What Is an LLC? (Limited Liability Company Complete Guide)

Setting up a business can be a daunting process, filled with legalese and jargon that may seem overwhelming. One such term you will come across is ‘LLC’.

So, what exactly is an LLC? What does the acronym stand for, and in what ways can it offer advantages to your business? It’s important to address these questions straightforwardly.

Our extensive background in business and finance equips us with a deep understanding of limited liability companies (LLCs).

Over time, our team of financial advisors has helped countless small business owners like you navigate this often complex terrain. Now, we want to share that wealth of knowledge with you. 

Let’s get started, shall we?

Brief Overview

  • LLC, or limited liability company, combines liability protection with operational flexibility.
  • The advantages of forming an LLC include limited liability, flexible management, pass-through taxation, and ease of formation.
  • However, LLCs also deal with self-employment taxes, varying LLC laws by state, and limited growth potential.

What Is a Limited Liability Company (LLC)?

An LLC stands for Limited Liability Company (LLC), a unique business structure that offers the limited liability benefits of a corporation and the operational flexibility of a partnership.

The owners, referred to as “members”, generally have their liability restricted to their membership interest.

The Advantages of Forming an LLC 

The Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a popular structure among new business owners due to its simplicity. Let’s take a look at the advantages an LLC offers:

  • Limited Liability: As mentioned, an LLC provides limited liability protection or personal asset protection. This separates your personal finances from your company’s debts, ensuring that your personal assets aren’t at risk if the business encounters financial trouble.
  • Flexible Management Structure: Unlike corporations, LLCs enjoy a less rigid organization. As detailed in the written LLC operating agreement, LLC members have the liberty to decide how the business is run. We also observed that limited liability enterprises are more prone to achieve favorable expansion compared to businesses with unlimited liability, and this study confirms what our direct experience showed.
  • Pass-Through Taxation: For tax purposes, an LLC is a disregarded entity. This means the Internal Revenue Service allows the company’s profits to “pass through” directly to the owner’s personal tax returns, eliminating the issue of double taxation that corporate shareholders face.
  • Simple Starting: Creating an LLC is a relatively straightforward process. After paying the initial filing fees to the state, you simply need to write an operating agreement for your LLC, sign it, and appoint an LLC’s registered agent.

The Disadvantages of Forming an LLC 

However, our hands-on exploration reveals that forming an LLC also has potential disadvantages. Here are a few to consider: 

  • Self-Employment Taxes: Since the Internal Revenue Service treats an LLC as a sole proprietorship or a partnership for tax treatment, LLC owners may be subject to self-employment taxes, which we often discovered to be higher than the taxes corporate entities pay.
  • Variation in State Laws: LLC laws vary from state to state. This lack of uniformity can potentially create legal and operational challenges, especially for foreign entities operating across multiple states.
  • Limited Growth Potential: While an LLC offers legal and tax flexibility, it may restrict ownership and investment opportunities compared to a C Corporation. For instance, we noticed that an LLC cannot issue stock, which can limit its ability to attract investment and grow.

Types of LLCs

When it comes to setting up a company, many new business owners consider a limited liability company as their preferred business entity.

The unique features of an LLC make it an attractive option for small businesses. However, there are different types of LLCs; understanding these can help you decide which is best for your business. 

1. Single-Member LLCs 

Typically chosen by sole proprietors, a single-member LLC has only one member, the LLC owner. As a separate legal entity, it provides the owner with personal asset protection. This means that the owner’s personal assets are safe from the LLC’s debts.

We regularly recommend it for very small businesses as it simplifies the record-keeping and filing fee procedures. 

2. Multi-Member LLCs 

As the name suggests, a multiple-member LLC consists of two or more owners, or “members.” This type of LLC is often chosen when multiple members or entities want to form a business together.

In this structure, ownership percentages are defined to represent membership interests, and the LLC legally exists as a separate entity, adding a layer of protection for the personal assets of each member. 

3. Member-Managed LLCs 

A member-managed LLC is where all members participate in the day-to-day operations of the business. In this type of LLC, each member has a say in the management of the company, offering a high level of management flexibility. However, it also requires a high level of engagement from all members. 

4. Manager-Managed LLCs 

In contrast to a member-managed LLC, a manager-managed LLC is managed by either a hired manager or a designated member. This type of LLC benefits businesses where some members prefer to be passive investors rather than involved in daily operations.

It’s also a popular choice for larger LLCs where management by all members would be impractical. 

5. Professional Limited Liability Companies (PLLC) 

A professional limited liability company is a specialized form of business designed for licensed professionals such as doctors, lawyers, architects, or accountants. State law often requires these types of professionals to form a PLLC instead of an LLC.

In a PLLC, members are typically not personally liable for malpractice claims against other members. 

How Does an LLC Compare to Other Business Structures?

Sole Proprietorships vs. LLCs 

A sole proprietorship is the simplest form of business, legally indistinguishable from its owner. However, this simplicity comes with unlimited personal liability.

