Costly Mistakes Made with Your Business Entity

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Investing in a powerful tool and not using the tool properly does not make a lot of sense. I know when it comes to running a business it requires multiple hats to wear and very often you are off and running on 10 different projects, calls, appointments, presentations…and perhaps the very foundation of your business may be in jeopardy. Here are the top costly mistakes I have seen made over the past 20 years:

1. Not completing the transition from a sole proprietorship to a separate legal entity. If you started a business in your own name for a few months before you formed an entity odds are part of what you did you completed as an individual and you need to connect the dots to the new entity. If you filed a DBA (doing business as) with yourself as the applicant that needs to be cancelled and re-linked to the entity. That means your entity needs to be the applicant, not you! If you don’t do this you still are exposed to unlimited liability and filing a Schedule C with a
higher audit potential. Next point is to open a bank account in the name of the business, not just keep the account in your personal name. Use a business credit card in the name of the entity, not just your personal credit card and keep track of expenses. You will want to minimize the amount of debt that shows up in your personal name. Update all affiliate programs, vendors with your new entity information so any income is going to your business entity, not to your name personally. Update your websites, business cards, letterhead with the new name of your business. Another important tip make sure your website is in compliance, most are not, I would recommend www.autoweblaw.com simple software that has all the legal agreements you need on your website or blog.

2. Funding concerns. 95% of businesses fail within 5 years and undercapitalization is the #1 reason. The pattern I have seen is that small business owners are hoping for revenue to come in as the primary source of money to grow their business. What happens if your revenues are off or don’t come in at all? You may be working on that great new product and all your e-mails go out and no one converts. That is a real problem. The key is to model success. Almost all successful companies do not use only their own money to grow. I know you know the concept, “OPM”, other people’s money, yet are you doing that? Are you only self funding your business on your personal credit? Did you know that once the entity was filed the business credit bureaus will start creating a file. They scan the Secretary of State’s records to create a file with any new filings. They look for the name of the business, the start date, and name of the officers/managers the address…If you are not paying attention to how you fill out forms with the business address, business license, state forms you can create disconnects in the database. In one business credit bureau, NCP is spelled four different ways. The NCP part is the same, but one way has “Inc.”, one has “,Inc.” other has “, Inc” and the last one is “Inc”.

Did you notice the differences between the comma and period? That created four different files! Don’t make that same mistake. Unlike the personal credit bureaus, the business credit bureaus are very difficult to fix any mistakes. They have their own set of rules and are not set up for changes after mistakes happen. This creates a problem when it comes to developing credit for your entity because you basically have one shot at the apple to get it right the first time. Banks and vendors are very interested in your financial strength of your company. Now joint venture partners can check you out for free to determine who is stable in your operation. You may be losing business and not knowing it. It is really a must to be financially solid in your business and your developing business credit is a must for your long-term success.

3. Safe and risk assets. Mixing asset classes is a major risk to your wealth that is unnecessary. A risk asset is any asset that would cause liability to your entity. That may be a business, real estate, equipment, again, anything that may cause liability to an entity. A safe asset is one that does not cause liability to an entity, like cash, ownership of another company, investments…If your business falters and you need to reply upon your safe assets to recover short term, why unnecessarily put your safe assets at risk? It happens all the time. There are two reasons this may be happening to you, first, you have thought that your amount of safe assets are not large enough to protect. Imagine having $25K in a brokerage account in

4. Not clear on who does what? A partner can help you grow a business quickly and destroy it even faster if you are not on the same page. Very similar to being married. I have been married for 21 years with three girls and it is a lot of work and requires meetings, and discussions to do the best to be on the same page. Business like marriage can be very exciting at first and you really need to be able to communicate well as to what you are looking to accomplish. The fun part of the business is discussing how you will bring in revenue and all the possibilities that can happen with profits. The part that isn’t fun is the expense side of the ledger. First, you must agree upon what is actually considered an expense, does that include things like cell phones, travel, meals…? What happens if revenues are way off and there is not enough money to pay each partner and you need more capital from each partner to keep it going? This can be a very uncomfortable problem. It is best to presuppose the challenges ahead of time and see if you can calmly discuss them and come up with solutions that make sense. If you can’t get to first base on the uncomfortable parts before you get started that is a bad sign and perhaps you should NOT be a partner. In fact, odds are the business is doomed to fail if you can’t get through some of these basic uncomfortable discussions from the start. Now, that does not mean your partner is telling their spouse the same story. That can and often does create more issues. Having as much in writing from the start and a business plan in place makes the most sense. Almost ALL, not all, but close, partnerships that refuse to take the time to put things in writing fail. It is like clockwork. If anyone wants to start a business with you and they refuse to put things in writing, run! Most of the time the only one that makes money in that situation is the attorney’s after the partners sue each other! Take the time to be clear and put it in writing!

