The Best Way to Buy a Small Business

Bob, one of my business clients, wants to own a coffee shop. He calls me and tells me he has found one for sale—and in the perfect location.  That coffee shop is owned by a corporation.  The corporation is really just the owner and his wife, but the corporation is the legal owner of the coffee shop.

English: Smokey Coffee Shop in Amsterdam

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suggest to Bob that we are best off structuring the small business purchase as an “asset purchase sale”, as opposed to a stock purchase.  That means we are not purchasing the business itself, but only the assets of the business.  For example:  Bob wants to buy the chairs, table, the coffeemakers, the goodwill, the recipes.  By making his purchase this way, he will avoid most of the liabilities of the coffee shop he is buying.  The current coffee shop may owe money to suppliers, taxes,  a lawsuit for food poisoning suit or a former employee suing the coffee shop. There are some tax advantages to structuring the deal this way too.  Win-win for Bob, right?

So why would anyone want to do a stock purchase (buying the coffee shop itself or the entire corporation)?  I tell Bob that if he wants ease in transferring title, there’s a certain expense in starting fresh, and if Bob needs to save a few thousand bucks, then buying the stock would be the way to go.  It might eliminate the need to transfer permits, employee agreements and leases, although even with a stock purchase, there might be costs.  I warned Bob, permits are often personal to the owner and not the business. If the coffee shop Bob is buying has a liquor license. Bob would not be able to just take that over, he would have to be personally vetted by the liquor authority here in New York.  Despite a corporation owning the coffee shop, the current owner probably has a personal guarantee clause in his lease, and the lease would have to be renegotiated anyway.

Bob agrees an asset purchase is the best alternative, the coffee shop owner understands that any purchaser will only want assets and not stock, and we are off and running on the first step to making Bob’s dream a reality.


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S-Corp or C-Corp? What’s the Difference?

When you first form your corporation, it comes into existence as a C Corporation.  If you do nothing more, your corporation will remain a C Corporation.


A C Corporation becomes an S Corporation only when special tax treatment is sought by filing Form 2553 with the IRS.

Although a small business lawyer can advise you on the choice of entities, choosing whether to elect S Corporation status is best discussed with your accountant.  This is a tax decision, and a tax professional should review your entire financial picture before you make this decision.

New York State S Corporation Status


New York State also requires you file a form to be treated as an S Corporation under State Rules.  This form CT-6 Election by a Federal S Corporation to be Treated as a New York S Corporation.

New York City S Corporation Status

However, New York State does not exempt S Corporations from all NYS corporate taxes.  Again, you should check with your accountant prior to making this decision

Interestingly, New York City does not recognize S-Corp status at all. If your small business has income from New York City, you will need to pay New York City’s General Corporate Tax.



Lions and Kiwanis and Rotary, Oh My!

Frequently asked questions about becoming a 501(c)(3) foundation


Why Should Our Club Become a 501(c)(3) foundation?


I have recently had the pleasure of both incorporating and applying for 501(c)(3) non-profit status for a New York Lions and a New York Kiwanis Club.  One club had been in existence for more than 50 years but had just recently chosen to apply for not-for-profit status. The Club realized that in order to attract large donations and grants, it would need to create a foundation and apply for 501(c)(3) status.

But Our Club Already is a Non-Profit, Isn’t it?

When a New York Lions or Kiwanis or Rotary Club receives its charter from the parent organization, it is granted 501(c)(4) status under the parent clubs’ group exemption.  All 501(c)(4) organizations are also non-profits.


What is the difference between a 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(4)?


Both kinds of 501(c) entities are tax exempt, which means that they are exempt from paying federal and New York (and even local Long Island) taxes.  However, 501(C)(4) organizations do not allow for tax deductible donations.  When people give money to charity, while they love being charitable, they also love taking the donations as deductions on their tax returns.  Unless your Kiwanis or Rotary or Lions Club has applied for 501(c)(3) status, donors cannot deduct their donations to your organization.


What is the next step?


Once a New York Kiwanis or Lions or Rotary Club decides to establish its club as a charitable entity, it must do so by creating a foundation, then incorporating in New York as a not-for-profit corporation, then applying to the IRS for a determination letter by filing Form 1023.




Small Businesses Need Minutes of Meetings

Why Does a Small Corporation Need to Keep Minutes?

Corporate minutes are a reflection of the decisions of the Board of Directors.  Even more importantly, corporate minutes are an indication that formalities of the corporation are being kept.  If involved in a lawsuit, one way an attorney will attempt to reach personal assets of the officers of the corporation is to check to see if corporate formalities are followed.  One important type of formality is keeping records, or minutes of meetings.

