Perhaps you operate your small business as a sole proprietorship and want to form a limited liability company (LLC) to protect your assets. Or maybe you are launching a new business and want to know your options for setting it up. Here are the basics of operating as an LLC and why it might be appropriate for your business.

An LLC is somewhat of a hybrid entity because it can be structured to resemble a corporation for owner liability purposes and a partnership for federal tax purposes. This duality may provide the owners with the best of both worlds. 

Personal asset protection

Like the shareholders of a corporation, the owners of an LLC (called “members” rather than shareholders or partners) generally aren’t liable for the debts of the business except to the extent of their investment. Thus, the owners can operate the business with the security of knowing that their personal assets are protected from the entity’s creditors. This protection is far greater than that afforded by partnerships. In a partnership, the general partners are personally liable for the debts of the business. Even limited partners, if they actively participate in managing the business, can have personal liability.

Tax implications

The owners of an LLC can elect under the “check-the-box” rules to have the entity treated as a partnership for federal tax purposes. This can provide a number of important benefits to the owners. For example, partnership earnings aren’t subject to an entity-level tax. Instead, they “flow through” to the owners, in proportion to the owners’ respective interests in profits, and are reported on the owners’ individual returns and are taxed only once.

To the extent the income passed through to you is qualified business income, you’ll be eligible to take the Code Section 199A pass-through deduction, subject to various limitations. In addition, since you’re actively managing the business, you can deduct on your individual tax return your ratable shares of any losses the business generates. This, in effect, allows you to shelter other income that you and your spouse may have.

An LLC that’s taxable as a partnership can provide special allocations of tax benefits to specific partners. This can be an important reason for using an LLC over an S corporation (a form of business that provides tax treatment that’s similar to a partnership). Another reason for using an LLC over an S corporation is that LLCs aren’t subject to the restrictions the federal tax code imposes on S corporations regarding the number of owners and the types of ownership interests that may be issued. 

Review your situation

In summary, an LLC can give you corporate-like protection from creditors while providing the benefits of taxation as a partnership. For these reasons, you should consider operating your business as an LLC. Contact us to discuss in more detail how an LLC might benefit you and the other owners.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Limited liability company (LLC) members commonly claim that their distributive shares of LLC income — after deducting compensation for services in the form of guaranteed payments — aren’t subject to self-employment (SE) tax. But the IRS has been cracking down on LLC members it claims have underreported SE income, with some success in court.

SE tax background

Self-employment income is subject to a 12.4% Social Security tax (up to the wage base) and a 2.9% Medicare tax. Generally, if you’re a member of a partnership — including an LLC taxed as a partnership — that conducts a trade or business, you’re considered self-employed.

General partners pay SE tax on all their business income from the partnership, whether it’s distributed or not. Limited partners, however, are subject to SE tax only on any guaranteed payments for services they provide to the partnership. The rationale is that limited partners, who have no management authority, are more akin to passive investors.

(Note, however, that “service partners” in service partnerships, such as law firms, medical practices, and architecture and engineering firms, generally may not claim limited partner status regardless of their level of participation.)

LLC uncertainty

Over the years, many LLC members have taken the position that they’re equivalent to limited partners and, therefore, exempt from SE tax (except on guaranteed payments for services). But there’s a big difference between limited partners and LLC members. Both enjoy limited personal liability, but, unlike limited partners, LLC members can actively participate in management without jeopardizing their liability protection.

Arguably, LLC members who are active in management or perform substantial services related to the LLC’s business are subject to SE tax, while those who more closely resemble passive investors should be treated like limited partners. The IRS issued proposed regulations to that effect in 1997, but hasn’t finalized them — although it follows them as a matter of internal policy.

Some LLC members have argued that the IRS’s failure to finalize the regulations supports the claim that their distributive shares aren’t subject to SE tax. But the IRS routinely rejects this argument and has successfully litigated its position. The courts generally have imposed SE tax on LLC members unless, like traditional limited partners, they lack management authority and don’t provide significant services to the business.

Review your situation

The law in this area remains uncertain, particularly with regard to capital-intensive businesses. But given the IRS’s aggressiveness in collecting SE taxes from LLCs, LLC members should assess whether the IRS might claim that they’ve underpaid SE taxes.

Those who wish to avoid or reduce these taxes in the future may have some options, including converting to an S corporation or limited partnership, or restructuring their ownership interests. When evaluating these strategies, there are issues to consider beyond taxes. Contact us to discuss your specific situation at 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com

© 2019 Covenant CPA