In our previous articles, we have discussed the single-member LLC and the advantages and disadvantages of owning and operating such an entity, not to mention its default tax treatment. Today, we will be discussing what it means to form and control a multi-member LLC (MMLLC), which is simply a limited liability company with more than one member.
Understanding Multi-Member LLCs?
While there are similarities between a single-member LLC (SMLLC) and an MMLLC, there are also many differences. But before we elaborate on the details and differences between the two, it may be beneficial to talk more about the history of this entity type.
History of Multi-Member LLC
Even though the first state to authorize the creation of the LLC was Wyoming in 1977, it was in 1996 that all 50 states in the U.S. had LLC statutes. Through Revenue Ruling 88-76, the IRS decided in 1988 that Wyoming LLCs were taxable as partnerships. And even today, this is the default tax treatment of an LLC with more than one member – a partnership.
What is a Multi-Member LLC?
This type of LLC has two or more owners ( or members) that share control of the company. Unless electing S Corporation tax treatment, there can be an unlimited quantity of members within a multi-member LLC. The LLC may also decide on how (and what percentage of) profits and losses shall be distributed among its members, customarily done through its operating agreement.
Who Can Form a Multi-Member LLC?
Members can be either individuals, corporations, or even other LLCs.
How Multi-Member LLCs Work
Now that we have discussed a bit about the history of this entity type and what it is, it is time to explain how such entities work.
This LLC is comprised of two or more owners ( or members) that share control over the company. The LLC is its own legal entity that is separate from its owners. Unless it decides to elect for S Corporation tax treatment, there could be an unlimited number of members within an MMLLC. The LLC may decide on how (and what percentage of) profits and losses shall be distributed among its members.
Personal Asset Protection
An MMLLC offers asset protection for the owners’ personal assets because it is a separate legal structure. Indeed, the biggest reason why many people form an MMLLC is the limited liability that it offers its owners. Specifically, the owners’ personal assets cannot be appropriated to pay the debts of the LLC. Owners may, however, be held personally responsible within certain situations (such as when they “pierce the corporate veil”), and in this scenario, they would potentially incur personal liability.
Profit Distribution to Owners
MMLLC owners are entitled to a distributive share of the profits in the entity, and typically, these profits are in proportion to the percentage interest each owner has in the company. Using this example, if one member owns 70 percent of a multi-member LLC and another member owns 30 percent, then the first person will be entitled to 70 percent of the company’s profits, and the second person will be entitled to 30 percent of the company’s profits. Since the LLC is a flexible entity structure, you can divide profits and losses by way of a particular allocation using something other than the percentage of membership interest. In this scenario, each member might be entitled to a percentage of profits that is different from their percentage of ownership in the business. However, again, this should be clearly stated. While an LLC is not required to distribute profits to its owners, the entity’s owners will still be on the hook for reporting their share of the LLC profits and then paying tax on these profits.
Income Tax Treatment
The default tax treatment of an MMLLC is similar to that of an SMLLC in that it is a pass-through entity, with the profits being allocated to the owners and thus flowing through to their personal tax returns. How it is different is that instead of the income, expenses, and profits being reported on a Schedule C (as for an SMLLC), the income, expenses, and profits are reported on Form 1065 (partnership tax return), and each member of the LLC receives a Schedule K-1 (and must then report this information on their personal return) reporting their share of the LLC’s profit or loss.
Federal Income Taxes and the Multi-Member LLC
A multi-member LLC’s default federal tax treatment is that of a partnership. And, just like a single-member LLC, an MMLLC does not pay taxes on its business profits. Instead, the owners (members) individually pay tax, which is based on their share of the profits, on their personal returns. As stated in the previous section, an MMLLC is required to file a Form 1065 (partnership return), and each member receives a K-1, on which they will see their profits or losses associated with the partnership. Finally, each member must then report the profits on Schedule E of their personal return Form 1040. In terms of taxes payable, members will need to pay not only federal taxes but also (Social Security and Medicare) on their share of the LLC’s earnings.
