Business opportunities necessitate forming a formal business model to enable owners to carry out operations legally and in an orderly fashion. Businesses can adopt several business structures in the US, including S Corporations, C Corporations, and Nonprofits, but the LLC (Limited Liability Company) is one of the most popular with small business owners.
A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a business model formed under state regulations. LLC owners, aka members, may include individuals, other LLCs, corporations, and foreign entities.
Limited Liability Companies can have an unlimited number of members or only one member. Most states permit the formation of a Single and Multi-Member LLC.
While LLCs are suitable for many businesses, they are not applicable for the following businesses due to the liability protection LLCs possess:
- Insurance Companies
- Professional Partnerships, e.g., Law firms, Accountants, Doctors/Dentists Offices
Before forming an LLC, check your home state’s rules and federal tax regulations for further guidance. Also, keep in mind the rules that apply to a foreign LLC differ from those that apply to a domestic LLC.
A limited liability company (LLC) is the preferred business structure for most businesses in the US, especially startups and small businesses. LLCs offer limited liability protection to the owner, including pass-through taxation that avoids the double-level taxation applied to a C corporation and the separation and protection of the owner’s assets from legal claims, creditors, and lawsuits.
LLC formation follows state law, and although the general formation stipulations are similar, these laws vary from state to state. Hiring legal counsel when forming an LLC is not mandatory, but it is advisable, especially if in a multi-member LLC.
LLC also feature less paperwork during their formation and have fewer complexities and costs. This provides for operational ease, making it easy for owners to comply with state regulations and compliance.
There is no requirement for a board of directors, annual general meetings, and the maintenance of strict records with this company model. All that’s required is the “Articles of Organization,” a document that includes basic information like the business name, names of members, and the business address. This information is held at the Secretary of State’s office in most states and comes with a filing fee.
Once the LLC registration is complete, the members must develop an Operating Agreement, although it is not mandatory. Members can then obtain the required business permits and licenses.
The LLC is relatively new in the US. First enacted in Wyoming in 1977, it combines the advantageous features of a partnership and corporation. Since then, all US states have passed legislation and modified the act to allow for the LLC in its present form.
Overall, Limited Liability Companies have gained popularity over the years. They offer business owners the pass-through taxation feature of a partnership and less liability than a corporation, coupled with unrivaled flexibility in management and operation.
Famous examples of LLCs include:
- Chrysler Group
- Hertz Rent-a-Car
If you are new to LLC’s start with our LLC Basics Guide.
A Single-Member Limited Liability Company, abbreviated SMLLC, is a business entity with a single owner that gives its owner tax benefits and limited liability protections. This means that if the business owes money and cannot pay or gets sued, the owners’ personal liability is limited.
A Professional LLC or PLLC is a business entity suitable for licensed professionals and only provides licensed services. It offers tax benefits and limited liability for medical, legal, and other professionals, including doctors, dentists, lawyers, and accountants, against professional malpractice claims.
A series LLC is a special Limited Liability Company (LLC) with articles of formation that allow for the unlimited separation of membership interests, operations, and assets into independent series. Each series is a separate entity operating with a unique business name, bank account, and books and records.
This type of LLC may have different members/managers in each series with differing rights and obligations. Series LLCs provide an extra layer of protection as assets owned by one series are not liable to the risk of liability of other series.
In member-managed LLCs, the owners of the business have collective control over company decisions and operations. In Single-Member Limited Liability Companies, this type of business structure is easy to operate as the single-member makes all company decisions.
However, it may be advisable to opt for a manager-managed LLC (see below) in a multi-member LLC to allow for effective decision-making, legal and financial compliance, and minimal disputes.
In manager-managed LLCs, the members select the manager/managers of the company. These managers are responsible for handling the company’s daily operations, financial decision-making, and legal affairs.
Foreign LLCs refer to US companies that do business in “foreign” states and not in the home state in which the LLC was registered. States stipulate that companies register as foreign LLCs to make sure they operate per tax and regulatory requirements.
- An LLC can sign contracts and file lawsuits.
- LLCs protect each member from personal liability for their actions and company debts, offering personal asset protection.
- Unlike corporations, LLCs provide a flexible management structure for business operations, LLC taxes, and LLC management.
