LLC vs. sole proprietorship: How to choose with a focus on taxes

Ines Zemelman, EA
Ines Zemelman, EA
• 11.03.24 • 5 min read
LLC vs. sole proprietorship: How to choose with a focus on taxes

Choosing the right business structure is a pivotal decision for entrepreneurs, impacting everything from daily operations to tax obligations.

In this article, we delve into the nuances of LLCs (Limited Liability Companies) versus sole proprietorships, with a special focus on tax considerations.

Understanding the tax implications of each can significantly influence your decision.

Understanding the basics

What is a sole proprietorship?

A sole proprietorship is, in essence, the most straightforward business form under which one can operate a business.

NOTE! It is not a legal entity but merely a business activity carried out by an individual.

In this structure, the business and the owner are legally inseparable, meaning the owner is entitled to all profits but is also personally responsible for all business debts, losses, and liabilities.

What is an LLC?

In contrast, an LLC is a formal business structure that combines the simplicity and pass-through taxation of sole proprietorships and partnerships with the liability protection of a corporation.

An LLC exists independently from its owners (known as members), which means that members are not personally responsible for business debts and liabilities.

LLC vs. sole proprietorship formation

Forming a sole proprietorship

The formation of a sole proprietorship is remarkably straightforward, often requiring no formal action.

Once you commence business activities under your name or a chosen trade name, you are operating as a sole proprietor.

However, certain local licenses or permits may be necessary, and if operating under a trade name, a "Doing Business As" (DBA) registration might be required.

This simplicity makes it an attractive option for many entrepreneurs starting their business journey.

Forming an LLC

In contrast, forming an LLC involves more steps.

It begins with choosing a unique business name, followed by filing the Articles of Organization with the appropriate state authority. This document outlines basic information about your LLC, including the business name, address, and the names of its members.

Additionally, most states require the appointment of a registered agent to handle legal documents. There are state-specific filing fees and annual reports or franchise taxes to consider.

This complexity can offer significant benefits in terms of liability protection and operational flexibility.

LLC vs. sole proprietorship taxes

The primary distinction between an LLC and a sole proprietorship lies in their tax treatment and the related implications for business owners.

Taxation in sole proprietorships

For sole proprietors, taxation is relatively simple. The business income is reported directly on your personal income tax return via Schedule C.

While this simplicity is appealing, it's important to remember that sole proprietors are also subject to self-employment taxes, which cover Social Security and Medicare obligations.

Taxation in LLCs

LLCs offer more flexibility.

By default, they have pass-through taxation, similar to sole proprietorships, but with the added benefit of choosing to be taxed as a corporation.

This choice can lead to significant tax savings under certain circumstances.

Pass-through taxation

LLCs can choose to retain their default status of pass-through taxation, where business income is reported on the personal tax returns of the owners.

Corporate taxation

LLCs have the option to be taxed as a C-Corporation or S-Corporation.

S-Corp status can be advantageous for higher-earning businesses, potentially saving on self-employment taxes.

C-Corp taxation, while introducing double taxation (corporate and personal tax), can be beneficial for businesses planning to reinvest profits.

Comparing liability and legal protection

Liability in sole proprietorships

In a sole proprietorship, the owner's personal and business assets are not legally distinct.

This means personal assets, like your home or savings, could potentially be used to settle business debts or legal claims.

This exposure can be significant, especially in industries prone to litigation or where business liabilities are high.

Liability in LLCs

LLCs provide a significant advantage in terms of liability protection.

The structure creates a legal separation between the owner's personal assets and the business's liabilities. This means, in most cases, personal assets are protected against claims made against the business.

This protection is a critical consideration for businesses in higher-risk sectors or for those with substantial personal assets.

Operational differences and implications

Operating a sole proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is often simpler to operate. There are fewer formalities, no requirement for corporate meetings, and less record-keeping.

This simplicity can be advantageous for small-scale operations or for entrepreneurs testing a business idea.

However, this simplicity can also limit opportunities for raising capital and can impact the perception of the business’s professionalism and longevity.

Operating an LLC

LLCs, while requiring more formalities like annual reports and potential state filings, offer greater flexibility and credibility.

They can enter into contracts, own property, and sue or be sued under the business name.

This professional image can be advantageous in building trust with customers, vendors, and potential investors.

Furthermore, LLCs have the flexibility to be structured and managed in various ways, accommodating different types of businesses and growth plans.

Making the right choice for your business

1. Consider your business nature and needs

Your choice should align with your business's current needs and future goals.

Consider factors like the scale of operations, industry risks, and plans for expansion.

2. Evaluate tax implications

Carefully assess the tax implications of each structure. While LLCs offer more flexibility, the benefits depend on your specific financial situation.

Seeking advice from a legal or financial advisor is also prudent to ensure your choice aligns with your business strategy and provides the desired level of protection and flexibility.

3. Assess your risk tolerance

Consider your personal risk tolerance. If protecting personal assets is a priority, an LLC might be the better choice.

4. Think about growth and credibility

Evaluate how your business structure might impact your ability to grow and gain credibility in the market.

An LLC often presents a more established and trustworthy image to clients and investors.

Aspect LLC Sole Proprietorship
Formation Pros: Liability protection, enhanced credibility, tax classification options.
Cons: Complex setup, state-specific fees, legal formalities.
Pros: Simple setup, minimal paperwork, lower initial costs.
Cons: Limited in legal/financial separation, affecting liability and growth.
Taxation Pros: Flexible tax options (pass-through, S-Corp, C-Corp), potential tax benefits.
Cons: Complex tax filing if corporate status chosen.
Pros: Simplified tax filing, income on personal tax return.
Cons: Self-employment taxes, limited tax planning flexibility.
Liability Protection Pros: Personal assets protected from business debts/liabilities.
Cons: Need for strict legal formalities.
Pros: Simplicity in structure.
Cons: Personal assets at risk with business debts/legal issues.
Operations Pros: Credibility with stakeholders, flexibility in management, effective capital raising.
Cons: Ongoing formalities like annual reports.
Pros: Easy management, fewer regulatory requirements.
Cons: Challenges in raising capital, may appear less professional.

Bottom line

Choosing between an LLC and a sole proprietorship is a significant decision with far-reaching implications, especially regarding taxes.

By understanding the differences in tax treatment, liability protection, and operational flexibility, you can make an informed decision that best suits your business needs.


1. Do LLCs pay less taxes than sole proprietorships?

LLCs and sole proprietorships are both pass-through entities by default, meaning the business income is taxed on the owner's personal income tax return.

However, LLCs can choose to be taxed as a corporation, potentially offering tax advantages in specific scenarios.

2. What can you write off in the first year of an LLC?

In the first year, an LLC can write off start-up costs, operating expenses, equipment and supplies, travel and meal expenses, and marketing and advertising costs.

It's important to keep detailed records and consult with a tax professional for guidance.

3. Do LLCs get taxed twice?

As pass-through entities, LLCs are not typically subject to double taxation. However, if an LLC elects C-Corporation tax status, it can face double taxationonce at the corporate level and again at the individual level on dividends.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or tax advice. Always consult with a tax professional regarding your specific case.