New entrepreneurs are often unaware of the many legalities surrounding a new business. Most specifically, the legal structure of your business. This refers to the type of entity your business is and can play a huge role in deciding what taxes you pay as well as all the legal paperwork you need to fill in.
Each legal structure has its pros and cons, but which one is best for your business? Take a look at each structure below, read all the information, and decide which one is best suited for your business model:
A sole proprietorship is the most common and simple legal structure for your business. This is where you are the sole owner of your business and are responsible for everything – including your assets and liabilities. This means it is your personal responsibility for all of your business finances, you are in charge of the money you make and must also be in charge of any money you owe. Recent research suggests that over half of businesses follow this legal structure.
The main pro of this structure is that you are in charge of the business, so all the money you make goes to you and you alone. However, the downside is that you’re liable for everything too. So, if someone has an issue with your business, they can sue you personally for it. Also, you get taxed as if your profits are personal income. What does this mean? It means you only pay individual tax and not company tax as well.
The second legal structure is a partnership, where your business is owned by more than one person. Within this structure, there are two different types of a partnership; general and limited. With a general partnership, this is where everything is divided equally between the parties involved. You each take on the same responsibilities and liabilities. A limited one is where one person is in charge, and the others make a significant contribution but not as much as the main person.
If your business is structured as a general partnership, then it can fall under the sole proprietorship status too. This means all partners are in control of everything, which is a positive as it means you have more brains to bounce around ideas and more resources too. It also means you might have enough money to avoid applying for startup loans, which also means you avoid debt. If you’re a limited partnership, then you’ll fall under Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) status. This means that those with limited control aren’t as liable as the main controller. This can have its pros as it makes it harder to be personally liable during lawsuits if you have limited control. However, the downside is you don’t get an equal share of the profits.
In general, partnerships are good because of the collaboration involved, but bad because of the fact you have to share your profits between other people, meaning your personal take-home is less than if you owned it alone. Plus, another positive is that it follows the same tax structure as a sole proprietorship; you only pay personal income tax.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
LLC’s are fast becoming a popular legal structure for businesses. Why? Because they allow you to enjoy the main benefits of a partnership (the collaboration, paying individual tax) without some of the negatives.
Mainly, an LLC consists of partners or shareholders – people that have a stake in your business. They’ve used their money to help fund things, and are partially in control of how things are run along with yourself. The key point is, with an LLC, all partners and shareholders aren’t personally liable for any legal issues your business gets into. This means if you fall into debt or get sued, you aren’t liable unless there’s concrete evidence that you’re responsible for the issue at hand.
An LLC is good as it offers you liability protection while also granting the tax benefits you get with partnerships and sole proprietorships. The only negatives are similar to partnerships, any profits you make need to be shared, and you don’t have full control of your business.
Once your business establishes itself and starts to grow, you might want to consider switching its legal structure to that of a corporation. A corporation is a business that’s completely separate from you, the owner. While you have your legal rights, so does your business. You can own stock through your business, buy property through it, even sue people through it. It’s a legal entity created with the sole purpose of conducting business. As such, it also has to pay a separate tax. There are many types of corporations, with C corporations being the most common. These are businesses where the owners pay personal income tax, and the business itself pays a separate business tax.
The major benefit of a corporation is that you are completely protected from personal liability. If anything bad happens to the company, such as a lawsuit or heavy debt, you’re not liable, much like with an LLC. The major downside is that you pay two loads of tax; corporation tax and individual tax.
Finally, you have an S corporation which is similar in structure to a C corporation but with one clear difference. Your business is still a separate legal entity, but the tax situation is different. Instead of paying two types of tax, you only have to pay individual tax on any profits you make.
The catch is that you have to fulfill certain eligibility requirements to be classed as an S corporation. For example, you can’t have over a hundred shareholder, and you must be a domestic company. You also can’t have shareholders who are partners, it must only be individuals.
Each of these legal structures comes with positive and negative features. The main things to consider are how much control you have over your business, what tax laws you must abide by, and how liable you will be if things go wrong.