The California LLC – Taxed to Death?

The limited liability company, better known as the “LLC”, has been marketed as the single best business entity for most small businesses. The question, of course, is whether the marketing reflects a reality or not. In California, the situation is a bit murky to say the least.

California is renowned for being about as business unfriendly as any state. If you aren’t getting taxed over here, you are getting hit with some odd fee over there. The weather makes up for it, but sometimes you really have to wonder about whether it is all worth it. This is particularly true for small businesses who form limited liability companies only to get hit upside the head with a host of surprises.

The first surprise is one you could only find in California. The LLC is charged an $800 annual fee for the “privilege of doing business in California”. Oh, joy. The fee is due not at the end of your first year, but within a few months of forming your business. Yes, the door is barely open and you are already getting hit with state expenses!

The next surprise comes when you start bringing in some business. The wicked surprise goes by the name “gross revenue tax.” In addition to your $800 annual fee discussed above, you have to pay a tax based on your gross revenues. The tax doesn’t start until you are bringing in at least $250,000 a year, but it is important to remember what we are talking about here. This is a “gross” revenue tax. An example will help explain the significance of this.

Imagine I have a store selling some high priced item. My business plan calls for me to lose money my first three years as business builds up. The first year I bring in $125,000 and lose $10,000 as expected. Then year two rolls around. I bring in $260,000 in receipts and lose another $10,000. Much to my surprise, I own an additional $900 in gross revenue tax. Yes, this is true even though I didn’t make a profit!

So, should you avoid forming a California LLC? No, not really. It is still a great choice. A corporation in California has to pay the same $800 fee, but not the gross revenue tax. As long as you know what you are getting into, the LLC is still worth the financial aggravation.

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