Are you a freelancer who’s ready to officially form their own business? Congrats!
But, before you dive into full-time business ownership, you’ll need to decide how to legally organize your business.
Why is this such a big deal? Well, your choice has a big impact on how you’ll be treated by government agencies and how you’re taxed. Plus, the way you organize your business even determines if you’ll be held personally liable for your company’s debts.
Because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all option when it comes to choosing a business entity, you might not know where to begin.
One of the most popular choices, especially for freelancers, is the limited liability company (a.k.a. LLC). Here’s a bit of information on LLCs in Arizona, including the benefits of organizing your freelance business as an LLC.
What’s an LLC?
LLC is one of the ways that you could legally organize and operate your business.
To form an LLC, you file articles of organization with your state’s business filing office. In Arizona, that would be the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Then, as an owner, you’ll be referred to as a “member,” and invest money or services in your LLC and in exchange for a percentage ownership.
An LLC can have one member or several members. If you’re a freelancer running a one-person business, you’ll be a single member LLC (also known as an SMLLC).
Once it’s legally formed, your LLC will be its own entity, with an existence separate from your own. Kind of like giving birth to your own LLC baby.
Here are the basics:
Your LLC is considered its own legal “person,” which means it can do pretty much anything that an actual person can do, like:
- Own property
- Be sued and sue others
- Manage bank accounts
- Borrow funds
- Hire workers
Why Form an LLC
If you’ve already been working as a full-time freelancer, making a good living and impressing clients with your mad skills, you might be wondering why you should bother forming an LLC. After all, you’ve already figured out that you don’t need to have a formal business entity in place in order to start and run a freelance business.
Before you decide to keep freelancing on your own, though, here are a few of the many perks of forming an LLC:
It’s Simple to Run Your Business!
LLCs are easy to run. In fact, they’re surprisingly simple.
If you create a corporation, you must hold and document regular and special shareholder meetings. Welcome to the land of never-ending paperwork. With any LLC you don’t have to do any of that!
As the name implies, a limited liability company provides you with limited liability. This means that you won’t be held personally responsible for paying:
- LLC business debts that you haven’t personally guaranteed, including most routine bills for supplies and equipment
- Injuries (not covered adequately by insurance) that are suffered by people who are hurt by your LLC’s business activities
Who’s going to pay for these business debts and injuries? Your LLC.
Basically, only your LLC’s assets and money can be taken in order to cover these costs. Creditors can’t touch your personal assets, like your real estate and bank accounts.
Only LLC assets can be used to pay off business debts, which means that you, the owner, only stand to lose the money that you’ve invested in your business. Your personal assets will be protected. That’s a relief!
But, we should mention that, even if you form an LLC, you remain personally responsible for your own wrongdoing, such as professional malpractice or fraud. So keep that liability insurance policy, just in case.
Protecting your personal assets is one of the main reasons why so many freelancers form LLCs. But beyond that, an LLC is also great come tax season.
Here’s what you need to know about taxes and LLCs:
- LLCs aren’t recognized by the IRS for tax purposes. Single member LLCs are referred to as “disregarded entities.”
- LLCs will be taxed the same as a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or a corporation.
- You, the single owner, decide how you want to be taxed, and that gives you a lot of flexibility. So, whether you want to be taxed like a sole proprietorship or a corporation is up to you.
Sole Proprietor Taxation can be used when you’re a single person who owns an LLC.
Because this is the default tax treatment for single member LLCs, it’s also the most commonly used.
- If you’re a freelancer who owns a single member LLC and you choose to be taxed as a sole proprietor, you’ll file Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business, when you file your tax return.
Yep, it’s the same form you’ve been using as a freelancer all along! Just list all of your business income and deductible expenses. You’ll pay income tax at your individual tax rates on any profit your business earns. Pretty straightforward, especially when it comes to paying taxes while running a business.
- Another reason why sole proprietor taxation is popular is that you aren’t considered an employee of your LLC. Rather, you’re the self-employed business owner.
This means that your LLC doesn’t have to cover payroll taxes on your income or withhold income tax, Social Security, or Medicare tax from your LLC’s profits. But you do have to pay income taxes and self-employment taxes (Social Security and Medicare taxes) on your LLC’s net income.
- Filling out a Schedule C means you’re entitled to the same tax deductions as any other business, such as expenses to cover mileage, equipment, software, and more.
- Beyond regular business deductions, you might be able to take the new pass-through tax deduction, which is available to sole proprietors as well. This went into effect in 2018, and isset to last through 2025 (as of the time of this writing. Things could change, so it’s best to stay on top of the latest tax laws).
If you qualify, you might be able to deduct up to 20% of the net income you earn from your LLC from your income taxes. This effectively reduces your income tax rate on your LLC profits by up to 20%. Sweet!
Corporate Taxation is your other option if you don’t want to be taxed like a sole proprietor. If go this route, your LLC will be taxed just like any other corporation.
- To be taxed as a corporation, you’ll need to file a document known as an “election” with the IRS. Elect to have your LLC taxed like a regular C Corp or S Corp.
- Is corporate taxation common amongst freelancers? Truth be told, not really, especially when it comes to single member LLCs. But, because the corporate tax rate is lower than it used to be (and, again, that could always change in the future), more business owners might consider corporate taxation.
Comparing LLCs to Other Types of Businesses
If you still aren’t sure if an LLC is right for you, you also have the option of operating as a sole proprietor or a corporation.
Weighing the pros and cons of each of these options will steer you in the direction that’s best for you.