You may then decide that you like that an MMLLC is a pass-through entity but that you hate paying so much self-employment tax. In this scenario, the owners could file Form 2553 for the MMLLC to be taxed as an S Corporation, whereby the profits and losses are still passed through to members’ individual returns (filed via Schedule E of Form 1040). However, the difference here is that the owners must only pay a self-employment tax on their wages and salaries, not on their profit distributions. Typically, the owners would pay themselves a salary, and then whatever profit was left over would flow through to their personal returns.
However, an MMLLC’s owners may decide to have the entity not be treated as a partnership. In this scenario, members can elect to have their business taxed as a C-Corp, so the entity will no longer be a pass-through entity. It will pay corporate tax on its profits (presently, the federal corporate tax rate is 21%). To do this, owners must file Form 8832 to change the default tax treatment of the entity.
State Income Taxes and the Multi-Member LLC
This is where things can vary quite a bit. At the state level, tax laws can vary for LLCs. For instance, some states levy fees on LLCs, such as a minimum or franchise tax. Contrary to its name, a franchise tax is not assessed against a business operating as a franchise. A franchise tax is charged to LLCs, corporations, and partnerships into the form of a fee for the concession to form and conduct business in that state.
Who Manages a Multi-Member LLC?
What is excellent about this entity structure is its flexibility. Members of an MMLLC get to decide how it is structured and who manages the entity. Some MMLLCs elect one or more members, or even a third party, to manage the business. This type of MMLLC is called a manager-managed MMLLC. On the other hand, if the LLC members are running the entity equally, the entity is called a member-managed MMLLC.
If two or more individuals are managing the company, then you should be able to demonstrate that each manager is involved with the company’s business decisions and operations.
Multi-member LLC members can be individuals (whether they are Americans or not, and whether they live in the U.S. or not), corporations, or other LLCs. It is important to note that LLCs have organized on a state level, not the federal level.
MMLLCs are required to file Form 1065 (unless they elected to be taxed as an S Corporation, which requires a Form 1120-S filing, or a C Corporation, which requires a Form 1120 filing) as well as potentially a state return.
When an individual declares bankruptcy, the court possesses the power to seize a large quantity of assets, including those related to the LLC. However, if the LLC is multi-member, the court cannot seize company assets without the unanimous agreement of other LLC members, as this would result in the court taking one person’s assets because of another’s misconduct.
There are scenarios in which spouses own a multi-member LLC. Thus, couples often meet in court to divide their assets when a divorce occurs. It is good practice to stipulate how much of the company each member owns (or spouse, in this case). In this scenario, the court may rule that each spouse will retain the share stated in the operating agreement.
Again, one of the best things about an LLC is its flexibility. Thus, with an MMLLC, you can decide how the business is managed.
Member-Managed LLC vs. Manager-Managed LLC
As described previously, in a member-managed LLC, the members participate in running the business. As such, when making big decisions, such as entering into contracts or purchasing expensive equipment, the majority approval of all its members is necessary.
In a manager-managed LLC, on the other hand, the members are able to agree on electing a manager, either one particular LLC member or members, or even a third party, to whom they grant authority to manage the business’ day-to-day decisions and operations.
Basic Steps to Form a Multi-Member LLC
While every entity is different, and you may take slightly different steps in forming an entity, the below are best practices and should be followed at a minimum.
Choose a Business Name.
The new LLC name needs to be distinguishable from all other registered entities for tax purposes. You can start searching on the Secretary of State’s business search tool.
Apply for an EIN (Employer Identification Number).
As LLCs are pass-through entities, an application for a new EIN number needs to be obtained if the LLC will be multi-member or if the election is made by its members to be taxed as a corporation.
File Your LLC’s Articles of Organization.
While it may differ from state to state, this document needs to meet articles of organization, such as detailing the name and address of the LLC, the contact details and names of the owners, the application date, and a description of the new business.
Create an Operating Agreement.
This internal document needs to be drafted by members and will set out the rules for ownership and management of the newly formed LLC. It will detail what will happen if additional members are introduced to the LLC, if the LLC will be liquidated, or if members leave the LLC.
Apply for the Necessary Business Licenses and Permits.