Even if you are a single officer of a corporation, or you are a family business, or there are just two of you and the meetings are not formal affairs, you need to keep records of these informal meetings and decisions that are being made for your corporation.  Resolutions need to be drawn up ratifying those decisions that affect the life of the business.  Corporate minutes are among the most important documents a company must produce and keep.  Failing to keep accurate and complete minutes can expose officers and board members to personal liability.

What Should the Minutes Include?

There is no required format, but minutes should include all important decisions made for the company.

  • List all directors/members attending
  • Include a brief narrative description: What issues were discussed; what significant points raised; what actions taken
  • Include record of how each director/officer/trustee voted, including whether the vote was unanimous and if anyone abstained from voting

It is important to ratify and vote on the prior meeting’s minutes.  This ensures that each director had a clear understanding of the proposed actions.

What Needs to be Documented in your Minutes?

Is every item as important to record as all others?  Absolutely not.

The general rule is if the transaction is in the ordinary course of your business, the kind of transaction you engage in all the time, then there is no need to add those discussions to the minutes.  However, if the action is one that enables the business to engage in its business, the discussion of that action should be voted on and added to the written records.

Some major decisions that should appear in the minutes:

  • leases–for office space or equipment rental
  • significant contracts
  • elections of officers and directors
  • taking out loans or other kinds of financing
  • marketing and advertising campaigns
  • mergers, reorganizations or transactions involving the bulk of the corporation’s assets
  • providing employee benefits

LLC requirements

Although LLCs are generally not required by law to keep minutes or have formal meetings, a writing is always helpful in establishing that the members were in agreement on the actions that are taken.


Finally, if you keep your minutes on your computer, make sure you have a back-up.  Discard your notes since they are not a final accounting.  Minutes should be kept for at least seven years.

Operating your corporation properly by following state law allows you to focus your attention on running your business, and removes concerns about having to defend lawsuits and losing the limited liability protection that was your purpose for incorporating.

Your Family Small Business Succession Plan

When your business succession planning involves family, a whole new set of variables need to be thought about.

In some ways, it is easier when you have family to leave your business to, in other ways it can be way more difficult as you add family dynamics to the mix

First of all, some statistics: according to the Small Business Administration and researchers at Baylor University’s Institute for Family Business, only 30% of family businesses survive from one generation to the next, and even fewer to a third generation.  The mostly commonly given reason for this huge drop is the lack of a plan for an orderly succession.

If you own a family business, and would like to see your business survive  into the next generation, there are a few questions you should address:

  • Do your children or grandchildren want to take over your business?  It is never a good idea to insist your children take over the business.  You know how much hard work it is to make the business you love succeed, imagine if it was not a passion.
  • Is the interested family member qualified?  Has that family member worked in the business?  Learned skills at school or on the job?
  • If you have more than one child, there are other possibilities to consider.  More than one of your children may want to go into the business, but it is possible that some will not.   Many of us want to treat our children fairly when we leave our assets in our wills.  Can you treat your children fairly if leaving the business to one child?
  • If no family members want or are capable of running your business, do you want to hire management to run the business while retaining ownership, or does it make more sense to sell the business?

This is not a decision the business owner should make on his or her own.  The best thing to do is to sit down with your family and discuss it.

One of the most important aspects of family succession planning is estate planning.  If you are ready to start planning for the next generation, contact your Long Island small business lawyer soon.

Using an Online LLC Incorporation Service

This past month, I have had numerous Long Island clients calling me and asking me to fix their corporations and LLC’s that they ordered and paid for online.  It seems that these online documents come complete with any number of their forms left blank.  I have seen two this week where the first page of the bylaws or the operating agreement still reads “Sample.”

I can tell why people are accessing my blog, what search terms they use when they find me.  The biggest “hits” to my blog are the ones looking for Long Island publications to fulfill the LLC publication requirement.  So, I know many of you are attempting to do this on your own.

And then you get sued.  Or you apply for non-profit status.  Or you just read something that advises you that if you don’t do proper recordkeeping, your personal assets are not protected from your business liability.  And then I get called and you need me to amend your Articles of Incorporation, or help piece together all your corporate actions since you incorporated five years ago.   Now how much money have you saved by incorporating online?

If you are looking for the convenience of online incorporation or LLC formation and don’t have the time to meet a lawyer at their office, many of us, myself included, can do your incorporation by phone, and fax and e-mail.

It angers me when small business owners like myself are paying for services that they are not receiving.  And then having to pay again to do it correctly.

