Federal Tax Classification Guide for Business Owners

Alex Kehayias | Jan 5, 2024

Federal Tax Classification Guide for Business Owners

In today’s dynamic business environment, one of the critical aspects founders, HR heads, and financial officers need to stay on top of is federal tax classification. This classification not only determines how your business will operate, but also how it will be taxed.

As businesses expand and take on employees from different states or even countries, understanding this classification becomes paramount to ensure compliance. With the landscape of remote work growing, businesses, especially those operating in the U.S., must stay informed to maintain efficiency and ensure they’re meeting all regulatory requirements.

What Is Federal Tax Classification?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) delineates six primary ways through which a business can be classified for tax purposes. These are:

  • Sole Proprietorship: This is the simplest form where there is no legal distinction between the owner and the business. Profits, losses, and taxes are the responsibility of the owner.

  • Partnership: This consists of two or more people who agree to share the profits, losses, and liabilities of a business venture.

  • C Corporation: A legal entity that protects the owners or shareholders from personal liability. It is taxed separately from its owners.

  • S Corporation: Much like a C corporation in terms of liability protection, an S corporation avoids double taxation. Profits and losses pass through to shareholders.

  • Limited Liability Company (LLC): A flexible structure that combines the benefits of both a partnership and a corporation. Owners, referred to as members, are protected from personal liability.

  • Nonprofit: An organization that operates for purposes other than generating profit. It enjoys certain tax exemptions.

Choosing the correct classification is a strategic decision for business owners, influenced by factors like size, scale, and the desired scope of the company. A pivotal distinction to understand is the separation between the business entity and its owners. “The classification of a company can evolve and change over the lifetime of the business,” notes Taylor Fike, Partner at Fike Advisors and Expert Contributor for Mosey.

In structures like corporations and LLCs, there is a clear legal distinction between the business and its owners or shareholders. Conversely, in a sole proprietorship, there’s no such separation.

For businesses navigating the complex landscape of compliance, especially those spread across multiple states, Mosey can help. Whether you’re an LLC, corporation, non-profit, or one of those classified as another for tax purposes, Mosey tracks your compliance requirements, alerts you of changing regulations, and streamlines compliance automations across your teams to ensure that you are always up-to-date.

Which Tax Classification Should You Choose?

As you work to take your business to new heights, selecting the right federal tax classification is a key decision. This choice will influence various facets of your business, from tax obligations and personal liabilities to ownership dynamics. Here’s a breakdown of factors you should consider:

Company Size

The size of your company often dictates the kind of business structure you might lean toward. For instance, if you’re a single founder working on a startup, a sole proprietorship might seem appealing due to its simplicity.

Conversely, a larger entity with multiple employees and operations across states may lean towards a corporation or LLC.

Number of Stakeholders and Directors

The structure of your business in terms of ownership and management often plays into your decision. Partnerships work best when there are two or more stakeholders sharing responsibilities and profits.

On the other hand, corporations, both C and S types, can accommodate a more significant number of stakeholders and a structured board of directors.

Amount of Personal Liability

How much personal risk are you willing to take? With a sole proprietorship, there’s no distinction between you and the business, meaning you’ll bear any liabilities. However, structures like LLCs and corporations offer personal liability protection, ensuring your personal assets remain untouched even if the business faces financial strain.

While selecting a tax classification, it’s essential to remember that your decision isn’t set in stone. Businesses, especially LLCs, can elect to be taxed differently than their initial designation, offering flexibility as your business evolves.

However, making these transitions or understanding the nuances requires legal expertise. If you have the funds to retain legal counsel, you can get tailored advice on the best tax classification for your specific situation.

How Are Different Business Structures Taxed?

Understanding how different business structures are taxed is crucial for effective financial planning and compliance. While tax obligations vary depending on your chosen classification, we’ve broken down the key taxation details for each type.


Nonprofit entities navigate a range of tax forms depending on their financial standing and size. Commonly utilized forms include Form 990, Form 990-EZ, Form 990-PF, Form 990-N (e-Postcard), and Form 990-T. It’s essential to note that these forms can be filed electronically through an IRS Authorized e-File Provider.

