Small Business Finances 101: How to Profit

We finish this introduction to business finances by discussing the payoff for all your hard work – profit! In particular, we dive into how to use your business’ profits to get paid. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you probably need to extract profit from your company to pay your bills and live your life. Like many of the important things in life, you have options. In this case, you have to decide how to structure your business and how to tap into profit while creating the smallest tax obligation. Your particular circumstances will help determine the best type of business entity to use, and you should, of course, seek formal advice from a trusted accountant or lawyer.

Structuring Your Business

Your choice of the type of business entity to adopt will greatly influence the amount of time and work you’ll have to expend administering the business. A small business set up as a sole proprietorship is certainly easier to run than a limited liability company (LLC) or C-Corporation, but the latter give you all sorts of protections or tax breaks not otherwise available.

The five most popular business structures are:

  1. Sole proprietorship: A simple structure in which you are the sole owner of your small business. You file your taxes on your personal return, as there is no separation between you and your business. That means you have unlimited personal liability for your business’ debts, putting your personal assets are at risk. It’s also harder to get a business loan for a sole proprietorship.
  2. Partnership: This is much like a sole proprietorship, except it involves at least two owners. Once again, you file your taxes on a personal return and you have unlimited personal liability. You share the business’ profits proportionally with your partners, so it’s a good idea to ensure they are trustworthy.
  3. LLC: A separate entity that provides liability protection but not separate tax filings unless you chose to file as a corporation. It is easier to set up and run than is a C-Corp. However, it’s harder to get investors, since you can’t sell shares. Also, you can’t pay yourself a salary, although there are other ways to get money out of the LLC.
  4. S-Corp: Recognized in most states, its similar to an LLC except it can issue shares and can pay wages to shareholders while avoiding corporate taxation. The S-Corp requires more paperwork than does the LLC, and you are limited to 100 shareholders.
  5. C-Corp: A corporation is the most difficult to set up, as it requires its own set of books and separate tax filings. It’s the most professional approach to business, with limited liability and no limits on the number of shareholders. C-Corps provide many tax deductions and benefits not available elsewhere.

Extracting Money

Assuming you are running your business in order to make a profit, the question remains how to extract money from the business to pay yourself for your time and effort. Here are several options:

  1. Salary: You fill out a W-2 and pay yourself a salary, minus any withholding taxes. It’s simple, but not tax-efficient for a corporate entity.
  2. Dividend: A corporation can pay a dividend to shareholders. Any part of the dividend that is a return of capital, rather than profit, is not taxable. The IRS looks dimly on huge dividends.
  3. Shareholder loan: You can borrow money from your company, but if it’s at a below-market interest rate, you might be liable for gift or dividend taxes.
  4. Owner’s draw: Cash available only to sole proprietors or partners, this money is not taxed at the company level. The money must eventually be repaid to the company.

Clearly, the way you structure your business has profound implications for your after-tax wealth. Consult with a professional before deciding the best ways to take advantage of your business profits. If you need tools to grow profits through a maintained budget, check out our Business Budget Smart Sheet. This tool helps you stay on track so you can reach profitability sooner!

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