Thursday, August 20, 2009

Choosing a Business Entity

Whether you are just starting a business enterprise or you’ve been running your existing business as a sole proprietor or as a partnership, you should consider whether it makes sense to form a separate legal entity for the business. This is important for accounting purposes, as well as insulating your personal assets from the liabilities, debts and obligations of the business.

If you are operating your business as a sole proprietor, then from a legal and tax perspective, you, as the owner, are inseparable from the business. Since a sole proprietorship and its owner are considered one and the same, taxes on a sole proprietorship are determined at the personal income tax rate of the owner. In fact, a sole proprietor simply reports all business income or losses on an individual income tax return.

Similarly, because they are the same entity, a sole proprietor is personally responsible for any liabilities, obligations and debts of the business.

If you have a partner, then you have formed a general partnership, which is defined under the Maryland Code as “an association of two or more persons to carry on as co-owners a business for profit.”

Each partner is personally liable to third parties for all the liabilities, obligations and debts of the partnership, as well as the other partners. In this context, the only difference between a sole proprietorship and a partnership is that a partner could find him/herself liable for liabilities, obligations or debts created by another partner in the business. The partnership is not taxed as a separate entity. Instead, taxable income, losses, deductions, and credits are passed through on a pro-rated basis to each of the partners. Each partner is taxed directly on his/her share of the partnership’s net income, whether that income is distributed or not.

Why Form a Separate Entity?

Most of us carry casualty insurance, which protects our business from the loss of assets in the event of a casualty (e.g., a fire) and liability insurance (which, by the way, should always include contractual liability coverage), which protects your business from liabilities asserted by third parties for acts such as negligence (e.g., a fire caused by your -- or your employee’s -- negligence in your leased space which damages or destroys the landlord’s premises). But there could be situations where the insurance proceeds either don’t cover the claim being asserted or where the limits of coverage are insufficient to cover the entire amount of the claim being asserted. Also, business and economic cycles could create financial pressures on your business operations, making it necessary to negotiate with lenders, landlords and other creditors.

Unless your business is a separate legal entity, your home and other personal assets could be at risk. Establishing a separate legal entity, maintaining its separate existence and using the entity’s name on your marketing materials, invoices, etc. will help protect your personal assets.

There are also tax and accounting benefits associated with establishing a separate legal entity. Each type of entity has different tax and legal implications so it is critical that you consult with your attorney and a tax advisor before forming a separate legal business entity.

Next week I will discuss the various types of common legal entities.

forming partnerships, partnership, partnership business, sole proprietor, sole proprietorship business, why incorporate, why incorporate a business, why incorporate your business

No comments:

Post a Comment