What are S corp, C corp, and LLC? How to choose for your bussiness?


Navigating the intricacies of business structures is a pivotal aspect of entrepreneurship, with three prominent options being S corporations (S corps), C corporations (C corps), and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs). Each entity type carries distinct advantages and considerations, shaping the framework within which a business operates. Understanding the nuances of S corps, C corps, and LLCs is fundamental for entrepreneurs seeking the most fitting structure for their ventures, influencing factors ranging from taxation to liability protection.

S corp

Selecting the appropriate business entity for your new venture is a complex task. Opting for the wrong structure might impede your company’s growth. To guide you through this decision-making process, As you embark on launching your business in the US, equipped with a promising idea and a competent team, the decision on the type of business entity becomes pivotal. With various options available, this choice dictates how your business is regulated and taxed, emphasizing the importance of thoughtful consideration.

The taxation of profits is a significant aspect to consider in understanding how financial gains are treated.

The intricacies and expenses involved in the establishment of the business, coupled with the continuous requirements of governance and administration.

The safeguarding of personal assets, especially concerning the liability protection for the owner.

While the decision may be clear in certain instances, it is not always straightforward. Each type of business entity presents a distinctive combination of legal and tax considerations, making the determination of the most suitable option for a particular business a complex process..

In this piece, I will highlight the essential factors to consider when facing the decision-making process.

Note: This serves as a high-level guide, and specific details may not be applicable to your unique business. It is advisable to consult with a tax or legal advisor for making conclusive decisions.

Understanding the Different Types of Business Entities

The IRS acknowledges four primary business entities: sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation, and C corporation. These entities differ significantly in terms of taxes, setup expenses, administrative costs, and legal protections. Notably, any of these entities can adopt the structure of an LLC for liability protection while being taxed as per IRS-recognized entity types.

Before delving into business entity specifics or delving into the topic of LLCs, it’s crucial to grasp the concept of pass-through entities.

What Are Pass-through Entities?

Proprietorships, partnerships, and S corporations fall under the category of pass-through entities, a term derived from the fact that their taxable income “passes through” to the personal tax returns of owners, where it is then subject to taxation.

While S corporations and partnerships file company tax returns, these filings essentially showcase the company’s taxable income and allocate it to owners via a Schedule K-1 (Form 1065). Subsequently, each owner reports and pays taxes on their Schedule K-1 amount on their personal tax return (Form 1040), including any relevant state and local returns.

In contrast, sole proprietorships don’t file a separate business tax return. Instead, the business income is computed directly on the owner’s personal Form 1040 through Schedule C, Schedule E, or Schedule F.

The significance of pass-through status lies in the fact that owners of pass-through entities pay personal income tax on the company’s profits, allowing them to withdraw these profits as tax-free dividends. This stands in contrast to C corporations, which not only pay their own income tax but also face taxation on dividends. Essentially, a C corporation is taxed on its income initially, and the remaining funds are distributed to stockholders, who then pay personal income tax on these dividends—a scenario known as double taxation.

Example: Taxation of S Corporation vs. C Corporation Earnings

S CorpC Corp
Taxable income$1,000,000$1,000,000
Corporate tax rateN/A21.0%
Top individual tax rate37.0%N/A
Tax owed by corporation$0$210,000
Tax owed by owner$370,000$0
After-tax cash remaining$630,000$790,000
Tax rate on distribution to owner0.0%23.8%
Additional tax owed on dividend distribution$0$188,020
Net after-tax cash remaining$630,000$601,980
Note: In this straightforward illustration, we consider a taxpayer in the highest income brackets across all earning types. Additionally, we assume that the earnings of the S corporation do not qualify for the Section 199 qualified business income deduction. It’s worth noting that if these earnings did qualify, the scenario would further enhance the favorable position of the S corporation.

In sizeable corporations, the challenge of double taxation confronted by C corporations is alleviated by the entity’s advantages, including a favorable tax rate on corporate profits and an unlimited shareholder allowance. However, for the majority of small to midsize businesses, the drawbacks associated with a C corporation typically outweigh the benefits.

What Are Sole Proprietorships?

Essentially, sole proprietorships are designed for uncomplicated businesses owned by an individual or a married couple. These businesses typically include freelancers, consultancies, small service providers, and food stands. Sole proprietorships lack shares or ownership units, making the only exit option to sell the company’s assets.