Suppose the nature of the business requires the LLC to obtain business licenses or permits to operate. In that case, the relevant agencies need to be contacted to ensure that the licenses or permits are transferred from the sole proprietor to the newly formed LLC.
Open a Separate Bank Account for Your Business.
A bank account for any new business needs to be opened in the name of your LLC to ensure a clear separation between the LLC funds and the members’ personal funds. This also eases the management of assets and allows for more accurate recordkeeping.
Ongoing Compliance Obligations
As with any business entity, owning a multi-member LLC means that there are certain obligations that its members must adhere to. Some of those include renewing any licenses or permits (if required), paying state franchise fees, filing entity tax returns, updating the state the LLC is organized in if there are significant changes, filing an annual report, and so forth.
What are the Benefits of a Multi-Member LLC?
There are numerous benefits to owning an MMLLC. One is limited liability, as an LLC is considered a separate entity from its members. Subsequently, members are not personally liable for the business’s debts and other legal liabilities (i.e., they have limited liability protection). Further, members of LLCs include the business profits in their individual returns because the LLC is classified as a pass-through entity. Additionally, members may be able to apply the 20% pass-through deduction to business profits.
What are the Drawbacks of a Multi-Member LLC?
At the same time, there can be a few drawbacks to having such an entity. Members of LLCs receive units in proportion to their contribution/LLC agreement, and these units are more challenging to transfer than stocks in a corporation. This difficulty in transferring ownership is one of the reasons that external investors/venture capitalists prefer investing in corporations over LLCs.
Why Should I Have a Multi-Member Operating Agreement?
It could be argued that any entity should have one. Still, it becomes crucial for a multi-member LLC to have an LLC operating agreement, if for no other reason than to avoid ambiguity in the ownership and management structure, profit distribution, and even what happens when/if the company is liquidated or its members leave.
What Should a Multi-Member Operating Agreement Include?
Certain sections are crucial to include. Those include the following:
Article I: Company Formation
This section deals with the formation of the company itself, and it should include information on the list of members and the company’s ownership structure. In addition, it should outline whether the members have equal or different amounts of ownership.
Article II: Capital Contributions
This section covers each member’s initial capital contribution in starting the LLC, whether the contribution is in cash or other assets that are contributed to the business. The total value of the contributions should be clearly listed.
Article III: Profits, Losses, and Distributions
This section describes how profits and losses are allocated (whether they are ownership percentages or some special allocation) and whether the profit distributions are on an annual basis or more often.
Article IV: Management
This section addresses managing the company (whether the firm is member-managed or manager-managed) and how each member will vote, with a transparent system of appointing managers and how individual members will be assigned other specific duties.
Article V: Compensation
This section discusses the topic of compensation. For instance, if the LLC is to be taxed as a corporation, any members can receive a salary for the labor they have performed in the business, along with profit distributions. If the LLC is to be taxed as a partnership, members receive distributions on the basis of their ownership interest in the company.
Article VI: Bookkeeping
The agreement should be clear on whether and which LLC member/members can check the LLC’s books and records, such as financial documents and board meeting minutes.
Article VII: Transfers
This section discusses removing or adding new members to the LLC. Additionally, it states if and when members of the LLC can transfer their ownership in the company. Finally, this section should also clearly specify what happens in the event of death, bankruptcy, or divorce. It cannot be expressed enough on the importance of accounting for these types of scenarios, as, despite everyone’s best efforts, business and life are unpredictable, and in order to protect each member’s share and business interests, these situations and how to handle them should be stated in this document.
Article VIII: Bank Account
This is something that gets overlooked often but is quite apparent. As stated previously, this is essential for any new business to ensure a clear separation between the LLC funds and the members’ personal funds. Additionally, this eases the management of assets and allows for more accurate recordkeeping.
Article IX: Dissolution
This section explains the circumstances if the LLC may be dissolved, and if so, the process of terminating the LLC should all the members vote to end it.
How are Multi-Member LLCs and Their Owners Taxed?
