The S Corp Versus the LLC

In my previous post I advised small businesses about the upcoming March 15 deadline for S Corp election. I wanted to follow up with a more detailed look at the two most popular business entities for small businesses:  the S Corporation and LLC (Limited Liability Company).

These two entities share several key similarities. Perhaps most importantly, both will protect your personal assets from any potential liabilities of the company (whether from an unhappy customer, unpaid supplier, or anyone else who might pursue legal action). With both the S Corporation and LLC, your personal finances, home vehicles and other assets are all safe. In addition, both structures allow a business to borrow money and sell equity in order to raise capital. Both stay in existence until they are dissolved, without need for periodic renewal. And both offer pass-through tax treatment when it comes to federal income tax.

Given these similarities, how do you decide which is the better choice for your particular business? While circumstances vary among individuals and individual businesses, here are some general guidelines to help you understand the differences and their impact.

The S Corp Versus the LLC

1. Business Formality

The LLC is ideal for companies that don’t want or need much formality, but still want legal protection. In a corporation (S-Corp or C-Corp), Articles of Incorporation must be filed; bylaws have to be written; officers have to be named; a board of directors elected; and minutes must be filed and resolutions passed whenever you want to make changes to the company. In the LLC, this isn’t the case. LLCs just use an informal “operating agreement.” Depending on your particular type of business and the individuals involved, this could either be a great time and money saver, or the gateway to potential conflict down the road.

2. The S Corporation Restricts Who Can Be a Shareholder

An S Corp cannot have more than 100 shareholders (of course, this limitation is probably not of much consequence to many small businesses). All individual shareholders must be either U.S. Citizens or permanent residents. By contrast, the LLC does not have such restrictions on owners.

3. The S Corporation Has Strict Income Allocation

In an LLC, income and loss can be allocated disproportionately among the owners; in the S Corp, income and loss are assigned to each shareholder strictly based on their pro-rata share of ownership.

So what does this mean? If I own 80 percent of an LLC, my share of the tax burden doesn’t necessarily have to be 80 percent of the taxable income. But if I own 80 percent of an S-Corp and that company makes $100,000 in taxable income, I will be taxed on $80,000 of income.

4. The S Corporation Cannot Increase Pass-Through Losses

In certain circumstances, the IRS allows the loss in an S Corp or LLC to pass through to the individual shareholders. However, the LLC allows you to pass through more loss than in the S Corp, most notably when it comes to real estate. In an LLC used for real estate investments, however, the members are allowed to add the amount of the mortgage to their basis for the purpose of computing a loss. Clearly, that can add up to a significant difference in your tax statement.

5. Venture Funds Typically Do Not Want to Invest in LLCs

If your company is considering raising venture capital down the road, be advised that the C Corporation is a venture capital firm’s clear choice for the type of legal entity for their investment. Converting an LLC into a C Corp entails a complete merger and can be a rather complicated process involving accountants and possibly lawyers. By contrast, converting an S-Corp to a C Corp can be done in a day with a single tax form (you’re basically unchecking the box for S Corp tax election).

Choosing the right business structure for your business is a weighty issue and will ultimately depend on all the unique aspects of your particular business needs, vision and circumstances. But no matter what entity you choose, taking a serious look at your legal structure is important and will help you scale far more smoothly (and avoid any legal and liability pitfalls) in years to come.

CorpNet offers business formations, filings, state tax registrations, and corporate compliance services in all 50 states. Express and 24 hour rush filing services available upon request. Click here to learn more.

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Nellie Akalp Nellie Akalp is a passionate entrepreneur, recognized business expert and mother of four. She is the CEO of CorpNet, the smartest way to start a business, register for payroll taxes, and maintain business compliance across the United States.

14 Reactions
  1. Sounds like future funding possibilities will largely make this decision for you. Thanks for the clarification.

  2. Roy A. Ackerman, PhD, EA

    Great post.
    NOTE: If you elect to operate your LLC as a Corporation and NOT a partnership, not all the benefits listed above apply.

  3. Nellie,

    S. Corp!

    Your company rocks, by the way.

    The Franchise King®

  4. LLC all the way baby
    i still own my shirt on my back and i want it to stay that way.

  5. @Robert – Exactly! Please feel free to reach out with any questions and thanks again for reading the article!
    @Roy – Thanks for reading the post and commenting!
    @Joel – Joel, you rock! Thank you for your continued support!
    – Nellie

  6. @muttyman Excellent choice; you get the liability protection minus all the paper filing headaches and formalities! Thanks for reading my post; feel free to reach out at any time :)-Nellie

  7. Hi i want to form a Tax consulting Firm…, Iam an Indian, never visited US.., I have 5+ years of experience in US Tax.. wanted to form a buiness with my 4 friends.., can i Incorporate a Business in US., if so..which entity i can form.. LLC, LLP, S-Corp or C-Corp

  8. Hi Venu – As you may be aware, is solely a document filing service and cannot offer legal tax or financial advice. However, we can offer you a FREE BIZ Consult and give guidance with respect to the different types of biz entitites and your options and assit you with the formation of your business entity. Feel free to call at 1.888.449.2638

  9. Nellie
    Thank you, I was on the fence on S-corp and LLC
    I am a small electrical business, LLC seems to be a better fit for me, At least for a couple of more years.
    Saving 15.3 self employment tax is something that will always be on my mind.
    Baby steps and smart decisions and I will succeed.
    Thanks again for your explanation

  10. Wrong- you will be paying that tax on the net proceeds from your firm as an LLC.
    If you are an S, you can pay yourself a reasonable salary and only pay employer taxes on that amount.