- LLCs provide significant tax benefits and beneficial tax status to their members, especially in small businesses.
- LLCs simplify record keeping and tax compliance for small business administration compared to other business models.
- Unlike in an S corporation, an LLC may conduct business with an unlimited number of members.
Learn more on the full Advantages of an LLC.
- Adding a new LLC owner or transferring ownership is complex and requires all members’ approval.
- Despite tax savings, forming an LLC requires the owner to pay a formation fee and many ongoing fees, making it more expensive than a sole proprietorship or general partnership.
- LLCs are not ideal for market positioning advantages and businesses that intend to seek outside investors. Venture capitalists and angel investors prefer funding other business entities such as corporations. This is because LLCs cannot later sell their stocks to raise capital while corporations can.
If you want to form an LLC, you must follow state laws and regulations to remain compliant. After filing Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State’s office and paying the necessary filing fees, your LLC becomes operational.
Make sure to follow state and tax regulations in your home state as these, as well as filing fees, differ from state to state.
LLC in Montana
LLC in Nebraska
LLC in Nevada
LLC in New Hampshire
LLC in New Jersey
LLC in New Mexico
LLC in New York
LLC in North Carolina
LLC in North Dakota
LLC in Ohio
LLC in Oklahoma
LLC in Oregon
LLC in Pennsylvania
Limited Liability Company Filing as a Corporation or Partnership
Filing an LLC as a corporation requires filing specific forms for corporations. These forms differ for C Corporations (Form 1120) and S Corporations (Form 1120S, US Income Tax Return for S Corporations). The IRS requires each owner in a corporation to report their share of corporate income, credits, and deductions.
Filing an LLC as a partnership requires filing a Form 1065, US Return of Partnership Income. Each owner should show their share of partnership income, credits, and deductions and pay self-employment taxes on their share of earnings.
Complete guide on filing your LLC as a corporation or partnership
A Family Limited Liability Company (Family LLC) provides the same tax and limited liability protections to the owner, giving owners personal asset protection.
It is its own legal entity, providing an effortless way to pass on business ownership to other family members in the event of a member/members’ death. This lowers the size of the estate and the eventual taxes the company will need to pay to the Internal Revenue Service.
The IRS treats the LLC as a pass-through entity for federal income tax purposes. This means that LLC taxes work via pass-through taxation – members do not have to pay taxes on business income. However, members do not benefit from pass-through taxation themselves and must pay federal, state, and local government taxes on their share of the company profits. They could also be liable for self-employment, payroll, and sales taxes.
Note that an LLC taxed as a different business entity is a possibility – e.g., S Corporations.
Complete Guide on How LLC Members Are Taxed.
The Written LLC Operating Agreement is a legal document stating the ownership and member duties of the company, allowing it to conduct business seamlessly. It explains how to form an LLC, the operational, legal, and financial procedures that the business should follow, and outlines the relationship between company owners and appointed managers.
LLCs should have an operating agreement, though it is not mandatory.
As a rule, Limited Liability Company (LLC) Operating Agreements spell out:
- Article I: Articles of Organization
- Article II: Management and Voting Procedures
- Article III: Capital Contributions from Members
- Article IV: Profit and Asset Distributions
- Article V: Changes in Membership
- Article VI: LLC Dissolution Procedures
Check out the Go Vitru guide to LLC operating agreements.
A sole proprietorship is an unincorporated legal entity without structure run by a single owner. Examples include retailers and freelancers.
An LLC is a separate business entity created under state law, which combines elements of a sole proprietorship, corporation, and partnership. Unlike with LLC members, a sole proprietor does not separate the business income and dealings from their personal income dealings, making them liable for any claims, debts, and judgments against the business.
Sole proprietorships have only one owner, while LLCs can have multiple owners. LLCs also require Articles of Organization to operate legally and for federal income tax purposes. Sole proprietorships simply need a business name and the relevant permits and licenses to operate. Sole proprietorships do not have to file annual reports like LLC.
For more information see our guide on Sole Proprietorships vs LLCs
An LLC is a business entity; an S corporation is a tax classification that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) taxes as a partnership. You must first register as an LLC and meet strict Internal Revenue Service regulations to qualify as an S Corporation.
