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How to Determine If Your Business Is a ‘Small Business’

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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To be considered for loans and other assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration, your company would need to meet the SBA’s definition of a small business.Certain government contracts and loan programs from the SBA are reserved for small businesses. To ensure the right companies receive these opportunities, including the relatively low interest rates that come with its loan programs, the SBA enforces eligibility requirements.

The SBA’s size standard is based on employee count and average annual receipts. The current averaging period is three years, although the SBA recently proposed a rule change that would allow businesses to average revenues from the past five years. The SBA’s size standard indicates the largest size that a business could be to remain eligible for SBA loans and federal contracting programs.

“What they have is conditions on how much a business can make as far as revenue in order to qualify for an SBA-guaranteed loan,” said Kyle Bayliss, regional director of the Maryland Small Business Development Center. Across the country, SBDCs assist business owners through a partnership with the SBA.

Continue reading to find out whether your business is a small business according to SBA guidelines, and what that means for your company.

The SBA’s definition of a small business

To be classified as a small business, your company would need to meet or fall below the SBA’s maximum annual revenue or employee count. The SBA sets specific standards for individual industries, so the exact requirements would depend on the type of business you run.

The SBA outlines standards for each industry listed in the North American Industry Classification System, or NAICS. The SBA provides a lengthy table describing employee and revenue limits for each industry, organized by NAICS code. You can find the table here.

Revenue limits range from $750,000 to $38.5 million, depending on industry, and employee requirements span 100 to 1,500 employees. As long your business falls below its designated revenue or employee threshold, it could be considered a small business in the eyes of the SBA.

All workers, including those employed on a full-time, part-time and temporary basis, contribute to your overall employee count. If you acquired another business, employees from that business would also contribute to your total. The SBA takes an employee count on a 12-month basis, or counts employees for each pay period if you have not yet been in business for a full year.

The SBA’s definition of a small business incorporates companies that are far larger than the average small business seeking help from the Maryland SBDC, Bayliss said. An SBA small business may be larger than most would think. Businesses that support oil and gas operations, for instance, can have annual revenue up to $38.5 million.

Furthermore, the SBA requires that small businesses also meet the following requirements to be eligible for funding:

  • For-profit, officially registered and operating legally
  • Physically located in the U.S. and operates in the U.S. or its territories
  • Invested equity from the business owner
  • Sound business purpose
  • Ability to repay any debt

What it means to be a “small business”

Businesses that meet the SBA’s small business criteria can apply for SBA loan programs and federal contracting assistance. “The lending part of it is a really big help,” Bayliss said.

Your small business could be eligible for the following SBA-backed loans:

7(a) loan program: The SBA’s most popular program provides general-purpose loans for small business owners. You could borrow up to $5 million with repayment terms between seven and 25 years. Specialty loans within the 7(a) programs are available for certain needs like smaller loan amounts, export working capital or express time to funding.

CDC/504 loan program: Small businesses looking to acquire fixed assets, like buildings, land or machinery, can borrow funds to finance their purchase. There’s no set limit on loan size, though Certified Development Companies must administer all 504 loans. The SBA typically provides 40% of the total cost while a CDC contributes 50%. The business owner would need to provide the remaining 10%. The assets being purchased would serve as collateral on the loan.

Microloan program: For smaller funding needs, the SBA microloan program provides up to $50,000 to small businesses that have trouble qualifying for traditional business loans. Repayment terms for microloans typically max out at six years. SBA microloans are generally reserved for women, low-income, veteran and minority business owners.

SBA-designated small businesses can also apply for federal contracts through the following program:

8(a) Business Development program: The SBA limits competition for certain government contracts to small businesses that participate in the 8(a) program. The goal is to help disadvantaged businesses win valuable contracts. To be eligible for the program, an owner who is economically or socially disadvantaged must control at least 51% of the business. The owner must also have a personal net worth of $250,000 or less, $4 million or less in assets or $250,000 or less in average adjusted gross income for three years.

