11 Types of Business Structures: Which One’s The Best Fit?

by Brandon Boushy
11 Types of Business Structures: Which One’s The Best Fit?

Are you starting a new business and wondering what type of business structure to create? We’ll cover 11 types of businesses that you can form based on your business need..

When starting a business, there are so many types of businesses to consider that it can be difficult to choose the right structure for you. There are at least 11 different business structures available today and we expect the possibilities will grow in the future.

We’ll help you understand what you should consider before you choose the type of legal structure of a business. Then we’ll discuss the different kinds of business entities and when each works best.

After we’ve given you all the information you need to choose your company structure, we’ll hook you up with one of our business partners to help you begin your business ownership.

Let’s look at how to choose which type of business structure will work for your business.

How to choose the right type of business structure

There are six questions to consider before you decide what type of business structure to choose:

  1. Do you want to keep your personal and business finances separate?
  2. What are your tax priorities?
  3. Will there be more than one business owner?
  4. Do you plan on hiring employees?
  5. Are you starting a business to make a profit or help people?
  6. Is your company meant to help the members achieve their goals by working together?

Let’s look at each of these questions to help you understand how each of these plays into choosing the right business structure.

Do you want to keep your personal and business finances separate?

There are business structures that help separate your business and personal finances and the liability that occurs if an employee gets hurt or a customer files a lawsuit.

If you can justify the additional costs, time spent submitting documents to government agencies, and processes to keep your business and personal finances separate, you should. But many of the business owners we interview on our YouTube channel tell people it’s better to get started than wait until you can do it perfectly. 

In this interview, Notto Jensen tells us that his improvising became his greatest strength because he couldn’t afford overhead.

Every type of business entity, except for a sole proprietorship and a business partnership, can separate personal liability and assets from the business liability and assets as long as you use separate bank accounts for the business owned.

What are your tax priorities?

When considering what type of business entity to create, there are some questions you need to ask yourself about the tax treatment:

Is my business one that will qualify for tax-exempt status?

If so, you might want to consider a Non-Profit Organization (NPO) or Low-Profit Limited Liability Company (L3C).

Do I want to pay my business taxes on my personal tax return? 

If yes, you should not consider a C-Corporation (C-Corp) or NPO. All others can be structured to allow pass-through income. All but general partnerships and sole proprietorships can be formed in ways that may allow separate business tax returns.

Are there any tax deductions or tax benefits that a business will qualify for that my personal income will not?

All but a sole proprietor or general partnership have some tax benefits that might outweigh the double taxation that can occur in other kinds of businesses.

What tax code do the different entities follow? 

C-Corps follow subsection C, while S-Corporations (S-Corps) follow subsection S, and pass-through entities, like an LLC, will either be treated as a partnership or sole proprietorship, unless you file a Form 8832 to follow C-Corp laws. Co-ops are in Subsection T, which borrows from C, S, and K. Non-Profits are mostly in 501(c)(3).

I suggest you view the IRS Business Structures page for a more detailed understanding of the tax requirements for each type of business structure or talk to a tax consultant.

Will there be more than one business owner?

All types of businesses will allow for a single owner except for the different types of business partnerships, which have to be two or more people. An S-Corp has a limit of 100 owners, as do Benefit Corps (B Corps) and Co-Ops that are structured under S-Corp tax laws.

Do you plan on hiring employees?

A business owner interviewing an applicant
Hiring employees impacts what types of businesses make the most sense for a business structure.

If you plan on hiring employees, you’ll either want to do an LLC, LLP, corporation, NPO, or Co-Op. Do not hire people using a sole proprietorship or general partnerships as you have no legal protection if something goes wrong.

In Co-Ops, the employees may be the owners. Profit is divided by rules that require distribution based on how much each person uses the co-op as opposed to how much they invested. If you conduct business in this manner to make the investment returns fair, each employee’s investment needs to be equal to the work they put into the business.

Are you starting a business to make a profit or help people?

If you are trying to make a profit, you cannot be an NPO, but you can be an L3C that may qualify for tax exemption if you are investing in it through a foundation that is tax-exempt. 

You also won’t want to be a Co-Op unless each member pays 1/X of the expenses, where X = the number of members. This is because of how a co-op divides profits compared to other types of businesses.

Is your company meant to help the members achieve their goals by working together?

