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4 Min. Read

Are Retained Earnings Taxed for Small Businesses?

In a budget, retained earnings are the amount of income after expenses (or net income) that a company has held onto over the years.

These are earnings calculated after tax-profit and therefore a company doesn’t have to pay income taxes until a certain amount is saved. There are IRS tax laws that pertain to excess retained earnings. Once retained earnings hit a certain limit, the excess amount can be taxed unless the corporation can justify the accumulation.

Available retained earnings can be reinvested back into the company by paying off debts and distributing profits to its owners and shareholders. 

In this article, we will discuss:

How Do You Get Retained Earnings?

Are Retained Earnings the Same as Profit?

Are Retained Earnings a Debit or Credit?

NOTE: FreshBooks Support team members are not certified income tax or accounting professionals and cannot provide advice in these areas, outside of supporting questions about FreshBooks. If you need income tax advice please contact an accountant in your area.

How Do You Get Retained Earnings?

You can find your business’ retained earnings from a business balance sheet or statement of retained earnings.

Here’s a simple formula to calculate retained earnings:

Last period’s retained earnings

+ Net income during the period

– Dividends paid

= Retained Earnings

There is an even more thorough formula to ensure that you have an accurate retained earnings end balance.

Start with retained earnings from last period’s balance and add or subtract prior period adjustments, which will equal the adjusted beginning balance. Then add the net income or subtract net loss and then subtract cash dividends given to shareholders.

Here’s an example of retained earnings from Study.com. In 2013, IBM Corporation had $130 billion in retained earnings but had under $11 billion in cash and cash equivalents.

Are Retained Earnings the Same as Profit?

Retained earnings are like a long-term saving account for your business and profit (net income) acts as incremental deposits to that account.

Profit is the total income earned from sales of goods and services and is considered the bottom line for companies. Retained earnings is a portion of a company’s profit that is held or retained for future use as a safety net. Income from retained earnings can be distributed as dividends to shareholders or reinvested into the business itself.

Profit and retained earnings are two major elements of a company’s financial health.


Profit is often the number one thing considered when evaluating a company’s financial performance. It can also be referred to as net income.

Gross income is a company’s sales minus the cost of goods sold. Net income refers to the income for a period minus all the costs of doing business. These costs include operating expenses, payroll, overhead costs and depreciation.

Retained Earnings

The portion of the company’s profit that is saved for future use is considered retained earnings. 

These earnings could be used to fund an expansion or pay dividends to shareholders at a later date. Retained earnings are related to net income because they increase or decrease depending on whether a company has a net income or net loss for the year.  

This net income is often referred to as the company’s bottom line, as it is often found at the bottom of an income statement.

Are Retained Earnings a Debit or Credit?

Your company’s net income or loss minus your shareholders’ dividends is your retained earnings.

The normal balance of a retained earnings account is a credit, as it signifies the accumulations of a company’s net income during its lifecycle. The amount of your retained earnings could be on the lower sides too, depending on the agreements you have with shareholders dividend payout.

Often during a company’s startup years, it can have a negative balance in its retained earnings. This occurs when a business sustains losses before it has enough customers or released enough products and services into the marketplace.


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