Additionally, business owners must show good character and potential to successfully perform. If approved for the 8(a) program, you could compete with similar businesses for sole-source contracts. You could also receive assistance such as business training, counseling or marketing help from a mentor who is also participating in the program.

The SBA 8(a) program provides a leg up for small businesses that may not otherwise win big contracts, Bayliss said. Women and minority entrepreneurs particularly benefit from this program, he said.

“Actually doing government contracting, it’s really hard, especially for small businesses,” Bayliss said.

Other benefits of meeting the SBA’s size standard

SBA-approved small businesses could have access to additional assistance, most notably resources set aside for women and veteran entrepreneurs.

For instance, the SBA’s Women-Owned Small Businesses Federal Contracting program reserves federal contracts for qualified women-owned businesses. It’s like the 8(a) program, but specifically designed to give women entrepreneurs increased access to federal contracts.

Organizations such as the National Women’s Business Council and the Association of Women’s Business Centers also provides resources and opportunities for women-owned small businesses through partnerships with the SBA. To access resources for women-owned small businesses, you would need to receive certification from the SBA. You can apply for certification here.

Eligible veteran-owned small businesses could also access training programs and specialized loans through the SBA Office of Veterans Business Development. Programs like Boots to Business and the Veteran Federal Procurement Entrepreneurship Training Program teach veterans the skills to successfully run a small business.

The SBA also guarantees loans for veterans through the SBA Veterans Advantage program. Additionally, the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program provides funding to businesses with employees who have been called to active duty.

Becoming certified for these programs could be a lengthy process. The SBA would ask you to submit information about your business, such as organizing documents, past financial statements and a business plan, as well as personal information like income statements and proof of citizenship.

As an SBA small business, you may be able to qualify for government-sponsored business grant programs as well. Both the Small Business Innovation Research Program and Small Business Technology Transfer Program are tied to the SBA, and grant recipients would likely need to meet SBA size standards.

The bottom line

The SBA provides countless resources to business owners across the country, but there’s a catch — you have to qualify as a small business according to the SBA’s standards.

Fortunately, these requirements are broad and take your specific industry into consideration. You would need to fall below the threshold of number of employees or annual revenue that the SBA sets for your industry. The limit on employees ranges from 100 to 1,500 workers, while revenue maximums range from $750,000 to $38.5 million.

If your business is within the SBA’s parameters, you could apply for a number of contracting and business loan programs. You could also receive additional resources set aside for underserved business owners, such as women and veteran entrepreneurs.

Your local small business development center could help you determine which programs your business may be eligible for and provide assistance with any applications. Be sure to calculate the correct size of your business before applying for SBA resources.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Melissa Wylie
Melissa Wylie |

Melissa Wylie is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Melissa at [email protected]

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How to Convert Your For-Profit Business into a Nonprofit

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Converting a for-profit business to a nonprofit entity could be a smart move if charity and community impact has become your focus as a business owner. But making the change requires more than applying for tax-exempt status.

The process would largely depend on your state’s laws regarding business conversions, and not every company can become a nonprofit organization without a good reason for doing so. Only certain types of businesses can turn into a tax-exempt entity, a procedure that requires filing paperwork with state organizations and the IRS.

Keep reading to learn what it takes to turn a for-profit enterprise into a nonprofit organization, and if it’s the right move for your business.

Reasons to convert a for-profit business to a nonprofit

Although there are several tax-exempt designations within the IRS’ Internal Revenue Code, most nonprofits fall under the 501(c)(3) umbrella for charitable, religious and educational organizations.

The benefits of 501(c)(3) status include exemption from federal income tax, as well as the ability to receive tax-deductible charitable donations. Organizations with the 501(c)(3) designation are also more likely to receive recognition from grant-making institutions and foundations.

Before you can be awarded tax-exempt status, you would need to meet the IRS’ criteria. Organizations may not be formed to benefit private interests, and no portion of the organization’s net earnings can benefit a private shareholder or individual. Nonprofit employees can earn a salary though.

