Thursday, April 25, 2013
What is Crowdfunding?
Financing and Growing Your Small Business Through Crowdfunding
What is crowdfunding? Part social networking and part capital accumulation, crowdfunding is simply the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their financial resources together to support efforts initiated by others.
Inspired by crowdsourcing, this innovative approach to raising capital has long been used to solicit donations or support political causes. This method has also been successfully implemented to raise capital for many different types of projects, including art, fashion, music and film.
Entrepreneurs can also tap the internet as a way to raise financing from a broad base of investors without turning to venture capitalists. With crowdfunding, you can raise small amounts of capital from many different sources, while retaining control over your business venture. Crowdfunding for business ventures, however, is not without its risks, and likely requires advice of an attorney.
In the traditional crowdfunding model, donations are pledged over the internet to fund a particular project or cause. The contributors are supporting the project, but receive no ownership interest in return for their monetary donation. This type of arrangement can exist with non-profit ventures and political campaigns, as well as start-up businesses. The person or entity soliciting the funding utilizes existing social networks to leverage the crowd and raise contributions in exchange for a reward, which is typically directly related to the project being funded, such as a credit at the end of a movie. With this type of arrangement, the contributor does not receive any ownership interest in the venture in exchange for the donation.
However, when for-profit companies solicit funds from a large number of individuals to raise capital in exchange for shares of ownership in the company, care must be taken to ensure the arrangement does not run afoul of federal and state securities laws.
Various companies and websites have popped up to assist entrepreneurs in raising capital through crowdfunding. Some operate on a flat fee, others charge a percentage of funds raised. Keep in mind that any securities in a company sold to the public at large must be registered with regulatory authorities, unless they qualify for a specific exemption from the registration requirement. Selling shares of ownership to low-net-worth individuals (“unaccredited investors”) can trigger numerous registration and disclosure obligations. Additionally, state laws may also affect the transaction. As the number of investors and states involved increases, so do the cost and complexity of obtaining this type of capital financing. The various rules can be difficult to navigate, and missteps can result in significant penalties.
Monday, March 25, 2013
Which Business Structure is Right for You?
Which Business Structure is Right for You?
Which entity is best for your business depends on many factors, and the decision can have a significant impact on both profitability and asset protection afforded to its owners. Below is an overview of the most common business structures.
The sole proprietorship is the simplest and least regulated of all business structures. For legal and tax purposes, the sole proprietorship’s owner and the business are one and the same. The liabilities of the business are personal to the owner, and the business terminates when the owner dies. On the other hand, all of the profits are also personal to the owner and the sole owner has full control of the business.
A partnership consists of two or more persons who agree to share profits and losses. It is simple to establish and maintain; no formal, written document is required in order to create a partnership. If no formal agreement is signed, the partnership will be subject to state laws governing partnerships. However, to clarify the rights and responsibilities of each partner, and to be certain of the tax status of the partnership, it is important to have a written partnership agreement.
Each partner’s personal assets are at risk. Any partner may obligate the partnership, and each individual partner is liable for all of the debts of the partnership. General partners also face potential personal legal liability for the negligence of another partner.
A limited partnership is similar to a general partnership, but has two types of partners: general partners and limited partners. General partners have broad powers to obligate the partnership (as in a general partnership), and are personally liable for the debts of the partnership. If there is more than one general partner, each of them is liable for the acts of the remaining general partners. Limited partners, however, are “limited” to their contribution of capital to the business, and must not become actively involved in running the company. As with a general partnership, limited partnerships are flow-through tax entities.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
The LLC is a hybrid type of business structure. An LLC consists of one or more owners (“members”) who actively manage the company’s business affairs. The LLC contains elements of both a traditional partnership and a corporation, offering the liability protection of a corporation, with the tax structure of a sole proprietorship (if it has only one member), or a partnership (if the LLC has two or more members). Its important to note that in certain states, single-member LLCs are not afforded limited liability protection.
Corporations are more complex than either a sole proprietorship or partnership and are subject to more state regulations regarding their formation and operation. There are two basic types of corporations: C-corporations and S-corporations. There are significant differences in the tax treatment of these two types of corporations, however, they are both generally organized and operated in a similar manner.
Technical formalities must be strictly observed in order to reap the benefits of corporate existence. For this reason, there is an additional burden of detailed recordkeeping. Corporate decisions must be documented in writing. Corporate meetings, both at the shareholder and director levels, must be formally documented.
