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Section 199A Pass-Thru Salary Optimization

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Last updated: 24 Nov, 2018
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By Jason Watson ()
Posted November 23, 2018

Speaking of W-2s, there is some optimization that is necessary for a small business owner to get the most from the Section 199A deduction. On one hand we want to reduce W-2 salaries to shareholders to minimize self-employment taxes. This was obvious in an early chapter on the benefits of an S Corp. On the other hand, we want to increase W-2 salaries so they do not limit the amount of Section 199A that is deducted.

You might have seen a number of 28.57% on the internets. This is practically correct, but technically incorrect since it does not factor in employer payroll taxes. We say practically correct since the difference is immaterial.

Let’s look at the data-

Biz Income

100,000

100,000

100,000

Salary

25,000

40,000

27,935

Payroll Tax (Employer)

2,000

3,200

2,235

Net Biz Income

73,000

56,800

69,830

Section 199A W-2 Limit

12,500

20,000

13,968

Section 199A NBI Limit

14,600

11,360

13,966

 -

Salary %

25.0%

40.0%

27.9%

We assumed that the employer payroll tax portion is 8% of the salary. This includes Social Security, Medicare and unemployment taxes. This might be higher in some states, but let’s play along with 8%.

As you can see, the $25,000 salary (or 25%) results in Section 199A deduction being limited by W-2 amount. Next, the $40,000 salary results in Section 199A deduction being limited by net business income (NBI). Recall that the Section 199A deduction is the lower of these two numbers.

Using Excel’s solver plug-in, or manually changing the salary to bracket the two limits, results in a salary of $27,935 or 27.9%. This magical W-2 optimization for maximizing Section 199A deduction means that both W-2 and net business income limits are the same, and neither is specifically controlling.

Our tax software is very expensive, and it has a wonderful worksheet that sorts through the limits, and we can easily make adjustments of salary based on the limiting factor. However, keep in mind that most S corporations are paying anywhere from 30% to 40%, and sometimes as high as 60%, in salary to the shareholders. So, the 27.9% Section 199A optimization percentage is somewhat theoretical, and primarily reserved for only a handful of S Corps such as retailers.

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