What Is a Limited Liability Company (LLC)?

A limited liability company (LLC) is a corporate structure in the United States whereby the owners are not personally liable for the company's debts or liabilities. Limited liability companies are hybrid entities that combine the characteristics of a corporation with those of a partnership or sole proprietorship.

While the limited liability feature is similar to that of a corporation, the availability of flow-through taxation to the members of an LLC is a feature of partnerships.

Understanding Limited Liability Companies (LLCs)

Limited liability companies (LLCs) are a business structure that is allowed under state statutes. The regulations surrounding LLCs vary from state to state. LLC owners are generally called members.

Many states don't restrict ownership, meaning anyone can be a member including individuals, corporations, foreigners and foreign entities, and even other LLCs. Some entities, though, cannot form LLCs including banks and insurance companies.

An LLC is a more formal partnership arrangement which requires articles of organization to be filed with the state. An LLC is much easier to set up than a corporation and provides more flexibility and protection.

LLCs don't pay taxes themselves. Instead, profits and losses are listed on the personal tax returns of the owner(s). If fraud is detected or if a company hasn't met legal and reporting requirements, creditors may be able to go after the members.

Members' wages are deemed operating expenses and are deducted from the company's profits.

Forming an LLC

Although the requirements for LLCs may vary by state, there are generally some commonalities across the board. The very first thing owners or members must do is to choose a name.

Once that's done, the articles of organization must be documented and filed with the state. These articles establish the rights, powers, duties, liabilities, and other obligations of each member of the LLC. Other information included on the documents includes the name and addresses of the LLC's members, the name of the LLC's registered agent, and the business' statement of purpose.

The articles of organization must be accompanied by a fee paid directly to the state. Paperwork and additional fees must also be submitted at the federal level in order to obtain an employer identification number (EIN).

  • Limited liability companies are corporate structures in the United States where owners are not personally liable for the company's debts or liabilities.
  • Regulations surrounding LLCs vary from state to state.
  • Any entity can form an LLC including individuals and corporations; however, banks and insurance companies cannot.
  • LLCs do not pay taxes—their profits and losses are passed through to members, who claim them on their tax returns.

Advantages and Disadvantages of LLCs

The primary reason business owners opt to take the LLC route is to limit the principals' personal liability. Many view an LLC as a blend of a partnership, which is a simple business formation of two or more owners under an agreement, and a corporation, which has certain liability protections.

Although LLCs have some attractive features, they also have several disadvantages, especially in relation to the structure of a corporation. Depending on state law, an LLC may have to be dissolved upon the death or bankruptcy of a member. This is in contrast to a corporation, which can exist in perpetuity. An LLC may not be a suitable option when the founder's ultimate objective to become a publicly-traded company.

Limited Liability Company Versus Partnership

The primary difference between a partnership and an LLC is that an LLC separates the business assets of the company from the personal assets of the owners, insulating the owners from the LLC's debts and liabilities.

An LLC functions in the same way a partnership does, in that the company's profits pass through to the tax returns of the owners. Losses can be used to offset other income, but only up to the amount invested. The LLC only files an informational tax return.

In the event of a sale or transfer of the business, a business continuation agreement is the only way to ensure the smooth transfer of interests when one of the owners leaves or dies. Without a business continuation agreement, the remaining partners must dissolve the LLC and create a new one if a partner files bankruptcy or dies.