There are many forms of legal structure you may choose for your business. Each legal structure offers organizational options with different tax and liability issues. Research each legal structure thoroughly and consult an attorney prior to making your decision. The most common organizational structures are sole proprietorships, general and limited partnerships and limited liability companies. Each structure offers unique tax and liability benefits. If you’re uncertain which business format is right for you, you may want to discuss options with a business counselor or attorney.
One person operating a business as an individual is a sole proprietorship. It’s the most common form of business organization. Profits are taxed as income to the owner personally. The personal tax rate is usually lower than the corporate tax rate. The owner has complete control of the business, but faces unlimited liability for its debts. There is very little government regulation or reporting required with this business structure.
A partnership exists when two or more persons join together in the operation and management of a business. Partnerships are subject to relatively little regulation and are fairly easy to establish. A formal partnership agreement is recommended to address potential conflicts such as: who will be responsible for performing each task; what, if any, consultation is needed between partners before major decisions, and what happens when a partner dies. Under a general partnership each partner is liable for all debts of the business. Profits are taxed as income to the partners based on their ownership percentage.
Like a general partnership, a limited partnership is established by an agreement between two or more persons. However, there are two types of partners.
- A general partner has greater control in some aspects of the partnership. For example, only a general partner can decide to dissolve the partnership. General partners have no limits on the dividends they can receive from profit so they incur unlimited liability.
- Limited partners can only receive a share of profits based on the proportional amount of their investment, and liability is similarly limited in proportion to their investment.
LLCs and LLPs
The limited liability company is a relatively new business form. It combines selected corporate and partnership characteristics while still maintaining status as a legal entity distinct from its owners. As a separate entity it can acquire assets, incur liabilities and conduct business. It limits liability for the owners. The limited liability partnership is similar to the LLC, but it is for professional organizations.