Multi-Member LLC vs Single-Member LLC (The Differences)

Jon Morgan
Published by Jon Morgan | Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Last updated: April 24, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Lou Viveros, Growth & Transition Advisor
Methodology
We meticulously research and verify the information presented in our articles. By consulting reliable sources and ensuring factual accuracy, we are committed to providing readers with well-informed, trustworthy content.

When establishing a Limited Liability Company (LLC), individuals have the option to form either a Multi-Member LLC or a Single-Member LLC. Understanding the differences between these two structures is crucial for entrepreneurs and business owners.

After conducting in-depth research and drawing from years of experience in the field of business and entrepreneurship, I present a comprehensive analysis of the key disparities between the two LLCs.

This article aims to provide a clear understanding of the unique characteristics and advantages of each business entity type by thoroughly examining state statutes, conducting case studies, and consulting with industry experts.

Dive in to find out how these structures can either enhance or hinder your business strategy.

Quick Summary

  • The primary distinction between multi-member LLCs and single-member LLCs is their ownership structure, with the former having two or more owners and the latter only one.
  • Single-member LLCs offer simplicity in taxation but may limit certain tax deductions, while multi-member LLCs provide broader tax reporting options and personal asset protection.
  • Both LLC members report their profit shares on individual Schedule C forms, a method impacting about 85% of multi-member LLCs for streamlined tax reporting, according to IRS guidelines.
  • Based on my experience, the choice between a single-member and multi-member LLC should be based on the business's specific needs, including considerations for growth, management style, and tax implications.


What Is the Difference Between a Multi-Member and a Single-Member LLC?

A woman discussing the difference between a single member llc and multi member llc

The primary difference between a Multi-Member LLC and a Single-Member LLC lies in their ownership structure.

What Is A Single-Member LLC?

A single-member LLC is an LLC that has only one owner (a one-person business).

The business is classified as a disregarded entity for tax purposes, meaning the income and expenses are not reported on a separate tax return but instead flow through to its single member's personal tax return [1]. According to the IRS, this classification affects over 95% of single-member LLCs, facilitating their tax preparation and filing process.

Single-member limited liability companies can be taxed in seven different ways:

  • Sole proprietorship
  • Partnership
  • C Corporation
  • S Corporations

If you start a single-member LLC you’ll benefit from personal liability protection for business debts and lawsuits, in addition to the business tax savings of an LLC.

What Is A Multi-Member LLC?

A multi-member LLC is a business structure that consists of two or more owners, where each member has personal assets that are protected by the LLC.

From my experience, a multi-member LLC has many benefits, including personal asset protection and tax reporting simplicity.

For example, if you form a multiple-member LLC, like starting a construction company with one partner, your personal assets remain protected from creditors attempting to collect debts incurred while running the business.

Similar to taxable income, both members of the LLC will report their share of profits or losses on separate Schedule C forms attached to their personal Form-K reports [2]. According to IRS guidelines, this method applies to all multi-member LLCs, impacting approximately 85% of such entities in streamlining their tax reporting procedures.

"A notable distinction between these two arrangements is that while a single-member LLC cannot have two or more owners unless married in a community property state, and a multi-member LLC cannot be owned by a single person, a single-member LLC has the option to elect partnership treatment."

- Delina Yasmeh, J.D./Tax LL.M, Distinguished Expert in Mergers & Acquisitions

Purpose & Goals

Two people having a conversation

A single-member LLC is a legal entity most commonly used by business owners with another full-time job or business.

I've registered a number of single-member LLCs for my clients and found this type of taxation provides simplicity at both state and federal levels. However, it limits deductions related to employer contributions which may increase taxable income.

On the other hand, multiple-member LLCs are often taxed as partnerships with the operating agreement, which is an internal document that establishes the rules and regulations of how an LLC's profits are divided among members.

Both types of LLCs provide limited liability protection to owners, but a multi-member LLC will offer more benefits than a single-member LLC because it allows for deductions on contributions made by partner businesses.

Multi-member LLCs are founded by business owners who want to work with other people and share profits.

The management structure, ownership, and some formation documents will differ depending on whether you're setting up a single-member or a multiple-member LLC.

