Category Archives: LLCs

Options Or Profits Interests For Key Employees of LLCs?

Co-Authored By: Steve Poulathas & Mark Roderick

You own an LLC and want to compensate key contributors with some kind of equity. Do you give them an equity interest in the Company today or an option acquire an equity interest in the future?

Before we get to that question:

  • Make sure that equity is the right answer for this particular employee. It’s great for key contributors to have a stake in the company, but if this particular employee is your CMO, a cash commission on sales might make more sense because it provides a more targeted incentive.
  • Make sure you’re giving the employee equity in the right business unit. If you operate a Crowdfunding platform, for example, and want to incentivize an IT guy, maybe the IT should be held in a separate entity and licensed to the operating company.
  • To dispel some confusion, a limited liability company can issue options. In fact, here’s a Stock Incentive Plan drafted for a limited liability company. The only thing a limited liability company can’t do is offer “incentive stock options,” otherwise known as ISOs, which provide special tax benefits to employees but are also subject to lots of rules.

Okay, equity is the right answer for this particular employee and you’re giving her equity in the right company. Now, what kind of equity?

There are lots of flavors of equity. These are the three you’re most likely to consider:

  • Outright Grant of Equity: Your employee will become a full owner right away, sharing in the current value of the business, possibly subject to a vesting period.
  • Profits Interest: Your employee will become a full owner right away, but economically will share only in the future appreciation of the Company, not the current value.
  • Option: Your employee won’t become an owner right away, but will have the right to buy an interest in the future based on today’s value – again allowing her to share in future appreciation but not current value.

In making your choice, there are three primary factors:

  • Economics: How much value are you trying to transfer to your employee, and when?
  • Messiness of Ownership Interests: If your employee becomes an owner of the business, even an owner subject to vesting and/or an owner whose economic rights are limited to future appreciation, you have to treat her as an owner. You have to give her information, you have to return her email when she asks (as an owner) why your salary is so high and why your husband is on the payroll, you have to send her a K-1 every year, and so forth.
  • Taxes: For better or worse (mostly worse), tax considerations are the principal driver behind many executive compensation decisions, a great example of the tail wagging the dog. If you thought the JOBS Act was hard to follow, take a look at section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code!

So here’s where we come out.

An outright grant of equity might be a good choice for a real startup assembling a team to get off the ground, as long as there is little or no value. By definition the founder isn’t giving up much economically, and the outright grant achieves a great tax result for the employee, namely capital gain rates on exit. The main downside is that the employee is a real owner, entitled to information, etc. But that’s not the end of the world, especially if the employee is in the nature of a co-founder.

(If your company already has value, then you’re giving something away, by definition, and your employee has to pay tax.)

A profits interest is just like an outright grant except for the economics:  there is no immediate transfer of value. But the tax treatment is the same (no deduction for the company, capital gain at exit for the employee) and the employee is a full owner right away.

An option is economically very similar to a profits interest, because the employee shares only in future appreciation, not current value (for tax reasons, the option exercise price can’t be lower than the current value). But otherwise they’re the opposite. The employee isn’t treated as an owner until she exercises the option. And upon exercise, she recognizes ordinary income, not capital gain, while the company gets a deduction.

For a company with just a few key contributors a profits interest isn’t bad. You give your employees a great tax result and what the heck, what are a few more owners among close friends? But for a company with more than a few key contributors the option is better only because it’s so much easier to keep a tighter cap table. And while the tax treatment of the employee isn’t as favorable, I’ve never seen an employee refuse an option for that reason.

Improving Legal Documents in Crowdfunding: New Tax Audit Language for Operation Agreements

 

By: Steve Poulathas & Mark Roderick 

Last year I reported that Congress had changed the rules governing tax audits of limited liability companies and other entities that are treated as partnerships for tax purposes. The changes don’t become effective until tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2018, but because most LLCs created today will still be around in 2018, it’s a good idea to anticipate the changes in your Operating Agreements today.

Under the current rules, the IRS conducts audits of LLCs at the entity level through a “tax matters partner” (normally the Manager of the LLC), and collects taxes from the individual members. Under the new rules, the IRS will continue to conduct audits at the entity level, but will also collect taxes, interest, and penalties at the entity level. That puts the LLC in the position of paying the personal tax obligations of its members, a drain on cash flow every deal sponsor will want to avoid.

Naturally, there are exceptions to the new rules and exceptions to the exceptions. Trouble sleeping? I’ll send you a detailed summary.

Consult with your own tax advisors, of course, here’s some language for your Operating Agreements that gives the deal sponsor maximum flexibility:

Tax Matters.

