llc vs s corp
Holly Magister, CPA
Latest posts by Holly Magister, CPA (see all)

Your business’s corporate structure will significantly impact a number of issues – including exposure to liability, financing and growth, the number of shareholders, the rate and manner in which you and your business are taxed, and general business operations.  The LLC vs S Corp comparison can be confusing to many.  We want to simplify it for you.

Limited Liability Company’s (LLCs) and S corporations are popular corporate structures thanks to their benefits of liability protection and pass-through taxation. Here, we’ll break down the drawbacks and benefits of each structure in an effort to help you make the right choice for your business.

Single Member LLCs

Limited Liability Company Ownership

A Single member LLC functions similarly to a sole proprietorship in that the member maintains complete control over business operations. The single member does not have to deal with any shareholders or a board of directors, the way a corporation is required to do. The member may make all business decisions, and in turn, is entitled to the full share of distributed profits.


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Limited Liability Company Personal Liability

One of the most appealing benefits of an LLC is that the member is not held personally liable for most of the debts of the business. Certain debts, such as unpaid payroll tax withholdings, never escape personal liability exposure for the business owner. That said, if the LLC is sued, goes bankrupt, or otherwise can not pay its debts, the member’s personal assets and property are generally not at risk. It is important to note that some states do not allow single member LLCs – meaning that multiple owners are a requirement to form an Limited Liability Company.

Limited Liability Company Taxes

Single member LLCs also often enjoy pass-through taxation, allowing the business to pay taxes like a sole-proprietorship. This means that instead of the business entity itself paying taxes, the profits are passed directly through to the member, who reports the income on their personal tax return. A single member LLC does not pay business tax at the federal level. And in most states there is also no business tax for single member LLCs.

Multi Member LLCs

A multi member LLC functions the same as a single member LLC, with the exception to ownership. Instead of a single owner, there are multiple owners who share business decision-making responsibilities. A multi member LLC will still enjoy pass-through taxation, with each member paying a portion of the LLC’s taxes on his or her personal income tax return. The amount of taxes each person pays is usually proportionate to the amount of ownership they have in the business. For example, a member who has a 30% stake in the business would be responsible for 30% of the taxes.

Limited Liability Company Requirements

While LLC filing requirements allows for significantly more freedom than filing for a corporation, there are some basics that are required.

Business name – The must be unique and not confusingly similar to another registered business. Additionally, the name must include the term ‘LLC’ or Limited Liability Company’ and usually cannot contain ‘Inc.’ or ‘Incorporated.’

Registered Agent – Some states require that a registered agent be appointed as a point of contact for all official documents. The agent usually needs to be a physical resident of the filing state, but does not need to be an owner or employee of the LLC.

Operating Agreement – These are not actually required by the state, but nonetheless, having one is highly recommended. This protects the LLC and outlines how the business will function, including management structure, investment of capital, division of profits, and what happens when a member leaves or passes away.

Articles of Organization – Completing this is the first step to the LLC application.

Business Licenses and Permits – Depending on the type of business you are forming, you will need a number of licenses and permits. These may include: a general business license, tax registrations, zoning or land-use permits, health permits, liquor license, or other state-issued occupational licenses.

Statement of Information Form – Some states require a Statement of Information form to be filed along with your Articles of Organization. This form states your company’s name, its members, and its business address.

Public or Legal Journal Notification — Some states require the newly-formed LLC to post a public notice or legal journal advertisement notifying others of its formation.

Is an LLC Considered a Corporation?

An LLC has certain characteristics of both a corporation and a sole proprietorship or partnership, however it is not a corporation. Instead, an LLC is a type of unincorporated association.

S Corp Requirements

To file your business as an S Corp, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a domestic corporation.
  • Have only allowable shareholders (individuals, certain trusts, and certain estates – but not partnerships, corporations, or non-residents).
  • Have no more than 100 stockholders, all of whom consent to S corporation election.
  • Have only one class of stock.

