When the Minimum Franchise Tax is Not the Minimum Franchise Tax

July 25, 2012, by Tamara B. Pow

Every corporation, limited liability company and limited partnership, that either forms in California or registers to do business in California must pay an annual minimum franchise tax of $800. However, I just read an article in Spidell's California Taxletter that really annoyed me (Volume 34.7, July 1, 2012, pages 75-76). The article, entitled "Midyear switch from S to C corporation means an extra $800" says that when a corporation files two short year returns for one calendar year, each return is subject to the $800 minimum tax even though the corporation is the same entity for civil law purposes. Because it is changing its tax status, it is two different entities for tax purposes and therefore must pay the minimum tax twice in one year. As a corporate and business attorney, I am sensitive to this issue since many of my clients are small businesses or partnerships in San Jose, Santa Clara and other parts of Silicon Valley, and every dollar counts when you are running a small business.

This could be an issue in many midyear circumstances, including:
• When an S corporation loses its S election
• When an LLC switches from single member to multiple member
• When an LLC switches from multiple member to single member
• When a limited partnership changes into a limited liability company
• When 50% of the ownership of a limited partnership or limited liability company changes hands
• When an LLC elects to be taxed as a corporation, or revokes such an election
• If an entity changes accounting periods resulting in two short-period returns

Although this may look reasonable on the surface of one tax return independently, when you look at both returns together this looks like double-dipping to me. If one entity has to file two tax returns for one calendar year, I think the entity should get credit in the second tax return for any minimum tax already paid for that entity for that year. However, with California's ongoing budget crisis, I know this argument will fall on deaf ears. Therefore, I applaud Spidell's California Taxletter for informing tax practitioners of this tax trap. I'm hoping California business owners, as well as out of state owners with businesses registered in California, will read this blog and avoid inadvertently paying double minimum taxes. As a California business lawyer, I will do what I can to structure deals for my clients to avoid this double tax.

Contact Structure Law Group, LLP if you need assistance with planning to avoid your business entity being subject to double taxation.

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.