Corporations limit the owners’ personal liability for company debts. Depending on your situation, there may be significant tax advantages to incorporating.
Monday, February 25, 2013
How Par Value Affects Start-Up Businesses
How Par Value Affects Start-Up Businesses
Many entrepreneurs are unclear about the “par value” of a stock, and what par value they should establish for their new corporation. Generally, par value (also known as nominal or face value) is the minimum price per share that shares can be issued for, in order to be fully paid. In the old days, the par value of a common stock was equal to the amount invested and represented the initial capital of the company; but today the vast majority of stocks are issued with an extremely low par value, or none at all.
A share of stock cannot be issued, sold or traded for less than the par value. Therefore, incorporators often opt for such a low – or no – par value to reduce the amount of money a company founder must invest in exchange for shares of ownership in a start-up corporation. Regardless of the par value, the company’s board of directors retain the right to sell shares in the company at a higher price.
Some online incorporation services recommend setting par value at zero, however this is not necessarily the best approach and can have unintended consequences. Many corporations want to assign a par value, so that an actual investment (money or services) is necessary in order to acquire ownership in the company. This way, the corporation can generate capital and recoup start-up costs.
Some states restrict the number of shares which may be offered at zero par value, or charge additional taxes or filing fees based on the number of zero par value shares. For example, Delaware corporations can issue up to 1,500 shares at zero par value before additional filing fees kick in.
Zero par value can pose problems at tax time in some jurisdictions. In Delaware, for example, there are two methods of calculating franchise taxes corporations must pay annually. In one example, the same corporation would owe annual tax in excess of $75,000 if the stock had zero par value, as opposed to annual taxes of just $350 with a nominal par value of $.01 per share.
Consider establishing a par value that is above zero and below $.01 per share to minimize the initial investment required from the founders and to protect against potential tax consequences associated with zero par value stock. Some also recommend issuing founder shares at a multiple of whatever par value is, to avoid future complications if the corporation needs to execute a stock split that results in a new share price that is below par value.
Par value has no bearing on the market value of a stock, but is an important decision in the formation of your new enterprise. Consultation with an experienced business or tax lawyer can help you ensure your ultimate decision serves your company well into the future, in terms of raising capital, lowering taxes and retaining control as a shareholder in your corporation.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Negotiating a Commercial Lease? Be Sure to Address These Issues
When it comes time for your business to move into a new commercial space, make sure you consider the terms of your lease agreement from both business and legal perspectives. While there are some common terms and clauses in many commercial leases, many landlords and property managers incorporate complicated and sometimes unusual terms and conditions. As you review your commercial lease, pay special attention to the following issues which can greatly affect your legal rights and obligations:
The Lease Commencement Date
Commercial leases typically will provide a rent commencement date, which may be the same as the lease commencement date. Or not. If the landlord is performing improvements to ready the space for your arrival, a specific date for the commencement of rent payments could become a problem if that date arrives and you do not yet have possession of the premises because the landlord’s contractors are still working in your space. Nobody wants to be on the hook for rent payments for a space that cannot yet be occupied. A better approach is to avoid including in the lease a specific date for commencement, and instead state that the commencement date will be the date the landlord actually delivers possession of the premises to you. Alternatively, you can negotiate a provision that triggers penalties for the landlord or additional benefits for you, should the property not be available to you on the rent commencement date.
Your initial lease term will likely be a period of three to five years, or perhaps longer. Locking in long terms benefits the landlord, but can be off-putting for a tenant. Instead, you may be able to negotiate a shorter initial term, with the option to extend at a later date. This will afford you the right, but not the obligation to continue with the lease for an additional period of years. Be sure that any notice required to terminate the lease or exercise your option to extend at the end of the initial lease term is clear and not subject to an unfavorable interpretation.
Subletting and Assignment
If you are locked into a long-term lease, you will likely want to preserve some flexibility in the event you outgrow the space or need to vacate the premises for other reasons. An assignment transfers all rights and responsibilities to the new tenant, whereas a sublease leaves you, the original tenant, ultimately responsible for the payments due under the original lease agreement. Tenants generally want to negotiate the right to assign the lease to another business, while landlords typically prefer a provision allowing for a sublease agreement.