S Corporation Formation Requirements

Filling for an S Corp requires several steps:

  1. Shareholder(s) – Each corporation must have at least one shareholder – these are the owners. One of the shareholders forms the corporation, or alternatively, a registered agent may do so on behalf of the shareholder(s).
  2. Articles of Incorporation – Sometimes called the certificate of incorporation, business owners are required to first file as a corporation. This form must be filed with the state and all necessary filing fees paid.
  3. Federal Form 2553 – All shareholders must sign and file this form once the business is incorporated if they desire to form the S Corporation.
  4. Federal Tax ID – This is required for all Corporations.
  5. Business Licenses and permits – Once your business is registered, business owners need to file for the necessary licenses and permits. These vary by industry, city, and locality. Just like an LLC, these can include a general business license, land-use permits, health permits, and more.
  6. First Meeting of the Board of Directors — to be held to authorize the formation of the business and other important matters to establish the business.
  7. Public or Legal Journal Notification — Similar to the LLC, some states require the newly-formed Corporation to post a public notice or legal journal advertisement notifying others of its formation.

Corp Shareholder Distribution Rules

Similar to an LLC, S corporations enjoy pass-through taxation. As a pass-through entity, S corporations distribute their net profit or net earnings via the payment of dividends to shareholders. These dividends are only taxed at the shareholder level.

S Corporation Shareholders, who are active in the business, must be paid a reasonable amount of compensation via a payroll check. Unlike S Corp distributions paid to shareholders, compensation is taxable at the federal level, is subject to FICA and Medicare taxes, and in most states, also subject to state and local income taxes.

S Corporation Distributions paid to shareholders must be paid equally and in proportion to the shareholder’s relative ownership percentage.

LLC vs S Corp Chart

LLC vs S Corp Chart

Don’t let the LLC vs S Corp decision slow down your startup!

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  • Michelle Vance says:

    With an LLC using a dba, which name registers for sales tax in NYS? The LLC or the dba?

    • Michelle:
      Sticks and Stones. Names cannot register for anything. They are not “persons” or entities under the law. Only an LLC or other entity can register for a sales tax permit.

      • Michelle Vance says:

        Thank you. Just to be clear, If I have an LLC with two or more dba’s underneath it, they all use the same sales tax id#?

        • Just to be clear: There’s ONLY ONE company. Call it Sam, Call it Sarah, Call it Michelle. Call it Vance’s Lances. But don’t call it late for paying its taxes. A name is a name is a name. A DBA IS a name.
          ONE company. One sales tax ID. One federal ID.

          • Michelle Vance says:

            Thank you, I appreciate you quick response as well as your humor.

  • Forming and LLC with 2 other partners with the goal of purchasing a small manufacturing company. Can we form an LLC and then purchase a small manufacturing company as an S Corp operating as a layer of the LLC? We would like to issue shares. The founders owning a percentage, investors having a certain amount of shares and the ability to offer future shares to employees in the future. Because of shares, do we have to operate as an S Corp, not an LLC? Hope this makes sense.

  • Karen L Whitlock says:

    When my father passed, he gave my five siblings and I equal ownership of our family farm in WV. In 2015, we established an LLC. Only two of my siblings/members are actually using the property, for a small beef cattle operation.

    What would be some ways for us to separate this cattle business somewhat from the LLC in order to allow these two members to operate on a daily basis – without needing input from all six members and without impacting the other four members if they make a costly mistake?

    Our LLC owns the property, equipment, buildings, and tools, but my two farming brothers own the cattle and spend their own money to buy supplies. Additionally, we are due to receive approximately $300,000 as we have placed the farm under a conservation easement. Any advice?

    Finally, our articles of organization states that all six of us must agree unanimously when making decisions. How can we modify the articles? For example, stating that only a majority is required to take action?

    Thank you so much for your time and expertise.

    • Hi Karen,
      It’s not unusual for an operating business, such as your brothers’ cattle business, to be separated from the real property business entity it occupies.
      At this point, the LLC you have established for the real estate could distribute the assets associated with the cattle operation to your two brothers. Then they could contribute those assets to a newly-formed LLC (or whatever type of business entity they’d prefer. We have a post on the various types of business entities here.
      Since the money you will be receiving soon has to do with the real property, then that should be deposited into the existing LLC owned by you and all of your siblings.
      If you do choose to split up the existing LLC and the cattle farm into two business entities, make certain each entity obtains the appropriate types of insurance.
      Your LLC’s Operating Agreement could be amended if all of you agree, based on what you’ve described. That’s not always an easy thing to accomplish!
      You should consult with an Attorney on these matters. If you need an introduction to legal counsel, feel free to send in your request here.
      Hope this helps you a bit…

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