Recently we have started using RCReports or Reasonable Compensation Reports which is a consulting firm out of Denver, Colorado. They send out a survey to you which asks a bunch of questions about qualifications, time spent on various tasks, regional data, etc. From there, and in their words, “RCReports synthesizes a proprietary blend of IRS criteria, Court Rulings, geographic data and our EXCLUSIVE database of wages to accurately assess Reasonable Compensation for S Corp, Small & Closely Held Business Owners.” Cool!
You can view a sample here-
If you visit this link and read the report, RCReports does a wonderful job coming up with a number and then putting a bunch of data behind it. The report looks official and uses sources; this is a critical consideration since reasonable compensation is such a squishy thing. In other words, the IRS might challenge your reasonable S Corp salary much like a mall cop with a badge but no gun, and certainly no evidence. When you roll up with a 7-page document that has numbers, data and sources scattered about, it is super hard for the IRS to say No. For lack of better evidence, the IRS would be forced to use your evidence.
Two more considerations with RCReports. They use a typical appraisal approach similar to home appraisals, business valuations, etc. using cost, market and income approaches. This is pretty cool, and lends additional credibility to their work.
Here is a blurb from their website about the approaches-
Cost (AKA Many Hats Approach)
The Cost Approach breaks down the time spent by the business owner into the various duties performed and quantifies the amount of time devoted to the different duties. Next, salary surveys are used to determine a comparable wage for each job duty performed by the business owner, then added up to arrive at the total "cost" to replace the services of the business owner.
The Cost Approach generally works best for small businesses where the business owner provides multiple services for the business (wears many hats).
Market (AKA Industry Standard Approach)
The Market Approach generally works best for medium and large businesses where the business owner provides only one duty: management of the business.
Income (AKA Independent Investors Test)
The income approach can only be correctly applied when the Fair Market Value (FMV) of the company is available for each year that compensation is examined.
The rationale behind the Independent Investor Test is that investors pay employees to work to increase the value of the assets entrusted to their management. A high rate of return indicates that the assets' value increased and that the employee provided valuable services. Thus, if investors obtain returns above what they should reasonably expect, an employee's salary is presumptively reasonable.
The Income Approach generally works best when there is no comparability data available.
The other consideration is that just because RCReports comes up with a salary does not mean you must pay that salary. There might be circumstances which would drive down a reasonable salary such as rapid growth, unsteady earnings, etc. There might be circumstances, such as 401k and other external reasons, to increase your salary.
Please keep in mind too that reasonable compensation includes self-employed health insurance and HSA contributions. Therefore, if RCReports comes up with $80,000 but your health insurance is $10,000, then your salary should be $70,000.
The Watson CPA Group can do a reasonable compensation analysis for you. Yeah, we have to charge you about $400 but it gives you a defensible salary and some peace of mind. Bargain!
Taxpayer's Comprehensive Guide to LLCs and S Corps : 2019 Edition