An S Corporation provides limited liability protections like an LLC, with the added stipulation of taxing 100 owners/shareholders or fewer as a partnership.
For more information see our guide on S Corporations vs LLCs
A Limited Liability Company (LLC) offers owners the benefit of a pass-through tax structure with limited liability protections and flexible record keeping. However, with corporations, owners/corporate shareholders have limited liability for company-related debts, and they must keep strict records of their business. In both a corporation and LLC, its members must file personal tax returns. Crucially, a C corporation may sell stocks to raise capital, but an LLC may not.
For more information see our guide on C Corporations vs LLCs
Both a Limited Liability Company (LLC) and a nonprofit organization offer limited liability protection to their owners. However, this is where the similarity stops. LLCs are formed to run a business and make a profit. At the same time, nonprofit organizations must be charitable, religious, scientific, or for other IRS-specified purposes and not generally make a profit.
Typically, the IRS considers nonprofit organizations tax-exempt for tax purposes. However, this is not an automatic exemption.
For more information see our guide on Nonprofits vs LLCs
An LLC is a legal business entity formed to do business and make a profit. However, a DBA, aka “doing business as” name, is a registered name for a business. DBAs are applicable in LLCs, sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations.
For more information see our guide on DBAs vs LLCs
The highest cost business owners incur when forming a limited liability company (LLC) is the state filing fee, which ranges between $40 and $500, depending on the state location.
Other common LLC formation costs include:
- Business Licensing/Permit Fees
- Fictitious/DBA Name Fees
- LLC Name Reservation Fees
- Publication Fees
From there, you can opt to form an LLC by yourself or hire a lawyer or professional LLC formation service to help you with your company setup. These LLC formation services charge a small fee, and the costs vary from state to state.
Depending on your location and industry, your LLC may require federal, state, and local licenses or permits to operate within the law. Some examples include general, health, food and liquor, zoning and land-use, and occupational licenses.
A fictitious name is not a requirement when forming an LLC (Limited Liability Company). However, if you want to create a fictitious name or separate brands under your LLC, you may need a fictitious/DBA name or a “doing business as” name. This process attracts a fee, which varies from state to state, county, city, and business structure. Typically, filing costs for DBA names range from $10 to $100.
In Alabama, a new LLC will need to reserve its name at the cost of $10-$28. This requirement is optional in other states.
Arizona, New York, and Nebraska require your LLC to publish a formation statement in a local newspaper. This cost varies between $40 and $2,000.
An LLC registered agent, aka a statutory or resident agent, is an individual or business that accepts legal and tax documents on behalf of your business. Most states require that LLCs and other companies have a registered agent.
- Improved business image
- Peace of mind
- Operational flexibility
- Helps with out-of-state registration
- Helps keep important company documents like legal documents, tax forms, summons and notices of lawsuits, or official government correspondence
Registered agent services offer several benefits, including:
You can be your LLCs registered agent if you choose to or designate the role, as long as you or the person/entity you have elected meets all registered agent requirements: being 18 years of age or older, having a physical address in the business’s location, and having unfettered availability during normal business hours.
Check out the complete LLC cost breakdown in this complete guide.
While business owners can file LLC paperwork independently, many find it safer to let a reputable LLC filing company do the work for them. These companies ensure that the filing process follows the correct procedures and that owners complete the correct forms when creating their LLC business entity.
Some well-known and reputable LLC filing companies include:
Each LLC filing company has its unique advantages and disadvantages. Whatever LLC filing company you choose to go with, make sure that they possess the right track record helping businesses in your niche, free services and trial periods to help you decide if they are right for you, and affordable pricing in line with your budget.
Learn more on the best LLC service online.
The primary steps to forming an LLC are:
- Choosing a business name
- Filing Articles of Organization
- Choosing a registered agent
- Getting a Certificate from your home state
- Deciding on manager vs member management
- Creating an LLC operating agreement
- Getting an Employer Identification Number
- Registering your LLC out of state
- Filing annual reports and paying Annual Franchise Tax to the Franchise Tax Board
Remember, the name you choose for your LLC must comply with your home state’s regulations, which differ from state to state. Common to all states is the following:
- The LLC name must not be the same as the name of another business entity or LLC in your home state.
