Forming a Business Entity

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

September 19, 2014

Over the years, I have had many appointments with new and existing clients that are starting a small business for the first time.  We usually spend about an hour or so going through the basics of what to expect and be aware of: we cover things like self-employment taxes, tax estimates, business property tax statements, employees, insurance, sales tax, fictitious business name registration, business bank accounts, EINs, business licenses, etc.  One of the first things we talk about, however, is entity selection.  In other words, are you going to operate as a sole proprietorship, or will you form an LLC, S-corporation, C-corporation, partnership, etc.

Unfortunately, there are many people out there who pull the trigger early on entity selection based on something they hear from friends or find on the internet prior to getting tailored professional advice.  My feeling is that you really want to have a discussion about your particular situation with your accountant to provide input on the tax and accounting related issues and a business attorney to weigh in on liability, and other legal related issues before you get started.  The attorney should form the entity if you choose to operate other than as a sole proprietorship.

There are too many pitfalls, and I know there are many people out there that have made the wrong choice or, even worse, are operating with a presumption of liability protection when they have none because they did not properly form or respect the formalities of the entity.  Opposing counsel could have a victory on their hands if you failed to prepare annual corporate minutes, for instance. “Piercing the corporate veil” could suddenly enter your lexicon.

Online companies attempt to make it cheap and quick to form an entity for you, but I can tell you from my experience that many of the entities formed this way are later corrected or scrapped and redone by an attorney if one is hired to review it.  One of the problems, is that you have to be an attorney to render legal advice, and since it is rare for online companies to have attorneys for you to discuss your situation with, you may not choose the best entity or get all the language in your formation documents that you need.

Online companies also have difficulty conveying in an effective manner the important things to keep up with and staying in touch regarding these issues.  Many of the people who have used online services show up in my office with a fat binder that was shipped to them in the mail of which they have very little understanding; often has blanks that were never filled out; and has been collecting dust on the shelf.

I also hear from a fair number of these people that get notices from California requesting tax returns and a bunch of money for entities the taxpayer stopped operating years ago or maybe never even started aside from setting up the entity.  Unfortunately no one was there to advise them on how to properly close the entity.  The taxpayer often thinks that if they stop operating or decide not to go ahead with the business that they are done.  It doesn’t work this way.  I have even had people that formed an entity online and were shocked that they would have an $800 minimum fee to California each year.

There is a general push from many directions for people to establish entities for their small businesses these days.  In two weeks we will discuss the merits (or not) of this presumption.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

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