If you have corporate books that have been sitting on your shelf, and many of the pages are still blank, or you have never updated that book by having annual meetings, adding resolutions about opening bank accounts, taking out leases, contracting with employees or vendors or any other of a number of corporate acts, please call to schedule an appointment to ensure you will get the protection you originally sought for your personal assets.

Overpromising? “Limited” Liability and Small Business

If you are just starting a small business or have a sole proprietorship, you have probably thought about and received advice about either incorporating or forming a limited liability company (LLC).

What protections do these business entities actually offer to the small business owner?

The Promise

You have probably heard that by incorporating or forming an LLC,  you, as the owner, will be protected from personal liability, whether  through contract (from creditors) or tort (from intentional or negligent wrongful act, injury or damage other than breach of contract).

This is true to a great extent.  However, as a small business owner you are probably not totally shielded from personal liability even if you do incorporate or form an LLC.

The Reality


Commercial landlords will often demand a personal guarantee from the principals or owners of the small business despite business entity status.  A lease is a contract between a landlord and a tenant.  If you have not been in business for very long or your business assets are limited, you can expect to be asked to personally guarantee a lease.  Your spouse may also be asked for a personal guarantee.  Depending on how long you have been in business or how in demand the property is, this may be a negotiable point. You might want to contact a business attorney to review and negotiate your commercial lease.


Bank loans. Whether you need a loan to finance inventory or to expand, a lender may require you  put up your personal property as collateral.  Even  if your business were to dissolve, you would remain personally liable for paying back the loan.  However, depending on the business’ creditworthiness, this too is open to negotiation.

Small Business Administration loans.  The SBA requires that all loans they guarantee must be collateralized with both the business assets and a personal guarantee.  Often you may need to take out a second (or third) mortgage on your home.  Nevertheless, SBA loans often have excellent terms.

Credit Cards

Most business credit card issuers will not approve a business application unless the owner personally agrees to be liable for any debt incurred.  Take note that any default on your business card will impact your personal credit.  After several years of being established, you may want to ask the issuer to allow you to separate your business and personal liability.


Your own acts.  Corporate/LLC formation provides protection for corporate acts;  it may not provide protection for your own acts.  Even if you are acting for the corporation, if you are negligent you are potentially personally liable. You can’t commit intentional wrongdoing even in the guise of your corporate self.  You can’t embezzle, defraud or assault someone.

Your employees’ acts.  Although in theory, the corporation or LLC should shield your personal assets from your employees’ bad acts, in reality, if the act is egregious enough you are likely to be brought into the lawsuit.  Negligent hiring, failure to ensure the person you sent on an errand has a clean driving record, or negligently maintaining your property are just some of the ways you personally can be brought into litigation, even though you’re incorporated.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you will lose the lawsuit, however, even good defenses cost money.


You can be held personally liable if  the corporation neglects to pay over to the IRS  the employees’ share of withholding and social security taxes.  Many states also will hold corporations personally liable for failure to turn over retail sales taxes due from the corporation.

The Solution

Despite some pitfalls and incomplete protection, it is still worthwhile to either incorporate or form an LLC.  Business formation will protect your personal assets to a great extent.  The longer your business exists,  the more creditworthiness your business can show, the better your bargaining power will be with landlords, credit card companies and lenders.


It is a good idea to ensure you have sufficient personal insurance coverage on your assets to cover any business liability.  Consider buying an umbrella policy for your cars and home.  Insuring your business is also a necessity.  Should you get sued, the insurance company will defend you, pay for your attorney and pay up to policy limits.

NY LLC Publication Requirements are a Burden for Small Businesses

In order to form a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in New York, the LLC must first choose an available business name, the county in which your LLC will be located, and prepare and file Articles of Organization with the Department of State along with a check for $200.  However, if you do not take the extra step of publishing notice of the formation of your LLC within 120 days of formation, your authority to conduct, transact or carry on any business within New York state will be suspended.

Although the courts have not yet addressed what the consequences would be of operating without the authority to conduct business, it is possible that the members of the LLC might become personally liable for actions taken or that contracts could be voided if the publication requirement is not fulfilled.

LLCs cannot get around the New York publication requirement by forming their LLCs in a less expensive state.  Foreign LLCs doing business in New York are subject to the same publication requirement.

Section 206 of the NY Limited Liability Company Law calls for the newly formed LLC to publish notice of its formation, the location of its principal office (the county), the date of formation and a statement that the Secretary of State has been designated as agent against whom process may be served and several other items that can be found in the LLC’s Articles of Organization.  This notice must be published in one daily newspaper and one weekly newspaper, once each week for six weeks.

