As a business owner, deciding on the structure of your company is one of the most important decisions you can make. Limited liability companies are a relatively new hybrid business entity. California passed The Beverly-Killea Limited Liability Company Act which allowed for LLCs to be created in California in 1996. Since their start, they have become increasing popular with business owners and for good reason.
An LLC is an interesting hybrid that has the best of different business structures rolled into one. It is a business structure where, as with a sole proprietorship or partnership, the losses of the company are reported on the business owner's personal tax returns. Sole proprietorships and partnerships however, do not provide the owner any limited liability protection. With an LLC, as with a corporation, the owners are protected from personal liability.
Easier to Create and Maintain
An LLC has many advantages to the business owner. LLCs have all the advantages of a corporation (protection from personal liability), without the red tape and administrative costs in creating and maintaining a corporation. Because of this, they are a good option for the small business owner. Complying with corporate formation rules and the yearly maintenance that is needed is time-consuming and costly. There are statements and reports that need to be filed with the Secretary of State, and corporate books to be maintained. The stakes to maintaining a corporation are high, failure to do so means that a creditor of the corporation could theoretically "pierce the corporate veil" and come after the shareholder's assets.
In contrast, the creation of an LLC is simple. All that is required to form an LLC in California is to file Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State and pay a filing fee. California also requires that LLCs create an Operating Agreement. The Operating Agreement is a written agreement between the members setting the guidelines and procedures of how the LLC will function. While there are no set criteria as to what the document should contain, typically it would include subjects as how the company will be managed, the amount of capital contributions from each member, and how profits and losses will be handled.
Favorable Tax Treatment
The IRS has different ways of viewing an LLC for tax purposes. For instance, an LLC with only one member is taxed as a sole proprietorship. If the LLC has two or more members it will be taxed as a partnership (unless the LLC has been elected to be treated as a corporation). Either way, the tax treatment for an LLC is preferable to that of a corporation. In contrast, C-Corporations are subject to double taxation. The corporation is required to pay a corporate tax, and then the money is taxed again as income to the individual shareholders. With an LLC, all the business losses, profits and expenses flow through the company to the individual shareholders. This also holds true with a corporation that files for S-election status. The drawback however, is S-corporations are complicated and costly to create and maintain. Further, Section 1361 of the Internal Revenue Code imposes significant restrictions on the ownership of S-corporations.
Owner's Assets are Better Protected
Just as with shareholders of a corporation, LLC owners are protected from personal liability for business debts and claims. They are not individually liable for any debts or liabilities incurred while doing business for the company. Owner's assets cannot be seized or sold to pay other liabilities for the company. This is not the case with a sole proprietorship or partnership, where the owner is responsible for any loss or debt, even if it means settling this debt with their personal assets.
For these reasons, the LLC can be a great option for some, by combining the best features of different business structures. While the LLC is a great option for some, choosing the right business entity is a complicated process. When in doubt consult legal counsel.
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