What is the tax status for an MMLLC? A domestic LLC possessing at least two members is usually classified as a partnership for federal tax reasons unless it decides to file Form 8832 to be elected for treatment as a corporation. Each partner must pay taxes separately on the grounds of their operating agreement. Most agreements favor having the taxes corresponding to the membership interest. This means that each LLC member is required to pay taxes on their share of the LLC’s profits whether or not they receive their share of those profits. Unlike a corporation, even if a member or members have the need to leave profits in their LLC for any tax purposes, they can be liable for any income tax for their proportionate share of the LLC’s income. However, as discussed previously, the LLC that is classified as a partnership will be required to file Form 1065, U.S. Return of Partnership Income, with the IRS, as well as provide their members with a K-1 (a breakdown of each member’s profits and losses), and can be subjected to the same filing and reporting requirements as partnerships. Each state could use different tax regulations for an LLC, and the income derived by the LLC and be attributed towards a member or members can be taxed at the state level if it is sourced or derived from that state.
How Do I Pay Myself from a Multi-Member LLC?
You do not get paid a salary as the member/owner of an MMLLC. Instead, you pay yourself by withdrawing the profits made by the LLC as and when needed. This is also referred to as an owner’s draw.
Single-Member vs. Multi-Member LLC
There are numerous differences between an SMLLC and an MMLLC. Some of those differences are discussed below.
The default tax treatment of an SMLLC is that the owner must report the business’s profits and losses onto a Schedule C of IRS Form 1040 as personal income, and the small business itself does not report or pay taxes independently (nor does it file its own tax return). The LLC owner must also make payments onto self-employment taxes (Social Security and Medicare) on any and all taxable income coming from the business.
An MMLLC, on the other hand, is required to file a return (Form 1065) and provide its members a Schedule K-1 form, which contains information the members will need to file their personal returns. Like with an SMLLC, business owners are subject to federal income tax, FICA taxes, and possibly even state income tax.
Both SMLLCs and MMLLCs have liability protection by default.
Multi-Member LLC vs. Partnership
Even though the default tax treatment for an MMLLC is for it to be taxed as a partnership, there remain differences between an MMLLC versus other entities that may also have more than one member.
Multi-Member LLC vs. LLP
While individuals can own MMLLCs, corporations, and other LLCs, a limited liability partnership (LLP) can only be owned by individuals. Further, in many states, an LLP can only be formed by certain professions, such as doctors and attorneys. On the other hand, multi-member LLCs can be created by and for nearly any profession. Finally, an LLP cannot change its tax classification, whereas MMLLCs can elect to be taxed as a partnership or corporation.
Multi-Member LLC vs. LP
In a limited partnership (LP), general partners have unlimited liability and are personally liable for the business, whereas limited partners receive liability protection. In an MMLLC, all members have liability protection. Further, in an LP, only general partners can manage the business, whereas, in an MMLLC, all members can manage the business.
Is it Better to be a Multi-Member LLC?
Generally speaking, it is more advantageous to be structured as an MMLLC than as an LLP or LP, for the reasons stated in the previous section. However, your needs (or the requirements set forth by your state for your industry/profession) may require you to go with something other than an MMLLC.
Which One is Right for Your Business?
This is a difficult question to answer within the confines of an article. You will have to consider your business’s unique goals, business structure, industry, and profit margin, among other things, to determine which entity type is best. However, this article hopefully elucidates many advantages of a multi-member LLC.
Multi-Member LLC FAQ
Here are some quick additional facts about MMLLCs you should consider:
Does a Multi-Member LLC Need an EIN?
Yes, it does. The entity will need an EIN to do things such as file an income tax return.
Can a Multi-Member LLC become a Single-Member LLC?
Yes, it can. The only official condition is the sale of the membership interest surronding the leaving member(s) towards the remaining member, as well as the filing of a new tax election form.
How Do You Dissolve a Multi-Member LLC?
There are numerous steps you must take in order to ensure that your LLC is properly dissolved. Most MMLLCs will have to perform actions such as:
- voting by members to dissolve the LLC;
- filing a final return;
- filing an Articles of Dissolution with the state the entity is doing business in;
- settling any outstanding debts; and
- distributing assets to LLC owners/members.