Business Glossary

What is a Limited Liability Company?

Please note that this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be deemed to be or used as legal, employment, or health & safety advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, consult with a qualified professional.

One of the biggest challenges when starting out in business is deciding on the right corporate structure for your company. Do you want to be a sole proprietor? A partnership? A company? Your answer will have lasting implications for how you file your tax returns, what happens to your profits, and how much financial risk the business owner assumes.

A limited liability company (LLC) is a business entity that prevents individuals from being liable for the company’s financial losses and debt liabilities. In the event of legal action or business failure, liability is assumed by the company rather than its constituent partners or shareholders.

Examples of limited liability companies

The definition of an LLC is broader in the UK than other countries such as the US. The most popular form of LLC in the UK is a private limited company (Ltd). Filing as a limited company means that if the business goes under, shareholders’ only liability is for the face value of their share in the business.

Alternatively, Public Limited Companies (PLCs) are similar to private limited companies. The only difference is that a PLC must have share capital over £50,000 and shares must be able to be bought and sold by anyone on the stock market. A PLC must have a minimum of two directors and a company secretary.

Another option is a limited liability partnership (LLP). If a partnership is registered in this way, partners are not liable for one another’s actions. So if one of the partners is sued, the other partner will not share their liability.

Numerous types of businesses find that limited liability is favourable to sole proprietorship. These include:

  • professional services like accountants or solicitors
  • cafes, bars and restaurants
  • handymen, builders and contractors

Advantages and disadvantages of limited liability

Benefits of an LLC

  • liability protection for business owners and shareholders
  • personal assets are protected
  • legal protection from the effects of other people’s mistakes
  • flexible business structure with a variety of trading options
  • corporation tax rates are lower than income tax rates
  • because the company is independent of its owners, it can be sold or passed on

Disadvantages of an LLC

  • company accounts will be made public
  • owners don’t have as much control when compared to sole traders
  • accounts are more complicated, meaning that you’ll likely need an accountant
  • limited partnerships may place a barrier on how much profit can be retained

Frequently asked questions about limited liability companies

Is an LLC the same as a PLC?

In the US, limited liability companies are regulated in slightly different ways from state to state. Although they can usually elect not to pay federal taxes directly, and may even set themselves up as corporations/S corporations.

In the UK, however, a limited liability company uses the same business structure as a private limited company and does not exist as a separate entity.

What is an operating agreement?

An operating agreement is a document that ensures that an LLC’s operations are suited to the needs of its members. It is part stockholder agreement and part corporate by-law. While an operating agreement is not mandatory, especially for non-US companies, it can help to clarify how the company will be operated and managed.

What is unlimited liability?

Unlimited liability means that there is no distinction between the individual and the company in terms of taxation. A freelancer or sole proprietor will have unlimited liability, as will some partnerships. This means that traders get to keep all of the profits after paying their tax, and get to be owners of their assets. It also means that they are responsible for covering losses and debts incurred by the business.

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