If your company is meant to help people and make a profit, then your business operations may want to be formed under laws for Co-Ops or Benefit Corporations. These types of businesses are meant to be more profitable for the members or employees.

You’ll see this kind of business structure in credit unions and companies like Winco. Check out their video about their Employee Stock Ownership Plan below.

Now that you know about the business factors that impact the types of businesses and what business structures you can use, let’s look at the actual business types.

What type of business structure is normally best?

Sticking with a Limited Liability Company (LLC) is typically best unless:

  1. You have high enough profit margins that you can benefit from the corporate tax structure.
  2. Want to include your fringe benefits as tax-deductible. In that case, use a C-Corp.
  3. Qualify as a Non-Profit.
  4. Are trying to help benefit others without regard for getting most of the profit? In this scenario, Co-ops and B-Corps might make sense.

Check out our business startup guide for more great information about starting a business.

Types of businesses: Most common business structures

There are 11 business types you may want to consider when starting a new business. We’ll look at the business legal structure for each of the following different business types:

  1. Sole Proprietorship
  2. Partnership
  3. Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)
  4. Limited Liability Company 
  5. Series Limited Liability Company 
  6. C-Corporation 
  7. S-Corporation 
  8. Non-Profit Organization 
  9. Benefit Corporation 
  10. Low-Profit Limited Liability Company 
  11. Cooperative (Co-op)

Let’s start by looking at the easiest types of companies to create, sole proprietorships.

Business Type 1. What is a sole proprietorship?

Sole proprietorships are the quickest, least expensive way of entering the world of business ownership.  This type of business structure operates where the owner and the person are one legal entity, sometimes called a business entity. 

What is a business entity?

A business entity is a company that is recognized as a separate legal entity from the person who owns it. This is beneficial because it separates:

  • Business assets and personal assets
  • Personal debt and business debt
  • Business liability and personal liability.

Pros and cons of a sole proprietorship

The main benefit of being a sole proprietor is it is quick and easy to become a business this way. You can file income with your personal tax return. Some states even allow you to operate a sole proprietorship for free.

 Unfortunately, there are some really nasty downsides to sole proprietorships including:

  • Unlimited personal liability for business decisions.
  • Business assets could be taken in a personal lawsuit.

Sole Proprietors and the IRS

The Internal Revenue Code considers these small businesses under self-employment taxes which means you can:

  • Claim expenses that employees cannot, but not as many as a corporation.
  • Own assets for the business. For instance, if you own a building and don’t want to run the business anymore, you can close the business and rent the space to a new tenant.
  • Have funds go directly into your personal bank accounts (this makes the next one much more difficult though).
  • FIle the income with your personal tax returns. You will have to establish what is a business expense and personal expense. Check IRS Publication 334 for guidance on what you can claim and what you can’t.
  • Self-employment tax means that small business owners have to pay 15.3% of the first $137,700 in 2020, $142,800 in 2021, and $147,000 of income for 2022. This cap is adjusted every year based on inflation. The IRS is the definitive source for self-employment taxes. Make sure to read about them.

Keep reading for information on other types of businesses including partnerships.

Types of Businesses 2. What are Partnerships?

A laptop on a desk showing a message about partnership

There are two types of partnerships , General Partnerships or Limited Partnerships. A General Partnership is when at least two people are participating in the business, while a Limited Partnership has at least one silent partner.

Benefits of Partnerships

Both General Partnerships and Limited Partnerships have the same benefits:

  • Easy to create
  • Pass-through taxation, meaning they have the same benefits as a sole proprietorship regarding taxes
  • Partners fully control the business
  • You can get investors

Disadvantages of Partnerships

Both Limited Partnerships and General Partnerships share the problems of:

  • Unlimited liability for the business’s debts
  • Personally liable for the other peoples’ actions

Like Sole Proprietors, these types of businesses are not recommended because of the lack of liability protection against a business’s debts.

The next type of partnership is far better when considering different types of businesses.

Business Type 3. What is a Limited Liability Partnership? 

Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs) are similar to other Partnerships but come with protection against liability for others’ actions.

What are the benefits of an LLP?

The benefits include:

  • Only liable for others’ actions to the amount that you invested in the company (but still personally liable for your own actions)
  • Independent legal entity
  • Pass-through income
  • 20% qualified basic income deduction. See IRS QBI page for more details.
  • Easy to add partners

What are the disadvantages of an LLP

The issues with these business entities are:

  1. They are not offered for all industries in all states.
  2. Some states may require a franchise fee on top of the standard limited partnership and limited liability formation fees.

