Corporations are either the standard C corporation, or the small business S corporation.
The C corporation is the classic legal entity of the vast majority of successful companies in the United States. Most lawyers would agree that the C corporation is the structure that provides the best shielding from personal liability for owners, and provides the best non-tax benefits to owers. This is a separate legal entity, different from its owners, which pays its own taxes.
Most lawyers would also probably agree that for a company that has ambitions of raising major investment capital and eventually going public, the C corporation is the standard form of legal entity. The S corporation is used for family companies and smaller ownership groups. The clearest distinction from C is that the S corporation’s profits or losses go straight through to the S corporation’s owners, without being taxed separately first.
In practical terms, this means that the owners of the corporation can take their profits home without first paying the corporation’s separate tax on profits, so those profits are taxed once for the S owner, and twice for the C owner. In practical terms the C corporation doesn’t send its profits home to its owners as much as the S corporation does, because it usually has different goals and objectives. It often wants to grow and go public, or it already is public. In most states an S corporation is owned by a limited number (25 is a common maximum) of private owners, and corporations can’t hold stock in S corporations, just individuals.
Corporations can switch from C to S and back again, but not often. The IRS has strict rules for when and how those switches are made. You’ll almost always want to have your CPA and in some cases your attorney guide you through the legal requirements for switching.
For more, check out our article on How to Choose Your Business Structure.