A Couple Quick Points About Sole Proprietorships
A sole proprietorship is the default business entity for a one-person business. Basically, it comes into being automatically once you start working as a freelancer and earning money. Doesn’t get much easier than that!
A sole proprietorship isn’t a separate legal entity. This means that you, the business owner, personally own all of the assets, and are in charge of the day-to-day operations.
You report the income that you earn, as well as the losses that you incur, on your personal tax return. Then, you pay tax on any profit at your individual tax rates. Translation: no limited liability perks.
You’ll be held personally responsible for all of your business debts and any business-related lawsuits. Now that could be scary!
Some Quick Points About Corporations
When you set up a corporation, it will be its own legal entity. It’s formed when you file articles of incorporation with the Arizona Secretary of State, just like an LLC.
Like an LLC, your corporation has a legal existence separate from its owners, so it’ll be considered a legal “person.” Translation: you get limited liability perks. Woohoo!
A corporation will be owned by its shareholders, who invest money or services in exchange for stock. A corporation must also have one or more directors who are ultimately in charge. And it must have officers who run daily operations.
If you’re a one-owner business, you can be the single person directing and running the corporation, and you can own all of the corporate stock.
In addition to fulfilling your other corporate roles, you’ll also work as an employee of the corporation. This differs from LLC members, who aren’t employees of their businesses for tax, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, or other legal purposes.
This means that a corporation could cost more than an LLC to operate if it has to pay for unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation coverage for employees.
There are two types of corporations
- When you form a corporation, it automatically becomes a C Corp (regular corporation) for federal tax purposes.
This is the only type of business that isn’t a pass-through entity. Instead, it’s taxed separately from its owners. A C Corp pays income taxes on its net income and files its own tax returns with the IRS. It also has its own income tax rate.
Another thing to consider: C Corps are subject to double taxation. Any direct payment of profits to shareholders is considered a dividend by the IRS and taxed twice.
First, the corporation pays corporate income tax on the profit, at whatever the corporate rate is, on its own return.
Then the shareholders pay personal income tax on the money they receive, at the capital gains rate (higher income shareholders might even have to pay an additional Medicare tax).
All of this could add up to more than the tax an LLC member would pay on the same amount of profits. But, you could avoid double taxation by paying all profits to employee-shareholders in the form of salary, benefits, and bonuses.
- As a corporation, you have the option of being taxed as an S Corp (small business corporation) instead, which is a pass-through entity.
This means that corporate income or losses are passed directly to shareholders who then divide the taxable profit according to their shares of stock ownership.
They’ll then report that income on their individual tax returns, avoiding double taxation.
Where to Form an LLC
After weighing the pros and cons of sole proprietorships, LLCs, and corporations, you may have decided that, yes, an LLC is the best way to go for your freelance business.
Now the question is, where will you form it? That’s entirely up to you! But don’t take this lightly. It’s an important choice because your LLC will be governed by the laws of the state of formation.
Choose the state where you want to set up your business, and file articles of organization with the Secretary of State. So, for example, if your business is located in Arizona, you should form an LLC in that state.
Note: Even if you hear rumors about the advantages of forming an LLC outside of Arizona, keep in mind that those benefits aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, especially as a single-member LLC. In the end, forming your LLC in another state will likely cost you more because you’ll wind up paying two filing fees.
How Much Should You Expect to Pay?
Arizona filing fees for forming an LLC include:
- $50 to file articles of organization with the Arizona Corporation Commission’s office
- $60 to $200 fee to publish a Notice of LLC Formation three times in an Arizona newspaper (not required for LLCs based in Maricopa or Pima counties)
You might also need to get other local and state business licenses and pay a fee for those. What licenses you need depend on the type of work your LLC does and where your LLC is located.
Also, don’t forget that there might be additional fees involved with performing a thorough LLC name search to figure out if the name you’ve chosen for your business is actually available.
- Reserving an LLC name for up to 120 days will cost $10 if done by mail, $45 to do online
- A professional trademark search will cost anywhere from $30-500 for each trademark searched
Click here to read “The Ultimate Guide to Naming an LLC in Arizona”
More Fees to Consider – Oh My!
Forming an LLC could get pricey pretty quickly.
Ultimately, how much it costs to complete and file all of the necessary paperwork depends on who does the work.
Will you be doing it yourself, perhaps with the help of a book? Then you’ll need to pay the legal costs of your state and invest a lot of time and effort into the process.
If you end up using an online LLC formation service, you could pay up to $300.
And if you hire an attorney, you could expect to pay anywhere from $500 to over $1,000.
But, wait, there’s more!
You’ll also need to designate someone to accept legal papers for your LLC. And, while you can take a DIY approach, it’s best to use a professional registered agent. How much will that cost? About $75-150 annually. Ouch!
For more information, check out our “Freelancer’s Guide to Registered Agents”
A Smarter, More Affordable Way to Form Your LLC
By now, your head might be spinning with everything you’ve discovered about LLC forms, fees, and taxes.
But, don’t worry. Collective is here to help. Collective is the first all-in-one financial solution for self-employed people. We take care of your LLC formation, taxes, monthly bookkeeping, accounting and more.
Stephen has dedicated his career as an attorney and author to writing useful, authoritative and recognized guides on taxes and business law for small businesses, entrepreneurs, independent contractors, and freelancers. He is the author of over 20 books and hundreds of articles and has been quoted in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and many other publications. Among his books are Deduct It! Lower Your Small Business Taxes, Working with Independent Contractors, and Working for Yourself: Law and Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers & Consultants.