How to Pay Yourself From Your Business

Why Business Owner Pay isn't a Salary

How Business Owners Get Paid
••• Michael Zwahlen / EyeEm/Getty Images

It's common to hear business owners talk about "getting a salary" from their business, but that's not actually how most business owners get paid by the business.

The word "salary" is common when talking about employees, but business owners don't actually take a salary as an employee.

How you pay yourself out of the business depends on several factors:

  • Your business type,
  • The stage of business you are in now, and
  • How much you need for personal expenses.

How Business Owners Pay Themselves

This schedule shows how different types of business owners get paid and how that pay is shown on their tax returns . 

Owner/Business Type

How to Take $

Tax Return Self-employment Tax?

Partner

Distributive share Schedule K-1 for 1040

yes

Sole Proprietor Draw Schedule C for 1040 yes
Single-member LLC Draw Schedule C for 1040 yes
Multiple-member LLC Distributive share Schedule K-1 for 1040 yes
Corporate owner Dividends Dividend income on 1040 not on dividends
S corporation owner Distributive share Schedule K-1 for 1040 yes
Corporate exec/employee Paycheck W-2 income on 1040 FICA tax as an employee
 

Business Owner Draw vs. Distribution

Notice the terms "draw" and "distributive share" in the table above. A draw is a direct payment to a sole proprietor from the business. A distributive share is an individual partner's share of income, gain, loss, deduction, or credit, as determined by the partnership agreement.

The difference between a draw and a distribution is significant for tax reporting purposes.

  • A sole proprietor or single-member LLC can draw money out of the business; this is called a draw. It is an accounting transaction, and it doesn't show up on the owner's tax return.
  • A partner's distribution or distributive share, on the other hand, must be recorded (using Schedule K-1, as noted above) and it shows up on the owner's tax return. 

Sole Proprietors Take a Draw

If you are a sole proprietor you are not an employee and you don't take a salary in the form of a regular paycheck. No FICA taxes (Social Security/Medicare) are deducted and no federal or state income tax is withheld. A sole proprietor gets "paid" by drawing money from the business. Amounts taken out of a business by a sole proprietor may be called a draw because these amounts draw down your capital (ownership) account. Read more about how the owner's draw works.

Partners Take Distributions From Profits

A partner in a partnership also does not get paid a salary. They take distributions from partnership profits and are taxed based on their share of those profits on their partnership income tax return. How profits are distributed in a partnership or LLC depends on the language of the partnership agreement or LLC operating agreement.

LLC Owners Take a Draw or Distribution

Owners of limited liability companies (LLCs) (called "members")are not considered employees and do not take a salary as an employee. Single-member LLC owners are considered to be sole proprietors for tax purposes, so they take a draw like a sole proprietor. Multiple-member LLC members are considered to be like partners in a partnership, so they take a distribution. 

Corporate Owners Receive Dividends

An owner of a corporation or s corporation is a shareholder, and as a shareholder, he or she takes dividends when the corporation's board decides to pay them. But many growing companies don't give dividends but put the profits of the corporation back into growth. 

Corporate Owners Who Work in the Business Get a Salary

Corporate officers who are involved in the day-to-day running of a business must take a salary and employment taxes must be paid on that salary. In addition, S corporation shareholders may take additional distributions of profit from the business.

Some corporations try to hide pay to corporate officers o avoid employment taxes, but the IRS says corporate officers must be paid a reasonable amount. The IRS has established guidelines for determining a reasonable salary, based on experience, duties and responsibilities, time spent, comparable amounts paid to others doing similar work, and other factors.

How Much to Take From Your Business

Business owners who take a draw or distribution of profits can take any amount they want from their business. Of course, you shouldn't take money that will be needed to pay employees, pay off business loans, or pay other bills of the business.

If you’re just starting out, the biggest determining factor for your pay is going to be your business’ cash flow. Wages, expenses, and all immediate obligations must be covered with cash. With limited or no cash flow—a reality for many startups—you might operate for a while without a paycheck, let alone a predictable salary.

Later in your business life, you may be able to take money from your business on a more regular basis, based on your personal financial situation.

One key point about taking money from your business: You don't take money from "profits" because they aren't in the bank. Add your personal needs to your business budget and make sure you have enough each month to meet your business obligations first.

How Self-Employment Taxes Work for Business Owners

Self-employment tax is the equivalent of FICA tax (Social Security and Medicare) for business owners. The amount of self-employment tax that must be paid is based on the profits of the business; if the business does not make a profit in any one year, no self-employment tax is due.

The amount you take from your business changes with the stages of your business growth.

Owners of sole proprietorships, partnerships, and LLCs do not take a salary, so any money they take from the business does not have deductions or withholding for (1)FICA taxes (Social Security and Medicare), (2) federal income tax, or (3) state income tax. In addition, no other employment taxes are paid by the company for this distribution to a business owner. 

Of course, these taxes are still due and payable. Sole proprietors, partners, and LLC members must pay self-employment tax when they complete their personal tax return for the year. The self-employment tax is calculated and added to the income tax due; self-employment taxes are paid to the IRS along with federal income taxes.

No taxes are withheld from your income as a business owner. To avoid underpayment penalties, you may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS, considering both federal income tax and self-employment tax you owe.

Article Sources

  1. IRS. "Sole Proprietorships." Accessed Nov. 10, 2019.

  2. IRS. "Paying Yourself." Accessed Nov. 10, 2019.

  3. Legal Information Institute. "U.S. Code § 704. Partner’s distributive share." Accessed Nov. 10, 2019.

  4. IRS. "Partner's Instructions for Schedule K-1 (Form 1065)." Code G, Instructions, Page 11. Accessed Nov. 10, 2019.

  5. IRS Fact Sheet. "Wage Compensation for S Corporation Officers." Accessed Nov. 10, 2019.

  6. IRS. "Self-employment Tax (Social Security and Medicare Tax)." Accessed Nov. 10, 2019.