Are you Still using a ‘Rule of Thumb’ to Calculate Reasonable Compensation?

Rule of ThumbBy Paul S. Hamann & Jack Salewski, CPA, CGMA

If you answered yes, my next question is why?  I was at a neighborhood wine party last week and had a conversation with Justin (not really his name).  I met Justin last year at the same event – a nice young man and entrepreneur who was doing very well for himself.  I asked how his business was going this year and he told me even better than last.

Justin asked me what I did again (he didn’t remember from last year) and I told him I developed software that determined Reasonable Compensation – RCReports.  His ears perked up a bit, it turned out he had recently had ‘the conversation’ with his CPA about Reasonable Compensation (his business was an S Corp).

Of course I asked what advice he had been given.  Same as last year he told me – split my distributions and salary 50/50.  I cringed and then asked, respectfully, a little more about his business and what duties he performed.  He told me:

  • Planned on taking about $300,000 out of his company for 2015
    • Distribution = $150,000
    • Salary = $150,000
  • Income came from large and small equipment rental and sales
  • The services he provided to his S Corp amounted to about 40 hours a week; consisting primarily of bookkeeping; management of employees; maintenance of equipment.

I suggested he look into a more reliable method for determining Reasonable Compensation.  Long story short, he asked me to prepare a Reasonable Compensation Report for him.  The report concluded that based on the services he provided his S Corp, his Reasonable Compensation should be $70,000.

He was thrilled to start saving $8,300in payroll tax compared with what he would have paid using the 50/50 rule.  He was also disappointed with his CPA.  I didn’t criticize his CPA, but being a quick study, Justin knew immediately he had already paid more payroll tax than was legally required.

Two hundred years ago it made sense for a poor pioneer to use his thumb as a measuring device, but times are different now.  Same for measuring Reasonable Compensation.  Even just four years ago, calculating Reasonable Compensation was a daunting and time consuming process, reserved for only the most critical situations, typically involving an examination or court appearance.  Today, new RCReports software gives you the tools you need, right on your desktop, to determine Reasonable Compensation for your client.  It takes just a few minutes.

If Justin’s CPA had RCReports in her toolbox, she would have saved Justin $8,300 in payroll tax and he would have been impressed instead of disappointed.

Analysis: Rule of Thumb v. Reality for Justin

Justin Example


What's new RCReports Releases CPE Schedule for the remainder of the year

RCReports is committed to keeping all CPA’s and Tax Advisors current on the topic of Reasonable Compensation.  Click Here for dates and times:

Reasonable Compensation for Shareholder-Employees of S-Corps. 2.0 CPE Updated for 2015
Between 2010 and 2013 a flurry of court cases and IRS enforcement brought the issue of ‘What is Reasonable Compensation for a Shareholder-employee of an S Corp out of the shadows and placed it forefront as a priority issue for CPA’s, Tax and Financial advisors to cover with their clients.  This webinar will explore the advantages of distributions versus salary, Reasonable Compensation in the courts, the IRS’s authority to re-characterize distributions as wages and the IRS’s guidelines on Reasonable Compensation for Shareholder-Employees of S Corps.

Reasonable Compensation Reports Software Demonstration. 1.0 CPE New for 2015
This webinar demonstrates the nuts and bolts of how RCReports works, from running your first report to mastering the RCReports dashboard.  An RCReports guru will discuss best practices for using RCReports and the benefits of adding Reasonable Compensation consulting to your practice.  If you are considering RCReports, this webinar will help you decide if RCReports is the right tool for your practice.

Reasonable Compensation Issues for Small Business Owners. Coming Soon


Oil Drilling RigUp through the ground came a bubblin’ crude – oil that is; black gold…
This month we explore (pun intended) what the engineers who devise better and more efficient methods of extracting oil and gas make in Houston TX.

What Oil Drilling Engineers make in Houston TX:

  • Below Average – $43.65/hour
  • Proficiency Low – $55.25/hour
  • Proficiency Average – $72.73/hour
  • Above Average – $104.45/hour*
  • Proficiency High – $141.26/hour*

~Each month we highlight an occupation from the more than 800 occupations included within the RCReports proprietary database of wages~*Wage only available from RCReports*