Subordination and Nondisturbance Rights
What if the landlord fails to comply with the terms of the lease? If a lender forecloses on your landlord, your commercial lease agreement could be at risk because the landlord’s mortgage agreement can supersede your lease. If the property you are negotiating to rent is subject to claims that will be superior to your lease agreement, consider negotiating a “nondisturbance agreement” stating that if a superior rights holder forecloses the property, your lease agreement will be recognized an honored as long as you fulfill your obligations according to the lease.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
C-Corporation Vs. S-Corporation: Which Structure Provides the Best Tax Advantages for Your Business?
The difference between a C-Corporation and an S-Corporation is in the way each is taxed. Under the law, a corporation is considered to be an artificial person. Shareholders who work for the corporation are employees; they are not “self-employed” as far as the tax authorities are concerned.
In theory, before a C-corporation distributes profits to shareholders, it must pay tax on the income at the corporate rate. Then, leftover profits are distributed to the shareholders as dividends, which are then treated as investment income and taxed to the shareholder. This is the “double taxation” you may have heard about.
C-Corporations enjoy many tax-related advantages :
Income splitting is the division of income between the corporation and its shareholders in a way that lowers overall taxes, and can avoid or significantly reduce the potential impact of “double taxation.” By working with a knowledgeable tax advisor, you can determine exactly how much money the corporation should pay you as an employee to ensure the lowest tax bill at the end of the year.
C-Corporations enjoy a wider range of deductible expenses such as those for healthcare and education.
A shareholder can borrow up to $10,000 from a C-Corporation, interest-free. Tax-free loans are not available to sole proprietors, partners, LLC members or S-Corporation shareholders.
S-Corporations pass income through to their shareholders who pay tax on it according to their individual income tax rates. To qualify for S-Corporation status, the corporation must have less than 100 shareholders; all shareholders must be individual U.S. citizens, resident aliens, other S-Corporations, or an electing small business trust; the corporation may have only one class of stock; and all shareholders must consent in writing to the S-Corporation status.
Depending on your situation, an S-Corporation may be more advantageous:
Electing S-Corporation tax treatment eliminates any possibility of the “double taxation” referenced above. S-Corporations pay no federal corporate income tax, but must file annual tax returns. Because losses also flow through, shareholders who are active in the business can take most business operating losses on their individual tax returns.
S-Corporations must still file and pay employment taxes on employees, as with a C-Corporation. An S-Corporation may not retain earnings for future growth without the shareholders paying tax on them. The taxable profits of an S-Corporation pass through to the shareholders in the year they are earned.
S-Corporations cannot provide the full range of fringe benefits that a C-Corporation can.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Umbrella Insurance: What It Is and Why You Need It
Lawsuits are everywhere. What happens when you are found to be at fault in an accident, and a significant judgment is entered against you? A child dives head-first into the shallow end of your swimming pool, becomes paralyzed, and needs in-home medical care for the rest of his or her lifetime. Or, you accidentally rear-end a high-income executive, whose injuries prevent him or her from returning to work. Either of these situations could easily result in judgments or settlements that far exceed the limits of your primary home or auto insurance policies. Without additional coverage, your life savings could be wiped out with the stroke of a judge’s pen.
Typical liability insurance coverage is included as part of your home or auto policy to cover an injured person’s medical expenses, rehabilitation or lost wages due to negligence on your part. The liability coverage contained in your policy also cover expenses associated with your legal defense, should you find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. Once all of these expenses are added together, the total may exceed the liability limits on the home or auto insurance policy. Once insurance coverage is exhausted, your personal assets could be seized to satisfy the judgment.
However, there is an affordable option that provides you with added liability protection. Umbrella insurance is a type of liability insurance policy that provides coverage above and beyond the standard limits of your primary home, auto or other liability insurance policies. The term “umbrella” refers to the manner in which these insurance policies shield your assets more broadly than the primary insurance coverage, by covering liability claims from all policies “underneath” it, such as your primary home or auto coverage.
With an umbrella insurance policy, you can add an addition $1 million to $5 million – or more – in liability coverage to defend you in negligence actions. The umbrella coverage kicks in when the liability limits on your primary policies has been exhausted. This additional liability insurance is often relatively inexpensive in comparison to the cost of the primary insurance policies and potential for loss if the unthinkable happens.
Generally, umbrella insurance is pure liability coverage over and above your regular policies. It is typically sold in million-dollar increments. These types of policies are also broader than traditional auto or home policies, affording coverage for claims typically excluded by primary insurance policies, such as claims for defamation, false arrest or invasion of privacy.
Thursday, September 06, 2012
Should I Incorporate My Business?