Fortunately for Long Island LLCs, the costs are much less than those found west of us in NYC.  Newsday and a weekly local newspaper cost between $300 and $500 for the six weeks.  Additionally, information about which designated newspapers are approved to fulfill the publishing requirement can be found online at the Nassau County Clerk and the Suffolk County Clerk websites.

At the end of the six weeks, the newspapers will send you an affidavit of publication which must be sent to the Department of State along with a Certificate of Publication and $50.

Although the requirement to publish is purportedly intended to protect the community, hardly anyone actually reads these notices in the paper.  The information itself is of little use, as it does not list an actual address or name the members of the LLC.  Newspapers rely on these notices as a source of income.  You may draw your own conclusion as to why the New York legislature included these provisions in the NY LLC law.

I conclude, however, that the publication requirement for LLCs in New York is unduly burdensome for small businesses and should cause local Nassau and Suffolk small businesses to think twice before choosing this form of business entity over incorporation.

How to Incorporate Your Sole Proprietorship

Although the plethora of inexpensive online incorporation and LLC formation services would have you believe that all you need to do to incorporate your small business is  fill out a simple form, pay a few dollars, and voila! your business is incorporated, this is even less true if you have already been running your business as a sole proprietor.

The mere act of incorporation does not transfer the existing business assets and liabilities to the new corporation.  And while it is almost always a good idea to either incorporate or form a limited liability company (LLC) in order to reduce your personal liability and protect your personal assets, there are some administrative tasks and potential tax liability associated with changing the form you use for your small business entity.

You’ve Incorporated–Now What?

Let’s assume you’ve already incorporated. You’ve determined that the name you chose is acceptable under the New York Business Corporation Law. You’ve run a search on your company name (or had an experienced lawyer run one for you) to ensure you haven’t violated another company’s trademark under state or federal trademark law.  If you formed an LLC, you’ve published notice of the formation in two newspapers.  Here on Long Island, Newsday is a good choice for a daily paper, and Nassau and Suffolk Counties have many options for weekly local newspapers.

That’s All, Right?

Not quite yet.  There are numerous administrative tasks, including:

Obtain a new Employer Identification Number (EIN). You can learn how to do this here at the IRS website.  If you are forming a one-member Limited Liability Company (LLC), you can choose to be a “disregarded entity” for tax purposes, and continue to use your own Social Security number. However, I would strongly encourage the use of a separate EIN so you don’t  share your personal number with employees or vendors.  You want to protect your Social Security number against identity theft.

Your assets must be transferred from your name as sole proprietor to your new company’s name.  This must be done formally.  In exchange for the assets, you will receive shares (corporate stock)  of your new corporation.

Your small business bank accounts must be closed, and new ones opened in your new corporate or LLC name.  Insurance companies need to be notified.  Any permits or licenses that have been issued to you need to be formally transferred.  Inform your employees, customers or suppliers.  Should your small business own any intellectual property  registered with the United States Patent and Transfer Office,  it may need to be assigned to the new owner.  If your business owns a car or truck, you need to change the title and pay fees to the New York Department of Vehicles.  Any transfer of real property must be reported to the clerk’s office in Nassau or Suffolk Counties.

Additionally, corporations must have formal meetings, take minutes and prepare and ratify resolutions for all the changes.

Are You Done Yet?

There may be both state and federal tax consequences from transferring assets and liabilities from a sole proprietorship to either a corporation or an LLC.  If you are transferring real property, New York State may assess a transfer tax on any mortgage still owing.

If you have previously taken deductions on your income tax returns for your small business assets (i.e. furniture, computers), depending on how you transfer those assets to the new corporation or LLC, you may create a taxable event.  There are two ways an item that has already been depreciated by the sole proprietor can be transferred.  You can make either a capital contribution or  a sale in your capacity as sole proprietor to your new corporation or LLC.

The mechanics of choosing the method of transfer for tax purposes is beyond the scope of this article.  It is best before you make any transfers to speak to a qualified CPA as well as an attorney.

Should You Just Forget the Whole Thing?

Absolutely not.  Despite some expense, paperwork, time and energy there are numerous reasons you should incorporate your small business or form an LLC.  To list just a few:  Protection of your personal assets should your business fail or get sued; savings on employment tax and deductions for insurance; protection of your business assets should you get personally sued; ease of raising funds to expand your small business.

When you are ready to take your Long Island small business to the next level, contact a small business lawyer in your area.