  1. Appointment. The Manager shall serve as the “Tax Representative” of the Company for purposes of this section 1. The Tax Representative shall have the authority of both (i) a “tax matters partner” under Code section 6231 before it was amended by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (the “BBA”), and (ii) the “partnership representative” under Code section 6223(a) after it was amended.
  2. Tax Examinations and Audits. At the expense of the Company, the Tax Representative shall represent the Company in connection with all examinations of the Company’s affairs by the Internal Revenue Service and state taxing authorities (each, a “Taxing Authority”), including resulting administrative and judicial proceedings, and is authorized to engage accountants, attorneys, and other professionals in connection with such matters. No Member will act independently with respect to tax audits or tax litigation of the Company, unless previously authorized to do so in writing by the Tax Representative, which authorization may be withheld by the Tax Representative in his, her, or its sole and absolute discretion. The Tax Representative shall have sole discretion to determine whether the Company (either on its own behalf or on behalf of the Members) will contest or continue to contest any tax deficiencies assessed or proposed to be assessed by any Taxing Authority, recognizing that the decisions of the Tax Representative may be binding upon all of the Members.
  3. Tax Elections and Deficiencies. Except as otherwise provided in this Agreement, the Tax Representative, in his, her, or its sole discretion, shall have the right to make on behalf of the Company any and all elections under the Internal Revenue Code or provisions of State tax law. Without limiting the previous sentence, the Tax Representative, in his, her, or its sole discretion, shall have the right to make any and all elections and to take any actions that are available to be made or taken by the “partnership representative” or the Company under the BBA, including but not limited to an election under Code section 6226 as amended by the BBA, and the Members shall take such actions requested by the Tax Representative. To the extent that the Tax Representative does not make an election under Code section 6221(b) or Code section 6226 (each as amended by the BBA), the Company shall use commercially reasonable efforts to (i) make any modifications available under Code section 6225(c)(3), (4), and (5), as amended by the BBA, and (ii) if requested by a Member, provide to such Member information allowing such Member to file an amended federal income tax return, as described in Code section 6225(c)(2) as amended by the BBA, to the extent such amended return and payment of any related federal income taxes would reduce any taxes payable by the Company.
  4. Deficiencies. Any deficiency for taxes imposed on any Member (including penalties, additions to tax or interest imposed with respect to such taxes and any taxes imposed pursuant to Code section 6226 as amended by the BBA) will be paid by such Member and if required to be paid (and actually paid) by the Company, may  be recovered by the Company from such Member (i) by withholding from such Member any distributions otherwise due to such Member, or (ii) on demand. Similarly, if, by reason of changes in the interests of the Members in the Company, the Company, or any Member (or former Member) is required to pay any taxes (including penalties, additions to tax or interest imposed with respect to such taxes) that should properly be the obligation of another Member (or former Member), then the Member (or former Member) properly responsible for such taxes shall promptly reimburse the Company or Member who satisfied the audit obligation.
  5. Tax Returns. At the expense of the Company, the Tax Representative shall use commercially reasonable efforts to cause the preparation and timely filing (including extensions) of all tax returns required to be filed by the Company pursuant to the Code as well as all other required tax returns in each jurisdiction in which the Company is required to file returns. As soon as reasonably possible after the end of each taxable year of the Company, the Tax Representative will cause to be delivered to each person who was a Member at any time during such taxable year, IRS Schedule K-1 to Form 1065 and such other information with respect to the Company as may be necessary for the preparation of such person’s federal, state, and local income tax returns for such taxable year.
  6. Consistent Treatment of Tax Items. No Member shall treat any Company Tax Item inconsistently on such Member’s Federal, State, foreign or other income tax return with the treatment of such Company Tax Item on the Company’s tax return. For these purposes, the term “Company Tax Item” means any item of the Company of income, loss, deduction, credit, or otherwise reported (or not reported) on the Company’s tax returns.

Questions? Let us know.

 

Steve Poulathas is member of Flaster Greenberg’s Taxation, Business and Corporate, Trusts and Estates and Employee Benefits Practice Groups. He counsels and represents individuals, family-owned businesses and public companies in the tax, business and finance, and estate practices. He can be reached at 856.382.2255 or steve.poulathas@flastergreenberg.com.

 

 

Mark Roderick is one of the leading Crowdfunding lawyers in the United States. He represents platforms, portals, issuers, and others throughout the industry. For more information on Crowdfunding, including news, updates and links to important information pertaining to the JOBS Act and how Crowdfunding may affect your business, follow Mark’s blog, or his twitter handle: @CrowdfundAttny. He can also be reached at 856.661.2265 or mark.roderick@flastergreenberg.com.

