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Sole Proprietorship vs. LLC: Which Business Structure is Right for You?

Business Income Business Planning Small Business Taxes
A small business owner researches the differences between sole proprietorships and LLCs on her laptop

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When starting a business, it’s important to choose the right business structure. What type of business you choose can significantly impact everything from your taxes to your legal liability. Two of the most common business structures you can choose between are a sole proprietorship and a limited liability company (LLC). Let’s look at the differences between these two business structures to help you make an informed decision that best fits your business goals and situation.

At a glance:

  • Sole proprietorships are easy to set up, but LLCs offer liability protection by separating your business and personal assets.
  • Each business structure has different legal and tax obligations.
  • Either business entity can be a good option, depending on your situation.

Understanding a sole proprietorship

A sole proprietorship can be a good choice for entrepreneurs who are starting a new business. Setting one up is fairly straightforward, making it an easy option compared to the many formalities needed to set up other more complicated business structures.

This type of business is an unincorporated business — a sole proprietorship doesn’t separate you and your business from a legal standpoint, meaning there is no distinction between your personal assets and those of your business.

Advantages of a sole proprietorship:

  • Straightforward setup: Setting up a sole proprietorship is a fairly easy process that involves minimal paperwork and is usually less expensive than other business structures.
  • Control: As the owner of a sole proprietorship, you have complete control over every aspect of your business, including everything from making decisions to carrying out daily operations.
  • Tax simplicity: As a sole proprietor, you’ll report business income and expenses directly on your personal income tax return (Form 1040), making tax filing and recordkeeping more straightforward as well.

Disadvantages of a sole proprietorship:

  • Personal liability: The main downside of being a sole proprietor is you are personally liable for all business debts and legal obligations. This can put your personal assets at risk if your business faces financial difficulties.
  • Limited access to capital: In some cases, it might be more difficult to secure business loans as a sole proprietor. This is because lenders and investors may view your business as riskier due to there being no clear distinction between your personal and business assets.
  • Ownership rules: If you want to add another business owner, you’ll need to obtain an employer identification number (EIN) and change your business structure to a partnership.

Exploring the limited liability company (LLC)

If you’re looking for a balance of flexibility and protection, an LLC might be the best option for you. Unlike a sole proprietorship, an LLC offers limited liability protection for its members, shielding your personal assets from the company’s debts and legal liabilities. This feature makes it a popular choice among small business owners who want to maintain operational flexibility while safeguarding their personal assets.

To structure your company as an LLC, you’ll also need to consider the laws and regulations of the state you live in. Each state has different requirements and regulations for LLCs.

Advantages of an LLC:

  • Limited liability: When forming an LLC, one of the key benefits is the separation of personal and business assets. Your LLC is a separate legal entity, meaning in the event of lawsuits or debts, your personal assets are typically shielded from creditors.
  • Tax flexibility: LLC owners can choose how they want to be taxed, meaning you can be taxed like a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation, depending on how many members your LLC has. This kind of flexibility means you can optimize your tax strategy based on your business goals and circumstances.
  • Ability to hire employees: LLCs have fewer restrictions on hiring employees compared to sole proprietorships, making it easier to expand your workforce as your business grows.

Disadvantages of an LLC:

  • Administrative requirements: While not as burdensome as some other business structures, LLCs still have administrative requirements, such as filing articles of organization and potentially drafting an LLC operating agreement.
  • Costs: Setting up and running an LLC comes with expenses, such as filing fees, yearly report fees, and possible legal fees if help is needed to create legal documents, like an operating agreement.
  • Tax complexity: While LLCs offer tax flexibility, this can also introduce complexity, particularly if your LLC is taxed as a corporation. Understanding and navigating the various tax implications requires careful consideration, and it may be a good idea to consult with a tax professional, which could lead to additional costs.

LLC vs. sole proprietorship: legal and tax implications

To decide between a sole proprietorship and an LLC, you’ll need to consider the legal and tax implications of each business type.

For tax purposes, sole proprietors report business income and losses on their personal tax return using Schedule C. This is called pass-through taxation.

Single-member LLCs also report business income and expenses on Schedule C of their personal tax return. However, if you expand to a multi-member LLC, the IRS allows you to choose to be taxed as a partnership or corporation. These business types come with their own unique business tax forms like Form 1120 for C corporations, Form 1120-S for S corporations, and Form 1065 for partnerships. Business tax returns can also have different tax filing deadlines depending on how they are structured.

From a legal standpoint, one of the primary reasons for forming an LLC is the limited liability protection it offers. This protection means that, in most cases, the personal assets of LLC members are shielded from business debts and legal liabilities, giving you peace of mind and asset protection.

How to choose the right structure

If you’re stuck deciding between a sole proprietorship and an LLC, consider the following factors:

  • Nature of your business: Consider the industry, risk factors, and growth potential of your business. If your business has high liability risks or you have plans for significant expansion down the road, you may benefit from the added protection of an LLC.
  • Tax considerations: Evaluate each business structure’s potential tax benefits and implications. While sole proprietorships offer simplicity, LLCs provide more flexibility in tax planning and may offer unique tax advantages, particularly for businesses with higher profits.
  • Long-term goals: Based on what you’ve learned, consider your long-term business objectives and how a sole proprietorship or LLC would align with those goals. Think about scalability, succession planning, and potential exit strategies when making your decision.
  • Costs and administrative load: Make sure you assess the costs of forming each business structure, as well as the administrative requirements involved. While sole proprietorships are generally less costly and administratively burdensome, the added protection and flexibility of an LLC may justify the additional expenses and paperwork, depending on your situation.

The bottom line

Picking the right business structure is crucial for small business owners, as this decision affects your taxation, liability, and flexibility. Whether you opt for the simplicity of a sole proprietorship or the added legal protection of an LLC, it’s essential to weigh the benefits and drawbacks carefully. By making an informed decision, you can better set your business up for success and protect your personal assets along the way.

And one last tip: No matter which business structure you choose, TaxAct can help you file your business taxes with ease.

This article is for informational purposes only and not legal or financial advice.
All TaxAct offers, products and services are subject to applicable terms and conditions.

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