Best states for S corps: How to decide where to incorporate

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  1. Introduction
  2. S corp requirements
  3. Differences between S corps and other corporate structures
    1. S corporations vs. C corporations
    2. S corporations vs. LLCs
  4. Best states in the US for business incorporation
  5. Less favorable states for S corps
  6. Steps to incorporate your business
    1. Choosing the right business structure
    2. Forming your corporation or LLC
    3. Evaluating state statutes and tax implications

An S corporation, often abbreviated as S corp, is a type of US corporation that’s designed for small to medium businesses and offers certain tax advantages. When a business is structured as an S corp, it can pass corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits to shareholders without being subject to federal corporate income tax. This is known as pass-through taxation, meaning the corporation does not pay taxes on its profits. Instead, the profits and losses are reported on the individual tax returns of the shareholders, and taxes are paid at their individual income tax rates.

In the US, you can incorporate as an S corp in any state, but there are different implications for forming this type of entity in one state versus another. Below, we’ll discuss which states are more and less favorable for S corp formation and the steps involved in forming an S corp. Here’s what you should know.

What’s in this article?

  • S corp requirements
  • Differences between S corps and other corporate structures
  • Best states in the US for business incorporation
  • Less favorable states for S corps
  • Steps to incorporate your business

S corp requirements

S corps are the most common form of business structure in the US, accounting for 73% of corporate tax returns in 2020. To become an S corp, a corporation must meet certain requirements.

  • Business type: Certain types of businesses, including certain financial institutions and insurance companies, cannot elect S corp status.

  • Location: The business must be based in the US.

  • Shareholders: The business must have no more than 100 shareholders, and they must be US citizens or residents. Shareholders can include individuals, certain trusts, and estates but cannot include partnerships, corporations, or nonresident alien shareholders.

  • Stock: The business can have only one class of stock. Though there can be differences in voting rights, there cannot be differences in distribution and liquidation rights.

Differences between S corps and other corporate structures

Though S corps share many similarities with other corporate structures, the taxation, ownership, and compliance requirements for S corps set them apart. Here’s a rundown:

S corporations vs. C corporations

Taxation

  • S corps: S corps are pass-through entities for tax purposes. This means income, losses, deductions, and credits flow through to shareholders, who report them on their personal tax returns. The S corp does not pay federal income tax.

  • C corps: C corps are subject to double taxation. The corporation pays corporate income tax, and then shareholders pay taxes on dividends they receive.

Ownership restrictions

  • S corps: S corps have restrictions on the number and type of shareholders. They can have up to 100 shareholders, and each must be a US citizen or resident. S corps cannot be owned by C corps, other S corps, limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships, or certain trusts.

  • C corps: C corps can have an unlimited number of shareholders, including foreign shareholders, and can have multiple classes of stock.

Formation and compliance

S and C corps are formed by filing articles of incorporation. Both have similar requirements for corporate formalities such as holding annual meetings and keeping minutes.

  • S corps: S corps must file an additional form (Form 2553) with the IRS to elect S corp status.

S corporations vs. LLCs

Taxation

  • S corps: S corps have pass-through taxation at the shareholder level, but they must adhere to the requirements and eligibility criteria set by the IRS.

  • LLCs: LLCs also have pass-through taxation, but they have more flexibility than S corps. An LLC can choose to file taxes as a sole proprietorship, partnership, S corp, or C corp.

Ownership and structure

  • S corps: S corps have restrictions on the number and type of shareholders and must adhere to the standards of corporate structure including directors, officers, and shareholders.

  • LLCs: LLCs offer more flexibility in ownership and management than S corps. They don’t have restrictions on the number or type of owners (referred to as “members” for LLCs) and can choose between member-managed and manager-managed structures.

Compliance and formalities

  • S corps: S corps are required to follow formalities such as holding annual meetings and keeping minutes.

  • LLCs: LLCs have fewer compliance requirements and are typically easier to maintain than S corps, with less stringent recordkeeping and meeting obligations.

Best states in the US for business incorporation

Though the best state for your business to incorporate depends on your needs and circumstances, certain US states are widely recognized for their favorable conditions for incorporation, attracting businesses from across the country and around the world.

  • Delaware: Known as the “corporate capital” of the US, Delaware is a popular choice for incorporation, particularly for larger businesses and startups seeking venture capital. The state is favored for its tax benefits, business-friendly laws, flexible corporate management structure, and Court of Chancery, which is a court dedicated to business disputes and known for its expertise in corporate law.

  • Nevada: Nevada is a popular choice because of its lack of state corporate income tax, franchise tax, and personal income tax. It also offers strong privacy protections for corporate officers and directors and has relatively simple compliance requirements.

