Business Types of Ownership
The pros and cons of different business types of
ownership, including sole proprietorship, partnering,
corporations, and limited liability companies.
One of the first decisions that you will have to make as a business owner is how the company should be
structured. This decision will have long-term implications, so consult with an accountant and attorney to help you
select the form of ownership that is right for you. In making a choice, you will want to take into account the
following:

  • Your vision regarding the size and nature of your business.
  • The level of control you wish to have.
  • The level of structure you are willing to deal with.
  • The business' vulnerability to lawsuits.
  • Tax implications of the different ownership structures.
  • Expected profit (or loss) of the business.
  • Whether or not you need to reinvest earnings into the business.
  • Your need for access to cash out of the business for yourself.

Sole Proprietorships

The vast majority of small businesses start out as sole proprietorships. These firms are owned by one person,
usually the individual who has day-to-day responsibilities for running the business. Sole proprietors own all the
assets of the business and the profits generated by it. They also assume complete responsibility for any of its
liabilities or debts. In the eyes of the law and the public, you are one in the same with the business.

Advantages of a Sole Proprietorship:

  • Easiest and least expensive form of ownership to organize.
  • Sole proprietors are in complete control, and within the parameters of the law, may make decisions as they
    see fit.
  • Sole proprietors receive all income generated by the business to keep or reinvest.
  • Profits from the business flow directly to the owner's personal tax return.
  • The business is easy to dissolve, if desired.

Disadvantages of a Sole Proprietorship:

  • Sole proprietors have unlimited liability and are legally responsible for all debts against the business. Their
    business and personal assets are at risk.
  • May be at a disadvantage in raising funds and are often limited to using funds from personal savings or
    consumer loans.
  • May have a hard time attracting high-caliber employees or those that are motivated by the opportunity to
    own a part of the business.
  • Some employee benefits such as owner's medical insurance premiums are not directly deductible from
    business income (only partially deductible as an adjustment to income).

Federal Tax Forms for Sole Proprietorship:
(only a partial list and some may not apply)

  • Form 1040: Individual Income Tax Return
  • Schedule C: Profit or Loss from Business (or Schedule C-EZ)
  • Schedule SE: Self-Employment Tax
  • Form 1040-ES: Estimated Tax for Individuals
  • Form 4562: Depreciation and Amortization
  • Form 8829: Expenses for Business Use of your Home
  • Employment Tax Forms

Partnerships

In a Partnership, two or more people share ownership of a single business. Like proprietorships, the law does not
distinguish between the business and its owners. The partners should have a legal agreement that sets forth how
decisions will be made, profits will be shared, disputes will be resolved, how future partners will be admitted to the
partnership, how partners can be bought out, and what steps will be taken to dissolve the partnership when
needed. Yes, it's hard to think about a breakup when the business is just getting started, but many partnerships
split up at crisis times, and unless there is a defined process, there will be even greater problems. They also must
decide up-front how much time and capital each will contribute, etc.

Advantages of a Partnership:

  • Partnerships are relatively easy to establish; however time should be invested
in developing the partnership agreement.
  • With more than one owner, the ability to raise funds may be increased.
  • The profits from the business flow directly through to the partners' personal
tax returns.
  • Prospective employees may be attracted to the business if given the incentive
to become a partner.
  • The business usually will benefit from partners who have complementary skills.

Disadvantages of a Partnership:

  • Partners are jointly and individually liable for the actions of the other partners.
  • Profits must be shared with others.
  • Since decisions are shared, disagreements can occur.
  • Some employee benefits are not deductible from business income on tax
returns.
  • The partnership may have a limited life; it may end upon the withdrawal or
death of a partner.

Types of Partnerships that should be considered:

1.        General Partnership
Partners divide responsibility for management and liability as well as the shares of
profit or loss according to their internal agreement. Equal shares are assumed
unless there is a written agreement that states differently.

2.        Limited Partnership and Partnership with limited liability
Limited means that most of the partners have limited liability (to the extent of their
investment) as well as limited input regarding management decisions, which
generally encourages investors for short-term projects or for investing in capital
assets. This form of ownership is not often used for operating retail or service
businesses. Forming a limited partnership is more complex and formal than that of a
general partnership.

