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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Which Business Structure is Right for You ?

Which Business Structure is Right for You?

Which entity is best for your business depends on many factors, and the decision can have a significant impact on both profitability and asset protection afforded to its owners. Below is an overview of the most common business structures.

Sole Proprietorship
The sole proprietorship is the simplest and least regulated of all business structures. For legal and tax purposes, the sole proprietorship’s owner and the business are one and the same. The liabilities of the business are personal to the owner, and the business terminates when the owner dies. On the other hand, all of the profits are also personal to the owner and the sole owner has full control of the business.

General Partnership
A partnership consists of two or more persons who agree to share profits and losses. It is simple to establish and maintain; no formal, written document is required in order to create a partnership. If no formal agreement is signed, the partnership will be subject to state laws governing partnerships. However, to clarify the rights and responsibilities of each partner, and to be certain of the tax status of the partnership, it is important to have a written partnership agreement.

Each partner’s personal assets are at risk. Any partner may obligate the partnership, and each individual partner is liable for all of the debts of the partnership. General partners also face potential personal legal liability for the negligence of another partner.

Limited Partnership
A limited partnership is similar to a general partnership, but has two types of partners: general partners and limited partners. General partners have broad powers to obligate the partnership (as in a general partnership), and are personally liable for the debts of the partnership. If there is more than one general partner, each of them is liable for the acts of the remaining general partners. Limited partners, however, are “limited” to their contribution of capital to the business, and must not become actively involved in running the company. As with a general partnership, limited partnerships are flow-through tax entities.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)
The LLC is a hybrid type of business structure. An LLC consists of one or more owners (“members”) who actively manage the company’s business affairs. The LLC contains elements of both a traditional partnership and a corporation, offering the liability protection of a corporation, with the tax structure of a sole proprietorship (if it has only one member), or a partnership (if the LLC has two or more members). Its important to note that in certain states, single-member LLCs are not afforded limited liability protection.

Corporation
Corporations are more complex than either a sole proprietorship or partnership and are subject to more state regulations regarding their formation and operation. There are two basic types of corporations:  C-corporations and S-corporations. There are significant differences in the tax treatment of these two types of corporations, however, they are both generally organized and operated in a similar manner.

Technical formalities must be strictly observed in order to reap the benefits of corporate existence. For this reason, there is an additional burden of detailed recordkeeping. Corporate decisions must be documented in writing. Corporate meetings, both at the shareholder and director levels, must be formally documented.

Corporations limit the owners’ personal liability for company debts. Depending on your situation, there may be significant tax advantages to incorporating.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Bankruptcy and Your Business

Bankruptcy and Your Small Business

Financial hardship is difficult for any individual but for business owners, it can be particularly stressful as the line between personal and business finances may become blurred.  You may have racked up a lot of personal credit card debt and may be considering filing for personal bankruptcy, but you are concerned about how bankruptcy will affect your small business. Or, your business could be struggling and you may wonder how a business bankruptcy will impact your personal finances.

First, you need to know about the three most common types of bankruptcy: Chapter 7, Chapter 11 and Chapter 13. Under a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is a liquidation, assets are used to pay debts, and any remaining debts are “wiped out”.  A Chapter 7 filing can be utilized for both individuals and businesses. A Chapter 11 or 13, which are also available for individuals and businesses, commonly referred to as reorganization, allows debtors with a regular income to set up a new timetable for paying off creditors, while keeping their assets.

The second thing to consider is how your business is set up. If you are a sole proprietorship, and are simply operating the business in your own name, then there is no way to separate your personal assets and liabilities from those of your business. Therefore, any business assets (in excess of the exemption you are allowed) could be surrendered as a part of the bankruptcy. Also, any receivables of the business or other potentially valuable business property could be claimed by creditors in a bankruptcy.

If your business is operated under a separate entity, such as an LLC (limited liability company), an LLP (limited liability partnership), or a corporation, the shares of your business that you own are assets. If partners are involved in the business, the bankruptcy trustee who represents the interest of the creditors could become a de facto substitute partner and force a liquidation of the business.

If your business is struggling, but you are personally doing fine financially, you may consider a business bankruptcy. If you aren’t interested in keeping your business open, you may consider filing a Chapter 7, which will simply liquidate the business. A Chapter 7 is probably best if the business is not going anywhere, does not have significant assets, or if the debts are so completely overwhelming that it’s not possible to restructure them. Keep in mind that vendors and other creditors may have obtained a personal guarantee from you, in which case, you may be personally on the hook for your business’s liabilities, even if you do file bankruptcy for your company.  Personal guarantee clauses are common on many credit applications and commercial leases.

If your business is fundamentally sound, but because of excessive debt, bad contracts, or other unfortunate circumstances faces significant liquidity issues, a Chapter 11 may be appropriate.  A corporate reorganization can be complex and requires a significant time investment from the owners and managers who have to work with creditors and attorneys. It can also be expensive. Unfortunately, most reorganizations ultimately fail.