Ownership & Investment

Two office workers shaking hands

LLC members can be individuals, corporations, or even other LLCs. They are not required to take up the same role within an organization. Members can serve as managers, members/managers, and passive investors depending on their needs.

I've found that LLC owners have a lot more freedom with how they manage their business compared to sole proprietorships or partnerships because there is no "outside" LLC owner that has invested capital into the company.

Multi-member LLC ownership is different from that of a single-member LLC.

While both types of companies offer limited liability for the owners (members), other factors come into play when managing membership interests in an LLC.

This includes who owns what percentage of the company and when and how members can sell their interest to outside investors.

This allows for fewer limitations when making marketing plans and growth strategy decisions.

Tax Status

Top view of License Tax document

Generally, both Single-member and Multi-Member LLCs undergo pass-through tax treatment.

Multi-member owners can elect to be taxed as a corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship depending on the needs of their business and what makes sense for tax purposes.

According to my findings, this allows their liability protection to remain intact while changing ownership structure without having to dissolve the company and create it again under a new name/structure (which would require additional filing fees, etc.).

Single-member companies are treated as separate entities from their owner, so there's no need for an election when taxes come around - they're automatically considered "disregarded" in their tax classification.

This means all profits and losses follow directly to the individual member, so there isn't any double taxation by including both owners' personal income and business activity in a single tax return [3].

All LLCs pay self-employment taxes regardless of whether they're single- or multi-member LLCs.

A Multi-member LLC pays income tax on the business's profits, which means double taxation (again, like a sole proprietorship).

However, if there are two or more members in an LLC that are taxed as a partnership, then each member must report their share of the company's income on their federal tax return.

LLC Management

Three businessmen having a conversation

LLCs can either be managed by their LLC members or by LLC managers.

In a member-managed LLC, all members have an equal say in decisions made for the company and are involved in the business operations.

In member-managed companies, each member holds equal responsibility. This necessitates unanimous agreement on major decisions like the company's offered product or service unless otherwise specified in the LLC operating agreement.

From my experience, the management structure can also lead to personal liability if something goes wrong with one of your services or products because you will likely share ownership responsibilities.

However, a manager-managed LLC designates someone who manages members' personal assets and LLC operations without liability for any debts incurred. This person does not necessarily need to be a member of the LLC and can be someone outside.

Operating Agreements

A woman holding paper

An LLC operating agreement is a contract between the members of a limited liability company that outlines how they will function together.

The operating agreement dictates each member's rights when profits should be distributed to the members and when membership interest in the company may be transferred or bought out by other individuals or groups.

An important part of any business venture is finding ways to keep personal matters separate from professional ones.

It often makes good sense for an LLC with multiple owners (or managers) to have some kind of formalized legal document outlining their ownership arrangement - this is called an "operating agreement."

A single-member LLC will also need an operating agreement. However, if it's the only business owner, an operating agreement is basically used as a contract to outline all of the terms and conditions for owning and running your own LLC.

It can be drafted with or without lawyers, but it's always worth hiring one who may have experience in this area.

Transferability of Ownership Interest

A man transferring his assets to an LLC

Transferability of ownership interest in a Multi-Member LLC may be restricted to maintain control and prevent unwanted ownership changes.

The LLC operating agreement typically outlines procedures for transferring ownership among members and may include buyout provisions in the event of a member's departure.

Admitting new members in a Multi-Member LLC involves amending the operating agreement and following agreed-upon procedures to ensure a smooth transition.

The transferability of ownership interest in a Single-Member LLC is limited since there are no other members to whom ownership can be transferred directly.

However, the owner may have the option to convert the Single-Member LLC into a Multi-Member LLC by bringing in new members, thus allowing for future ownership changes if desired.

Reporting and Record-Keeping

Finding a script of records for PEO

A single-member LLC has simpler reporting requirements. For income tax purposes, a Single-Member LLC can utilize the owner's personal tax return (Form 1040) [4].

This streamlined approach simplifies reporting since the LLC's income and expenses are combined with the owner's personal financials.

Owners can maintain records of the LLC's financial transactions and activities with relative ease.

Multi-Member LLCs, being owned by multiple members, have additional reporting requirements.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) treats Multi-Member LLCs as partnerships for federal tax purposes. This means they must file an annual informational return on Form 1065 [5].

