Of all the choices you make when starting a business, one of the most important is the type of legal organization you select for your company. This decision can affect how much you pay in taxes, the amount of paperwork your business is required to do, the personal liability you face and your ability to borrow money. Business formation is controlled by the law of the state where your business is organized.
One form is not necessarily better than any other. Each business owner must asses his or her own needs. It may be important to seek advice when considering the advantages and disadvantages of a business entity.
The most common forms of businesses are:
- Sole Proprietorships
- Limited Liability Companies (LLC)
A sole proprietorship is the most common form of business organization. It’s easy to form and offers complete control to the owner. It is any unincorporated business owned entirely by one individual. In general, the owner is also personally liable for all financial obligations and debts of the business. (State law may also govern this area depending on the state.)
Sole proprietors can operate any kind of business. It must be a business, not an investment or hobby. It can be full-time or part-time work. This includes operating a:
- Shop or retail trade business
- Large company with employees
- Home based business
- One person consulting firm
Every sole proprietor is required to keep sufficient records to comply with federal tax requirements regarding business records.
Limited Liability Company
A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a relatively new business structure allowed by state statute.
LLCs are popular because, similar to a corporation, owners generally have limited personal liability for the debts and actions of the LLC. Other features of LLCs are more like a partnership, providing management flexibility and the benefit of pass-through taxation.
Owners of an LLC are called members. Since most states do not restrict ownership, members may include individuals, corporations, other LLCs and foreign entities. Most states also permit “single member” LLCs, those having only one owner.
A few types of businesses generally cannot be LLCs, such as banks and insurance companies. Check your state’s requirements and the federal tax regulations for further information. There are special rules for foreign LLCs.
A partnership is the relationship existing between two or more persons who join to carry on a trade or business. Each person contributes money, property, labor or skill, and expects to share in the profits and losses of the business.
A partnership must file an annual information return to report the income, deductions, gains, losses, etc., from its operations, but it does not pay income tax. Instead, it “passes through” any profits or losses to its partners. Each partner includes his or her share of the partnership’s income or loss on his or her tax return.
Partners are not employees and should not be issued a Form W-2. The partnership must furnish copies of Schedule K-1 (Form 1065) to the partners by the date Form 1065 is required to be filed, including extensions