How Do Business Owners Get Paid? Understanding Owner’s Draw, Salary, and Dividends

While many people dream of owning a business, it can actually become a rather complicated process for when business owners want to pay themselves. While you may believe a business owner can use whatever available funds from the business for personal expenses, this simply isn’t the case. Business owners who pay themselves well must consider certain policies.

You will want to make sure you’re paying yourself a respectable salary, and that you have a suitable financial strategy to retire on. But how exactly do you set all that up? In this article, we’re going to explain how business owners are able to pay themselves from the business.

Determine Your Business Type

It all starts with your business entity. In fact, it serves as the foundation for the entire payroll process, guiding you toward the payment method that is best for you.

The following are the most common forms of business structures:

  • S corporation
  • Sole Proprietorship
  • Partnership
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC)
  • C corporation


Here’s a quick rundown of the business types:

S Corporation

For federal tax purposes, S companies decide to pass through company income, losses, deductions, and credits to their shareholders. Companies transmit a tax deduction to shareholders and capital gains deductions to shareholders; they are passed through to the firm.

The losses of the business are generally passed on to the owners as tax deductions. S companies have a total capitalization of $5 million or less, and stockholders typically control less than 20% of the company. For this business type, you should become familiar with S Corp payroll requirements.

Sole Proprietorship

The simplest and least expensive way to start a business is as a sole proprietorship. You’re a member of the prestigious sole proprietorship club if you’ve already started your own firm and haven’t actively selected a different business structure.


Partnerships are defined literally as a connection between two or more persons who unite to exercise as co-owners in a trade or business. This definition is a far cry from actual management, however. A partnership comes with benefits and drawbacks, like any other business structure.

It would be far more accurate to describe a partnership as a formal agreement, made publicly and voluntarily between two or more people who invest time, energy, and money to form a cooperative or common interest for their mutual benefit.

In this arrangement, each partner will receive a portion of all future profits and should enjoy certain rights and responsibilities.

Limited Liability Company

If you need to protect your liability, the most flexible way to structure your company is to establish an LLC.

A limited liability company (LLC) is a cross between a corporation and a partnership. This entity has little personal liability, but it offers more governance and tax flexibility than a corporation. Unless the owners elect to be treated as a S or C corporation, LLCs are taxed as sole proprietorships or partnerships (known as members).

Paying Yourself a Salary, e.g. as an S Corp Owner

An S Corporation owner may put more work on the payroll by paying himself a salary since he can pay himself as an employee for work done for the company.

Paying oneself as an employee, on the other hand, necessitates regular payroll payments and makes it more difficult to add work, raise compensation, or pay a dividend to the business, which is the major means of funding corporate development.

An S Corporation owner must pay himself a salary of either 1/2 of his ordinary corporate salary or 1/3 of his income, depending on whether the stock is public or private, with which he can buy a share of the stock. If the shareholder is also a member of the corporation, he must pay himself a salary equivalent to 1/3 of the state’s minimum wage.

An S Corporation is needed to file a tax return when it is formed. The shareholder pays the tax like an employee. The shareholder does not have to pay it because the firm is a S Corporation.

What is an owner’s draw?

An owner’s draw is an amount of money taken out from a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), or S corporation by the owner for their personal use. According to the IRS, if an owner’s draw is more than $200 in a calendar year, a filing for a Form 5500 is required. If it’s more than $600, filing a Form 990 (Organization Information Statement) is required.

An owner’s draw is a combination of the owner’s compensation, the tax payments made on the owner’s behalf for a specific tax year, and the tax payments to IRS and state revenue collectors for the previous tax year. IRS Form 5604 (Item 485) is used to determine whether the owner’s draw was greater than $600 in a calendar year.

The owner’s draw is sometimes used as a way to help shareholders avoid paying taxes. Many shareholders aren’t considered to have an ownership interest. The IRS identifies shareholders in this way if they purchased less than 80 percent of the common stock of a corporation and agreed in writing to reimburse the corporation for taxes due on their compensation.

How can a business owner take dividends?

Unlike a salary, which counts as personal income, dividends are considered investment income. Dividends may yield a marginally lower tax rate than what is usually paid on a salary since they are subject to the corporate tax rate. However, dividends paid from real estate or private businesses are often held by individual investors and are included in that person’s taxable income.

Conversely, the SEC uses the equity equivalency to determine how to value the compensation paid out. That way the salaries and compensation paid out from the company can be taxed as a salary (rather than investment income) and the profit from the sale can be taxed as a capital gain.

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