Friday, February 23, 2007

FAQ: Advantages & Disadvantages of Online Business Incorporation Services

On a legal message board on which I respond to user's questions with user name Calif Business Lawyer from time to time, a question concerning online business incorporation was posted, to which I responded, and which I'm reprinting here, because I get frequent questions about the advantages and disadvantages of online incorporation services:
I am using an online service to create the S-corporation, and one question asked by the website is to check off a box if it is a "personal service corporation". Examples of such corporations are health and attorney industries, etc. I don't know if a beauty salon is classified as such.

It's probably not critical to classify the corporation as a personal service corporation except when filing taxes, right?
My reply:
Unfortunately, this illustrates one of the problems of using online incorporation services - if you don't know the answers to the question being asked (which in this case doesn't make a lot of sense anyway - only a C corporation need be concerned with personal service corporation [PSC] classification), you need to obtain legal and/or tax (accounting) advice prior to or in conjunction with - or instead of - incorporating online. Of course, by the time you pay to consult an attorney and/or accountant, then pay the document preparation services, most or all savings will have evaporated. Also, such services don't usually start from square one, and ask you, Are you forming in the right state? Have you considered an LLC instead of a corporation (or vice versa)? Why or why not?

Most of the online incorporation services include disclaimers like this one I found in small print at the bottom of one popular site:

"[Company] is not a law firm and is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney."

And this on another leading site: "[We] cannot provide information as to whether a person should incorporate or form a limited liability company or a partnership. If you are contemplating forming any of these entities you should consult with private counsel regarding your individual fact situation."

For those who know exactly what they want, and can explain it to someone else in plain English in a few sentences, the disadvantages of online incorporation services may be overcome by the one big advantage of cost savings. In my experience, however, this is a minority of those who are using such services. And savings up-front sometimes ends up in more expenses later, when I am hired to resolve business disputes the corporation bylaws and LLC operating agreements should have covered, or would have covered, had they ever been adopted, or to dissolve or merge entities, and replace them with better-suited ones.

You are correct that the personal service classification is largely tax-related. Some regulated professions are prohibited from forming certain types of business entities in some states (e.g., California does not permit professional LLCs - to test out your favorite online incorporation service, try starting the process of forming a California professional LLC online, and see if the system warns you or rejects it before you get to the submit order stage).

Don't forget state and local licensing and registration requirements.

Personal service corporation defined:

"A type of C-Corporation that is owned and operated by individuals performing personal services in such fields as health, law, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts and consulting.

The requirements for a PSC are:

The corporation is a C-Corporation.
The corporation's principal activity during the year is the performance of personal services.
The personal services are primarily performed by the employee-owners of the corporation.
Employee-owners own at least 10% of the corporation's stock.

PSC's must generally use a calendar year as their fiscal year and are taxed at a flat rate of 35% on all of their taxable income."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Beverly Hills Lawyer

I recently received an emailed new client inquiry. She indicated that she was seeking a book contract to write on some new information regarding a celebrity trial, which would thus in her opinion (which I did not disagree with) be quite marketable. Specifically, she wanted to know if I had connections to get the book sold. I indicated to her that New York rather than Los Angeles was the locus of attorneys servicing book authors, because that is still where the vast majority of book publishers are located, but that with a book such as the one she had in mind, any ethical, honest, and hardworking attorney ought to be able to assist her in making the sale. (I also should have noted that book sales are usually and probably best done by book agents where one can be obtained, and that negotiating and documenting the finer points of the contract would best be done by an attorney regularly dealing with literary agreements, and working in conjunction with the author's agent, rather than by a Los Angeles film/TV entertainment attorney such as myself.)

Ignorning at least the portion of my email indicating to her that I was not well connected in the book publishing world, her reply email began by again asking whether I had the necessary connections to make the sale for her. But in the more interesting portion of her reply, she stated that she indeed already had a "Beverly Hills lawyer - right on Wilshire" that was not getting the job done for her due to his apparent lack of connections. The implication was that a Beverly Hills attorney would be a very good attorney, the best of the best in Los Angeles, and thus if a Beverly Hills attorney without connections was not going to get the job done for her, no connection-less attorney would. Putting aside the issue of whether Beverly Hills lawyers are all ethical, honest, and hardworking - I'm sure most are and some are not - the comment reminded me of something an attorney friend of mine who does indeed have a Beverly Hills office - right on Wilshire(!) - had told me:

He noted that clients seemed more willing to pay for his small law firm's services ever since the firm relocated from a Los Angeles to a Beverly Hills address. He was a bit amused and a bit perplexed by the phenomenon, shrugging his shoulders as he pointed out to me that he was the same lawyer, and his colleagues the same attorneys, that they were before they moved into their Beverly Hills office building; nonetheless, his clients were now willing to pay more for the same legal services (part of which was no doubt needed to cover the firm's increased rent, the balance representing extra profit for the firm).

Nothing against Beverly Hills lawyers, on Wilshire Boulevard or off, but the city or street of a prospective lawyer is, in my arguably biased opinion, at best one of many factors a client should consider when choosing an attorney, and perhaps one best disregarded altogether.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

FAQ: When can I obtain an EIN number for the corporation or LLC I'm forming?

Another frequently asked question:

When can I obtain an EIN number for the corporation or limited liability company I'm forming?

The definition of "EIN" is Employer Identification Number. An EIN, sometimes also called a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), Taxpayer ID number, or Federal Identification Number (FIN) is in essence the business entity equivalent of a social security number. Individuals have social security numbers, while corporations, LLCs, and some sole proprietorships, partnerships, and trusts, may obtain an EIN.

How do I obtain an EIN? EINs are issued by the IRS; apply with Form SS-4 by mail, fax, phone, or online. The name EIN is somewhat misleading, since an EIN is often needed regardless of whether a corp. or LLC will have any employees. For example, an EIN is generally required to open a business bank account in a corporate name, or to file corporate taxes.

Because they want to open a bank account as soon as possible, clients and potential clients often want to know how they can get an EIN as soon as possible. While it is not time-consuming to have an EIN issued once the corporation or LLC is formed (I obtain them same-day for clients), it is not possible to issue an EIN for an entity that does not yet exist. Anyone who claims they can get you one today is lying, misguided, or filing fraudulent paperwork on your behalf with the IRS - and probably with your name and social security number on it.

So if an EIN is needed yesterday, then the corporation or LLC itself is also needed yesterday, and the options that should be considered include expedited filing procedures to form the entity as soon as possible, or the purchase of an already-formed, ready-to-use shelf corporation or shelf LLC.