There are countless decisions to be made daily in the course of running a business, some trivial and some significant. Selecting a business structure is one of the most important decisions that will impact your business today and for years to come.
When it comes to choosing the right business entity, taxes are usually front and center on a new business owner’s mind. What structure will give you the best chance to lower your taxes? How can you lower your self-employment taxes? What are the downsides, if any, of incorporating?
While it’s smart to talk to a tax advisor about your own particular situation, here’s a starting guide to understand how each of the common business structures impacts your taxes:
The simplest business structure — the sole proprietorship — is the default if you don’t actually file for a formal structure. As a sole proprietor, there’s no separation between you and your business, and owners report their business income on their personal tax returns (using the IRS Form Schedule C).
One key thing is that sole proprietors need to pay self-employment tax on their profits. This is similar to the Social Security and Medicare taxes that are withheld from the pay of most wage earners. For the 2013 tax year, a self-employed person owes SE tax at a 15.3% rate for their first $113,700 in profit. You can then deduct half of self-employment tax from your total income.
So, if you’re a sole proprietor who made $60,000 in profit, you’ll first need to pay your self-employment tax on the full amount, and then calculate your taxable income at your individual tax rate.
The bottom line: The sole proprietorship is the simplest business structure and leaves you with the smallest amount of paperwork and legal formalities. But it doesn’t separate your personal and business finances or help protect your personal assets. And, in some cases, a sole proprietor is going to end up with a higher overall tax bill due to self-employment taxes.
C Corporation (C Corp)
Unlike the sole proprietorship, a C Corporation is a separate business entity from the business owner. This means that a C Corp business will need to file its own tax returns. As an owner of a C Corporation, you’ll need to file a personal tax return and business tax return each year.
When people talk about small businesses and C Corporations, something called “double taxation” usually enters the discussion. Here’s what it is: Let’s say you’re a part-owner of a C Corp business. First, the business will be taxed on its profits when it files its corporate tax return for the year. Then, if you or the other owners decide to take some of those profits home, you’ll have to distribute those profits and pay taxes on those distributions on your personal tax return.