- The name of your LLCs must end with an LLC designator or its abbreviation.
You must then file Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State’s office in your home state. Some states (Delaware, New Hampshire, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Washington) call these documents Certificates of Formation, while others (Massachusetts and Pennsylvania) call them Certificates of Organization. The filing fees for Articles of Organization are approximately $100.
The next step involves choosing a registered agent from within the LLC or designated from outside the LLC. These agents must have a physical street address within the LLC’s home state. Once this step is completed, LLC owners must decide whether to manage their companies directly or appoint managers to manage the business for them.
Another consideration in running an LLC is the creation of the Operating Agreement. Although this document is not mandatory in most states, an operating agreement is vital because it establishes how you and other members will run and manage the LLC. If there is no operating agreement, state law kicks in to govern how your LLC will operate.
Check out our guide to offshore LLCs here.
Finally, LLCs must comply with their home state tax and regulatory requirements. Business owners must get the necessary business licenses and permits and an EIN (IRS Employer Identification Number). EINs are mandatory even if an LLC does not have any employees or is a single-member LLC.
However, if it does not have an EIN, it can be taxed as a corporation instead of a sole proprietorship. Other tax requirements include Sales and Employer Taxes.
LLCs will need to file Annual Reports within their home state, costing as little as $50 in Arizona, $250 in Alaska, $500 in Maryland, and as much as $800 in California. If you want your LLC to do business in another state other than your home state, you will need to register the LLC in that state and appoint a registered agent, which could cost you more.
One of the primary reasons people opt for LLCs over corporations and partnerships is personal provision for assets protection. An LLC separates owners’ personal assets from their businesses in case of legal claims, business creditors’ claims, or lawsuits, keeping them safe.
If an LLC runs into financial problems and cannot pay its bills or debts, the LLC’s business creditors can only attempt to recover their money from the LLC’s bank account and other assets and not the owners. It follows that an LLC’s owner only risks the number of assets or money they have invested in their business and not more.
There are, however, exceptions. LLC owners are still liable for bills and debts they have personally guaranteed and unpaid payroll taxes. LLC owners are also still responsible if sued for their own wrongdoing.
To protect an LLC further, owners should take out LLC insurance. This insurance protects the owner and the business from accusations of wrongdoing and court judgments, which can be financially punitive, and even lead to the shutdown of the business.
Best Business Bank Accounts for an LLC
LLCs need a bank account to separate personal and business finances, creating the required legal distinction between the owner and the company, limiting the owner’s liability.
These accounts are not mandatory, but they do help to sustain the liability protections of LLCs. In addition, these accounts help to streamline bookkeeping and taxes, making it simple to run your business. Separate business accounts for LLCs also make it easier for your business to apply for a line of credit or business loan, which it may need in the future.
LLC bank accounts are available at national and regional banks, credit unions, and digital banks. Some of the most well-known LLC business accounts include:
- Bank of America Business Advantage Fundamentals
- BlueVine Business Checking
- Capital One Spark Business Basic Checking
- Chase Business Complete Banking
- Lending Club Tailored Checking
- Novo Business Checking
- Novo Business Checking
- Wells Fargo Initiate Business Checking
Check out our complete guide on the best business bank account for LLC.
Dissolving an LLC
Dissolving an LLC is the process of winding down your company. Certain procedures must take place to avoid making it a disregarded entity.
Below is an outline of the steps you must follow to dissolve an LLC legally:
- Obtain the written consent of a majority of the members after a vote.
- Wrap up the company business by completing tasks such as disposing of assets, handling legal disputes, discharging liabilities, and distributing business assets to members. During this stage, the LLC cannot trade.
- Notify all concerned stakeholders that the dissolution process for your LLC has begun. Concerned parties include employees, vendors, suppliers, creditors, debtors, property owners, and insurance providers. It also includes the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
- Settle any financial and legal claims, including debts.
- File final taxes with the local state tax department and obtain a certificate of clearance.
- File Articles of Dissolution.
- Terminate out-of-state registrations
The dissolution of your LLC can also be involuntary. This can occur if the Secretary of State proclaims the dissolution of the LLC fails to pay taxes for two or more years.
Learn how to dissolve an LLC.