  • Wyoming: Like Nevada, Wyoming offers no state corporate tax, franchise tax, or personal income tax and is known for its business-friendly environment. It also provides strong asset protection benefits and privacy for business owners.

  • South Dakota: South Dakota is gaining popularity for its favorable tax climate. It has no corporate income tax or personal income tax and a relatively straightforward regulatory environment.

  • Texas: Texas is attractive for businesses because of its lack of individual income tax, a large and growing workforce, and a strong economy. Texas does, however, have a franchise tax based on business earnings.

  • Florida: Florida is a popular choice for incorporation because of its lack of personal income tax and growing economy. It offers a relatively business-friendly regulatory environment and access to a large and diverse market.

Less favorable states for S corps

Certain states are considered less favorable for S corps because of their tax policies, regulatory environment, and overall business climate. Though S corps benefit from pass-through taxation in the federal tax system, some states have rules or tax structures that diminish these benefits or introduce complexities.

  • California: Though California is a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, it has a minimum annual franchise tax and an additional 1.5% tax on S corporation net income. These taxes can be a substantial burden, especially for smaller S corps.

  • New York: New York state, and particularly New York City, can be challenging for S corps because of the complex tax system and higher tax rates. New York state taxes S corp income at the shareholder level, but New York City does not recognize the S corp election and taxes the corporation itself.

  • Illinois: Illinois taxes S corp income at the personal income tax rate for shareholders, but there’s also a replacement tax applied to the corporation’s income.

  • New Jersey: New Jersey has a complex tax structure, and though S corps pass their income through to shareholders, the state has a variety of taxes and fees that can affect the overall tax burden of S corps.

  • Minnesota: Minnesota imposes a state tax on S corps that can add to their overall tax burden. The state taxes S corp income at the corporate level (though at a lower rate than C corps) and the individual level.

  • Tennessee: Tennessee does not recognize the federal S corp election and treats S corps as regular corporations for state tax purposes. Tennessee no longer requires businesses with annual gross sales under $100,000 to pay annual business taxes, but S corps with higher sales still have business tax obligations.

Steps to incorporate your business

Here’s an overview of the steps required to incorporate your business:

Choosing the right business structure

  • LLC: Offers flexibility and simpler operations with pass-through taxation. Ideal for smaller businesses seeking less formality in operations.

  • S corporation: Provides pass-through taxation without the self-employment taxes of an LLC. Comes with stricter regulations and limitations on ownership.

  • C corporation: Suitable for businesses that plan to go public or seek major investment. Has no limitations on ownership, but comes with double taxation.

Forming your corporation or LLC

  • Choose a business name: Your business name should comply with the state’s rules (e.g., including “Inc.” or “LLC”) and be distinguishable from existing businesses in the state. Check with the state’s business entity registry to ensure the name is available.

  • Select a state for incorporation: Consider factors such as tax implications, legal environment, and business-friendly policies. Some businesses choose to incorporate in their home state, while others might choose a state such as Delaware or Nevada for their perceived benefits.

  • Choose your business structure: Decide whether an LLC, S corp, or C corp best suits your business’s needs for liability protection, taxation, and ownership flexibility.

  • File articles of incorporation/organization: Submit the necessary documents to your state’s business filing office. This typically includes information such as your business name, purpose, principal address, registered agent information, and details about shares and stock (if applicable).

  • Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN): Your EIN is like a Social Security number for your business. It’s required for tax purposes and to open a business bank account. You can apply for an EIN through the IRS.

  • Create corporate bylaws or an LLC operating agreement: These documents outline the governance of your business including the roles of directors and officers, shareholder rights, and meeting protocols. Though not all states require these documents to be filed, they are a helpful tool to define your business’s internal structure and operations.

  • Hold an organizational meeting: For corporations, this is when you’ll adopt bylaws, elect officers, and undertake other organizational tasks. LLCs can use this meeting to approve the operating agreement and make similar foundational decisions.

  • Register for state and local taxes: Depending on your location and business type, you might need to register for various state and local taxes, such as sales tax or unemployment insurance tax.

  • Comply with licensing and permit requirements: Ensure you have all necessary licenses and permits to legally operate your business.

Evaluating state statutes and tax implications

  • Understand the corporate laws: Familiarize yourself with the corporate statutes in your chosen state of incorporation. These laws will govern your business’s legal and operational framework.

  • Analyze tax requirements: Investigate tax implications including income tax, franchise taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes. Remember that state tax laws can affect your chosen entity type’s benefits, especially for S corps.

The content in this article is for general information and education purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Stripe does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, completeness, adequacy, or currency of the information in the article. You should seek the advice of a competent attorney or accountant licensed to practice in your jurisdiction for advice on your particular situation.

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