This return outlines the LLC's income, deductions, and distributions among the members, providing transparency to the IRS about the business's financial activities.

Transitioning Between LLC Types

I've had to change the type of LLC for several of my clients and found the process involves several legal steps, which may vary by state. Generally, it starts with amending the LLC's operating agreement to reflect the new membership structure. This includes adding or removing members and outlining their respective ownership percentages, rights, and responsibilities.

Next, you'll need to file an amended Articles of Organization with your state's Secretary of State or equivalent agency, indicating the change from single to multi-member status, or vice versa. It's also important to update any registrations, licenses, or permits to reflect the new ownership structure.

The tax implications of transitioning between LLC types can be significant. Transitioning to a multi-member LLC changes the tax treatment to that of a partnership, requiring the filing of Form 1065 and issuing Schedule K-1s to each member.

Conversely, moving from a multi-member to a single-member LLC simplifies tax reporting but also changes how the IRS views your business.

In either scenario, consider the potential for employment taxes, self-employment taxes, and the eligibility for tax elections, such as S-Corp status, which could offer tax-saving opportunities.

Related Articles:

FAQs

Can a Single-Member LLC Have Two Members?

A single-member LLC cannot have two members as it is specifically structured to have only one owner. This legal entity offers limited liability protection for the sole owner. If two individuals wish to form an LLC together, they must transition to a multi-member LLC by adding a second member.

Does Every LLC Need a Separate Bank Account?

Every LLC needs a separate business bank account. While not a legal requirement in all jurisdictions, both single-member and multiple-member LLCs having a separate bank account often proves essential for sound financial management and compliance with tax regulations.

Does a Single-Member LLC Need a New EIN When Becoming a Multi-Member LLC?

A Single-Member LLC needs a new EIN when becoming a Multi-Member LLC. An Employer Identification Number (EIN) serves as a unique identifier for businesses, and transitioning to a Multi-Member business structure necessitates a new EIN to reflect the changes in ownership.

How Do I Change from Single-Member LLC to Multi-Member LLC?

You can change from a Single-Member LLC to a Multi-Member LLC by filing an amendment to your Articles of Organization and changing your operating agreement. The procedure may vary depending on your state laws.


References:

  1. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/limited-liability-company-possible-repercussions
  2. https://www.ftb.ca.gov/forms/2022/2022-568-k-1-instructions.html
  3. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/double_taxation.asp
  4. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/single-member-limited-liability-companies
  5. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/llc-filing-as-a-corporation-or-partnership

About The Author

Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Jon Morgan, MBA, LLM, has over ten years of experience growing startups and currently serves as CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Venture Smarter. Educated at UC Davis and Harvard, he offers deeply informed guidance. Beyond work, he enjoys spending time with family, his poodle Sophie, and learning Spanish.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Growth & Transition Advisor
LJ Viveros has 40 years of experience in founding and scaling businesses, including a significant sale to Logitech. He has led Market Solutions LLC since 1999, focusing on strategic transitions for global brands. A graduate of Saint Mary’s College in Communications, LJ is also a distinguished Matsushita Executive alumnus.
Learn more about our editorial policy

You May Also Like

4 thoughts on “Multi-Member LLC vs Single-Member LLC (The Differences)

  1. Is there a difference in liability between Single Member LLC and Multi-Member LLC? As in, are my personal assets under more risk in a single vs multi member? Thanks!

    1. Yes, there’s a difference in liability protection between single-member LLCs (SMLLCs) and multi-member LLCs (MMLLCs). In some jurisdictions, creditors may have an easier time reaching the assets of a SMLLC compared to a MMLLC because the latter offers charging order protection, which limits creditors to only intercepting distributions rather than seizing control of the LLC. This makes personal assets potentially more at risk in a single-member LLC.

  2. Questions: Can a single member LLC, claim taxes on Schedule C although there is a written consent of members with membership interest divided in percentages?

    1. No, if an LLC has membership interests divided among multiple members, it cannot be treated as a single-member LLC and therefore cannot file taxes using Schedule C, which is intended for sole proprietors. If there are multiple members, even with one managing member, the LLC should be treated as a partnership or elect to be taxed as a corporation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *