If you operate your business using a limited liability company (LLC), then you have more flexibility in choosing how the IRS taxes your business earnings. Your choice will directly influence the tax filing rules you are subject to. There is no set of tax rules that specifically apply to LLCs; the IRS allows the LLC to use partnership, corporate or sole proprietor tax rules.
IRS default designations
The IRS mostly ignores LLCs for tax purposes and considers two or more people or businesses working together in a trade or business to be a partnership for tax purposes. However, if you are the sole owner of an LLC, then the IRS "disregards" your LLC and considers you a sole proprietor. LLCs can be formed under state law and then elect how to be treated for federal taxes.
If you prefer the tax filing rules of a corporation to partnership or sole proprietorship taxation, then you have the option to elect corporate tax treatment by filing IRS Form 8832. Once you make this election, you typically cannot change to another tax designation again for five years.
Partnership filing requirements
LLCs that are subject to the partnership tax rules don't actually pay tax on their business earnings, but instead are responsible for preparing annual partnership tax returns using IRS Form 1065. This tax return is mostly for informational purposes; all income, deductions and credits are passed-through to the owners and reported on their own tax returns.
The LLC reports each owner's share of these amounts on a Schedule K-1 at the end of the year. For example, if you and a friend create an LLC to run a business that taxed as a partnership, earns $100,000 and has $60,000 of deductible business expenses, then each of you will receive a Schedule K-1 with $20,000 of net income. Both of you must then report this on your personal income tax returns. Essentially, the business will increase your personal taxable income by $20,000 each.
Corporate filing requirements
If the LLC elects to be tax as a corporation. The default is to be treated as a C-Corporation. In this case, the IRS will treat your business as a separate taxpayer in the same way you are a separate taxpayer from your friend. As a result, the business reports all income and deductions on Form 1120 each year and pays the corresponding income tax.
An entity classified as a corporation can elect to be treat as an S-Corporation for tax purposes. As with the partnership tax filing for LLCs above, making an election to be taxed as an S-Corp instead of as a C-Corp passes-through the business' income to the owners on a K-1. S-Corps use Form 1120S to file their taxes and no federal tax is paid at the corporate level.
Many LLCs choose to be taxed as one of the pass-through entities rather than as a C-Corps to avoid possible double taxation. The first level of tax occurs when the LLC files a corporate tax return and pays tax, and the second can happen if the corporation distributes its profits to its owners. The tax law considers these distributions to be dividend payments. Dividends are typically taxable to owners. But, the corporation does not get to take a tax deduction for the payment of the dividends. So the corporation pays taxes on the money and then the money is taxed again as dividend income on the owners' tax returns.
Single Member LLC filing requirements
Single member LLCs are typically treated the same as sole proprietorships. The IRS disregards the LLC entity as being separate and distinct from the owner. Essentially, this means that the LLC typically files the business tax information with your personal tax returns on Schedule C. The profit or loss from your businesses is included with the other income your report on Form 1040.
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