They stand out as the simplest business structure, and any legitimate business starting without formal incorporation defaults to being a sole proprietorship or partnership, depending on the number of owners. Sole proprietors without employees may not even need to register with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), using their Social Security number as the business tax ID. Here are some key points to note:

1. Deducting business expenses is applicable.

Contrary to common misconceptions, incorporating is not a prerequisite for claiming business expense deductions. Even an unincorporated sole proprietorship has the eligibility to deduct its business expenses.

2. Personal income tax is levied on profits for proprietors.

Proprietors don’t receive wages but rather withdraw company profits as required. Each year, they are liable for personal income tax on the entire taxable profits of the business, irrespective of whether the profits have been withdrawn or not.

3. Earnings are liable to FICA tax and federal income tax.

As of 2023, the FICA tax, covering Social Security and Medicare, amounts to 15.3% of income up to the Social Security limit of $160,200, and 2.9% of income beyond that threshold. Additionally, there’s an extra Medicare tax of 0.9%, applicable when self-employment earnings surpass $200,000 for single taxpayers. It’s noteworthy that, in my experience, many small sole proprietors often find themselves owing more in FICA tax than in federal income tax, though this can vary based on individual circumstances.

Pros and Cons of Sole Proprietorships

Very easy to set upAll profits subject to FICA tax
Easy for most owners to understandOwner’s personal assets are not protected, unless company is formed as an LLC
Separate business tax return not required

No payroll to run if there are no employees

🔥Understanding Partnerships:

A partnership essentially serves as the multi-owner counterpart to a sole proprietorship. The formation and maintenance of a partnership typically involve minimal paperwork, making it a preferred choice for many relatively simple, early-stage businesses that have not yet attained significant profitability, opting for partnerships over formal corporations.

This structure holds particular appeal for small companies without employees, where owners actively contribute to the majority of the work. Partnerships are also commonly adopted by real estate holding companies (as rental income remains unaffected by FICA tax, regardless of the entity type) and certain professional service firms like accounting firms.

Despite the minimal paperwork requirements for partnerships, the inherent complexity of multi-owner companies necessitates a well-defined partnership operating agreement, governing the operations and ownership of the business. Here are the key financial considerations to address:

1. In partnerships, profit distribution isn’t obligated to follow ownership shares, providing flexibility, especially for silent partners contributing substantial initial capital without expecting proportional profit shares. Clear agreements should outline such arrangements.

2. Partnership income is typically subject to FICA tax, mirroring sole proprietorship downsides. This tax burden discourages larger, highly profitable companies from adopting partnerships due to increased financial implications.

3. Partners receive guaranteed payments for services, not wages, simplifying the partnership structure.

4. Partnerships without non-owner employees are exempt from running payroll or filing payroll reports, offering cost and hassle savings compared to employing such services. These savings may offset the higher FICA tax burden, making partnerships more appealing depending on the company’s size.

Pros and Cons of Partnerships

Easy to set up and administerProfits generally subject to FICA tax
Easy for most owners to understandOwners’ personal assets are not protected, unless company is formed as a limited partnership or LLC
Flexible profit allocation allowed
No Payroll to run if there are no employees other than partners

What are S corporation?

As businesses grow in profitability, proprietorships and partnerships may become less optimal due to their tax implications. This is where S corporations come into play, becoming a popular choice for small to midsize privately held companies.While both partnerships and S corporations operate as pass-through entities, larger businesses often favor the latter due to the handling of FICA tax.

S corporation owners must pay themselves a reasonable wage, subject to FICA tax. However, the remaining business profits are only subject to income tax, not FICA tax.To illustrate, consider a business generating $1,000,000 annually.

If the owner receives $100,000 as compensation and the remaining $900,000 represents business profit, transitioning from a partnership to an S corporation status could potentially save the owner around $31,000 per year in FICA tax, assuming other factors remain constant.

FICA Tax on Total Earnings/Owner Compensation

Partnership S Corporation
Taxable income before owner compensation$1,000,000$1,000,000
Owner wagesN/A$1,000,000
Owner’s guaranteed payments$1,000,000N/A
Remaining business-taxable income$900,000$900,000
FICA tax on owner wages$0$15,300
FICA tax on owner’s guaranteed payments$15,300$0
FICA tax on remaining taxable income$31,346$0
Total FICA tax owed$46,646$15,300
Note 1: The provided calculations do not account for the potential influence of the 0.9% additional Medicare tax, which generally applies to partnership earnings exceeding a defined income threshold. This adds an extra layer of appeal to S corporation status.
Note 2: The calculations are based on the FICA tax thresholds for the year 2023.

