Starting a new business is an exciting venture! That is, until the realization of just how much money you will need takes you down a few notches. Before you get too discouraged, know that you have several options available to you.

One of those options is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is the process of raising small amounts of money from a large amount of people- this can be with the help of friends and family as well as people you don’t know. If you approach it correctly, attracting crowdfunding investors can be just what you need to get your business up and running, as long as you’re careful.

Now, the safest way to go about something that has potential legal implications is to know exactly what is allowed and what isn’t. Law enforcement has never taken “I didn’t know I was doing something wrong!” as a valid excuse.

So what should I steer clear of when crowdfunding? 

Promising Ownership

According to Biz Journals, a crowd funder may receive a reward for their donation once the company is up and running, but they cannot claim any ownership or financial gain in the business. For example, would-be authors can promise crowd fund investors copies of their signed books or acknowledgements for donations, but business owners can’t exchange equity for investments.

If you want to give away equity in exchange for funds, you need to work with accredited investors—people who make over $200,000 and have over $1 million in assets.

Forgetting about Taxes

The funds you get from your crowdfunding efforts are considered taxable income. Don’t forget that you must follow the federal and state tax laws you are subject to. If you plan to go the crowdfunding route, calculate taxes into your financial goals.

Breaking Promises

The typical crowdfunding effort is set up in a way that the person asking for funding promises rewards (not equity) to people who invest. Some crowdfunding sites use an all-or-nothing system where if a person reaches their goal, they keep the funding and must follow through on their promises. If they don’t reach their goal, the money goes back to the investors.

If you reach your goal and fail to follow through with your promised incentives, you could be considered in breach of contract. Unless you want to face a class-action lawsuit, follow through on any promises made during the crowdfunding process.

Where should I look for funding?

If you want to start a company or dive into a project that needs funding, sites like KickStarter or IndieGogo are useful mediums for making money. These have been especially great resources for artistic projects, such as publishing a book, starting a food truck, creating an art exhibit, or designing a new product.

Are there any other rules to keep in mind?

Crowdfunding is subject to rules placed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act- these rules are under constant discussion. As seen on Forbes, here are the rules you must follow if you plan on utilizing crowdfunding for your startup:

  • You can only accept up to $1 million dollars per 12-month period through crowdfunding.
  • If you are starting an investment company or a public-reporting company, you cannot use crowdfunding.
  • Crowdfund investors are only allowed to give a certain amount of money during a 12-month period. For investors who make over $100,000/yr., they can only give 10% of their income or net worth. For those who make less than $100,000/yr., they can only give up to 5% of their income (or up to $2,000, depending on which is greater).
  • You can only find crowdfunding through registered broker-dealers or “funding portals.”
  • You cannot advertise except to direct potential investors to your broker or funding portal.
  • If you complete a crowdfunding crowd, make sure you file the correct reports with the SEC.

The laws surrounding crowdfunding and business startups are complicated. To be absolutely sure you don’t cross any legal lines, talk to a lawyer who works with business law.

Originally from San Jose, California, Erika Remmington is a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley in linguistics with a minor in business administration. She enjoys spending her time with her husband and 18 month old daughter. She also enjoys rock climbing and outdoor activities. Legal information from this article was provided by Kitchen Simeson Belliveau Llp.

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