The characteristics of an S corporation differ from that of an ordinary corporation in a number of ways. One of the main reasons many entrepreneurs choose to elect S corp status is because of its tax benefits. While it offers the same liability protection as a C corporation, an S corporation comes with certain restrictions that can limit its growth potential. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of this business structure before you make the switch.

What Is an S Corporation?

An S corporation refers to an incorporated business that is regarded as a pass-through tax entity by the IRS. Since it is a corporation, an S Corp is formed through the submission of the Articles of Incorporation to the Secretary of State or an appropriate state agency. It issues stock and adopts the same organizational structure as a C corporation, which consists of shareholders, a board of directors, and officers.

The owners of an S corporation enjoy the same liability protection as the shareholders of a corporation. This means that their personal assets cannot be used to cover business debts and other liabilities. Nonetheless, similar to a sole proprietorship or partnership, an S Corp passes most of its income and loss through to the personal tax returns of its shareholders. As such, it is not subject to double taxation like a C corporation. Each shareholder in an S corporation pays taxes on pass-through income at his or her own individual rate.

The number of shareholders in an S corp cannot exceed 100. An S corporation operates in the same way as a C corporation. It is required to pay salaries to its employees and withhold individual income, Social Security, and unemployment taxes for them. While salaries are subject to withholding, the dividends distributed to shareholders are not.

Although the pass-through tax features of an S Corp make it an attractive option, it is not fully recognized in some states and consequently taxed as a C corporation. In some states, an S corporation is required to pay annual report filing fees or other fees, which can be a significant burden for a small company.

Eligibility Requirements for an S Corporation

In order to qualify for S corp status, a company must first be a corporation. If the company is a corporation, it must file IRS Form 2553 to elect Subchapter S status by the 15th day of the third month of its tax year. All shareholders are required to sign this form.

In addition, all shareholders must be U.S. citizens or residents. Estates and trusts can be shareholders of an S corporation, but sole proprietorships, partnerships, foreign investors, and certain insurance companies, domestic international sales corporations, and financial institutions are not allowed to own shares in an S Corp. Also, an S corporation is required to issue only one class of stock, but voting rights may vary. A C corporation that has been an S corporation within the past five years is not eligible.

Advantages and Disadvantages of an S Corporation


  • Protected assets
  • Pass-through taxation
  • Tax-favorable income characterization
  • Simple transfer of ownership
  • Cash method of accounting
  • Perpetual existence
  • Good investment opportunities
  • Enhanced credibility
  • Annual tax filing requirement


  • Formation and ongoing fees
  • Tax qualification requirements
  • Adoption of calendar year
  • Restrictions on stock ownership
  • Closer scrutiny from the IRS
  • Less flexibility in the allocation of income and loss
  • Taxable fringe benefits
  • Recordkeeping requirements
  • Inability to acquire a foreign investor

How to Form an S Corporation

  1. Select a legal business name.
  2. Draft and submit your Articles of Incorporation to the Secretary of State or the appropriate state agency.
  3. Give out stock certificates to the original shareholders.
  4. Obtain a business license, permit, or other certificates required for your industry.
  5. Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) by filing IRS Form SS-4 or applying at the IRS website.
  6. Obtain any other identification numbers required in your state.
  7. Apply for tax identification numbers for paying payroll taxes such as unemployment and disability taxes. Requirements may vary depending on which jurisdiction you are in, but most states require business owners to have tax identification numbers.
  8. File Form 2553 within 75 days after forming your corporation.

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