In most states, you will need a formal operating agreement and to register with the Secretary of State to create an LLP. You can find information for starting a business in your state at USA.gov.

Keep reading for information on Limited Liability Companies.

Business Types 5. What is a Limited Liability Company?

A woman searching about LLC on her iPad

A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a company that provides separation of business and personal assets and liability while allowing pass-through income. People will almost always tell you to start an LLC if you ask “What type of business should I register as?” Most of the time they are right.

What are the benefits of an LLC?

The reasons everyone loves LLCs are:

  1. They separate personal and business liability.
  2. They can have as many members as you want.
  3. Anyone or any business entity can own an LLC.
  4. The business determines whether to file taxes as either a pass-through entity or a corporation.

What are disadvantages of an LLC?

The main drawbacks are:

  • Raising capital can’t be done through selling shares.
  • You can’t jump back and forth between corporate taxes and pass-through taxes.
  • LLCs are more complex to start than a sole proprietorship.
  • You’ll have more costs associated with setting up and maintaining an LLC.

How to get an LLC

You’ll need an operating agreement and articles of organization, which are fairly easy. You can create a separate business entity through our partner BetterLegal and save $30 when you create an LLC.

Keep reading for more more types of businesses that avoid unlimited liability.

What is a Series Limited Liability Company (Series LLC) Business Type?

A Series LLC is nearly identical to a normal LLC but with one distinguishing difference: You can have a parent LLC with multiple distinct LLCs underneath it. This is basically the same concept a conglomerate (Berkshire-Hathaway, for those unfamiliar) uses, but much less costly.

Who should use a Series LLC?

A series LLC is commonly used by:

  1. Serial entrepreneurs
  2. People who own multiple franchises
  3. Landlords

What are the benefits of a Series LLC?

The benefits of a Series LLC over a normal LLC include:

  • Lower cost than starting multiple LLCs
  • Has the same benefits as an LLC, but can share costs
  • Less complexity than conglomerates or thousands of non-series LLCs

What are the disadvantages of a Series LLC?

The drawbacks are:

  • More costly originally, but saves money the larger the series
  • A larger series means more complexity. Only offered in the following locations: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming.
  • Tax clarity due to series LLC being based on local laws

I’ve provided the links for some of the states. You can find your state by searching “register a Series LLC in (insert state).”

What types of businesses are C-Corporations? 

A C-Corporation is a business formed and taxed under Subsection C of the U.S. tax code. Before the 1990s, C-Corporations accounted for the vast majority of the revenue in the U.S. Now they make up less than 50%.

What are the advantages of a C-Corporation?

A C-Corp has the following benefits:

  1. Able to sell stock
  2. Able to pay dividends to the owner reducing the taxable consequences
  3. Limited liability
  4. Easier to get investors
  5. Can offer yourself better benefits fully tax-deductible.
  6. Unlimited owners

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have downsides too.

What are the disadvantages of a C-Corp?

A C-Corp includes many business challenges that other types of businesses do not, including:

  • The corporate tax, which can be avoided through good estimating if you pay yourself enough
  • Complexity due to filing and reporting requirements. Requirements can be found on the IRS website.
  • Double taxation, need to pay taxes on corporate earnings and personal income

C-Corps are the most common type of corporation, but let’s look at the S-Corp next.

What types of businesses are S-Corporations? 

Different types of businesses have different tax forms. An S-Corp is one business structure with appealing taxes.

An S-Corporation is a cross between an LLC and a corporation. In fact either can file to pay taxes as an S-Corp. The main differences between an S-Corp and C-Corp are:

  • No more than 100 stockholders in S-Corps.
  • Only U.S. Citizens, resident aliens, some NPOs, and some trusts or estates can own S-Corps. Check with a lawyer if you are thinking about starting an S-Corp and investing in it with an NPO, trust, or estate.
  • Earnings are pass-through income, but S-Corp business owners still have to pay themselves as employees. Meanwhile C-Corps are taxed on corporate and personal income.
  • S-Corps can only have one class of stock, while C-Corps may have multiple stock classes.
  • An S-Corp files under subsection S of the U.S. tax code, while a C-Corp files under class C.