3.        Joint Venture
Acts like a general partnership, but is clearly for a limited period of time or a single project. If the partners in a
joint venture repeat the activity, they will be recognized as an ongoing partnership and will have to file as such as
well as distribute accumulated partnership assets upon dissolution of the entity.

Federal Tax Forms for Partnerships:
(only a partial list and some may not apply)

  • Form 1065: Partnership Return of Income
  • Form 1065 K-1: Partner's Share of Income, Credit, Deductions
  • Form 4562: Depreciation
  • Form 1040: Individual Income Tax Return
  • Schedule E: Supplemental Income and Loss
  • Schedule SE: Self-Employment Tax
  • Form 1040-ES: Estimated Tax for Individuals
  • Employment Tax Forms

Corporations

A corporation chartered by the state in which it is headquartered is considered by law to be a unique entity,
separate and apart from those who own it. A corporation can be taxed, it can be sued, and it can enter into
contractual agreements. The owners of a corporation are its shareholders. The shareholders elect a board of
directors to oversee the major policies and decisions. The corporation has a life of its own and does not dissolve
when ownership changes.

Advantages of a Corporation:

  • Shareholders have limited liability for the corporation's debts or judgments against the corporations.
  • Generally, shareholders can only be held accountable for their investment in stock of the company. (Note
    however, that officers can be held personally liable for their actions, such as the failure to withhold and pay
    employment taxes.)
  • Corporations can raise additional funds through the sale of stock.
  • A corporation may deduct the cost of benefits it provides to officers and employees.
  • Can elect S corporation status if certain requirements are met. This election enables company to be taxed
    similar to a partnership.

Disadvantages of a Corporation:

  • The process of incorporation requires more time and money than other forms of organization.
  • Corporations are monitored by federal, state and some local agencies, and as a result may have more
    paperwork to comply with regulations.
  • Incorporating may result in higher overall taxes. Dividends paid to shareholders are not deductible from
    business income; thus it can be taxed twice.

Federal Tax Forms for Regular or "C" Corporations:
(only a partial list and some may not apply)

  • Form 1120 or 1120-A: Corporation Income Tax Return
  • Form 1120-W Estimated Tax for Corporation
  • Form 8109-B Deposit Coupon
  • Form 4625 Depreciation
  • Employment Tax Forms
  • Other forms as needed for capital gains, sale of assets, alternative minimum tax, etc.

Subchapter S Corporations

A tax election only; this election enables the shareholder to treat the earnings and profits as distributions and
have them pass through directly to their personal tax return. The catch here is that the shareholder, if working for
the company, and if there is a profit, must pay him/herself wages, and must meet standards of "reasonable
compensation". This can vary by geographical region as well as occupation, but the basic rule is to pay yourself
what you would have to pay someone to do your job, as long as there is enough profit. If you do not do this, the
IRS can reclassify all of the earnings and profit as wages, and you will be liable for all of the payroll taxes on the
total amount.

Federal Tax Forms for Subchapter S Corporations:
(only a partial list and some may not apply)

  • Form 1120S: Income Tax Return for S Corporation
  • 1120S K-1: Shareholder's Share of Income, Credit, Deductions
  • Form 4625 Depreciation
  • Employment Tax Forms
  • Form 1040: Individual Income Tax Return
  • Schedule E: Supplemental Income and Loss
  • Schedule SE: Self-Employment Tax
  • Form 1040-ES: Estimated Tax for Individuals
  • Other forms as needed for capital gains, sale of assets, alternative minimum tax, etc.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

The LLC is a relatively new type of hybrid business structure that is now permissible in most states. It is designed
to provide the limited liability features of a corporation and the tax efficiencies and operational flexibility of a
partnership. Formation is more complex and formal than that of a general partnership.

The owners are members, and the duration of the LLC is usually determined when the organization papers are
filed. The time limit can be continued, if desired, by a vote of the members at the time of expiration. LLCs must not
have more than two of the four characteristics that define corporations: Limited liability to the extent of assets,
continuity of life, centralization of management, and free transferability of ownership interests.

Federal Tax Forms for LLC:

Taxed as partnership in most cases; corporation forms must be used if there are more than 2 of the 4 corporate
characteristics, as described above.

In summary, deciding the form of ownership that best suits your business venture should be given careful
consideration. Use your key advisers to assist you in the process.

Courtesy of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
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Business Types of Ownership