While the advantages of S corporations are noteworthy, for extremely small businesses, the benefits may not justify the effort. The obligation to pay a reasonable wage implies that even a sole proprietor without employees must navigate payroll processing and submit payroll tax reports to the IRS (and potentially the state).

Managing these additional administrative tasks and associated costs becomes a drawback compared to the simplicity offered by partnerships and sole proprietorships.

Furthermore, S corporations typically face more stringent regulations than other entity types. For instance:

1. Ownership in an S corporation is generally limited to individual US residents and citizens, with certain exceptions permitting specific trusts and estates to become stockholders.

2. Allocation of profits and distributions in an S corporation must adhere to ownership percentages.

3. Limitations on loss utilization exist. In certain situations, an owner facing losses in an S corporation might be unable to deduct the loss on their personal tax return, necessitating its carryforward to a subsequent year.

4. S corporations are restricted to having only one class of stock, comprising voting and nonvoting shares exclusively—no other classes are permitted.

5. S corporations are capped at a maximum of 100 stockholders.

Establishing and maintaining S corporations typically involves legal and accounting assistance, leading to increased costs. Despite these potential downsides, the compelling FICA tax savings contribute to the widespread popularity of S corporations. Moreover, S corporations provide asset protection for owners in the face of legal claims, a feature lacking in proprietorships and partnerships. Opting for an LLC that elects S corporation taxation can offer flexibility and help sidestep some of the stringent legal requirements.

However, in specific scenarios, a partnership might prove more tax-efficient than an S corporation, even when considering FICA tax. In such cases, partners forego guaranteed payments, treating all payouts as distributions. While this approach has significant caveats—requiring guidance from a tax expert to determine its suitability—it’s common enough to warrant mentioning.

Pros and Cons of S Corporations

Earnings beyond wages not subject to FICA taxFull legal setup required
Corporate legal shield functionSometimes difficult for owners to understand
Rigid profit allocation and distribution rules
Limited deductibility of losses
Only a person (not an entity) can own shares
Maximum of 100 stockholders
Generally must be owned by a US citizen
Payroll must be run even if there are no non-owner employees
Only one class of stock allowed

What are C Corporation?

As businesses grow in size and complexity, they may eventually surpass the limitations of the S corporation structure. If the number of investors exceeds the 100-stockholder limit, typical for publicly held companies, or if diverse share class structures become necessary, transitioning to a C corporation becomes a strategic consideration.

All major publicly traded American corporations operate as C corporations. While privately held C corporations are uncommon and are typically chosen for reasons beyond income tax considerations.

S corp

High-growth startups in pursuit of series funding often adopt the C corporation structure. This choice is often driven by the necessity of accommodating investors who may be entities or foreign individuals, both ineligible to invest in an S corporation.

Although US companies have the option to register in any state or territory, Delaware is a common choice for C corporations due to its well-defined and court-tested corporate regulations. As per the State of Delaware, over 68% of Fortune 500 companies are domiciled there.

A notable disadvantage of the C corporation structure is the double taxation concern discussed earlier in our examination of pass-through entities—where the company incurs tax on its income, and stockholders are then taxed on their dividends.

Additionally, losses incurred by a C corporation cannot be offset against stockholders’ other personal income. The confluence of these challenges often dissuades many private firms from embracing this structure.

In summary, while the concept of utilizing the C corporation structure for tax optimization holds validity in certain scenarios, for most small to midsize businesses, the drawbacks typically outweigh the advantages.

Pros and Cons of C Corporations

Low tax rate on corporate profitsFull legal setup required
Corporate legal shield functionDouble taxation of corporate profits

Unlimited stockholders allowed
Limited deductibility of losses
Stockholders may include such entities as trusts and funds
Potential for tax-free sale of stock upon exit


When selecting a business entity, three pivotal factors come into play: the tax implications, administrative costs and complexity, and liability considerations. Opting for an S corporation proves advantageous from a tax perspective due to its single-layer taxation and exemption from FICA tax, setting it apart from C corporations, partnerships, and proprietorships.

Sole proprietorships excel in minimizing setup and maintenance costs, being the simplest and most cost-effective option.

In the case of a multi-owner LLC, the flexibility of a partnership structure may be preferable. Lastly, prioritizing liability protection makes the LLC structure a formidable choice, offering safeguards comparable to other entity structures, while non-LLC S corporations and C corporations also provide substantial liability protection.

Thanks For Reading this article, Hope you enjoyed it.👍

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