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Small Business Tax Rate: Your 2021 Guide

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Dealing with small business taxes can be complicated, as there isn’t a single tax form or even a single tax rate that applies to all businesses. How you file your taxes and the rate you pay on business profits depends on your business entity structure. While all small businesses pay taxes at the federal level on business profits, two distinct tax frameworks apply:

  • Corporations: 21%
  • Pass-through entities: 10% to 37%

Businesses organized as corporations pay the corporate tax rate, which is 21%. Other business structures — including sole proprietorships, partnerships and S corporations — are considered pass-through entities, and their income is taxed at the owner’s personal tax rate. Limited liability companies (LLCs) may either pay taxes as a corporation or as a pass-through entity.

Small business tax rate by business type

Your business entity determines which form you use to file your federal income tax return and how much you owe to the IRS. Below, we’ll break down business taxes for the two major groups, corporations and pass-through entities.

Business income tax rate for corporations

C corporations have paid federal income taxes at a flat rate of 21% since 2018, as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Prior to 2018, C-corps paid taxes on a tiered structure, with rates ranging from 15% to 35%. Only about 5% of businesses in the U.S. are C corporations.

Corporations pay their shareholders dividends, and shareholders then have to pay taxes on those dividends on their individual tax returns. This is referred to as “double taxation,” because the income is taxed twice — once at the corporate level, and again when paid out as dividends.

The tax rate shareholders pay on those dividends depend on whether the dividends are ordinary or qualified. Ordinary dividends are taxed at the same rate as the shareholder’s other income, and rates range from 10% to 37%. Qualified dividends are taxed at lower capital gains tax rates, ranging from 0% to 20%.

Although corporations face double taxation, the flat corporate tax rate is lower than the personal income tax rate in several tax brackets.

Business income tax rate for S-corps and other pass-through entities

Pass-through entities include sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations and LLCs that have not elected to be taxed like a C-corp. Roughly 95% of businesses in the U.S. are pass-through entities.

The term “pass-through” stems from the fact that the business doesn’t pay federal income taxes directly. Instead, business income and losses pass through to the owners and members, who pay taxes on business profits via their individual income tax returns.

On individual tax returns, business income is taxed at the same rates as other ordinary income, such as wages from a job or interest earned from a savings account. For the 2021 tax year (tax returns filed in 2022), the federal income tax brackets are:

Personal Income Tax Rates for 2021
Rate For incomes of individuals For incomes of married couples filing jointly
10% Less than or equal to $9,950 Less than or equal to $19,900
12% More than $9,950 More than $19,900
22% More than $40,525 More than $81,050
24% More than $86,375 More than $172,750
32% More than $164,925 More than $329,850
35% More than $209,425 More than $418,850
37% More than $523,600 More than $628,300

Source: IRS

At first glance, it might appear as though it would be beneficial to be taxed as a C corporation, since corporations pay a top tax rate of 21% and individuals in the highest tax bracket pay a rate of 37% on their pass-through income. However, when Congress lowered the corporate tax rate, it also created a new qualified business income (QBI) deduction.

For 2021 taxes, this 20% deduction is available to all single pass-through business owners with taxable income at or below $164,900 (or $329,800 for married couples filing jointly). For taxpayers with income over those limits, the QBI deduction may be limited.

Tax rate for LLCs

Businesses structured as LLCs are unusual in that they have several options for how they’re taxed. The IRS may tax an LLC as a sole proprietorship or partnership, depending on how many people own the business. An LLC may also elect to be taxed as an S-corp.

Additionally, LLC owners may choose for the business to be taxed as a C-corp, meaning profits are taxed at the corporate rate rather than the owner’s individual rates. This can be beneficial if the owners keep a substantial amount of profits in the business rather than paying them out as dividends, since retained earnings aren’t subject to double taxation the way dividends are. It can also allow LLC members to benefit from tax-advantaged fringe benefits and stock options.

However, deciding whether to have your LLC taxed like a C-corp is complicated. If you think you might benefit from electing corporate tax treatment, it’s best to discuss your options and potential tax-planning strategies with an accountant or attorney.

Additional small business taxes

Federal income taxes aren’t the only taxes small businesses must pay. Some others include:

Payroll tax

Payroll taxes include Social Security and Medicare (collectively referred to as “FICA” taxes, as they were established by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act) and federal unemployment taxes. For businesses with employees, the FICA tax rate is 15.3% of the employee’s gross wages: 12.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicare. Employers withhold half of that FICA rate from the employee’s wages and pay the remainder out of their own pocket.

