A sole proprietorship—also referred to as a sole trader or a proprietorship—is an unincorporated business that has just one owner who pays personal income tax on profits earned from the business.
A sole proprietorship is the easiest type of business to establish or take apart, due to a lack of government regulation. As such, these types of businesses are very popular among sole owners of businesses, individual self-contractors, and consultants. Many sole proprietors do business under their own names because creating a separate business or trade name isn’t necessary.
Understanding a Sole Proprietorship
A sole proprietorship is very different from a corporation (corp.), a limited liability company (LLC), or a limited liability partnership ( LLP), in that no separate legal entity is created. As a result, the business owner of a sole proprietorship is not exempt from liabilities incurred by the entity.
For example, the debts of the sole proprietorship are also the debts of the owner. However, the profits of the sole proprietorship are also the profits of the owner, as all profits flow directly to the business’s owner.
Advantages and Disadvantages of a Sole Proprietorship
The main benefits of a sole proprietorship are the pass-through tax advantage mentioned before, the ease of creation, and the low fees of creation and maintenance.
With a sole proprietorship, you do not need to fill out a tremendous amount of paperwork, such as registering with your state. You may need to obtain a license or permit, depending on your state and type of business. But less paperwork allows you to get your business off the ground faster.
The tax process is simpler because you do not need to obtain an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS. You can obtain an EIN if you choose to but you can also use your own Social Security number to pay SSN taxes rather than needing an EIN.
In addition, because you are not required to register with your state, you do not need to pay any fees associated with renewing your registration or any other fees associated with the process. This saves you a lot of money, which is important when starting your own business.
With a sole proprietorship, you don’t need a business checking account, as other business structures are required to have. You can simply conduct all your finances through your own personal checking account.
The disadvantages of a sole proprietorship are the unlimited liability that goes beyond the business to the owner and the difficulty in getting capital funding, specifically through established channels, such as issuing equity and obtaining bank loans or lines of credit.
When a business is registered, it has some protection from the state. As a sole proprietorship is not registered, you have no support when it comes to liability. An LLC has protection against creditors from seizing your personal assets, such as your home. With a sole proprietorship, you do not have such protection.
Funding can also be difficult with a sole proprietorship. Banks prefer to work with companies that have a track record. Being an individual who is starting out with a small balance sheet can make it a risky endeavor for banks to lend money. Also, obtaining equity from large investors can be difficult as they prefer more refined startups.
Thus, entrepreneurs begin as an entity with unlimited liability. As the business grows, they often transition to a limited liability entity, such as an LLC or LLP, or a corporation (e.g., S Corp, C Corp, or Benefit Corp).
- Less paperwork
- No need to obtain an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS
- Quick and easy setup compared to other business structures
- Low fees and costs
- Pass-through tax advantage
- Easier banking
- Unlimited liability goes from business to owner
- Difficulty in raising capital