Sole Proprietorship

As a sole proprietor, your business earnings and losses are reported directly on your personal tax return. Your primary responsibility includes filing Form 1040 (individual tax return) and its accompanying Schedule C, which highlights your business’s profit and loss. If your business operations involve farming, you’ll also need to complete Schedule F (1040 or 1040-SR).


Partnerships adopt a “pass-through” tax approach, meaning the entity itself isn’t directly taxed. Instead, profits or losses are distributed to partners and declared on their individual tax returns.

The pivotal form for partnerships is Form 1065 (U.S. Return of Partnership Income), which covers various financial metrics like income, losses, and gains. Partners will receive a Schedule K-1 detailing their specific portion of the partnership’s financial activities, facilitating accurate individual reporting.

S Corporation

Mirroring partnerships in many ways, S corporations use a pass-through taxation method. Income, credits, and deductions flow through to shareholders, who then declare these details on their personal tax returns.

To maintain compliance, S corporations must submit Form 1120-S (U.S. Income Tax Return for an S Corporation). Additionally, shareholders are required to file their personal Form 1040 and a supplemental Form K-1, indicating their share of the S corporation’s activities.

C Corporation

Unique among the entities listed, C corporations experience “double taxation.” Initially, the corporation’s profits are taxed at the corporate level. Upon distribution as dividends, these profits face a second layer of taxation at the individual shareholder level.

The mainstay for C corporations is Form 1120 (U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return), capturing the breadth of financial activities, from gains and losses to credits and deductions. This form is a yearly obligation, regardless of the corporation’s taxable income status.

By familiarizing yourself with the taxation nuances of each business structure, you can streamline your compliance and make more informed decisions about your business’s future.

How Are Tax Rates Determined?

Tax rates and the associated obligations are determined by the IRS through a framework known as tax brackets. Here’s a breakdown of how this system operates:

  • Tax Brackets: The IRS has several income ranges, or tax brackets, to set the tax rate based on your income. This system, termed progressive taxation, means that as your income increases, the tax rate you’re subjected to also increases, but only for the income that falls within each specific bracket.

  • Progressive Taxation: If your income exceeds one bracket’s threshold, it’s the income within that bracket that’s taxed at that rate. Any extra income is taxed at the subsequent bracket’s rate.

  • Marginal Tax Rate: This refers to the highest tax rate bracket that your income touches, but it doesn’t mean your entire income is taxed at this rate, just the portion in that bracket.

  • Varied Rates for Different Filing Statuses: Your filing status, whether single, married filing jointly, or head of household, determines the specific tax brackets the IRS applies to you. This ensures fair taxation based on different taxpayer situations.

  • Additional Tax Rates: Beyond regular income tax, there are distinct rates for capital gains and the alternative minimum tax (AMT), the latter typically affecting certain high-net-worth individuals.

  • Taxable Income Determination: Your total income is not necessarily your taxable income. Tax deductions, like the standard deduction (which reduces taxable income by $13,850 to $27,700 for 2023), can reduce this figure. Some taxpayers might even itemize deductions, further lowering their taxable income.

It’s essential to remember that while tax structures might seem complex, they are designed with fairness and progressivity in mind.

Can You Change Your Business Structure?

Yes, changing your business structure is possible, though the specifics, logistics, and implications may vary based on the type of transition and the structures involved. This decision can have numerous legal, financial, and operational impacts, so it’s advisable to consult with legal and tax professionals before making such a change.

Stay Tax Compliant With Help From Mosey

From understanding the nuances of tax brackets to choosing the right business structure, there’s a lot to grasp in the world of taxes. Don’t let business compliance be another one of those complexities for you. At Mosey, our team is dedicated to simplifying the compliance process for multi-state businesses of many different tax classification types.

Whether you’re kicking off your business adventure or looking to fine-tune your current setup, we’re here to help you at every turn. Stay informed, stay compliant, and let Mosey help keep your business on track.

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