Understanding Tax Terms: Pass-through Entities- What are they? Why should you care?
Small business owners have a number of options on how to organize their business for tax purposes. Many small, single owner, businesses are not incorporated, and are deemed “sole proprietors”, in the eyes of the IRS. Other business entities, like C corporations, are taxed as a separate entity with distributions to owners taxed a second time as dividends. Still others are deemed “pass-through” entities like S corporations, Partnerships and Limited Liability Companies (LLC).
Pass-through entities do not pay taxes at the company level. Instead, the business tax return reports the net income to the IRS, but then distributes the taxable income to their respective owners via a K-1 tax form. Each individual owner then reports their share of the K-1 net income on their individual tax return and pays the tax on this and any other personal income.
Generally, business owners like pass-through entities because:
- The business income is taxed once instead of twice as in the case of C corporations.
- The business format provides owners a level of legal protection that is not available by doing business as a sole proprietor.
What you should know
- Individual tax rates. Changes in individual tax rates have an impact on the amount of tax paid by all small businesses that are organized as pass-through entities.
- New 20 percent deduction. Starting in 2018, a new 20 percent qualified business income deduction is available for pass-through entities and sole proprietorships. There are limitations and other complexities involved, but the bottom line is many small business owners will see a tax break.
- Can you pay the tax? Small pass-through businesses must pay income tax on all their business profits. However, the business entity is NOT required to distribute cash from the company to help pay the tax. So pass-through owners could see a tax bill without money to pay the tax.
- Minority shareholder caution. Minority shareholders in pass-through entities are doubly cursed. They not only may not receive distributions to pay taxes due, but they are often precluded from selling their shares, and they do not have enough ownership to require distribution of funds through shareholder voting.
- Very popular business entity type. According to the IRS the S corporation formation is a popular business entity type with 4.6 million S corporations in 2014 – roughly twice the amount of C coporations. LLCs are quickly becoming the new entity of choice with growth from 120,000 in 1995 entities to over 1 million entities today.
If you have any questions regarding your current small business organization or are looking to start a small business and need help choosing the best entity for your situation, please call.