So you’ve decided to start your own small business (“smallbiz” or “SMB”). Welcome! It’s one of about 3,987 decisions you will have to make.
Presuming you’ve already selected a name, for Illinois citizens – at least checked the name with the Illinois Department of Business Services, and then registered your domain name, the next important step is deciding on your business’s legal entity.
In most states, including Illinois, business entity choices are;
- Sole proprietor,
- Partnership and its various forms,
- Limited Liability Company (LLC), or
- Corporation and its various forms, including Subchapter S Corporations (S-Corps).
Because individuals tend to believe, however erroneously, that business owners are wealthy, business owners are often litigation targets. Accordingly, it’s unreasonable to operate a business today without some type of legal liability shield in addition to your insurance, which is lacking if you’re operating as a sole-proprietor or even a partnership. Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs), while providing limited protection, are not as owner-friendly as LLCs and corporations. Consequently, the use of partnerships has declined substantially.
A smallbiz owner is typically advised to choose a LLC or corporation. By doing so, not only can the business take advantage of the legal liability shield, the owner can “pass through” the income profits and losses to his or her individual tax returns. A LLC is treated like a partnership for tax purposes and shareholders of a corporation that selects S-Corporation (S-Corp) treatment can pass through profits or losses. So, unlike C-Corporations, no double-taxation occurs with LLCs and S-Corps.
Smallbiz owners tend to prefer LLCs over S-Corps because LLCs, which can also elect S-Corp tax treatment, require fewer formalities. S-Corps require annual shareholder meetings, corporate record-keeping, and quarterly tax filings. Additionally, the Illinois LLC Act allows for either narrow or expansive provisions in a LLC’s Articles of Organization and Operating Agreement. LLCs also offer other advantages, including: an unlimited number of shareholders, no citizenship requirements, few restraints on purpose or asset class, and different stock classes.
Still, LLCs that don’t select to be treated as S-Corps, must pay estimated self-employment tax on all income received whereas S-Corps are not required to pay income tax on profits held for reasons other than employee wages. Also, if one depends on profits for your wages, as a single-member LLC (SMLLC), you may lose earnings if your business is sued and no distributions can be made without settling the judgment first.
As a smallbiz owner, your entity selection depends on how much flexibility you want and what your current situation dictates, i.e., how much capital you need, how much liability protection you need, and the type of business partners you have. LLCs require less administrative work than S-Corps but capitalization needed for growth is often obtained from institutions that require a record of formalities, which S-Corps also require. Still, an LLC can, through its Articles of Organization and Operating Agreement, require all the formalities of a corporation and more. So…
Now, you only have 3,986 decisions to make.