Payroll tax collection continues to vex the Internal Revenue Service despite several court cases that have resulted in rulings favorable for the IRS regarding unreasonably low compensation. A recent high profile case was David E. Watson, P.C. v. United States on which the Eighth Circuit ruled in 2012. Watson was an indirect partner in a CPA firm, practicing through an S corporation that paid him $24,000 of salary per year and between $175,000 and $203,000 in profit distributions. The court adjusted his compensation to $93,000.
It isn’t hard to see why shareholders of S corporations attempt to justify wage levels below what the IRS considers “reasonable compensation” (assuming the understated compensation is below the FICA wage base). Both the S corporation and employee save the 7.65% FICA and Medicare taxes on the wages not reported.