Only the employer pays federal unemployment (FUTA) taxes, which they aren’t withheld from the employee’s wages. The FUTA tax rate is 6% of the first $7,000 paid to each employee per year. However, employers may also qualify for a tax credit of 5.4%, which lowers their FUTA tax rate to 0.6%.

Many pass-through business owners don’t have employees, but they have to pay self-employment taxes, the self-employed version of FICA taxes. The self-employment tax rate is 15.3%.

Excise tax

Businesses pay excise taxes if they do any of the following:

  • Sell or manufacture specific products, such as alcohol, tobacco and firearms
  • Operate specific types of businesses, such as sports wagering companies
  • Use various items or types of equipment, facilities or products, such as aircraft or heavy-duty trucks
  • Receive payments for particular services, such as indoor tanning or telecommunications services

Although businesses pay excise taxes, the cost of these taxes is usually embedded in the price of products and services and passed through to consumers.

State and local taxes

Business owners are also subject to taxes in states where they do business.

State corporate income tax

Businesses may also pay income taxes at the state level. As of 2021, 44 states levy a corporate income tax, with rates ranging from 2.5% (North Carolina) to 11.5% (Hawaii).

Owners of pass-through businesses in states with a state income tax on individuals also pay taxes on their share of business profits on their state income tax returns. Forty-two states levy individual income taxes, although New Hampshire only taxes dividend and interest income. Top marginal tax rates range from 2.9% (North Dakota) to 13.3% (California).

Sales tax

Some small businesses are required to charge sales taxes. Forty-five states, as well as many localities, levy a sales tax. Each state and local taxing authority has its own rules, exemptions and tax rates.

Navigating those rules and exemptions is confusing, so it’s a good idea to work with an accountant — especially if you sell products or services to out-of-state customers. You may need to register, collect and remit sales taxes in more than one state or local jurisdiction.

Property tax

Businesses may also pay property taxes if they own land, buildings or vehicles, or maintain business inventories. Many state and local jurisdictions collect real estate and personal property taxes.

How to pay taxes as a small business owner

How you pay taxes as a small business owner depends on your business structure.

  • C-corps and LLCs taxed like C-corps report business income and expenses on Form 1120.
  • S-corps and LLCs that elect to be taxed like S-Corps report business income and expenses on Form 1120-S, then issue a Schedule K-1 to each shareholder reporting their share of profits or losses.
  • Partnerships and LLCs with more than one member report business income and expenses on Form 1065. The completed Form 1065 includes a Schedule K-1 for each shareholder, which they’ll need to report their share of profits or losses on their individual tax return.
  • Sole proprietorships and LLCs with only one member report business income and expenses on Schedule C, a schedule that gets filed along with the owner’s individual tax return, Form 1040.

Read more about which forms you need here.

When to file your small business taxes

Corporations must make estimated tax payments on the 15th day of the fourth, sixth, ninth and 12th month of its fiscal year. Owners of pass-through businesses must make estimated tax payments, which are generally due April 15, June 15, Sept.15 and Jan. 15 of the following year. If any of those dates fall on a weekend or legal holiday, the due date moves to the following business day.

Some payroll, accounting or tax preparation software will estimate the business’ tax liability and send estimated tax payments to the IRS on their behalf. Just make sure to regularly set money aside for taxes, so it’s available when payments are due.

Small business tax rate FAQs

What percentage does a small business pay in taxes?

It depends on how much the business makes and whether it’s a corporation or a pass-through entity. Corporations pay a flat tax of 21% on business profits. Pass-through businesses pay taxes at the owner’s income-based marginal tax rate, ranging from 10% to 37%.

How do you calculate small business taxes?

A C-corp simply applies the corporate tax rate of 21% to its taxable income. For example, if the company has taxable income of $100,000, the tax due would be $21,000 ($100,000 x 21%).

For pass-through businesses, it’s not quite as simple. Pass-through business owners pay tax on all their taxable income, including their share of business profits. Federal income tax rates for individuals are progressive, meaning the higher your income, the higher your marginal tax rate will be.

For example, using the 2021 tax brackets above, if a single taxpayer had total taxable income of $100,000, they would pay:

  • 10% on the first $9,950 = $995
  • 12% on the next $30,575 = $3,669
  • 22% on the next $45,850 = $10,087
  • 24% on the last $13,625 = $3,270

Their total tax liability would be $18,021.

How can a small business reduce taxable income?

Small businesses can reduce taxable income by taking advantage of tax deductions. Businesses can deduct ordinary and necessary costs of running the business, such as advertising, salaries and wages, interest expense and insurance. You can find more information on deductible business expenses in IRS Publication 535.


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