Are you looking to run a business with one or more partners in the state of North Carolina?
The simplest way to do this is to form a North Carolina general partnership, which at its core is essentially just a handshake agreement between two (or more) people to operate a business together.
General partnerships are just one of several ways for multiple people to co-own a business, so in this guide we’ll describe how the general partnership compares to some other more formal business structures in North Carolina.
What Is a General Partnership?
At its core, the general partnership bears the most similarities with the sole proprietorship. Both are unincorporated business entities that are viewed as extensions of their owners as people, rather than as separate legal entities. General partnerships often don’t even have business names, as they can be operated using the owners’ personal names.
Let’s take a look at two of the most important differences between general partnerships and formal business entities:
1) Taxation and Signature Requirements
Due to the lack of legal distinction between the general partnership and its owners, the “pass-through” model of taxation applies to this type of company. This means that the profits and losses of a partnership are claimed on the owners’ personal tax returns. Along those same lines, general partnership owners can sign business contracts using their own names instead of signing on behalf of the company, and customers are also welcome to write checks to the owners personally.
2) No Asset Protection
The most important distinction between general partnerships and formal business structures like corporations or limited liability companies (LLCs) is the issue of personal asset protection. In a general partnership, if your business is sued, your creditors are free to pursue your personal assets, including but not limited to your house, car, and even the contents of your personal checking account.
On the other end of the spectrum, owners of LLCs and corporations enjoy limited liability protection, which means that for the most part, creditors can only go after business assets, and the personal assets of the ownership group are left intact.
How to Become a North Carolina General Partnership
If you want to start a general partnership in the state of North Carolina, there is no formal business registration process to complete.
To form a North Carolina general partnership, you simply need to start working with your partner or partners. In addition, unlike corporations or LLCs, there aren’t any formation fees or ongoing maintenance fees associated with filings like annual reports.
While the actual legal requirements are incredibly simple, there are still some other steps that you might want to take, depending on your preferences and your goals for the company. Let’s discuss the additional steps that may or may not suit your business needs.
If you don’t want to use your personal name as your official business name, you can acquire a doing business as (DBA) name from the state of North Carolina. With a DBA, you can use an assumed name in an official capacity, which is a great way to attract customers, as most people find that a business name adds legitimacy and professionalism to a business, as opposed to simply using the owners’ own names.
With a DBA, your general partnership can also open business bank accounts using the assumed name, which is another way to increase the professional aspect of your company. After all, it looks much better to have your company name on your checks, rather than just writing checks from your personal accounts.
Those wishing to establish an assumed name with the North Carolina Secretary of State must first check the DBA name availability by searching it on the statewide database of assumed names. Each DBA must follow the state laws for assumed business names which may be reviewed here. Then, you may submit an Assumed Business Name Certificate to hold the name for a non-renewable period of 120 days. Further guidelines on selecting and claiming a business name can be found here on the state’s website.
Do you want more information on DBA registration in North Carolina? Take a look at our full article on the subject.
Register for Taxes
Other than the fact that general partnerships have more than one owner, the other major difference between a sole proprietorship and a partnership is the fact that a general partnership needs to acquire a federal tax ID number, otherwise known as an EIN.
While sole proprietors can get away with just using their personal social security number, the partnership needs an EIN because ― even though partnerships do not file business tax returns ― it needs to file an annual information return with the IRS.
In addition to the EIN, your business may need to register for state or local taxes.
The most common state-level taxes that general partnerships are required to pay include sales tax and use tax. Information on these (and a step-by-step guide to registering for them) can be found here on North Carolina’s Sales and Use Tax Information Page.
Depending on the nature of your business, if you have employees, and what goods or services it provides, you may also be required to pay privilege tax, state withholding tax, and others. For additional help determining which North Carolina taxes will apply to your General Partnership, you’ll want to create an account with North Carolina’s e-Business Center.
Determine License and Permit Requirements
The state of North Carolina does not have a general business license that all general partnerships are required to obtain. However, depending on what industry you operate in, your business may need licenses or permits to enable you to run your company in a compliant fashion.
North Carolina has close to 800 different state-level occupational and industry-specific licenses. Which ones apply to your general partnership will depend largely on the nature of your business, what kinds of products or services it provides, and where it’s located.
Occupational licenses may be necessary if you are practicing a particular profession or vocation. If you’re unsure whether you need an occupational license, you may try using the North Carolina occupational license search tool to find out.
Outside of occupational licensing, you’ll also want to look into what state-issued, industry-specific licenses apply to you. This information (and details on how to register for these licenses) is located on North Carolina’s Business and Permits page.
In addition to all state-issued licenses, local licensing and permits may also be necessary. To ensure your general partnership meets its local licensing requirements, you’ll want to locate and consult the website of the county in which your business is located.
The general partnership is a much simpler business for multiple owners than a corporation or a limited liability company.
The state of North Carolina doesn’t require any official formation for general partnerships, and they’re also not required to pay any formation fees or participate in ongoing maintenance filings like annual reports. However, the general partnership as a business structure has some serious weaknesses as well, like the lack of personal asset protection that leaves owners’ assets exposed to potential lawsuits.
We hope this article helped you determine whether you’d like to form a North Carolina general partnership, or if there’s another business type that would better suit your needs. As always, we wish you a successful business future!