If you are considering business or personal bankruptcy, it’s important to carefully assess your individual circumstance and consult with a bankruptcy attorney who can advise you of all your options and help you navigate the process.   


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Planning for your business vs. Having an adequate business plan

You’ve Planned for Your Business, But Do You Have an Adequate Business Plan?

Much like the blueprints that help a contractor build a house, your business plan is an essential component of your start-up activities, helping you define where you want your company to be within a few years and how you plan to get there. Business plans can vary from simple, one-page documents to lengthy tomes.

Once created, your business plan is not set in stone. Your company will naturally evolve over time and be influenced by outside factors. As such, successful entrepreneurs consider their business plans to be a work-in-progress, to be updated to reflect changes in the marketplace. The important thing to remember is that a good plan includes only the information you need, nothing more and nothing less.

Some successful entrepreneurs have abandoned the old notion of lengthy business plans containing extraneous information. As the company evolves, much of a comprehensive document may become obsolete and have to be discarded. Or, worse, you might find yourself so invested in the plan itself that you resist changes that may be beneficial to the company. Instead, think of a business plan as the following four items:

  • A description of the business and leadership team
  • A well-defined target market
  • Competitive advantage(s) of your product or service
  • Three years of projected financial statements

When you are in the early stages, attempting to secure the first round of capital financing, investors are most concerned with the leadership team and what they are going to do. In later stages, the financial data takes on a more pivotal role. Care should be taken to focus on your target market and the overall concept, rather than getting bogged down in the details of a complicated business plan. Potential investors will be closely examining many areas of your business plan, including the team, target market, product or service you offer and financial projections.

Your Leadership Team
The best start-up business teams include a mix of varied strengths that complement each other. The individual who will be managing the business and developing the products or services offered are of the utmost importance.

The Target Market
Your business plan must describe the target market sufficiently to convince investors that you will have customers and that there is a need for whatever it is you have to sell. Be realistic, and include parameters such as the size of the market and the competition.

Competitive Advantage
What is your competitive advantage?  Is it something unique about the product or service your company offers?  And if you do have a killer concept, what prevents a competitor from copying it?  What is the barrier to entry? If the product or service itself is not unique, be sure to demonstrate how you intend on marketing it in a way that sets it apart from the competition.  

Financial Projections
Provide a reasonable estimation of what your profit and loss will be over the course of the first few years of business operations. Of course, this estimate is subject to change, but it will provide some guidelines to let investors, and your leadership team, know what milestones you expect to meet along the way.

Above all, make sure you demonstrate to potential investors that you have carefully and realistically thought through your business plan, and that you are prepared to make changes along the way when adjustments are necessary.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Estate Planning: The Medicaid Asset Protection Trust ("MAPT")

Estate Planning: The Medicaid Asset Protection Trust

The irrevocable Medicaid Asset Protection Trust has proven to be a highly effective estate planning tool for many older Americans. There are many factors to consider when deciding whether a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is right for you and your family. This brief overview is designed to give you a starting point for discussions with your loved ones and legal counsel.

A Medicaid Asset Protection Trust enables an individual or a married couple to transfer some of their assets into a trust, to hold and manage the assets throughout their lifetime. Upon their deaths, the remainder of the assets will be transferred to the heirs in accordance with the provisions of the trust.

This process is best explained by an example. Let’s say Mr. and Mrs. Smith, both retired, own stocks and savings accounts valued at $300,000. Their current living expenses are covered by income from these investments, plus Social Security and their retirement benefits. Should either one of them ever be admitted to a skilled nursing facility, the Smiths likely will not have enough money left over to cover living and medical expenses for the rest of their lives.

Continuing the above example, the Smiths can opt to transfer all or a portion of their investments into a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust. Under the terms of the trust, all investment income will continue to be paid to the Smiths during their lifetimes. Should one of them ever need Medicaid coverage for nursing home care, the income would then be paid to the other spouse. Upon the deaths of both spouses, the trust is terminated and the remaining assets are distributed to the Smiths’ children or other heirs as designated in the trust. As long as the Smiths are alive, their assets are protected and they enjoy a continued income stream throughout their lives.

However, the Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is not without its pitfalls. Creation of such a trust can result in a period of ineligibility for benefits under the Medicaid program. The length of time varies, according to the value of the assets transferred and the date of the transfer. Following expiration of the ineligibility period, the assets held within the trust are generally protected and will not be factored in when calculating assets for purposes of qualification for Medicaid benefits. Furthermore, transferring assets into an irrevocable Medicaid Asset Protection Trust keeps them out of both spouses’ reach for the duration of their lives.

