Selecting the appropriate legal structure for your business is a foundational decision that impacts everything from day-to-day operations to taxes and personal liability. This guide examines the most common legal entities to help you determine the best fit based on your priorities and circumstances.
|Limited Liability Company (LLC)
|Easy and inexpensive, no formal registration
|Easy formation with a partnership agreement
|More complex process and paperwork
|Complete control by owner
|Shared control according to the partnership agreement
|Owners have more flexibility in management
|No protection against owner’s personal liability
|Unlimited personal liability for each partner
|Owners are protected from personal liability
|Profits taxed directly to owner
|Profits passed through to partners’ personal tax returns
|Owners taxed only once on profits
|Lack of continuity if owner is absent
|Lack of continuity if a partner leaves or passes away
|Company continuity beyond owners
|Low-risk businesses or testing an idea
|Small professional groups or testing a joint business idea
|Medium-risk businesses needing liability protection
|Few legal formalities and paperwork
|Moderate complexity in partnership agreement
|More complex formation process and paperwork
Table featuring concise comparison of the three most famous business structures, highlighting their key features in terms of formation, control, liability, taxation, continuity, and suitability for different types of businesses.
To learn more details about the different forms of business structure and their pros and cons, continue to read below 👇
A sole proprietorship is the simplest and most common structure for small businesses with a single owner. It’s the default if you start doing business without formally registering a legal entity. The business does not exist as a separate legal entity apart from the owner.
- Easy and inexpensive to form – just start doing business
- Complete control by owner over decisions
- Owner receives all profits directly
- Few legal formalities and paperwork
- No protection against owner’s personal liability
- Difficulty raising investment capital
- Lack of continuity if owner is absent
Ideal for low-risk businesses or testing an idea before more formal startup.
A partnership is a joint venture between two or more owners conducting business together. Partners share control according to terms in a partnership agreement. Profits are passed through to partners’ personal tax returns.
- Easy formation with partnership agreement
- Owners can combine complimentary skillsets
- Shared financial burden among partners
- Unlimited personal liability for each partner
- Lack of continuity if partner leaves or passes away
Works for small professional groups or testing a joint business idea.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
An LLC combines aspects of partnerships and corporations. It protects owners from personal liability and allows pass-through taxation without double taxation on profits.
- Owners protected from personal liability
- Company continuity beyond owners
- Owners taxed only once on profits
- More complex formation process and paperwork
- Limited life in some states
Ideal for medium-risk businesses needing liability protection.
C corps are separate legal entities from owners, providing the highest level of protection from personal liability. Drawbacks include double taxation of profits and more complex regulations.
- Total separation of owners’ personal finances
- Ability to raise investment capital through sale of stock
- Transferable ownership through sale of stock
- Double taxation of profits at corporate and personal level
- Extensive record keeping and reporting requirements
Best for higher-risk businesses planning to raise outside investment.
An S corp provides C corp limited liability protection without the downside of double taxation. Eligibility requirements limit shareholder number and type.
- One level of taxation on profits
- Shareholders protected from liability
- Independent company life beyond owners
- Must meet special IRS requirements
- Rules on shareholder number and type
- More forms and regulations than LLCs
Designed for businesses that would otherwise be set up as C corps.
A nonprofit is a legal entity organized to fulfill a mission for public good not private profit. Nonprofits can qualify for tax exemption.
- Mission driven for “public good”
- No taxation on profits
- Can receive tax deductible charitable donations
- Difficult process to qualify for and maintain tax-exempt status
- Public disclosure of financial documents required
- Less flexibility due to strict rules
For organizations dedicated to religious, educational, charitable, literary or scientific purposes.
The legal structure you choose lays the groundwork for your business. Consider liability protection needs, tax implications, regulations, investment plans, and continuity desires when selecting to find the best entity for your goals. Consult legal and tax advisors to determine optimal setup for your circumstances.