 

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Doing Business in Multiple States-When Does Your Company Have to Register?

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Establishing a separate legal entity is step one in separating your and business assets. The next step is to make sure you are in compliance, which can mean many things including compliance from a Secretary of State level, to compliance from a business credit level to compliance at a state taxation level (and federal). All areas are very important. Let’s discuss an area that is not often discussed until it is too late and that considers the multistate taxation rules which will help determine which states your entity will need to register to do business.

In our industry, where Nevada and Wyoming corporations are promoted this is the reason why benefits such as saving state corporate income taxes or privacy rarely comes into play because if you live and do business in another state, the Nevada entity will need to foreign register to do business in that state. At your state level, there may be state taxes and your name and information is probably going to be more exposed. Two important points, first if you are operating as an LLC taxed as an S corporation for example, it is a flow-through entity with no federal taxes paid and in many states, no state taxes. An informational return is required to be filed at the federal and state level (in most cases) and the tax is paid at the owner’s level. This comes into play when someone says, “I live in Arizona and I want a Nevada LLC taxed as an S corporation to save state corporate taxes here in Arizona.” There is not any state taxes on LLCs taxed as an S corporation in Arizona anyway. This is typically promoted in relation to a C corporation which has state corporate taxes in most states but usually is the wrong entity for the small business owner (because of double taxation and the goals of the small business owner, especially a home-based business owner is to have low overhead and high-profit margins). The second point is that privacy is many times overrated because I find there is a common pattern to strive for so much privacy and the basic asset protection is missing. Most do not think it through with capitalization, issuing ownership interest…

Back to the subject at hand, when does your company have to foreign register or qualify to do business in another state? There are two ways to look at this, what does the state say about this at the Secretary of State level and more specifically what does the multi-state taxation rules say about it?

Each state has some basic rules that may help in determining what is considered doing business in their state and therefore state taxes may be due. Let’s take a look at California and Texas. California is one of the highest taxed states in the country. They have an annual $800 minimal franchise tax fee that applies to all entities (there is an exception in year one for corporations). California has a state tax rate for all entities and that is why they spend more time on the California Franchise Tax Board website to let you know what is considered doing business. On this site, https://www.ftb.ca.gov/businesses/faq/734.shtml, the California Franchise Tax Board defines doing business in California as ‘doing business’ means actively engaging in any transaction for the purpose of financial gain. That is a very wide interpretation of what is considered doing business.

Texas does not have a state corporate income tax but they have a franchise tax. The franchise tax is a privilege tax imposed on corporations, including banking corporations and limited liability companies that are chartered in Texas. The tax is also imposed on non-Texas corporations that do business in Texas. The Texas Franchise Tax fee is just a fancy name for state income taxes. But from a marketing point of view if the state can promote it has no personal income taxes and hit the businesses harder that may help them from a political point of view. If you are doing business in Texas, like owning real estate by itself will trigger the Texas Franchise tax fee which Corporations pay the greater of the tax on net taxable capital or net taxable earned surplus. There are two approaches, one is the taxable capital of a corporation’s stated capital (capital stock) plus surplus. Taxable capital for an annual report is based on the end of the corporation’s last accounting period in the calendar year prior to the calendar year in which the report is due. The tax rate on taxable capital is 0.25 percent per year of privilege period. Earned surplus for an annual report should be reported beginning with the day after the ending date on the previous franchise tax report and ending with the end of the corporation’s last federal accounting period in the calendar year prior to the calendar year in which the report is due. The tax rate on earned surplus is 4.5 percent.

