Starting An Online Business: Choosing A Busines Entity

PLEASE NOTE: The following information is for the United States. If you reside in a different country, check the legal requirements for that country.

When beginning a business, you must decide what form of business entity to establish. Your form of business determines which income tax return form you need to file. The most common forms of business are the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and S corporation. A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a relatively new business structure allowed by state statute. Legal and tax considerations enter into selecting a business structure.

Most new on-line businesses start out as a sole proprietorship. However, as a business grows, it may be more advantageous tax wise to choose a different business entity.

• Sole Proprietorship – A sole proprietor is someone who owns an unincorporated business by himself or herself. However, if you are the sole member of a domestic limited liability company (LLC), you are not a sole proprietor if you elect to treat the LLC as a corporation.

• Partnership – A partnership is the relationship existing between two or more persons who join together to carry on a trade or business. Each person contributes money, property, labor or skill, and expects to share in the profits and losses of the business.

A partnership must file an annual information return to report the income, deductions, gains, losses, etc., from its operations, but it does not pay income tax. Instead, it “passes through” any profits or losses to its partners. Each partner includes his or her share of the partnership’s income or loss on his or her tax return.

• Corporations – In forming a corporation, prospective shareholders exchange money, property, or both, for the corporation’s capital stock. A corporation generally takes the same deductions as a sole proprietorship to figure its taxable income. A corporation can also take special deductions. For federal income tax purposes, a C corporation is recognized as a separate taxpaying entity. A corporation conducts business, realizes net income or loss, pays taxes and distributes profits to shareholders.

The profit of a corporation is taxed to the corporation when earned, and then is taxed to the shareholders when distributed as dividends. This creates a double tax. The corporation does not get a tax deduction when it distributes dividends to shareholders. Shareholders cannot deduct any loss of the corporation.

• S Corporations – S corporations are corporations that elect to pass corporate income, losses, deductions and credit through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes. Shareholders of S corporations report the flow-through of income and losses on their personal tax returns and are assessed tax at their individual income tax rates. This allows S corporations to avoid double taxation on the corporate income. S corporations are responsible for tax on certain built-in gains and passive income.

To qualify for S corporation status, the corporation must meet the following requirements:
o Be a domestic corporation
o Have only allowable shareholders including individuals, certain trust, and estates and may not include partnerships, corporations or non-resident alien shareholders
o Have no more than 100 shareholders
o Have one class of stock
o Not be an ineligible corporation i.e. certain financial institutions, insurance companies, and domestic international sales corporations.

• Limited Liability Company – A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a business structure allowed by state statute. LLCs are popular because, similar to a corporation, owners have limited personal liability for the debts and actions of the LLC. Other features of LLCs are more like a partnership, providing management flexibility and the benefit of pass-through taxation.

Owners of an LLC are called members. Since most states do not restrict ownership, members may include individuals, corporations, other LLCs and foreign entities. There is no maximum number of members. Most states also permit “single member” LLCs, those having only one owner.
A few types of businesses generally cannot be LLCs, such as banks and insurance companies. Check your state’s requirements and the federal tax regulations for further information. There are special rules for foreign LLCs.

The US federal government does not recognize an LLC as a classification for federal tax purposes. An LLC business entity must file a tax return as a corporation, partnership or sole proprietorship.

An LLC that is not automatically classified as a corporation can file Form 8832 to elect their business entity classification. A business with at least 2 members can choose to be classified as an association taxable as a corporation or a partnership, and a business entity with a single member can choose to be classified as either an association taxable as a corporation or disregarded as an entity separate from its owner, a “disregarded entity.” Form 8832 is also filed to change the LLC’s classification.