Complete Guide for California Small Business Taxes

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Each state has unique rules and regulations for taxes on small businesses. A few states don’t have a corporate income tax for you to worry about, but California is not one of them. If you’re starting a small business in California, you must be informed and ready to handle California’s requirements. 

Here’s a guide to the fundamentals you’ll need to prepare and file a small business tax return in California. 

What to Know About Small Business Taxes in California

California is a beautiful state to live in and a popular place for businesses, but that doesn’t mean the state makes it easy for new small businesses. California has multiple income tax rates and strict rules for how they apply to business and personal income. 

How these rates impact you will depend on your particular business entity.  

Corporate Taxes in California

California imposes three layers of taxes on corporations located within its borders. These are corporate tax, alternative minimum tax, and the franchise tax.

  • Corporate taxes are taxes that can be applied to the profits of corporations and any LLC that chooses to be treated as a corporation. 
  • Franchise tax or privilege tax is a type of tax paid by businesses that want to do business in a different state.
  • The alternative minimum tax is a percentage of taxes a company must pay to the local government, whether or not deductions can be applied.

C Corp Taxes in California

If you form a C corp in the state, you’ll need to learn how these apply to you. 

C corporations in California may not need to pay a franchise tax but are subject to a corporate tax rate of 8.84% of net taxable income. This corporate tax rate is the same flat rate for all businesses recognized by the state as corporations for tax purposes. 

Businesses can write off eligible expenses to make deductions from their net taxable income under that rate, but there’s a catch. California limits corporations’ ability to claim deductions with an alternative minimum tax of 6.65%. 

C corporations can deduct expenses from their taxable income but cannot reduce their tax burden below the alternative minimum. You measure your alternative minimum tax rate by applying it to adjusted gross income without all of the same deductions. 

S Corp Taxes in California

An S corporation is a business entity with a special tax status approved by the IRS or Internal Revenue Service. Corporations of a smaller size can apply to be treated as pass-through entities at the federal level. That means that the S corporation will not pay taxes on business income as its own entity, but that income will pass through to shareholders, who will pay for that income on their own tax returns. 

States vary in how they treat S corporations, however. S corporations in California don’t pay the corporate tax rate but must pay the California franchise tax as a fee for doing business in the state.  

The state franchise tax in California is 1.5% of net income for S corporations, with a minimum payment of $800. Even with no recorded income, every S corporation in California must pay a minimum of $800 for the franchise tax. 

After the franchise tax payment, the S corporations income still passes through to the business owners to be filed on their personal tax returns. 

LLC Taxes in California

Most limited liability companies in California will have a tax situation similar to S corporations, but not all. 

If your business entity is an LLC, you have a certain degree of control over how the state recognizes your business. If your LLC elects to be treated as a corporation, then you will pay the corporate tax rate or alternative minimum faced by C-Corps. 

Other LLCs will pay the state franchise tax, and then the business income will pass through to be taxed at personal income tax rates. 

The franchise tax for LLCs still requires a minimum fee of $800, but otherwise, it is calculated differently than for S corps. Instead of paying a flat percentage of net income, LLCs pay a specific and pre-set franchise tax amount depending on their gross income level. 

The franchise tax is $900 for LLCs with gross income between $250,000 and $499,999. It steadily increases at each tier, up to a maximum franchise tax of $11,790 for gross income above $5 million.  

Partnership Taxes in California

California businesses using a partnership as their business entity might not have to pay any annual small business tax in California. It will depend on the specific kind of partnership. All partnerships still qualify as pass-through entities in that individual owners must file and pay tax on business income on their personal tax returns.  

Any limited liability partnerships filed with the state must pay the franchise tax minimum payment of $800. General partnerships without limited partners are exempt. 

In a general partnership, income to the business is immediately and directly distributed among the business owners. These partnerships are not subject to the franchise tax and are treated as a sole proprietorship. 

Sole Proprietorship Taxes in California

If your business doesn’t fit into one of these other categories, your business entity may be a sole proprietorship. A sole proprietorship is a small business owned entirely and directly by one individual. The business owner might hire contractors or employ others, but its debt and income go through the owner. 

A business with one single owner does not exist outside the owner, so sole proprietorships do not pay business taxes. All income for the business is paid and filed on the individual’s personal tax return.  

Personal Income Tax

Personal income tax in California is a progressive tax that depends on your income. Marginal tax rates on income go from 1.0% to 12.3% for the highest brackets. 

Sole proprietors will use these rates for all of their business income. Other business owners with pass-through entities will also pay taxes at these rates. 

Multistate Taxes

If your business operates or sells goods or services in multiple states, you may owe corporate income tax in each of those states. The tax you owe in each state will depend on the revenue you earned in that state. 

California businesses that owe taxes across states can participate in California’s multistate offset program. This program allows California and other states to directly transfer your tax refund in one state to pay off your tax burden in another state. 

Partner With a California Business Tax Specialist

Are you facing uncertainty about your tax obligations under California state law? Partner with a knowledgeable tax consultant to guide you through the complexities of federal, state, and municipal tax requirements. California business tax can be complicated, and local tax professionals can provide valuable insights tailored to your business’s needs. From income tax rate to alternative minimum tax, types of taxes, sales tax, and other aspects of filing taxes for your small business, partnering with a California business tax specialist can ensure a seamless process and peace of mind during tax season. 

As you set up a new business, implementing efficient small-business bookkeeping and partnering with an accountant can prove invaluable. These resources will help you develop a strategic plan and carefully consider your business entity options. With varying tax rates, choosing a business structure is among the most critical decisions impacting your business’s long-term success.

This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice.
Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post.
Accountable IQ assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.

Ryan Johnson, CPA

Ryan Johnson, CPA

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