There is an easy way that the California Franchise Tax Board will determine if you are doing business in California, they will subpoena your business credit card and look at where the transactions take place. If they are all in California for example, and you formed a Nevada LLC and did NOT register to do business in California you will be subject to the California franchise tax fee plus penalties and interest. From California’s point of view, if you were doing business in Nevada and lived in California, most of your expenses should be where you are doing business. This is a good rule of thumb for any state. Does this mean anytime you go into another state your LLC or Corporation will have to foreign register? No. But more times than not you may be doing business in another state and not be realizing it and be subject to state taxes. The best way to blow this is to hire employees in another state. If you do that the entity will need to foreign register and pay taxes in that state. You may be thinking is having independent contractors an exception? Yes, that does not constitute doing business in another state. Does that mean the solution is just to have independent contractors only work for your company outside your state? No. You must follow the IRS’s test for employees vs. independent contractors. Don’t wait until it is too late to find out you really have employees working for you! Here are the tests: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/understanding-employee-vs-contractor-designation

When I started NCP back in 1997, several times during the first two years went to speak to Deloitte, the big global tax firm and invested $400-$600 per hour to understand these basic concepts because no one in our industry was addressing these issues or concerns.

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Costly Mistakes to Avoid as an Officer of a Corporation or Manager of an LLC!

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Forming a separate legal entity is a huge step in separating your personal and business liability. You obtain liability protection with a separate legal entity the day you file the LLC or Corporation.

What most people do not realize is that after day 1 and beyond you are not protected unless you operate the entity as a separate legal entity.

That involves avoiding commingling of funds, proper capitalization and proper minutes and resolutions as your role as the director, officer, shareholder or manager, member or member of an entity.

Typically as a director of a corporation or a manager of an LLC, your liability is limited personally. As long as you operate within your role as the manager of an LLC or director of a corporation. Nevada will protect you as long as you do not commit fraud. Other states have a minimum fiduciary duty or duty of care.

Let me cover for you the biggest mistakes we have seen over the years that have caused unnecessary liability to directors, officers and managers:

Not using your corporate or LLC title
when signing contracts, checks, documents, licenses…followed by the name of the entity. Signing your name without any title or reference to your company may mean that you are representing yourself personally and that brings personal liability to you. You presented yourself as an individual vs. the manager of an LLC. That is a huge mistake.

Continuing to operate as a sole proprietorship even though you have formed a separate legal entity.
This is a big one. This means you are operating a business in your own name, for a month or several months before you formed the LLC or Corporation. Perhaps you filed a DBA name (doing business as) like Marketing Solutions
and the new LLC is Marketing Solutions, LLC and you are still doing business under Marketing Solutions with the bank account in that name under your SSN. That is a huge mistake! Reconnect that DBA name to the new LLC or Corporation. You do that by dissolving the DBA linked to you as the applicant and re-file that same day a new application with the LLC as the applicant. Now the DBA name is connected to the LLC or Corporation for liability and tax purposes.

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Advanced LLC Tax Issues

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An LLC is a hybrid between a corporation and a partnership. An LLC can be taxed as a partnership, S or C corporation or a disregarded entity. The IRS established federal default rules in 1997 to simply how an LLC is taxed. One member is a disregarded entity and two members are tax as a partnership. In either situation, you can file form 8832 to have an LLC taxed as a Corporation or form 2553 to be taxed as an S corporation.

One of the subjects that 90% the people who have an LLC do not properly handle the transfer of an LLC interest to another.

As personal property, an LLC interest may be transferred by a bill of sale, assignment, or comparable document. If the interest are documented certificates, like stock certificates, it should be possible to transfer an interest by endorsing the certificate, by granting the power of attorney to the transferee, or by granting a type of power like a stock power. To be effective the transferee must also cause the transfer of the interest to be reflected on the LLC’s books. The transfer must first be approved under the LLC’s requirements (e.g., approval of at least a majority in interest of members). It is recommended that an LLC record the transfer of membership interests in the same fashion as a corporation uses a stock transfer ledger.

This is a key point…the transfer of an interest to a person does not by itself grant the status of a member in the LLC. Rather, the transferee is merely an assignee of certain economic rights unless the other members by a vote approve the transfer of the interest.

