Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating vs. forming a limited liability company (LLC)?
A: S corporations and LLCs possess similarities: They offer their owners limited liability protection and are both pass-through tax entities. Pass-through taxation allows the income or loss generated by the business to be reflected on the personal income tax return of the owners. This special tax status eliminates any possibility of double taxation for S corporations and LLCs.
That's where the similarities end. The ownership of an S corporation is restricted to no more than 75 shareholders, whereas an LLC can have an unlimited number of members (owners). And while an S corporation can't have non-U.S. citizens as shareholders, an LLC can.
In addition, S corporations cannot be owned by C corporations, other S corporations, many trusts, LLCs or partnerships. LLCs are not subject to these restrictions.
LLCs are also more flexible in distributing profits than S corporations, wherein the corporation can only have one class of stock and your percentage of ownership determines the percentage of pass-through income. On the other hand, an LLC can have many different classes of interest, and the percentage of pass-through income is not tied to ownership percentage. The pass-through percentage can be set by agreement of the members in the LLC's operating agreement.
S corporations aren't without their advantages, however. One person can form an S corporation, while in a few states at least two people are required to form an LLC. Existence is perpetual for S corporations. Conversely, LLCs typically have limited life spans. A few states require LLCs to list dissolution dates in their articles of organization, and certain events such as the withdrawal or death of a member can cause LLCs to automatically dissolve.
The stock of S corporations is freely transferable, while the interest (ownership) of LLCs is not. This free transferability of interest means the shareholders of S corporations are able to sell their interest without obtaining the approval of the other shareholders. In contrast, member of LLCs would need the approval of the other members in order to sell their interest. Lastly, S corporations may be advantageous in terms of self-employment taxes in comparison to LLCs.
For advice specific to your situation, contact an attorney.
Rick Oster is co-founder and vice president of Business Filings Inc., an online incorporation service provider that helps small-business owners and entrepreneurs form corporations, LLCs and nonprofits in any state.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.