Have you ever wondered what those letters and abbreviations you see behind business names stand for? They are business formations meaning they help define the nature, taxation, and overall financial structure of a company. If you are planning to open your own business, you will need to define it as an L.L.C., L.L.P, or Inc. Today’s post will help to define the differences between the three main types of business formations.
L.L.C. – Limited Liability Company
An LLC is a company that blends parts of a partnership and corporation structure. LLCs combine the liability nature of a corporation and the taxation structure of a partnership company. LLCs have less corporate regulations like a Board of Directors or necessary shareholders meetings. LLCs also have fewer ownership restrictions and have more choice in deciding a tax structure. LLC and LLPs are considered “pass through” tax entities, meaning that taxation is levied through the income tax of the owners as their profits are considered the income of the individuals. LLCs, like corporations, allow the benefit of separating the proprietor’s personal and business assets. This means that any personal assets not invested in the LLC will not be at risk of loss in case of bankruptcy.
A Limited Liability Partnership is a very interesting type of business structure. Limited Liability Companies already combine the ease of running a partnership with the protection of a corporation, and the IRS originally ruled that LLCs would be taxed as partnerships. So what is the difference between a Limited Liability Partnership and a Limited Liability Company? And which one would be the best structure for your company?
What is a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)?
We’ll answer the easiest question first. An LLP is very similar to an LLC – both protect the company’s owners from lawsuits and debtors, and both have a pass-through tax structure, meaning anything the company earns passes through it, directly to the owners, without being subject to any corporate income tax. However, a Limited Liability Partnership offers an extra bit of liability protection to each partner. So, just like in a Professional Corporation, the other partners in an LLP will not necessarily be liable for the consequences stemming from another partner’s actions.
Do all states recognize LLPs?
Yes, though the laws recognizing LLPs vary from state to state. The majority of the states have adopted the Revised Uniform Partnership Act, which includes a provision for LLPs stating ‘An obligation of a partnership incurred while the partnership is a limited liability partnership, whether arising in contract, tort, or otherwise, is solely the obligation of the partnership.’ In layman’s terms, that essentially means that the company, and not the individual partners, is responsible for any obligations stemming from contracts or torts. The states that haven’t adopted the RUPA instead opted for their own laws to recognize LLPs, but all follow the same basic pattern.
Forming business partnerships comes with a variety of benefits and allows partners to share organizational responsibilities and financial requirements. However, partners in a general partnership don’t have any limit on their personal liability for the debts of the business. This means that the partner may have to use personal assets to pay business debts if necessary. Forming a business entity can protect you from these potential threats. In a recent Business Week article, John Gerber, a long standing business attorney, offers several useful pointers for partners to protect themselves in business matters.
The first is to “start at the end.” It is wise to decide from the beginning of the business partnership what will happen if one partner exits. The goal is longevity and prosperity but a business must be prepared for the worst. Garber relates it to a “pre-nup in a marriage.” Having a legally viable exit plan before it is needed, and before emotions and/or animosity is running high, is invaluable. Continue reading