One of the big story lines of 2018 was tax reform, which should put more money in the pockets of consumers and businesses to grow, hire, and borrow more from banks.
Shareholders of Subchapter-S banks may ask whether the benefits of Sub-S status are as meaningful in the new tax environment. Roughly 35 percent of the 5,400 banks in the U.S. are Subchapter-S corporations, and given the changes brought by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, some choices made under the prior tax regime should be revisited.
Prior to tax reform, the benefits of Sub-S status were apparent given the double taxation of C-Corp earnings with its corporate tax rate of 35 percent, plus the individual dividend tax rate of 20 percent. That’s compared to the S-Corp, which only carried the individual income tax rate up to 39.5 percent.
Tax reform lowered the C-Corp tax rate to 21 percent, lowered the maximum individual rate to 37 percent, and created a potential 20 percent deduction of S-Corp pass-through earnings, all of which make the choice much more complicated.
Add complexities about how to calculate the 20 percent pass-through deduction on S-Corp earnings, the 3.8 percent net investment income tax on C-Corp dividends and some S-Corp pass-through earnings, and it becomes more challenging to decide which is best.
Here are some broad concepts to consider:
- S-Corp shareholders are taxed on the corporation’s earnings at the individual’s tax rate. If the corporation does not pay dividends to shareholders, the individual tax is being paid before the individual receives the actual distribution.
- The individual tax on S-Corp earnings may be mitigated by the 20 percent pass-through deduction allowed by the IRS, but not all the rules have been written yet.
- A C-Corp will pay the 21 percent corporate tax, but individual tax liability is deferred until shareholders are paid dividends. The longer the deferral, the more likely a C-Corp structure could be more tax efficient.
The impact of growth, acquisitions, distributions, and capitalization requirements are interrelated and critical in determining which entity makes the most sense.
If a bank is growing quickly and distributing a large percentage of its earnings, its retained earnings may not be sufficient to maintain required capital levels and may require outside capital, especially if the bank is considering growth through acquisition. Because an S-Corp is limited in the type and number of shareholders, its access to outside capital may also be limited, often to investments by management, board, friends, family and community members.
A bank with little or no growth may be able to fully distribute its earnings and still maintain required capital levels. Depending on the impact of Internal Revenue Code Section 199A, state taxes, the 3.8 percent net investment income tax and other factors, Subchapter S status may be more tax efficient.
Section 199A permits the deduction of up to 20 percent of qualifying trade or business income and can be critical to determining whether Subchapter-S makes sense. For shareholders with income below certain thresholds, the deduction is not controversial and can have a big impact.
For shareholders with income above the thresholds, the deduction could be limited or eliminated if the business income includes specified service trade or business income, which includes investment management fees and may include trust and fiduciary fees and other non-interest income items.
S-Corp structures can be terminated at any time. If your bank is a C-Corp and considering a Subchapter S election for the 2019 calendar tax year, the election is due on or before March 15, 2019.
Given the level of complexity and amount of change brought about by the new tax legislation, it is clear that that decisions made under the old rules should be revisited.