3 Steps to Paying Yourself With an Owner's Draw

Business owners need to get paid somehow. An owner’s draw is one way for an owner to get money out of their business — learn more here.

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Business owners often can’t get paid the same as their employees. Why? It’s a great question, but that’s not why we’re here today. I’m here to tell you about one way business owners can pay themselves.

Overview: What is an owner's draw?

As a business owner, at least a part of your business bank account belongs to you. You’re allowed to withdraw from your share of the business’s value through an owner’s draw.

Say you open a company with your friend as equal partners, each putting up $250,000 in cash. You can draw up to $250,000, which is your portion of the business’s value. As your business grows, you can also draw your 50% of the profits.

Many business types don’t allow owners to take a salary, making an owner’s draw one of the only ways to get cash out of the business. Companies should limit draws so there’s enough cash to continue operations.

While your employees get paid every time you do payroll, you don’t have to take an owner’s draw at regular intervals. You can generally take a draw when there’s cash available to you.

The most common way to take an owner’s draw is by writing a check that transfers cash from your business account to your personal account. An owner’s draw can also be a non-cash asset, such as a car or computer.

You don’t withhold payroll taxes from an owner’s draw because it’s not immediately taxable. Instead, you pay income tax and self-employment tax on your portion of business earnings, regardless of the amount you draw from the business.

What types of businesses can take an owner's draw?

Most pass-through entity owners can draw from their businesses. Owners of sole proprietorships, partnerships, and some limited liability companies (LLCs) take draws.

By contrast, corporations don’t take draws. S corporation and C corporation owners take salaries and dividend distributions.

Not all payment methods were created equal. A CPA or attorney can help you decide on the most tax-advantaged way to get money out of your business and into your wallet.

3 alternative payments to an owner's draw

Not every business type can pay owners through the same methods, so consult a tax professional when deciding on your company’s owner compensation structure.

1. Salary

Employees are the only worker classification where you can pay a salary, which is a fixed payment made at defined intervals regardless of hours worked.

Salaries are part of the payroll process because they’re subject to payroll taxes. Salary and payroll tax expenses are an allowable business expense, reducing your company’s net income.

S corporation owners, called shareholders, who participate in management are considered employees, and they must take salaries. All other business types pay their owners in another way. When there’s extra money in the company, an S corp owner may also earn dividend distributions.

Payroll software can help you distribute salaries to S corp owners and employees.

2. Guaranteed payments

Guaranteed payments also pay a fixed amount to business owners. They are as close as most business owners can get to earning a salary.

Most popular in partnerships, guaranteed payments promise that a business owner will be paid a given amount for the year, even when the business is operating at a loss. Often people who work at their company full-time ask for guaranteed payments in order to be sure that they’ll take home enough cash.

Guaranteed payments need to be written into your partnership agreement.

Like salaries, guaranteed payments are allowable business expenses that lower net income. The difference between salaries and guaranteed payments: Your company doesn’t withhold payroll taxes from the payment. Instead, you pay self-employment taxes on guaranteed payments.

The owner’s draw is accounted for differently than guaranteed payments. Guaranteed payments are a business expense, while an owner’s draw is not.

3. Dividends

Dividends are a shareholder distribution of all or a portion of business profits from current and previous years.

Say a sole proprietorship that opened last year earned $100,000 and had $300,000 in cash. The sole proprietor can receive a dividend distribution of up to $100,000. To access more cash, the sole proprietor would take an owner’s draw.

How to pay yourself from an owner's draw

Taking an owner’s draw is a relatively simple process since it should not trigger a “taxable event.” When done correctly, taking an owner’s draw does not result in you owing more or less income tax.

1. Determine the owner’s draw amount

Some big questions may swirl around in your head before taking a draw. How much cash do I need to live? Can my business afford to do without this cash? The best starting point is taking a look at the value of your ownership stake in the company.

Every owner in your company should have a dedicated equity account on your balance sheet. If your books are up to date, you should be able to look at your equity account balance to know the value of your ownership interest.

Your equity account reflects your portion of the business. It’s an accumulation of your financial contributions and share of profits, losses, and liabilities. Talk to an accountant to get your books updated before taking an owner’s draw.

Generally, the maximum draw is your ownership interest. When you draw more than your business ownership, you’re technically taking out a loan from your business and potentially creating some tax issues.

Once you know your starting point, decide on an amount to draw. Consider the following:

  • The next time you’d like to take a draw: You can take multiple draws each year, so you don’t have to take out an entire year’s worth of personal expenses at one time.
  • Your business’s cash flow: If you can, keep a healthy amount of cash in the business so your draw doesn’t interrupt business operations. There are no draws to be had when your business can’t run.
  • Your ownership agreement: Businesses with multiple owners draft contracts that might restrict the amount of an owner’s draw or require approval before an owner takes a draw.

Even if your ownership agreement doesn’t require your business partners’ approval to take an owner’s draw, you should inform them of your draws. Courtesy is key.

2. Write a business check to your personal account

The easiest and most fun part: Write a check from your business account to be deposited in your personal account. Some accounts require dual signatures for large disbursements, so you might need your business partner’s help.

That’s the whole step.

3. Reduce your equity account by the owner’s draw

Now for some bookkeeping. To record an owner’s draw, reduce your equity account and cash balances.

If I’m a partner of Coffee Connoisseurs — a coffee-tasting bar I just created in my head — and I take a $50,000 owner withdrawal, my journal entry would be as follows.

Account Debit Credit
Equity — Ryan $50,000
Cash $50,000

Frequently Asked Questions for Owner's Draw

Can I draw more than the value of my ownership stake?

Your ownership agreement might preclude you from taking an owner’s draw that exceeds your ownership interest. If it’s allowed, it’s like you’re taking a loan against your ownership interest.

Say you’re my business partner at Coffee Connoisseurs. If you took a $30,000 draw when your equity account had a $25,000 balance, you’re drawing more than your ownership interest. You have a negative $5,000 balance ($25,000 equity balance – $30,000 owner’s draw).

You might not have to directly repay the $5,000 as long as the business is doing well. Since your equity account increases by your portion of profits, it might just take a few weeks or months to bring your account back into the black. But if the business closes before your account reaches $0, you’d have to repay whatever is owed.

What’s the difference between an owner’s draw and a guaranteed payment?

On the surface, a guaranteed payment and an owner’s draw are similar. Both payments move money from the business to an owner.

Owners agree to give guaranteed payments regardless of the business’s profits. Even if the business is operating at a loss, guaranteed payments continue as long as there’s cash.

A guaranteed payment is an allowable business expense, while an owner’s draw is not. An account or attorney can help you determine which payment method works best for your business and personal tax situation.

How is an owner’s draw taxed?

An owner’s draw typically doesn’t affect how you’re taxed on business profits. Whether the cash is in your personal or business account, you’re still taxed on your share of business profits.

Say Coffee Connoisseurs, a pass-through entity, earned $250,000 last year before paying its two equal partners. It doesn’t matter whether I drew my half of the profits or left all of it in the business. I’m still responsible for paying tax on my portion of earnings, $125,000 ($250,000 profits ÷ 50% ownership stake).

An owner’s draw is subject to federal, state, and local income taxes. You also pay self-employment taxes on an owner’s draw.

We’re not drawing in permanent marker

Depending on your business type, an owner’s draw isn’t the only way to pay yourself. Check out The Blueprint’s guide to LLC member payments and other payroll content.

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