According to this study, sole proprietorships account for over 70% of all businesses, but we want to point out that owners risk their personal assets, such as houses and savings. 

On the contrary, an LLC, or Limited Liability Company, separates personal and business assets, protecting the owners’ personal assets from business debts and claims.

However, in our hands-on exploration, an LLC requires more paperwork and has higher initial costs than a sole proprietorship. 

Partnerships vs. LLCs 

A partnership shares many features with a sole proprietorship, but it involves two or more owners. Despite shared decision-making, partnerships expose owners to personal liability for their partners’ actions. 

An LLC, however, provides the flexibility of a partnership in terms of management and profits distribution, and the liability protection of a corporation.

Corporations vs. LLCs 

A corporation is a more complex business structure that offers strong protection against personal liability but requires more administrative effort and can lead to higher taxes.

According to data from the IRS, corporations are subject to double taxation – once at the corporate level, and then at the individual level when profits are distributed as dividends. 

Conversely, an LLC provides similar liability protection but its profits and losses can pass through directly to the owners’ personal income without corporate tax rates. Our expert analysis indicates that this makes LLCs a more tax-efficient choice for many business owners. 

S Corporations vs. LLCs 

An S Corporation is a special type of corporation created through an IRS tax election. They avoid double taxation, like LLCs. Yet, they have stricter operational processes and shareholder restrictions. 

An LLC, on the other hand, has fewer restrictions on ownership and easier management requirements. Nevertheless, our careful evaluation of the topic reveals that choosing between an S Corporation and an LLC often comes down to the specific needs and tax situations of the business owners. 

You may want to check: What Is a Series LLC

How to Form an LLC

Starting a Limited Liability Company (LLC) can be an advantageous way to structure your business, but the process itself can seem daunting. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate through the process. 

  1. Choose a Business NameEnsure the name is unique and compliant with your state’s LLC rules. Many states require the inclusion of “LLC” or “Limited Liability Company” in the name.
  2. File Articles of Organization: This document outlines the basics of your business, such as its name, purpose, and members. The filing fees to form an LLC vary from $35 to $520 at this moment.
  3. Determine Management Structure: An LLC can be member-managed or manager-managed. The selection influences who makes decisions for the company.
  4. Obtain Necessary Licenses and Permits: Specific requirements vary by state and industry, but might include a general business license, professional licenses, or zoning permits.
  5. Create an Operating Agreement: Though not always legally required, this document defines the LLC’s operating rules and clarifies how disputes will be resolved.
  6. File for an EIN and Open a Business Bank Account: The last step to get your company functioning is to obtain an employer identification number with the IRS and assign your new company a bank account.

Do LLC Requirements Vary by State?

It’s essential to recognize that each state has distinct LLC formation requirements. The procedures for filing, tax obligations, and ongoing regulatory adherence change across state lines, reflecting their respective laws.

Take note, for instance, that while some states mandate a public notice in a newspaper to establish an LLC, others do not. The filing approach can also be influenced by the number of members in your LLC and the nature of your business, such as whether it’s a professional LLC or a nonprofit.

Additionally, expect differences in annual franchise tax fees and other regulatory demands, both in how often they are due and what they cost, depending on the state you’re in.

How LLCs are Taxed?

Limited liability companies offer flexible tax advantages that are attractive to LLC owners. Both single-member and multimember LLCs can choose between pass-through partnership tax treatment or corporate taxation. 

Single-member LLCs

This type of LLC pays taxes similarly to a sole proprietor. This means the LLC’s income is reported on the owner’s personal tax return, and the LLC itself does not pay income tax.

Instead, the owner pays personal taxes on the LLC’s profits through their individual income tax return.

Multi-member LLCs

By default, the IRS considers a multimember business entity as a partnership for tax purposes. The profits and losses of the LLC pass through to its members, who report this information on their personal tax returns. However, a multimember LLC can choose to pay taxes as a corporation.

Filing as a Corporation

If an LLC elects to be taxed as a corporation, it’s subject to the corporate tax rate. Owners can have their LLC taxed as a C corp or an S corp, each with its unique tax implications.

Note: LLC taxes for a foreign LLC are usually higher than for a domestic LLC.


References:

  1. https://www.mohrsiebeck.com/artikel/entrepreneurs-and-the-choice-of-limited-liability-101628093245605775076013
  2. https://files.taxfoundation.org/legacy/docs/TaxFoundation_SR227.pdf?_gl=140d64i_gaNTI2MzA4MDc1LjE2OTI5Nzg5ODg._ga_FP7KWDV08V*MTY5Mjk3ODk4Ny4xLjAuMTY5Mjk3ODk4Ny42MC4wLjA.
  3. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/forming-a-corporation
Carla Baker

Carla Baker

With an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania and a proven track record, our Co-Founder brings expert guidance to new small businesses and LLCs. Her portfolio showcases a history of successfully launching and managing diverse ventures, while her passion lies in empowering others to navigate the world of business.