not starting a corporation with the S corp tax status because the S corp negates all of the benefits of a corporation.

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

We recommend using ZenBusiness to form your S corporation.

Steps to Forming an LLC and Electing S Corp Status

Starting an LLC and electing S corp tax status is easy. You can use our guides to start an LLC with the S corp status yourself, or you can hire a service provider like ZenBusiness to do it for you.

Recommended: If you have an existing LLC, visit our How to Convert an LLC to S Corp guide.


Six Basic Steps to Start an LLC and Elect S Corp Status:

Step 1: Name Your LLC

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent

Step 3: File the Articles of Organization

Step 4: Create an Operating Agreement

Step 5: Get an EIN and File Form 2553 to Elect S Corp Tax Status

Step 1: Name Your LLC

You will need to provide your state with a unique name that is distinguishable from all registered names when you file your LLCs formation documents.

Our Business Name Generator and our How to Name a Business guide are free tools available to entrepreneurs that need help naming their business.

Step 2: Choose an LLC Registered Agent

Your LLC registered agent will accept legal documents and tax notices on your LLC's behalf. You will list your registered agent when you file your LLC's Articles of Organization.

Step 3: File Your LLC's Articles of Organization

The Articles of Organization, also known as a Certificate of Formation or a Certificate of Organization in some states, is the document you will file to officially register an LLC with the state.

Step 4: Create an LLC Operating Agreement

An LLC operating agreement is a legal document that outlines the ownership and member duties of your LLC.

Our operating agreement tool is a free resource for business owners.

Step 5: Get an EIN and Complete Form 2553 on the IRS Website

An EIN is a number that is used by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to identify and tax businesses. It is essentially a Social Security number for a business.

EINs are free when you apply directly with the IRS.

Elect S Corp Tax Status
During the online EIN application, the IRS will provide a link to Form 2553, the Election By a Small Business form.

This is the form to elect S corp tax status for your LLC:

a screenshot of IRS website to choose 2553

Start an S Corp FAQ

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?

You can form an S corp by filing Form 2553 with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

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 — this means all members must have the same distribution amount.

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.

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.

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, 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.

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

LLCs and corporations that operate under a doing business as (DBA) name can choose the S corp election.

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 corp

Read our guide to learn more about how to pay yourself from an LLC article.

What is the difference between an S corp and C corp?

C corporations (C corps) and S corporations (S corps) are two different types of tax statuses. S corps and C corps are often misunderstood to be business structures.

An S corp allows business owners to be taxed as an employee of the business and can reduce your tax burden under the right circumstances. 

Businesses taxed as a C corp face double taxation but sometimes the benefits can outweigh the disadvantage of double taxation.

Learn more in our S corp vs C corp guide.

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