Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Brings Renewed Attention to the Issue of Reasonable Owners’ Compensation

May 16, 2018

C Corporation attempt to maximize owners’ compensation to reduce their taxable income. S Corporation and other Pass through entities (“PTE”) owners seek to minimize their compensation to reduce self-employment taxes. IRS reasonable compensation regulations prevent owners from setting their compensation too high or too low.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), effective 1/1/18, has made the issue of reasonable owners’ compensation for PTE more complicated. TCJA’s new deduction, Section 199A, allows owners of PTEs to write-off 20% of qualified business income (QBI) when reporting their proportionate share.

QBI is eligible for the 20% pass through deduction after a deduction for reasonable compensation of the owner/employee. TCJA separates PTEs into two types of trade or business: qualified and specified service.

  1. For taxpayers engaged in a qualified trade or business with taxable income above $315,000 (Married Filing Jointly) or $157,500 (Single Filing) including owners’ compensation, the QBI deduction is limited to the greater of
    1. 50% of the company’s W-2 wages including the owner or
    2. 25% of the company’s W-2 wages including the owner plus 2.5% of the unadjusted basis of qualified property [W-2 threshold] and may also be limited to 20% of the taxpayer’s income including owners’ compensation.
  2. For owners of specified service PTEs with taxable income above $415,000 (MFJ) or $207,500 (SF) including owners’ compensation, the 20% QBI deduction is not allowed. The 20% QBI deduction begins phasing out at $315,000 (MFJ) and $157,500 (SF) and is limited based on the W-2 threshold.

Under TCJA, owners must strike the right balance to maximize the QBI deduction and minimize self-employment taxes. This may also influence the decision to select C or S corporation status.

With the passage of TCJA, reasonable compensation will invite more IRS scrutiny. Tax courts use the “multi-factor test” and/or the “independent investor” test to determine the reasonableness of owners’ compensation. Setting a reasonable level of owners’ compensation requires analysis of numerous factors particular to the company, its industry, and market area. Chaffe has many years of experience in performing reasonable compensation studies.

Chaffe can work with business owners and their tax and financial advisors in setting owners’ compensation to maximize tax savings while falling within the IRS reasonable compensation guidelines.

For more information, contact Vanessa Brown Claiborne at

or Riley Busenlener at