The various state acts generally provide that unless the members have otherwise agreed, a membership interest is assignable in whole or in part. Although some statutes may refer to the free assignability of a membership interest, what is actually meant is the free assignability of the financial rights, not governance rights.

Typically, members will want to impose restrictions on assignability, and the operating agreement would provide this language. An operating agreement also should define if the transfer restrictions did not apply to transfers to members, non-members, or both of the LLC.

This may surprise you, but an LLC member can assign his or her interest without anyone’s consent. Although the transferee will be an assignee and NOT a member. Only members can vote and exercise other rights of members, but not an assignee, like a member, may receive distributions of cash or property.

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Distributions from an LLC

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After your LLC is formed and your business is up and running and revenue is flowing in it will come to that important point where you will distribute money to the partners. That may be just you, your spouse or other outside partners.

Most simply think about writing a check from the LLC to themselves as the owner and really do not consider the tax ramifications of their actions. This is especially important any time you have a partner, whether that is a spouse, outside partner, separate legal entity.

Let’s address some basic fundamentals first then get into more details:

The first step is to be aware of how your LLC is taxed. Are you a single member LLC taxed as an S corporation, or disregarded for tax purposes? If you have earned income and a single member LLC that will flow through to schedule C (basically you are operating as a sole proprietorship, but have the liability protection of an LLC). Test question: Is there any payroll for a single member LLC? The answer: depends. If the LLC is disregarded for tax purposes there is NO payroll to the owner. Is it possible for a single member LLC to have employees? Yes. If the single member LLC is taxed as an S corporation, the active member (owner) would have payroll and distributions. If you have a single member LLC taxed as an S corporation, of course, the only member is active. If you have a two-member LLC taxed as an S corporation, it is possible that the second member could be passive (this could be a spouse or silent partner). Would the passive member be the manager of an LLC managed by managers? No. By definition, if passive they would not be running day to day operations. Keep that in mind.

A single member LLC taxed as a C Corporation; there would be at some point some type of payroll to the owner of the C Corporation. Is it possible that there was only enough revenue in the LLC taxed as a Corporation to pay business expenses only and not enough profits left over for any type of payroll? That is possible. You may take dividends out of the LLC taxed as a C Corporation, but keep in mind dividends are NOT deductible to the LLC taxed as a C Corporation’s profits.

An LLC taxed as a partnership is a very common structure. The big mistake you want to avoid is doing payroll for partners. There is NO payroll to partners in an LLC taxed as a partnership. There is something called, “guaranteed payments” to the manager of the LLC for their role in the day to day operations of the LLC which is subject to employment taxes, but it is not payroll. The members (or partners) of the LLC will receive distributions in profits. If the member or partner is actively involved in operating the business those distributions will be subject to employment taxes.

Let’s get into more detail about when an LLC can make distributions to members. Absent any agreements with third parties restricting distributions, LLCs generally can distribute cash or property. Here is an important point (a reason to have great accounting records from the beginning); most LLC acts prohibit to members if, following a distribution, the LLC’s liabilities (other than liabilities to members) would exceed the value of the LLC’s assets. Most LLC statutes hold members liable to creditors for wrongful distributions under their fraudulent conveyance statute.

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Are ALL Your Assets Protected Properly Going into 2016?

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As the end of another year comes to a close and you are getting ready for your plans for 2016 you may be evaluating are all your assets
properly protected?

lawsuit form with filler and book

Here are many of the common strategies that often turn into costly mistakes (that you may not have considered):

1. All your business ventures in one business. Yes, if you are just starting and testing 3-4 different revenue streams that may be ok in
one entity but if two or three are really taking off, why put all of that in one business entity (other than it is easier). Would you put
all your investments in one stock? Probably not. Why? Too much risk. The same strategy applies to a business (don’t put all your eggs in
one basket).

2. Real estate in your own name (outside your principal residence) even without equity may be a lighting rod for lawsuits, best in a separate
entity. Too much equity from real estate in one LLC.

3. Business with a partner that is in the same entity as your operating business that you own 100%. At the end of the day you make your
partner owner of your main company which may not be what you intended.

4. Holding safe assets or investments outside your retirement plan in your own name/brokerage account or your living trust (remember your
living trust provides ZERO liability protection but protection from probate taxes).

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