Have you reviewed your legal business structure for tax savings and/or liability?

Tax Time is a great time to review your business financial life and determine if there are changes you can make to help you keep more of the money your earn in your pocket. One way to do this is to see if your legal business structure provides you the best opportunity for tax savings and/ or more limited liability.

In the U.S., there are four major legal choices to chose from when deciding how to operate your business: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and the limited liability company. There are also variations within these categories, such as the S-corporation.

Making this decision is complicated and both an attorney and an accountant should be consulted to provide information to help you decide which form may be best for your business. Factors to consider include:

  • Legal Liability
  • Tax implications
  • Cost of formation and record keeping
  • Flexibility
  • Future needs

As someone with both an accounting and risk management background, I look at choices from both perspectives. The number side of me wants to find out if there is a way to save money. The risk management part of me wants to make sure we are protecting the money we have. The following business entity review focuses upon these two aspects.

Liability can arise from negligence, statutory law, and assumption by contract. The risk of potential liability varies by business entity form.

Sole Proprietor: Flying Solo

  • Taxpayer is the owner; the business is not separate
  • Unlimited exposure to liability
  • All debts or claims against the business can be filed against the owners’ personal property
  • If the owner is sued, insurance is the only form of protection
  • The business itself is not taxed separately; The IRS calls this “pass-through” taxation, because the business Profit and Loss passes through the business to be taxed on your personal tax return
  • Tax is based on your personal income level and is taxed at graduated rates
  • File your personal income tax on Federal Form 1040 and all business information on Schedule C or Schedule F, Profit or Loss from the business
  • Sole Proprietors must pay both the employer and the employee side of Social Security and Medicare taxes; this is called Self-Employment tax
  • Self-Employment tax is required if your annual net-earnings is more than $400
  • The self-employment tax rate for 2014 is 15.3% of the first $117,000 of income and 2.9% of everything above that amount
  • Self-Employment taxes are reported on Federal Form Schedule SE
  • Sole Proprietors can deduct ½ of this cost on 1040-Line 27, the deductible part of self-employment tax 

Partnership: Two or More

  • General Partnerships: Partners are exposed to unlimited liability for business expenses
  • Limited Partnerships: General Partner is personally liable; Limited Partners have limited liability unless they are participating in management
  • Depending on the form, Partners may lose their investment and/or personal assets as well
  • Partners are not employees and should not be issued a W-2
  • Partnerships file an annual information return on Federal Form 1065; Schedule K1 form is used for the individual member’s profit and loss allocations
  • Individual Partners file their personal tax information on Federal Form 1040 and Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Loss
  • Taxable at the personal income level and at the graduated rates
  • File Self-Employment tax on Schedule SE; see Sole Proprietor for additional information

C-Corporation: Double-Taxation applies

  • Separate legal entity that exists, separately and is distinct from its owners
  • Owners’ personal assets are protected from claims against the corporation
  • Generally, the owners of a corporation cannot lose any more than they have invested in the corporation
  • The corporation is taxed and can be held legally liable for its actions
  • Double-Taxation applies: the profit of a corporation is taxed to the corporation when earned, and then is taxed to the shareholders when distributed as dividends
  • Owners do not pay tax on corporate earnings unless they receive money as compensation for services or as dividends
  • The corporation pays taxes on the annual net earnings and files Federal Form 1120
  • Corporate owners, who want to leave some profit in the business, may benefit from lower corporate rates
  • For example, 2013 corporate tax rates are 15% for taxable income below $50K, plus 25% for taxable income between $50K-$75K; perhaps, lower than individual rates
  • Corporate taxation is more complicated than the pass-through taxation
  • Self-Employment tax does not apply; FICA payroll taxes are shared 50/50 between the corporation and the employee

Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Single Member

  • An LLC is an entity created by state statute
  • LLCs are state entities, so the level of legal protection given to a company’s owners depends upon the rules of the state in which the LLC was formed
  • Tax reporting depends on the status of the LLC
  • Depending on elections made by the LLC and the number of members, the IRS will treat an LLC either as a corporation, partnership, or as part of the owner’s tax return; i.e. a disregarded entity
  • An LLC with only one member is treated as an entity disregarded as separate from its owner for income tax purposes unless it files Form 8832 and elects to be treated as a corporation
  • If a single-member LLC does not elect to be treated as a corporation, the LLC is a “disregarded entity,” and the LLC’s activities should be reflected on its owner’s federal tax return on Federal Form 1040 and Schedule C, Schedule E, or Schedule F
  • An individual owner of a single-member LLC that operates a trade or business is subject to the tax on net earnings from self employment in the same manner as a sole proprietorship
  • A domestic LLC with at least two members is classified as a partnership for federal income tax purposes unless it files Federal Form 8832 and elects to be treated as a corporation
  • All income, gain, loss, and deduction flow through to members unless the LLC is taxed as C-Corp
  • No double taxation unless the LLC choses to file as a corporation
  • Taxable at the personal income level and at the graduated rates
  • Self-Employment Tax applies except if the LLC operates as C-Corp
  • File Self-Employment tax on Schedule SE; see Sole Proprietor for additional information

Subchapter S-Corporation (S-Corp): Double Taxation does not apply

  • Separate legal entity
  • Limited liability for shareholders, officers, and directors
  • Generally, a corporation’s shareholders are not personally liable for the corporations debts just because they have ownership in the business; the same is true for the members of an LLC
  • S corporations are corporations that elect to pass corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes
  • Generally, the S-Corp does not pay Income Tax at the Corporate level; they can be responsible for tax on certain built-in gains and passive income at the entity level
  • Self-Employment tax does not apply
  • Many small business owners use S-Corps because they can save a business owner Social Security and Medicare taxes
  • Owners receive a salary and normal payroll taxes apply
  • As an owner-employee, the corporation pays ½ of the payroll tax which can be a substantial tax savings to the owner-employee
  • An S corporation must pay reasonable employee compensation to a shareholder-employee in return for the services the employee provides before a distribution
  • File S-Corp informational return on Federal Form 1120-S
  • Income, gain, loss, and deduction is passed through to share holders
  • Shareholder-employees will receive two tax documents from the S-Corporation: a W-2 wage statement and a Schedule K-1 statement
  • Shareholders report the flow-through of income and losses on their personal tax returns; taxed are based upon the individual income tax rates
  • Double-Taxation does not apply
  • Shareholder-employees are taxed on their salary income and on any profits distributed by the S-Corporation
  • Profit distribution is not subject to FICA payroll taxes; salaries paid must be reasonable for services provided
  • Shareholder-Employees file Federal Form 1040 and Schedule E – Supplemental Income and Loss
  • Under California law, the S corporation is subject to a 1.5 percent tax on its net income
  • See if special tax rules apply in your state

Understandably, reading about tax implications and legal liability might seem a bit boring. Most would agree. Think about it this way:

  • Money saved is money you do not need to earn
  • Knowing you are protected is a good form of “sleep insurance”

Chinese Proverb: To open a shop is easy; to keep it open is an art.

Deb Fox can be reached via twitter @ debfoxfinancial or via e-mail @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com.

http://www.debfoxfinancial.com/

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