What is a Corporation?
A corporation is a business structure that exists as a separate legal entity from its owners and shareholders. Because they are distinct entities from their ownership groups, corporations have their own set of rights. A corporation can buy, sell, own property, enter into contracts, and sue other persons and firms just like an individual.
Corporations also offer personal asset protection to their owners and shareholders. What this means is that if your business is sued, creditors cannot pursue your personal possessions and assets. Instead, they are limited only to the assets of the corporation itself, such as the contents of your business bank account.
What is a Limited Liability Company (LLC)?
An LLC is a private limited company that is specific to America. It combines the pass-through taxation structure of a sole proprietorship or partnership with the limited liability protection of a corporation.
Just like a corporation, an LLC’s personal asset protection stems from the fact that it exists as a separate entity from its owner or owners. Despite this distinction, an LLC offers a pass-through taxation structure by which business profits are only taxed as personal income, not as corporate earnings.
Corporation vs LLC: Taxation
When it comes to taxation, there are actually three separate entities to discuss when comparing LLCs and corporations: The LLC default tax statuses, the C corporation, and the S corporation.
As mentioned above, LLCs that have their default tax status enjoy a tax structure known as pass-through taxation, which means the profits of the company are “passed through” to the owners and solely taxed as personal income.
While LLCs are still subject to self-employment tax, the pass-through structure shields them from having to pay both corporate tax (currently 21%) and personal income tax on their business profits. Members and employees of LLCs are eligible to deduct the cost of health insurance and other benefits from their taxable income.
LLCs may also elect to be taxed like a C corporation or an S corporation.
A C corporation (C corp) is the most common, and default, corporation type in America. C corps are subject to what is known as double taxation. When a C corp files taxes, its profits are first taxed at the current corporate tax rate of 21%.
Any business income paid out to the company’s ownership as dividends is then subject to personal income tax on their individual returns. Fringe benefits like health, disability, and life insurance are tax-deductible as long as they are provided to 70% of employees.
For tax purposes, an S corporation (S corp) is very similar to an LLC. First, an S corp is not subject to double taxation, as it operates under a pass-through taxation structure. Also similar to an LLC, an S corp must pay self-employment taxes.
The biggest difference between the two structures is that an S corp does not enjoy tax-deductible benefits. All shareholders who own at least 2% of an S corp must pay taxes on their health, disability, and other fringe benefits.
While S corps offer some benefits over C corps in terms of taxation, this structure is less common due to the strict requirements for qualification:
- Must have 100 shareholders or fewer
- Cannot issue more than one class of stock
- Only U.S. citizens/residents can be shareholders
- Cannot be owned by another company
Advantages of a Corporation
Longevity and Legal Precedent
Because the corporation as a business structure has been around for hundreds of years, the courts have ruled on just about every aspect of how they operate. Unlike the LLC, which is a newer business structure, the courts are extremely predictable in the way they’ll rule on issues related to corporations. This means that you can feel confident in the rights and protections afforded to you and your business under your corporation’s legal framework.
This is a major advantage for corporations in a few different ways. First, the ability to issue stock is a great incentive to potential investors and gives owners a big leg up when it comes to raising capital for their businesses. LLCs are not able to offer these options when seeking investments.
Beyond outside investors, the ability to offer stock and/or stock options is also an attractive option for employees. It can give your company a competitive edge against other business structures when it comes to attracting and retaining the best talent. It also serves as an incentive for employees to do their best work since they are vested in the company as stockholders.
No Self-Employment Tax
Unlike LLC owners, the owners of C corps are not subject to self-employment taxes. Self-employment tax is a 15.3% tax rate that covers both the employee and employer portions of Social Security and Medicare.
Advantages of an LLC
Simpler Formation and Maintenance
Forming and maintaining an LLC requires little more than selecting a registered agent, filing formation documents (e.g., Articles of Organization, Certificate of Formation, etc.) with your state of formation, and submitting annual reports.
Filing fees and annual fees vary considerably by state but do not generally exceed a few hundred dollars. While the initial costs to form a corporation can be similar, both the tax liabilities and day-to-day operations can be far more burdensome than that of an LLC.
Flexible Structure and Management
Unlike a corporation that has a strict business structure that must conform with long-established rules and regulations, an LLC offers much more flexibility in how it is owned and operated.
An LLC may be owned by one person or by a group of people, and profits can be split in any way ownership sees fit — they do not have to be split evenly as with a corporation. Additionally, an LLC may be managed by its owner or owners, or by a designated manager selected from inside or outside the company.
An LLCs pass-through tax structure can save business owners a considerable amount of money come tax time. While LLCs are still subject to self-employment tax, the pass-through structure shields them from having to pay both the corporate tax (currently 21%) and personal income tax on their business profits like most corporations.
Read more about the benefits of an LLC.
Should I Hire a Formation Service?
Whether you’re forming an LLC or a corporation, you’ll have to decide whether you’d like to handle the formation yourself or hire a business services provider to do the leg work.
While forming a corporation can be more complicated than forming an LLC, having professional help can be invaluable when it comes to avoiding errors and saving time. There are several reputable companies that offer business formation services at a reasonable rate.
- Incfile: $0 - With a zero-dollar Silver package (plus state fees), Incfile offers the benefits of a larger, industry-leading company and a full year of registered agent service.
- Rocket Lawyer: $99 - While Rocket Lawyer’s standard formation package is not the best on the market, it’s comprehensive business and legal services package can be a great choice when forming either an LLC or a corporation. It combines the benefit of formation services with additional features like attorney consultations.
There are quite a few things to consider when you’re deciding whether to form an LLC or a corporation for your business.
You will need to consider the size, scope, and function of your business, and take into account your growth potential and how much flexibility you need or want in terms things like ownership, stock offerings, and taxation.
Each step of the decision making process should be taken with care and consideration of your specific circumstances, resources, and goals.