You can run an LLC or a Corporation as an S-Corp. Learn more about the differences in the two structures in our blog LLC vs. S-Corp or go to the IRS S-Corporations page to learn more learn more about forming an S-Corporation.

The other types of businesses we are about to discuss are less common business structure, but might make sense for unique business needs.. Keep reading to learn about Non-Profit Corporations.

What is a Non-Profit Organization (NPO)?

Non-profit organizations are types of businesses that work for the better good of the community. They are typically in the medical field, free or low-cost legal services, churches, or other social services.

What are the benefits of running an NPO?

The benefits of these types of businesses include:

  1. No corporate tax
  2. Legally allowed to receive donations to raise money.
  3. Profits on the sale of a property can go to help people.

What are the disadvantages of running an NPO?

NPOs are not always the best business structure even though they are tax exempt. These types of businesses are more complicated because:

  • The states Approve whether you can raise money, but the federal government approves an NPO’s tax-exempt status.
  • There are lots of legal documents required to keep your tax exemption.
  • If the business closes, you have to donate the assets.

Unless you are specifically looking at types of businesses that are serving the greater good and don’t want to make a profit, an NPO probably isn’t the best option for a small business.

What is a Benefit Corporation?

When wondering, “What type of business should I start,” consider a benefit corporation if how you impact your community is important to you. This type of corporation is an addendum to an S-Corp or C-Corp. Follow the four steps below:

  1. Apply for an S-Corp or C-Corp.
  2. Mark the box that says, “I want to be a Benefit Corp.” 
  3. Specify how the corporation intends to benefit the community.
  4. Create and publish a report of how you improved the community every year.

Remember to follow your state’s requirements to create a B-Corporation, and to learn more go to BenefitCorp.net

What is a Low-Profit Limited Liability Company (L3C)

L3Cs are used in nine states when an organization is focused on the greater good, but they may also earn a profit. These companies normally do not qualify for Non-Profit status, but they might be able to if all owners are Non-Profits and the business is within their core functions. If it doesn’t, then it will have taxable earnings.

These are primarily used by the Bill Gates Foundation and newspapers for projects that could turn a profit but don’t and rely on contributions to keep them going. 

Use this option with caution because of the uncertainty in the tax treatment. I’d suggest going with a more established form of business, but you can learn more about L3C usage on UpCounsel.

What is a Cooperative (Co-Op)?

A Co-Op is a group of people or businesses working together to achieve a goal. Co-Ops fall under Subchapters C, K, S, and/or T of the tax code depending on what legal structures they follow. The key difference between Co-Ops and other businesses is distributions are by usage, not investment.

The primary industries that use Co-Ops are agricultural, healthcare-related, community-funded energy projects, and employee-owned companies. You’ll definitely need a lawyer to establish the best strategy for Co-Ops, but check out Co-opLaw.org to learn more about how co-ops work.

I’d personally love to see more Co-Ops, but there needs to be a balance where employees get 33% of the profits, investors get 33% of the profits, and founders get 34% of the profits. I think this would truly be a great way of running a company for everyone involved.

Did you narrow down the types of businesses you want to start?

A notebook and a pen on a desk. Encouraging you to get started on choosing the types of businesses you want to open.

If you are ready to set up your business, go to your Secretary of State (SOS) website. Look for your SOS at search.usa.gov, or reach out to our partner BetterLegal to help you with all your business filing needs. BetterLegal handles everything from business formation to state and federal reporting within one to three weeks.

Regardless of whether you start a sole proprietorship, LLC, corporation, or another type of company, UpFlip has you covered. If you’re ready for the next step in the process, read our article on how to register a business.

What business structure are you leaning toward?

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Brandon Boushy

Our lead writer, Brandon Boushy, has been a business consultant, business owner, and marketer since 2017. Brandon is committed to the pursuit of knowledge and continuous improvement. He measures his success based on how many business owners he helps succeed. Brandon started Raising Daisy Photography in 2017 with Stephanie MacIver. His role was focused on marketing, estimating, and managing customer interactions. He is also a freelance business researcher and has provided over 3,800 hours of business research for more than 50 clients. His blogs are read by over 2 million people every year. Brandon told us: "My motto is never quit learning. I bring this motto to everything I do, and find writing the best way to help share the data I obtain to assist business professionals pursue their dreams." He empowers companies to improve their communication and brand awareness through creative content strategies and blog writing.

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