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When to take dividends in lieu of salary as a business owner

by on
in Small Business Tax,Small Business Tax Deduction Strategies

Surprisingly, you may end up better off this year by having your corporation forgo a tax deduction.

Strategy: Make this a “dividend year.” In other words, instead of receiving income in the form of tax-deductible wages, arrange to have the company pay out dividends to yourself.

If you’re in a high tax bracket and your company is in a low one, which is often the case for small business owners, you’ll save tax overall due to the current tax break for qualified dividends.

Here’s the whole story: Under the extended Bush tax cuts, dividends from domestic companies are generally taxed at a maximum 15% tax rate in 2012.

Beginning in 2013, this tax break is scheduled to expire. Barring new legislation, dividends will be taxed at ordinary income rates reaching as high as 39.6% next year (up from a top rate of 35% in 2012).

Although wages are deductible by a C corporation and dividends are not, a business owner may benefit by shifting wages to dividends if he or she is in a higher tax bracket in 2012. In addition to the tax break for dividends, you avoid payroll taxes on amounts paid as dividends.

Example: You’re in the 35% tax bracket and you receive an annual $100,000 salary from your C corporation business. The company is in the 25% bracket. If it pays $10,000 to you in dividends instead of wages, your income tax is $1,500 (15% of $10,000) as opposed to $3,500 (35% of $10,000), or $2,000 less.

Also, you save $565 in payroll tax (5.65% of $10,000), while the company saves $765 (7.65% of $10,000). Total savings: $3,330 ($2,000 + $565 + $765).

Even though your company loses a $2,500 de­­­­duction (25% of $10,000), you and your com­­pany together still come out $830 ahead overall ($3,330 – $2,500).

Tip: This strategy doesn’t work for personal service corporations required to pay tax at a flat 35% rate.

What's more, due to the new 3.8% Medicare surtax under the new health care law, you could be paying an effective top tax rate of 43.4% in 2013.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Philip Stern December 5, 2013 at 11:01 am

i don’t think this is right because it doesn’t factor in that the corporation gets a 25% deduction for salary expense. once that is factored in, taking salary is less costly than taking a dividend.
philip stern, cpa


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