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Are you looking to form an LLC, Corporation or Partnership for your business? We regularly assist entrepreneurs in selecting the ideal business structure for their venture.

What Types of Entities can Business Owners Choose for Their Businesses?

Serva Law Group can assist you in selecting the most suitable business entity that aligns with your business needs. In California, business owners have four primary options for structuring their businesses: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and limited liability company (LLC). Each of these structures has distinct implications for personal liability and taxation, making it crucial for business owners to make an informed choice based on their specific needs.

Let's look at each business entity type:

This structure involves a single individual owning and operating the business. However, it exposes the owner to significant personal financial risk, as all income must be reported on their individual tax return and pay self-employment taxes, and they are personally liable for the business’s debts.

Partnerships involve two or more individuals or entities actively managing a jointly owned business. It allows for resource pooling and cost-sharing but also entails shared personal liability for business debts. Partnerships can be formed without formalities or registration. However, be cautious. In these typical partnerships, individuals become general partners and bear the burden of unlimited personal liability. Engaging in “general” partnerships can pose significant risks for operational businesses, as both partners may be vulnerable to legal actions and financial losses. To mitigate personal liability and protect their assets, partners should consider exploring alternative partnership structures or entirely different business entities.

For tax purposes, partnerships are subject to taxation in a manner similar to sole proprietorships, with income being distributed among individual partners. Partnerships are categorized as pass-through or flow-through entities, signifying that income and losses pass directly through the partnership without encountering taxation at the partnership level. Each partner is responsible for reporting their respective portions of income, losses, deductions, and credits on their individual tax returns. Consequently, every dollar earned by the partnership is subjected to taxation only once, at the partner’s level. This distinction is crucial and sets partnerships apart from certain corporations, which face the potential for double taxation, a concept explored in the following paragraphs.

General partnerships offer no personal liability protection, whereas limited partnerships shield limited partners from personal liability. General partners are liable for all business debts, whereas limited partners risk only their invested capital. However, caution is advised when considering Limited Partnerships, as they entail specific formal requirements, such as the necessity of a meticulously crafted partnership agreement. Failure to adhere to these formalities can place limited partners at risk of incurring personal liability. In the event that partners establish a partnership without a written agreement or neglect to register it with the state, they each become susceptible to unlimited personal liability.
A corporation separates ownership (shareholders) from management (executives). Shareholders own stock in the company, while corporate officers manage its operations. Shareholders with voting rights can choose board members who, in turn, appoint executives. This limited role shields shareholders from personal liability for corporate debts. They risk only the amount invested in the company. One person can own and control a corporation, but they must be careful to maintain a clear distinction to protect limited liability. Otherwise, courts may allow creditors to access personal assets if the individual is viewed as the corporation’s alter ego.

Corporations come in two categories: C-corporations and S-corporations. C-corporations are usually larger and subject to double taxation, while S-corporations are limited to 100 shareholders and offer pass-through taxation. Because they can be lager, C-corporations are types of business structures optimal for an organization planning to expand, attract investors, or even go public.

The key difference between C- versus S-corporations are how they taxed. On the one hand, C-corporations pay state and federal taxes on the income the corporation earns. In essence, the same money twice gets taxed twice, called double taxation. On the other hand, S-corporations are more tax-efficient but have specific eligibility criteria. If set up correctly, a qualifying S-corporation can avoid the double taxation.

Owning real estate in a corporation can lead to unfavorable tax consequences, particularly when transferring assets upon an owner’s death. Real estate in a corporation does not get an adjusted cost basis if one owner passes away. That rule applies to any property a corporation owns, whether a C- or an S-corporation. Strategies may include converting the entity to a partnership or structuring gradual property transfers.

LLCs combine the advantages of corporations and partnerships, offering flexibility in ownership, management, and taxation. LLCs can serve various purposes, including a practical method for owning investment real estate. Within an LLC, members assume ownership and management roles while maintaining limited liability. Moreover, they have the flexibility to choose their preferred tax treatment, resembling either a partnership, a corporation, or a disregarded entity, where the IRS disregards the LLC for tax purposes. State income tax returns are necessary for LLCs, but they avoid federal income tax returns. Instead, members report their share of income or losses on their individual tax returns, eliminating double taxation concerns.

Compared to corporations, LLCs generally have less stringent regulatory requirements, reducing the likelihood of veil-piercing. Thus, an LLC can be an effective choice to mitigate double taxation while preserving limited liability. It may also play a role in estate planning for business owners looking to pass on assets to future generations with minimized tax liabilities. However, it’s crucial to consider your specific circumstances, as certain professionals, like lawyers, doctors, and real estate agents, may face restrictions when operating as LLCs in California. The suitability of an LLC depends on your unique business context.

How can Business Owners Maintain Limited Liability To Protect Assets?

Business owners often use limited partnerships, corporations, or LLCs to protect their assets and limit personal liability, a particularly critical consideration for those with wealth preservation in mind. However, it's important to note that each entity providing limited liability comes with specific compliance requirements, including State-specific regulations.

To maintain limited liability effectively:

1. Business owners must diligently adhere to legal formalities. Failure to do so, such as neglecting annual meetings or neglecting to file required corporate reports, can lead to a situation known as "piercing the corporate veil." This legal concept allows creditors to disregard the corporate structure, exposing personal assets.

2. Adequate funding of the business and strict separation of personal and business finances are vital. Inadequate capitalization, comingling of assets, and failure to follow corporate formalities can provide creditors access to personal assets. Ensuring sufficient capital is crucial to cover expenses, and maintaining clear financial separation is essential.

3. Establishing written agreements that outline indemnification for losses and legal defense by the business is essential. Additionally, obtaining suitable business liability insurance tailored to your specific risks can offer further protection. Expert guidance from advisors like attorneys and accountants can help determine the right coverage to protect your assets effectively.

How can business owners save on taxes?

A key strategy our business owner clients use to save on taxes is to use either a corporation or an LLC and take a salary, then take the rest of the profits as dividends or distributions. Business owners can achieve substantial tax savings by choosing the right entity type, taking a reasonable salary, and structuring profits as dividends or distributions. Additionally, the type of entity should align with industry-specific regulations. In conclusion, making informed decisions when selecting a business entity can lead to significant annual tax savings and asset protection.

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