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Licensing a Landscaping Business

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There are several ways to register a landscaping business and the right answer will depend on the state you live in, the services you provide and your personal situation.

To start with you will need to choose a business structure. Here is a basic run down of each but there may be some particulars to be aware of for your state.

Sole Proprietorship
The sole proprietorship is a simple, informal structure that is inexpensive to form; it is usually owned by a single person or a marital community. The sole proprietorship is typically used for a business structure as it is easy to form and inexpensive. The owner operates the business, is personally liable for all business debts, can freely transfer all or part of the business, and can report profit or loss on personal income tax returns. This structure is risky if you have employees or a lot of personal assets.

General Partnership
Partnerships are inexpensive to form; they require an agreement between two or more individuals or entities to jointly own and operate a business. Profit, loss, and managerial duties are shared among the partners, and each partner is personally liable for partnership debts. Partnerships do not pay taxes, but must file an informational return; individual partners report their share of profits and losses on their personal return. Short-term partnerships are also known as joint ventures.

C Corporation (Inc. or Ltd.)
This is a complex business structure with more startup costs than sole proprietors and partnerships. A corporation is a legal entity separate from its owners, who own shares of stock in the company. Corporations can be created for profit or nonprofit purposes and may be subject to increased licensing fees and government regulation than other structures. Profits are taxed both at the corporate level and again when distributed to shareholders.
Shareholders are not personally liable for corporate obligations unless corporate formalities have not been observed; such formalities provide evidence that the corporation is a separate legal entity from its shareholders. Failure to do so may open the shareholders to liability of the corporation’s debts. Corporate formalities include:

  • Issuing stock certificates
  • Holding annual meetings
  • Recording the minutes of the meetings
  • Electing directors or ratifying the status of existing directors

While there are lots of books and information on the internet, corporations should always be assisted by a qualified attorney. If you don’t follow all the steps and procedures you are at risk of losing your liability protection and that’s why you want a corporation

Sub Chapter S Corporation (Inc. or Ltd.)
This structure is identical to the C Corporation in many ways, but offers avoidance of double taxation. If a corporation qualifies for S status with the IRS, it is taxed like a partnership; the corporation is not taxed, but the income flows through to shareholders who report the income on their individual returns.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)
The LLC is generally considered advantageous because it combines the limited personal liability feature of a corporation with the tax advantages of a partnership and sole proprietorship. Profits and losses can be passed through the company to its members or the LLC can elect to be taxed like a corporation. LLCs do not have stock and are not required to observe corporate formalities. Owners are called members, and the LLC is managed by these members or by appointed managers. Each state will have it’s own set of LLC statutes so be sure to review them against the corporation to see which one is best for you.

Keep in mind that all of the different structures have their individual pros and cons. Regardless of which one you choose, you get to write off all of your expenses (just like a sole proprietorship or partnership) and are not likely to save any more money on taxes by choosing one over the other. (There are occasions but not typically until you are making mid six-figures). While there is a lot of information on the internet, be sure to get legal review to be sure everything is in place.

Assumed Name
If you choose to do business as a sole proprietorship under a name other that your name personally or as a partnership you will need to do an assumed or a doing business as (DBA). This process is nothing more that filing with the county who is doing business under a business name. Every state has a different procedure but for the most part you are applying with the county and running an advertisement in the legal section of a local newspaper with this information. Figure on spending up to $75 with the ad and county fees and is a one-time charge.

Once you finish this step you will then be able to open a checking account under the business name.

Applicator License
The other license you may have to worry about is a commercial applicator license if you are using any pesticide.

The process of applying for the commercial applicator license differs by state but usually involves the department of agriculture.