A corporation (sometimes referred to as a C corporation) is an independent legal entity owned by shareholders. This means that the corporation itself, not the shareholders that own it, is held legally liable for the actions and debts the business incurs.
Corporations are more complex than other business structures because they tend to have costly administrative fees and complex tax and legal requirements. Because of these issues, corporations are generally suggested for established, larger companies with multiple employees.
For businesses in that position, corporations offer the ability to sell ownership shares in the business through stock offerings. “Going public” through an initial public offering (IPO) is a major selling point in attracting investment capital and high quality employees.
Forming a Corporation
A corporation is formed under the laws of the state in which it is registered. To form a corporation you’ll need to choose your business name and register your legal name with your state government. If you choose to operate under a name different than the officially registered name, you’ll most likely have to file a fictitious name (also known as an assumed name, trade name, or DBA name, short for "doing business as"). State laws vary, but generally corporations must include a corporate designation (Corporation, Incorporated, Limited) at the end of the business name.
To register your business as a corporation, you need to file certain documents, typically articles of incorporation, with your state’s Secretary of State office. Some states require corporations to establish directors and issue stock certificates to initial shareholders in the registration process. Contact an attorney to find out about specific filing requirements in the state where you form your business.
Once your business is registered, you must obtain business licenses and permits.
Corporations are required to pay federal, state, and in some cases, local taxes. Most businesses must register with the IRS and state and local revenue agencies, and receive a tax ID number or permit.
When you form a corporation, you create a separate tax-paying entity. Regular corporations are called “C corporations” because Subchapter C of Chapter 1 of the Internal Revenue Code is where you find general tax rules affecting corporations and their shareholders.
Unlike sole proprietors and partnerships, corporations pay income tax on their profits. In some cases, corporations are taxed twice - first, when the company makes a profit, and again when dividends are paid to shareholders on their personal tax returns. Corporations use IRS Form 1120 or 1120-A, U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return to report revenue to the federal government.
Shareholders who are also employees pay income tax on their wages. The corporation and the employee each pay one half of the Social Security and Medicare taxes, but this is usually a deductible business expense.
Advantages of a Corporation
- Limited Liability. When it comes to taking responsibility for business debts and actions of a corporation, shareholders’ personal assets are protected. Shareholders can generally only be held accountable for their investment in stock of the company.
- Ability to Generate Capital. Corporations have an advantage when it comes to raising capital for their business - the ability to raise funds through the sale of stock.
- Corporate Tax Treatment. Corporations file taxes separately from their owners. Owners of a corporation only pay taxes on corporate profits paid to them in the form of salaries, bonuses, and dividends, while any additional profits are awarded a corporate tax rate, which is usually lower than a personal income tax rate.
- Attractive to Potential Employees. Corporations are generally able to attract and hire high-quality and motivated employees because they offer competitive benefits and the potential for partial ownership through stock options.
Disadvantages of a Corporation
- Time and Money. Corporations are costly and time-consuming ventures to start and operate. Incorporating requires start-up, operating and tax costs that most other structures do not require.
- Double Taxing. In some cases, corporations are taxed twice - first, when the company makes a profit, and again when dividends are paid to shareholders.
- Additional Paperwork. Because corporations are highly regulated by federal, state, and in some cases local agencies, there are increased paperwork and recordkeeping burdens associated with this entity.