The primary advantages of operating as a corporation are liability protection and potential tax savings. Like any important decision, choosing whether to incorporate involves weighing the pros and cons of the various business structures and should only be done after careful research.
Once incorporated, the business becomes a separate legal entity, and assets of the corporation are separated from the owner’s personal finances. As a result, the owner’s personal assets generally can be shielded from creditors of the business.
To maintain this legal separation and avoid “piercing the corporate veil,” the corporation must observe certain formalities, including:
Keeping corporate assets and personal assets separate (no commingling of funds)
Holding shareholder and director meetings at least annually
Maintaining a corporate record book including bylaws, minutes of shareholder and director meetings, and shareholder records
Filing annual information statements with the Secretary of State
Filing a separate tax return for the corporation
Many business owners are concerned about “double taxation” of income that affects certain types of corporations known as “C-Corporations”. Double taxation results when the C-corporation has profit at the end of the year that is distributed to the shareholders. That profit is taxed to the corporation, at the corporate tax rate, and then the dividends are taxable income to the shareholders on their personal tax returns. However, the corporate tax and dividend rates can be lower than the individual tax rate that a sole-proprietor would pay on a 1040 Schedule C, and a knowledgeable accountant or tax attorney may be able to advise on how to minimize the burden of double-taxation and indeed pay an effective tax rate which is lower than what a sole proprietor would pay.
For example, a small C-Corporation will likely have a shareholder who is also an employee. Paychecks to the shareholder/employee are, of course, tax deductible to the business. To the shareholder/employee, they are taxable income (as would be the case with a paycheck from any employer). A bonus could be paid to the shareholder/employee in order to lower the corporation’s taxable profit, eliminating the double-taxation. These calculations should be performed by a tax advisor, but shifting income from the corporation to the shareholder/employee (or not, depending on which has the lower tax rate) can be an effective way to lower your overall tax liability. In addition, there are certain advantages that are only available with a C-Corporation, such as full tax-deductibility of medical benefits for a shareholder/employee.
The S-Corporation avoids the double-taxation by offering a tax structure similar to the Limited Liability Company. A corporation with 100 or fewer shareholders can elect to be treated as an S-Corporation. If the corporation is profitable, the shareholder/employee must draw a reasonable salary (and pay employment tax on it), but then all remaining corporate profits flow through to the shareholder’s personal tax return (thereby avoiding the FICA tax on the portion of profits that is taken as a dividend).
An experienced attorney can help you decide which form of ownership is best for your business, help you establish the entity, and ensure the required formalities are observed.
Thursday, June 03, 2010
10 Tips to Maintain Limited Corporate Liability
1. File timely annual reports with the Secretary of State.
2. Operate using the proper name of the company. If the company uses a fictitious name (a “d/b/a” name), be sure that it is registered with the proper authorities, such as the Secretary of State and county registries.
3. Be sure that the company’s clients, customers, vendors and other third parties know that they’re dealing with the company, and not you personally, in contracts, on invoices, etc.
4. When signing a contract on behalf of the company, be sure that the small print doesn’t hold you personally liable, and be sure to indicate that you’re signing not personally, but as an officer, manager, partner, etc.
5. Don’t mix business and personal finances. Don’t pay personal expenses from the company’s account. Document all payments from you to the company as capital contributions or loans, and from the company to you as compensation, dividends, etc.
6. Be sure that your company’s auto insurance covers to cover potential liability when your employees use their personal vehicles for your business purposes.
7. Be sure that company retirement plans and other benefits plans are properly maintained and that all required IRS and Department of Labor filings for these plans are made on time.
8. Have the company’s CPA send an letter to the company’s attorney each year letting the attorney know what tax-related items should be documented in the company records for tax purposes, including, for example, owners’ salary and bonuses, loans to owners, capital contributions, major sales and purchases of capital assets, etc.
9. Hold annual meetings and document the company’s major activities for the year in the minutes of the meeting.
10. If equipment and real estate are owned separately from the operating business (as they should be, when practical), be sure that arm’s-length leases are in place.
The lawyers at Sowards Law Firm assist clients with Estate Planning, Wills, Living Trusts, Probate, Estate Administration, Medi-Cal Planning, Business Law and LLC Preparation throughout California, including clients located in and around, Oakland, Palo Alto, Petaluma, Pleasanton, Point Reyes, Redwood City, Richmond, Salinas, San Carlos, San Francisco, San Jose, San Leandro, San Rafael, San Ramon, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, South San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Union City and Vallejo.