 

Improving Legal Documents in Crowdfunding: New IRS Audit Rules

In the Crowdfunding world, almost every equity investment involves a limited limited liability company. Because (1) limited liability companies are treated as partnerships for tax purposes, and (2) Congress has just turned the law governing tax audits of partnerships on its head, all those LLCs will need to revise their Operating Agreements. And all new LLCs will have to follow suit.

Until now, tax disputes involving partnership were conducted at the partner level. That means the IRS had to pursue partners individually, based on each partner’s personal tax situation. With its budget cut and manpower reduced, the IRS was unable to pursue everybody.

Seeking to streamline partnership audits and ultimately collect more taxes, the (bipartisan) law just passed reverses that rule.  Now, the IRS conducts audits at the partnership level and no longer has to argue with all those partners and their accountants. In fact, even though partnerships are not normally subject to tax, under the new law the partnership itself must pay any tax deficiency arising from the audit, unless it makes a special election.

EXAMPLE: NewCo, LLC owns an apartment building. The IRS decides NewCo used the wrong method of depreciation, and adds $1 million to NewCo’s taxable income. Under the new law, NewCo itself is liable for tax on $1 million, calculated at the highest possible tax rate. However, NewCo may elect to make its members personally liable instead.

Under old law, every partnership had a “tax matters partner” with broad administrative responsibilities. The new law creates a much more powerful position, the “partnership representative,” with the power to bind the partnership and all of its partners on tax matters. The partnership representative doesn’t even have to be a partner, just a person or entity with a substantial U.S. presence:  an accounting firm, for example.

The law becomes effective in 2018. Between now and then, all existing limited liability companies should revise their Operating Agreements to:

  • Provide whether taxes due as a result of tax return audit will be paid at the partnership or partner level
  • If the tax is paid at the partnership level, how the economic cost will be shared by the partners
  • Designate a partnership representative
  • Describe the duties and powers of the taxpayer representative, within the statutory limits
  • Describe the obligations of the partnership and partners to share tax-related information

Obviously, all new limited liability companies should deal with those issues at the outset.

Questions? Let me know.

You Can Use Subsidiaries Without Violating the 100 Investor Rule

crowdfunding_investorEveryone knows the “100 investor rule” is a thorn in the side of Crowdfunding portals. The good news is you can still use subsidiaries to protect yourself from liability.

The basics of the 100 investor rule:

  • A company engaged in the business of investing in securities is an “investment company” and subject to burdensome regulation under the Investment Act of 1940.
  • A “special purpose vehicle” formed by a portal to invest in a portfolio company is engaged in the business of investing in securities.
  • There’s an exception: if the SPV has no more than 100 investors, it’s not an investment company.

Today, most deals on Crowdfunding portals are funded with fewer than 100 investors and qualify for the exception. But that’s because most Crowdfunding deals are still small, i.e., less than $2 million. As the deals get bigger and, most important, as we start to see pools of assets rather than individual assets, SPVs will no longer be available. Already, they’re not available for Regulation A+ deals.

In the absence of an SPV, investors will be admitted directly to the issuer’s cap table. But what if the issuer owns one or more subsidiaries? Will the issuer itself be disqualified as an investment company?

Here’s an example. Suppose NewCo is raising $25 million to acquire 10 properties, and we expect 1,000 investors. We’d like to put each property in a separate subsidiary because (1) we might want to finance them separately, and (2) we don’t want the liabilities arising from one property to leak into another property. But would that make NewCo an investment company, holding the stock (securities) of 10 subsidiaries?

Fortunately, the answer is No.

For purposes of deciding whether NewCo is an investment company, the rule is that you ignore securities issued by any company that NewCo controls, as long as the company itself is not an investment company.

That means NewCo can put Business #1 in Subsidiary #1, Business #2 in Subsidiary #2, and so on and so forth, without becoming an investment company. Most likely, NewCo will hold each property in a separate limited liability company, serving as the manager of each.

Don’t fool around with investment company issues. A company that becomes an investment company without knowing it can face a world of trouble, including having all its contracts invalidated.

Questions? Let me know.

 

C Corp vs. LLC: What’s the Right Choice?

Ryan Feit, the CEO of SeedInvest, just published a great piece in Inc. Magazine about the pressure some entrepreneurs feel from venture funds to convert from a limited liability company to a C corporation. Ryan points out that the tax cost associated with a C corporation often makes the LLC the better choice.