Deciding whether a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is right for you is a complex process that must take into consideration many factors regarding your assets, income, family structure, overall health, life expectancy, and your wishes regarding how property should be handled after your death. An experienced elder law or Medicaid attorney can help guide you through the decision making process.
 


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Common Employer-made Mistakes

Eight Common Mistakes Employers Make

American employers are subject to countless federal, state and local laws, imposing various requirements, including wage and hour and anti-discrimination laws. Unfortunately, many employers – particularly small businesses – are unaware of their obligations and violate various worker protection laws, often resulting in expensive lawsuits, civil settlements and criminal fines. Here are some common, costly mistakes employers make:

Misclassifying Non-Exempt Workers as Exempt
Generally, all workers are entitled to overtime pay and subject to minimum wage requirements. However, some employees – typically executive, managerial or professional employees – are “exempt” and receive a flat salary without overtime pay. The exemption only applies in certain situations, however, and many employees have improperly classified workers as “exempt” when they are legally entitled to overtime wages and minimum wage requirements.

Misclassifying Employees as Independent Contractors
Determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor depends on the level of independence or control the worker has in completing his or her tasks; the less control exercised by the worker, the more likely he or she will be classified as an employee. Factors to consider include how the worker is compensated, whether the worker faces any risk of loss in the transaction, whether the company pays the worker’s business expenses, whether the company can withhold payment for non-performance, and whether your industry as a whole considers workers in similar positions as employees or independent contractors.

Failing to Train Supervisors Regarding Employment and Labor Laws
Employment laws prohibit employers from taking action against an employee for certain reasons, including discrimination on the basis of a protected characteristic such as race, religion, etc. Employees are also protected from retaliation for complaints of discrimination or illegal activity. It is vital that supervisors be trained to manage their employees in accordance with all applicable laws.

Failing to Use an Employee Handbook
An employee handbook informs employees about the employer’s values and policies, and facilitates compliance with employment and labor laws.

Failing to Properly Document Employee Job Performance
Proper documentation clearly establishes the employer’s expectations and where the employee failed to reach them. Written job descriptions and employee evaluations serve as training tools, performance measures and critical evidence in the event you have to terminate an employee.

Failing to Accommodate Disabled Workers
The law not only prohibits employers from discriminating against those with disabilities, it also imposes a duty on employers to “reasonably accommodate” their disabled employees, so they can perform essential job functions. Accommodations may include assistive devices, a modified work schedule or a restructuring of job duties.

Failing to Comply with Wage Payment and Notification Requirements
Many states require employers to pay their employees in a certain manner, and provide written notice of pay periods and amounts. Failure to comply can subject the company to penalties.

Failing to Obtain Releases from Terminated Employees
When firing an employee, companies should obtain a signed release from the employee, waiving the employee’s right to pursue a legal claim against the employer. Often, this release is signed in exchange for a severance payment.
 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Can My Employer Enforce a Covenant Not to Compete?

Many employers require their employees to sign agreements which contain covenants not to compete with the company.  The enforceability of these restrictive provisions varies from state-to-state and depends on a variety of factors. A former employee who violates an enforceable non-compete agreement may be ordered to cease competitive activity and pay damages to the former employer.  In other covenants, the restrictions may be deemed too restrictive and an undue restraint of trade.

A covenant not to compete is a promise by an employee that he or she will not compete with his or her employer for a specified period of time and/or within a particular geographic location. It may be contained within an employment agreement, or may be a separate contract. Agreements which prevent employees from competing with the employer while employed are enforceable in every jurisdiction. However, agreements which affect an employee’s conduct after employment termination are subject to stricter requirements regarding “reasonableness,” and are generally disallowed in some states, such as California which has enacted statutes against such agreements except in very narrow circumstances.


Read more . . .


Monday, September 16, 2013

Immigration Process When Marrying a U.S. Citizen

When an American citizen is engaged to a non-citizen who resides outside of the United States, the citizen must apply for a K-1 “Fiancé Visa”.  The Fiancé Visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows an alien to enter the U.S. to marry an American citizen. The visa is issued in the country where the fiancé resides. After the marriage takes place, an application is made for an adjustment to permanent U.S. resident status, an immigrant visa.

To obtain a Fiancé Visa, the citizen must file a petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for his or her foreign fiancé, known as the “beneficiary.” Supplemental information will be required throughout the process. Once USCIS approves the petition, it is forwarded to the National Visa Center, which conducts a preliminary background check on the beneficiary.


Read more . . .


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Should I Incorporate My Business?

The primary advantages of operating as a corporation are liability protection and potential tax savings. Like any important decision, choosing whether to incorporate involves weighing the pros and cons of the various business structures and should only be done after careful research.

Once incorporated, the business becomes a separate legal entity, and assets of the corporation are separated from the owner’s personal finances. As a result, the owner’s personal assets generally can be shielded from creditors of the business.


Read more . . .


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