When business owners are looking to sell or buy a new business the most common question we get is whether the transaction should be structured as an asset sale or a stock sale. The below is a brief summary of the differences between the two transaction types.
An asset sale is when a company sells substantially all of their assets in the business to a third party. Assets will include customer list, all intellectual property, and relationships with vendors, etc. It is usually negotiated whether the company or buyer will receive certain assets such as the cash, accounts receivable and accounts payable related to the business. Once the asset sale is completed the company will most often dissolve and then distribute the consideration received in the asset sale to its shareholders. Buyers most often prefer an asset sale because the company remains liable for all business activities prior to closing and except for a few items (such as sales taxes or other liabilities the buyer agrees to assume) that liability cannot be transferred to buyer. Buyers also prefer the tax treatment they receive from an asset sale because they can depreciate or amortize the purchase price they paid for the assets based on how the purchase price is allocated to the assets. An asset sale could cause higher taxes to seller because the allocation of the purchase price to certain assets, such as equipment, real estate and accounts receivable could be taxed at higher ordinary income rates or depreciation recapture rates (compared to capital gain rates). These tax possibilities should be analyzed before seller agrees to structure the transaction as an asset sale. One big consideration on whether or not an asset sale structure will work is the assignability of the company’s major contracts. If those contracts cannot be assigned without undue hardship then an asset sale should not be the choice for the transaction structure.
A stock sale is where the shareholders of a company sell all of their stock in the company to a third party. A seller most often prefers a stock sale because the company the shareholders are selling remains liable for all pre-closing business activities but since they are no longer shareholders that ultimate liability falls on the new owners. Buyers will often mitigate this risk in the stock purchase agreement by requiring indemnification by the selling shareholders for certain pre-closing liabilities. This is often times a major negotiating point between buyer and the selling shareholders. Sellers also prefer the simpler capital gain tax treatment they will receive in the stock sale. The company’s major contracts still have to be reviewed to make sure there is no change of control provision that could trigger a default but in general there are less issues with contracts to deal with when the transaction is structured as a stock sale.
Stay tuned for a future blog on a tax election that can be made that can combine the liability benefits of the stock sale for the seller with the tax benefits of an asset sale to the buyer.
ShuffieldLowman’s four downtown offices are located in Orlando, Tavares, DeLand and Daytona Beach. The firm is a 34 attorney, full service, business law firm, practicing in the areas of corporate law, estate planning, real estate and litigation. Specific areas include, tax law, securities, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, estate planning and probate, planning for families with closely held businesses, guardianship and elder law, tax controversy – Federal and State, non-profit organization law, banking and finance, land use and government law, commercial and civil litigation, fiduciary litigation, construction law, association law, bankruptcy and creditors’ rights, labor and employment, environmental law and mediation.
There is an inherent risk of liability that goes along with property ownership. You as a property owner could potentially be subject to tort claims stemming from activities that occur on the land. If the property were held in your individual name or in the name of your Revocable Trust at the time a tort claim was made and the claim resulted in a judgment against you or your trust, your personal assets, or the assets of your Revocable Trust, could be attached to satisfy the judgment. However, if the property is held in a separate LLC, only the property held in the LLC can be used to satisfy the judgment. This restructuring is advantageous to you because it would give you maximum protection for your personal assets.
This structure maximizes the asset protection for Corporations as well, because any judgment against one piece of real estate could only be satisfied by that piece of real estate and not the assets of corporation or the other pieces of real estate since they are in separate LLC’s.
Having each piece of real property in a separate LLC has advantages from a business standpoint in that it makes it simpler to bring in a developer as an owner of the real estate. Bringing in a developer as an owner when the real estate is held by an S corporation is difficult because an S corporation can only be owned by certain individuals and trusts, whereas most developers will be some form of business entity. However, any business entity can be a member in an LLC, and by having each piece of real estate in a separate LLC, you can bring in a developer as a member for just the one piece of property. Also, if you do bring a developer in on a joint venture, by the real estate being in an LLC, you have the flexibility to provide different allocations of distributions and taxes between you and the joint venture partner. This flexibility would not be available if the real estate was held in an S Corporation. Finally, when you decide to sell the real property you can sell the entity rather than selling the actual real property.
