Sole Proprietor vs S Corp

Compare Sole Proprietorship and S Corp to find the best fit for your small business. Understand the advantages and challenges of each to make an informed decision.

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Is a sole proprietorship or S Corp better for a small business?

It might be difficult for many small-business owners to distinguish and choose between a sole proprietorship and a S Corp. However, it does not have to be difficult.

We’ll define S corporations and sole proprietorships as well as their advantages and disadvantages in this article so you can decide which is best for you.

The S Corporation: What Is It?

An S Corp is a pass-through business entity that permits income, tax credits, losses, and deductions to be passed through to its shareholders. One of the main reasons S Corps are so popular is because they do away with the requirement to pay individual corporate taxes.

S Corps do, however, also have a number of regulations around record keeping, bylaws, and appropriate distributions. Thus, be sure to do your homework before selecting this type of corporate entity for your small business.

The Sole Proprietorship: What Is It?

When you begin a business without formally filing for an LLC or other entity, you automatically create a sole proprietorship. This is a company that is not independent of its owner.

The owner of a sole proprietorship:

  • Has to be the only proprietor
  • Is responsible for paying the taxes for the company
  • Bears personal responsibility for its obligations and debts
  • Cannot distinguish between their personal and business assets and obligations.

Sole proprietorships are also unable to sell shares like corporations can. They can, however, still establish a trade name.

Among American entrepreneurs, sole proprietorships are the most popular type of business structure. More than 27 million sole proprietorship returns were received by the IRS in 2018 (an increase of 3 million from a 2013 report).

Sole Proprietor vs. S Corp: An Analysis

You would think that sole proprietorships are a better option based on the proportion of corporations and sole proprietorships in the United States. S Corporations vs. sole proprietorships isn’t a straightforward comparison, though. The advantages of a sole proprietorship vs. an S Corp actually depend on your particular requirements and goals.

Benefits of S Corporations

S Corps offer a number of advantages that could be attractive to aspiring entrepreneurs, including:

  • Strong defense against personal responsibility
  • There won’t be any double taxation, hence there won’t be any federal corporation tax due
  • Reduced taxes on self-employment
  • Transferring ownership to a different shareholder is simple

Benefits of a Sole Proprietorship

Sole props are really popular for a reason: they’re very simple to get going! Additional advantages consist of:

  • Beginning at a low cost and requiring no official action
  • Simple taxation: The money from the business is taxed as personal income since it is considered your own income
  • Total command of the company

Negative Aspects of S Corporations

Before you make any official decisions, consider the following possible disadvantages if you are thinking about becoming a S Corp:

  • Unable to provide more than one stock class
  • Only 100 shareholders can participate
  • More thorough reporting and record-keeping
  • More state and federal agencies monitoring regulations

The Drawbacks of Being a Sole Proprietor

However, sole proprietorships are not without their shortcomings. The following are their main drawbacks:

  • Complete and unrestricted personal liability: you bear the same legal and financial consequences that your company does
  • Significant challenges in getting bank loans and securing funds from investors
  • Accept full and exclusive accountability for any costly errors or details missed

Understanding the difference between an S Corp and C Corp is crucial when considering the best structure for your business.

How Do S Corps and Sole Proprietors Differ Tax-wise?

Your taxable income is the primary area where sole proprietorships and S Corps differ tax-wise. If you are the only person running your firm, you will have to pay income taxes on every dollar that comes in. However, you will only be taxed on your fixed wage if you file as a S Corp (no federal corporate tax).

Sole Proprietorship vs. S Corporation: Which Is Better?

In the end, if you run a big company and want to raise capital, avoid double taxation, limit your personal liability, or issue a certain kind of stock, an S Corporation might be a better option than a sole proprietorship.

What’s best for you, though, will depend on the particular requirements of your company. For example, a sole proprietorship can be the ideal option if you are creating a small business and don’t need liability protection or plan to hire workers.

Have a quick question? We answered nearly 2000 FAQs.

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