Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

What Is a Sole Proprietor?

Small Business Owner

Sole proprietors own their own unincorporated business. Businesses are unincorporated when they have not been registered with the state. This business type differs from legal entities like limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations.

Sole proprietorships appeal to self-employed freelancers and independent contractors because they are low-cost and easy to set up. Still, small business owners should be aware of some risks before they start.

Form your LLC with confidence. Our trusted partner LegalZoom has packages starting at $0 + filing fees.

Key Takeaways

  • A sole proprietor is someone who owns an unincorporated business.
  • Sole proprietorships form when the owner names their business and obtains the necessary licenses and permits required in their state.
  • Sole proprietors can invest in individual retirement accounts and pensions that may reduce their tax burden.
  • Sole proprietorships can be risky because they do not shield the owner from personal liability for their business debts.

Understanding Sole Proprietors

If someone owns a startup but has not filed any paperwork with the state where they do business, there is a good chance they are a sole proprietor. This type of business entity differs from LLCs and corporations, which require the business owner to register their business with the state.

The sole proprietor owns the business and anything owned by the business. However, the sole proprietor is also responsible for any debts or obligations brought on by their business activity.

Establishing Sole Proprietorships

Starting a sole proprietorship is as easy as obtaining the necessary business licenses, securing permits, and deciding on a name for the business.

Different businesses require different types of permits and licenses. A sole proprietor is responsible for obtaining all necessary licenses and permits for the business from their state and federal governments.

Most states require the owner of a sole proprietorship to register a business name. This is called "doing business as" (DBA). New business owners should confirm that their DBA isn't already taken by another business. This will not be a problem if using their own name. However, if using a made-up name, they will need to register both that name and their legal name.

Owners can check the availability of their chosen DBA by referring to records stored with their county clerk, secretary of state, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's trademark search tool.

Startup owners with both a DBA and federal tax I.D. number, also known as an Employer Identification Number (EIN), can open a business bank account.

Tax Advantages of a Sole Proprietorship

Sole proprietors face an income tax on all profits of their business, but can deduct any losses. An owner's tax rate depends on their income. This means the sole proprietorship itself is not subject to taxation in the same manner as a corporation is.

Additionally, sole proprietors are allowed to deduct up to 20% of most types of business income on their personal federal income tax returns. Finally, owners can elect to contribute a portion of their business income to an individual retirement account (IRA) or pension fund. This allows owners to withdraw this money later when they may be in a lower tax bracket.

Disadvantages of a Sole Proprietorship

Debts brought on by business activity can put the sole proprietor's personal assets at risk. For example, suppose a sole proprietor's business falls into debt. In that case, creditors can force them to sell their personal property to satisfy the business's obligations. This differs from other business types like LLCs and corporations, which are considered separate legal entities from their owners and offer more risk protection for individual owners.

Answering Your Legal Questions

Setting up your sole proprietorship is quick and easy. But what then? New business owners often have questions about DBAs, tax filing, and risk aversion. In these instances, it's best to contact a business lawyer who can help set up the right business structure for you.

Related Resources

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

I'd Like Help From a Lawyer

Contact a qualified business attorney to help you navigate the process of starting a business.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

I'd Like a Do-It-Yourself Solution

FindLaw will earn a commission if you purchase business formation products through these affiliate links.

Meet FindLaw's trusted partner LegalZoom, the #1 online business formation provider

Kickstart your LLC in minutes!

Join the millions who launched their businesses with LegalZoom.

LLC plans start at $0 + state fees.

Prefer to work with a lawyer?

Find one right now.

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options