There are changes coming to any business operation that is currently taxed as a partnership in the United States. The concept of the “tax matters partner” is being done away with in favor of what is called a “partnership representative.”
Partnership taxation is a complex area of tax law. We’ll be walking through some of the issues you should be aware of.
The first is to ensure you are getting the deal you thought you were. Partners (or LLC members where the LLC has multiple members and does not “check the box“) can agree on how to allocate the profit and losses of the business as they see fit in the agreement. The allocations can be done in any manner the partners/members choose, provided that the allocations have “substantial economic effect.” See IRC 704(b); Treas. Reg. 1.704-1(b).
There are a lot of small businesses out there operating as sole proprietorships, that is they operate the business through the individual(s), and there is no formal entity. Many sole proprietors tell me that they’ve filed a d/b/a with the local county (here, the counties of Onondaga, Tompkins or Monroe), and therefore believe that is all they need to ensure that they are not personally liable, but this is not correct.
The main reason people incorporate or organize LLCs is to limit liability. Debts and contractual obligations are not something that you want to owe personally if you can avoid it. Setting up an LLC will create a seperate legal entity from yourself that you will operate the business through, own business assets, and contract through. Not much has to change when you form a single member LLC. LLC’s are also useful because the IRS will let you choose how you want the LLC taxed (either as a disregarded entity, S corp or C corp).
There are many reasons why LLCs can be great for business owners. For those types of businesses that have revenue and don’t need outside investors or to issue stock options (although LLC profits interests can work), LLCs are a good choice.
For a lot of startup companies, a corporation may be the right choice, especially if it will be seeking investors, plans to be acquired by a larger player in the industry at some point, or would like to have an IPO or other offering. The choice for a lot of companies especially in the high tech sector is the corporation. But if those aren’t your goals, if you have a business plan, target market, product and are ready to sell and make revenue then an LLC may be the right choice for you. Whatever industry you are in, an LLC can be a beneficial entity to use. LLCs can do complex and sophisticated things with respect to splitting profits, can have interesting classes and structures, require less paperwork than would a corporation, and are by far more flexible. (I’ve kind of beat the LLC v. Corp. horse to death earlier so will get to the point now). One of the other great advantages of the LLC form is that it can elect (i.e. choose) to be taxed as either disregarded entity (if one member then a sole proprietorship, and if multiple members than a partnership), an S-corporation or a C-corporation.
In many industries there are opportunities for individuals or companies to team up with one another to accomplish a mutually beneficial goal. This is most commonly accomplished by way of a joint venture.
A joint venture is somewhat amorphous as a concept as there are no bright line legal rules. It is a contractual arrangement, either through an outright joint venture agreement, an oral agreement, an LLC through its operating agreement or something similar. This post gives a broad overview of what it is and why it may be something that would work in your situation. We’ll look at it in more depth in future posts.
As I’ve discussed earlier, the SEC is now preparing regulations to allow for Crowdfunding pursuant to the recently passed JOBS Act. These should be done by 2013 (emphasis on should be done by then – we’ll see when they actually come out). As you may have heard, it will allow for true equity sales over the World Wide Web. Companies will soon be able to sell shares of their corporation (or LLC) through online portals to regular persons that are not accredited investors (i.e. not millionaires or otherwise sophisticated).
There are a couple of things to discuss, the first is whether this is something your company actually would want to do. The second item is, if it is something you want to do, then what can you do to prepare your company to do a Crowdfunding raise in 2013 (or whenever the SEC finishes the regulations).
This is a follow up to my last post regarding the concept of crowdfunding in general and the progress of the JOBS Act through Congress (full name – Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act). Since then, the Senate revised and passed the JOBS Act in a 73 to 26 vote. The House then, voting on the amendments made by the Senate, passed it by a vote of 380 to 41. This is something that both parties agree on, and were eager to work together to implement. Josh Earnest, the White House Deputy Press Secretary, stated that President Obama will sign the JOBS Act into law this Thursday, with a bipartisan public announcement. The President and Eric Cantor, one of the champions of the JOBS Act, will appear together for the signing of the bill into law.
This post will detail the provisions of the JOBS Act and how they will affect companies going forward. The JOBS Act can be found here if you’d like to take a read. After it is signed into law, the SEC has 270 days to promulgate regulations. Expect the SEC to claim that they need more time, as the JOBS Act is a monumental change, and there are various consumer (i.e. the new investor) protections required, especially to prevent fraud which, unfortunately, could run rampant if left unchecked. Hopefully Congress can put enough pressure on the SEC to get the regulations complete in the actual 270 day time period, and the regulations will actually have some teeth with respect to fraud without stifling startup’s ability to raise money.