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Buying a business is an exciting time. You’re sure to feel the promise of new success; however, don’t let that rush of adrenaline get the best of you. When you invest in a business, remember to keep your head in order to protect your investment.
How You Buy
You have two primary options for buying a business. The simplest way is to just buy all of the company’s stock. If you’re interested in a corporation, all you have to do is purchase 100% of the current owner’s stock. Presto! You now own the corporation.
The other option is to purchase the company’s assets, which can be more complicated. If the business you’re interested in is a sole proprietorship or a single-member LLC (that is taxed as a proprietorship), then stocks are not an option; you will buy assets. However, you can also buy assets when purchasing a corporation. Hint: See the tips below for why you may want to do this.
The big advantage to an asset purchase is that the money you invest increases the basis of the individual assets. What this means for you is that you can depreciate them and eventually recover the investment cost. Any premium you pay that’s in excess of the assets’ value can also be deducted.
Your Purchase Affects Your Taxes
One thing to keep in mind is that you usually have multiple options for purchasing. And, each decision you make regarding your business will affect your taxes. So, make sure you understand these two things:
- Making an Asset Purchase—If you purchase a corporation through stocks, your investment money goes towards basis in the stock. This means you don’t own the company’s assets; the corporation does. However, this is not the best situation for you because you cannot depreciate the stock. The only tax benefit you will get from stock is when you sell it. Furthermore, the corporation’s assets will already have a depreciation schedule.
- Making Use of Your Depreciation—What you can do instead, to help recover the cost of your investment, is make a hybrid purchase. However, a hybrid purchase is a complicated process, and you will need your tax advisor and an attorney to assist you along the way. Basically, a corporation you already own, or a corporation you form, buys the stock of an S corporation. The difference is you will then treat the purchase like an asset purchase for tax purposes. You will set up the basis of the assets, as normal.
After purchasing the S corporation’s stock, you’ll have to sign an IRS Form 8023. Just keep in mind that all stockholders will need to sign the form. This includes those of the buyer, the seller, and (if you live in a state with community property laws) the stockholders’ spouses.
Issues When Purchasing Stocks
A primary concern when purchasing stocks is protecting yourself from liability, both future and past. If you go the stock purchase route, you could be liable for any problems caused by the previous owner. That’s right—you just bought the history of the company. That means any past grievances brought up by employees and any product issues brought up by consumers can be stacked up against you, and the victims have a right to sue you.
To avoid these situations, make sure you address them in your stock purchase contract. The seller should agree to pay all past debts and taxes. Also, make sure the seller includes language to indemnify you from lawsuits that arise from the time period of previous ownership. Of course, this does not stop people from suing you. They still can. What the contract ensures is that you can then get the previous owner to pay any costs incurred under this liability.
Things to Consider When Purchasing Assets
When you purchase assets, it means you are buying each bit of the company separately. You buy the name, the property, the inventory, etc. During this process, you may have to deal with third parties, which can be a headache. Third party transactions can also end up costing you additional money. Make sure you’re away of the details, including whether you will have to substitute your name on future documents, before signing the final contract.
On a positive note, asset purchase differs from buying stock in that you are free from past liabilities of the business. You buy the business’s parts, not the entity itself. The benefit of this is that any issues arising from past ownership stay with the previous owner; they are not your responsibility. Just play it smart; antifraud laws can protect creditors. You may be at risk for accepting liability in the following cases:
- You specifically agree to take on past liabilities;
- The sale is made as a “de facto” merger;
- Your official status is a “continuation” of the previous owner’s business;
- The purpose of the sale is to evade liability;
- The product you manufacture is the same as the seller did.
If one of these situations applies, be sure to made release of liabilities a part of the contract. Just as with a stock purchase, the seller should agree to indemnify you from lawsuits and pay accumulated debts.
Understanding the Seller’s Incentives
Of course, your business purchase is not going to be beneficial only to you. If that were the case, the seller would not go through with the deal. The best transactions are those that are mutually beneficial. So, what exactly is the seller looking for?
Sellers are looking to make capital gains rather than ordinary gains (those from the operation of the business). The capital gains are taxed at a lower rate, which means the seller benefits when the sale can be classified as such. With a sale of assets, the seller ends up with a mix of gains from income and capital (including losses).
This doesn’t mean a seller won’t negotiate with you on the type of sale, but they will probably raise the price to cover their losses. One situation in which the seller’s return may be negatively affected is the hybrid corporation sale method. If you find yourself in the position of seller, you should check with your attorney and your tax advisor about what tax rates will apply (especially if you face a gains tax from previously operating as a C corporation).
Remember that with the new Obamacare tax (3.8 percent on net investment income), your stock and asset sales will be taxed. If you operate as a C corporation, you cannot avoid this. As an S corporation, you may be able to reduce this tax in the case that the income was active rather than passive.
Protection from Future Liability
Just as you want to protect yourself from past liability, the seller wants to be protected from future liability at the hands of your ownership. For this reason, the stock purchase is usually the preferred method for a seller. It means you have taken over responsibility for the company as an entity.
Whether buying or selling, consider the benefits of each purchase type. Gaining an understanding of the options helps to protect your investments and protect you from undue liability. Remember, always have a professional look over the contracts with you.
- See Rev. Rul. 99-5, Situation 1 for LLCs. ↑
- The amount is generally considered a goodwill amount, which you amortize over 15 years. IRC Section 197(a); (d)(1). ↑
- IRC Section 338(h)(10). PLR 200649015. Also see Reg. Section 1.338(h)(10)-1(c)(2). ↑
- Reg. Section 1.338(h)(10)-1(c)(1); (d). ↑
- Form 8023, Elections Under Section 338 for Corporations Making Qualified Stock Purchases, Rev. February 2006. ↑
- Reg. Section 1.338(h)(10)-1(c)(3). ↑
- CCA 200847001; Dayton v Peck, Stow and Wilcox Co., 739 F.2d 690, 692 (1st Cir. 1989). ↑
- Reg. Section 1.338(h)(10)-1(d). ↑
- See this article on built-in gains. ↑
- Prop. Reg. Section 1.1411-7(a)(1). ↑