Each piece of real property in a separate LLC has advantages from an Estate Planning standpoint in that it makes it simple to transfer ownership. The ownership of real estate held by an LLC is represented proportionately by a member’s shares of an LLC. Rather than filing a new deed, members can transfer ownership of the property to their children by simply issuing them membership interest in the LLC. This makes gifting away interest in the real estate very simple to do. Also, it is easier to gift interest in an LLC than it is to gift away stock in an S Corporation, because an LLC has no restrictions on who can be an interest holder whereas there are limits who can be a holder of stock in an S Corporation. Therefore, each gift of stock out of the S Corporation would have to be analyzed to ensure it was going to an eligible S Corporation shareholder.
For Real Property currently held in your individual name or in your Revocable Trust, we suggest creating a single member limited liability company (LLC) for each parcel of real estate you currently hold. A LLC holding company should be created to be the single member of each of the LLC’s holding the real estate. You or your trust would be the sole member of the LLC holding company. You would still maintain control of each LLC holding the real estate because the holding company is the sole member of each LLC and you would be the manager of the holding company.
For Real Property currently being held in the name of a Corporation, we recommend creating a single member LLC for each piece of real estate and then having the Corporation contribute the real estate to the individual LLC in exchange for ownership interest in the LLC.
Any real estate that you acquire in the future should be held in a separate LLC with the LLC holding company as its sole member. Because of the business and estate planning advantages a LLC has over a S corporation, it is best to never acquire any real estate in a S corporation.
How the SEC Lifting the Ban on General Solicitation for Certain Private Offerings Opens up Additional Source of Capital for Small Businesses
Small businesses in recent years have been dealing with very tight lending markets that have affected their ability to grow or in the case of startup businesses develop at all. Another alternative to bank financing for these small businesses is raising capital through a private investment offering. However, until recently this may have been a difficult process for small businesses because of the ban on being able to solicit and advertise a private investment offering which left the small business owner only able to look for capital from their family and friends. Congress recognized the issues small businesses were facing with regard to raising capital and in April of 2012 passed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (the “JOBS Act”). The JOBS Act directed the SEC to amend its rules within 90 days of the act to remove the prohibition on general solicitation and general advertising in securities offerings conducted pursuant to rule 506. These rules were finalized in July 2013. The newly adopted rule adds a new and separate exemption, Rule 506(c), which is available to an issuer that wants to use general solicitation and advertising to offer securities that are ultimately sold to accredited investors. For individuals, accredited investors are defined as persons whose net worth exceeds $1,000,000 (not including any equity in the individual’s primary residence) or whose income exceeds $200,000 per year (or $300,000 for joint income with spouse) in each of the past two (2) years. The newly adopted rules do require that an issuer take “reasonable steps” to verify that a purchaser of its securities is an accredited investor. Reasonable steps would include reviewing financial statements and tax returns of the investor to confirm accredited investor status. If an issuer chooses to use the Rule 506(c) exemption no non-accredited investors could invest in the offering.
Rule 506(c) presents a new offering exemption but it is important to note that the current 506 offering exemption remains in place. Therefore, if an issuer does not need to generally solicit and advertise the issuer can sell to an unlimited number of accredited investors without the “reasonable steps” verification process and up to 35 non-accredited investors.
If you are a small business in need of capital or an entrepreneur looking for capital to start a new business please contact us to explore the possibilities of raising capital using this new private offering exemption or under the current 506 offering exemption. Given the newness of the JOBS Act and the new 506(c) offering exemption there will be continuing amendments made to the rules so it is very important to discuss the possibility of any offering with a qualified securities attorney.