It’s a question I’m asked all the time. And like Ryan, I normally come out on the side of the LLC for Crowdfunding companies, at least so far.

To flesh out the issue, I’ve written an online pamphlet describing the main characteristics I’m thinking about when I recommend LLC or C corporation. If you want to understand why corporate lawyers seem so isolated at social gatherings, take a look.

Choosing the Right Legal Entity Flyer

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

THE SERIES LLC

Series LLCI bought the iPhone 6 and get a chill using ApplePay. I was one of the earliest adapters of the limited liability company, way back when. I like new, useful things. But I don’t like the “series LLC” all that much.

A series LLC is a regular limited liability company with compartments inside, like a room divided into cubicles. Each compartment is called a “series.” By law, the assets and liabilities of each series stand by themselves, meaning that the creditors of one series cannot get at the assets of a different series. The series LLC was first adopted in Delaware, naturally, but has now been adopted by a handful of other states, including Texas and Nevada.

The series LLC was supposed to make life simpler. For example, a real estate developer with five projects could form just one LLC and divide it into five series, each with different assets, liabilities, and even owners. The developer would pay to form only one entity, pay only one annual registration fee, file only one tax return, etc.

The state tax authorities threw the first wrench into the gears by declaring that each series would be treated as a separate entity for franchise tax purposes.

But the real problem with the series LLC is that nobody knows whether it will work if challenged in court, especially in a bankruptcy court. If one series incurs a liability, will a bankruptcy court respect the state LLC statute saying that creditors can’t get to the assets of another series? A bankruptcy court is supposed to respect state property laws but. . . .the truth is nobody really knows.

Until that critical question is answered by a court, I can’t recommend using a series LLC. They’re convenient, but the convenience comes with too much risk for my taste.

I bought the iPhone 6, not the 6 plus.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

CHOOSING AND PROTECTING A NAME FOR YOUR CROWDFUNDING BUSINESS

Names matter, even for a local business, but they matter a great deal for a Crowdfunding business, where your customers know you only from a distance.

Generally speaking you can choose three kinds of names:

  • A name that describes what you do, e.g., Real Estate Crowdfunding Portal, LLC.
  • A name with no inherent meaning, e.g., Xeta, LLC.
  • A name somewhere in between, e.g., Lifelong Investments, LLC.

Each category has advantages and disadvantages:

  • A name that describes what you do…well, it describes what you do. When a consumer sees the name she knows what you’re selling. On the other hand, a name that describes what you do is often not very memorable.
  • The strongest names are those that start out with no inherent meaning. Amazon, Starbucks, E-Bay. When consumers think of Amazon they think about the gigantic online retailer, nothing else. The name is worth a billion dollars! On the other hand, Amazon had to spend more than a billion marketing dollars to give meaning to a name that otherwise belonged to a river.
  • A name somewhere in between is somewhere in between. It might be sexier than a name that is merely descriptive and require a lot less marketing fuel than a name with no meaning, but with the associated disadvantages as well.

In the Crowdfunding industry to date, most portals have chosen the more descriptive over the more powerful. Poliwogg is an exception. Fundrise might be another.

With two well-known Crowdfunding companies – Crowdentials and VerifyInvestors – we see two different approaches to choosing a name. And we can’t say for certain whether one is better than the other. That will depend on what each company does with its name.

Having chosen a name, how do you protect it?

To start with, a business acquires “common law” rights to a name merely by using it, without filing anything with the government and without involving lawyers. If another real estate Crowdfunding portal tried to use the Fundrise name today they couldn’t do it, even if the Miller brothers had never done anything to protect their name (they have).

Contrary to common belief, merely registering a company name with the state by forming a corporation or other entity provides no real protection. State filings are simply a matter of bureaucracy – the state wants to make sure that no two names are confusingly similar on its own records.

For the best protection, however, the business owner should obtain a Federal trademark from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A Federal registration provides important benefits, including:

  • The registration constitutes “constructive notice” to all later users in all locations.
  • The registration permits the owner to get an injunction against a trademark infringer and sue for damages, including profits, costs, treble damages and attorneys fees.
  • The registration can strengthen the value of the name as a corporate asset.
  • The registration demonstrates your right to use the name to the owners of other websites, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, which are often called on to “officiate” disputes over names.

The trademark application process normally takes about a year, assuming no significant problems. Once granted, a trademark registration can last forever if continuously used and renewed.

NOTE: Not every name can be trademarked. A name like “Real Estate Crowdfunding Portal,” which merely describes the product or service, probably cannot be registered by itself. But it might be registered with a distinctive logo.

Finally, don’t forget to acquire the domain name.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

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