S corporation status provides many of the benefits of partnership taxation and at the same time gives the owners limited liability protection from creditors. “S” status combines the legal environment of C corporations with U.S. federal income taxation similar to that of partnerships.
Like a C corporation, an S corporation is generally a corporation under the law of the state in which the entity is organized. S corporations are separate legal entities from their shareholders and, under state laws, generally provide their shareholders with the same liability protection afforded to the shareholders of C corporations. For Federal income tax purposes, however, taxation of S corporations resembles that of partnerships. As with partnerships, the income, deductions, and tax credits of an S corporation flow through to shareholders annually, regardless of whether distributions are made. Thus, income is taxed at the shareholder level and not at the corporate level. Payments to S shareholders by the corporation are distributed tax-free to the extent that the distributed earnings were previously taxed. Also, certain corporate penalty taxes (e.g., accumulated earnings tax, personal holding company tax) and the alternative minimum tax do not apply to an S corporation.
In order to make an election to be treated as an S corporation, the following requirements must be met:
- Must be an eligible entity (a domestic corporation, or a limited liability company)
- Must have only one class of stock.
- Must not have more than 100 shareholders.
- Shareholders must be U.S. citizens or residents, and must be physical entities (a person), so corporate shareholders and partnerships are to be excluded. However, certain tax-exempt corporations, notably 501(c)(3) corporations, are permitted to be shareholders
- Profits and losses must be allocated to shareholders proportionately to each one’s interest in the business.
If a corporation meets the foregoing requirements and wishes to be taxed under Subchapter S, its shareholders may file Form 2553: “Election by a Small Business Corporation” with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Form 2553 must be signed by all of the corporation’s shareholders. If a shareholder resides in a community property state, the shareholder’s spouse generally must also sign the 2553.
The S corporation election must typically be made no more than two months and fifteenth days after the tax year for which the election is intended to be effective, or at any time during the year immediately preceding the tax year to be effective. Congress has directed the IRS to show leniency with regard to late S elections. Accordingly, often, the IRS will accept a late S election.
If a corporation that has elected to be treated as an S corporation ceases to meet the requirements (for example, if as a result of stock transfers, the number of shareholders exceeds 100 or an ineligible shareholder such as a nonresident alien acquires a share), the corporation will lose its S corporation status and revert to being a regular C corporation.