Meeting these requirements could be difficult as a for-profit business, unless you’ve had charitable intentions from the start, said Gene Takagi, an attorney with NEO Law Group, which represents nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations.

“Consider making that conversion if the existing for-profit entity really has a goal that’s not financial…but is really all about providing a public service or public good for charitable or welfare purposes,” he said.

Here’s an example: A neighborhood store that sells the work of low-income artists started as a for-profit business to get equity investments from community members but was unable to generate substantial interest and capital. Turning the business into a nonprofit organization would allow the owners to collect philanthropic donations to keep the store open. Because the business had a charitable, community-focused intent from the start, it could be approved for tax-exempt status.

But if a business seeks 501(c)(3) status for less charitable reasons, the IRS could deny the request, Takagi said. For instance, a failing business looking to get out of tax obligations couldn’t become a nonprofit without making operational changes.

“You’re really going to have to make a good case to the IRS,” he said. “It’s got to look different than what you were doing in the past.”

Converting for-profit to nonprofit: 5 steps to follow

Nonprofits are highly scrutinized, and business owners may be faced with more regulations than they’re used to, said Brenda Asare, president and CEO of The Alford Group, a consulting firm that advises nonprofits.

“Those processes are in place to dissuade people who may want to come into this sector to take advantage of other people philanthropically,” Asare said.

To make sure you correctly convert your for-profit business to a nonprofit, here are a few steps to follow.

1. Check entity conversion laws in your state

When you form a business, you must set up a certain entity, or structure, which determines the number of owners a business can have, the owners’ personal liability and taxes the business owes. Common entities include sole proprietorships, limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations. Nonprofits are usually formed as corporations, though they are able to receive tax-exempts status.

When changing your business to a nonprofit, you would have to convert the current structure to a nonprofit corporation structure. Depending on where you live, only some entities may be eligible for conversion.

In Louisiana and California, for example, corporations, LLCs, general partnerships and limited partnerships can convert to another type of entity through the state’s Secretary of State office. On the other hand, New York does not permit statutory conversions for business entities. Instead, business owners must establish a new entity, then merge the two companies into one.

Check with your state’s Secretary of State office to make sure you would be permitted to change entities.

2. File conversion paperwork

Because nonprofits are corporations, they must be incorporated through the local Secretary of State. If your for-profit business was formed as a corporation, a conversion could be as simple as amending your incorporation documents, also known as articles of incorporation. You’d need to file incorporation forms again to make the conversion, which would typically range in cost from $50 to $150. Additionally, because a nonprofit corporation does not have ownership, as a board of directors shares responsibility of the organization, existing shareholders of the for-profit business would have to forfeit ownership.

If your business is not a corporation, you would need to file new articles of incorporation with your Secretary of State. The articles of incorporation would call for the organization’s name, the purpose of the nonprofit and a designated registered agent to receive lawsuits and correspondence on behalf of the organization.

Other requirements when forming a nonprofit corporation include appointing a board of directors to make decisions about the organization’s activities, finances and legal compliance and drafting bylaws that regulate the board’s management and activities. The board of directors would also approve your compensation as the executive director or CEO of the organization, including your salary, health insurance and paid leave.

3. Apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS

You would need to submit IRS Form 1023 to apply for tax exemption under the 501(c)(3) code. Additionally, you would need to include a statement of your receipts and expenses, a copy of your articles of incorporation, a written description of your organization’s activities and a copy of your bylaws. You may need to apply for tax exemption at the state level as well.

For instance, nonprofits in California must file Form 3500A with the California Franchise Tax Board to be exempt from state income taxes. Organizations in Texas need to file Form AP-204 with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, while nonprofits in Florida must submit Form DR-5 to the state’s Department of Revenue.

Timing is key when forming a nonprofit and requesting 501(c)(3) status, Takagi said. Make sure your organization is compliant as a nonprofit — meaning you have a charitable purpose, board members and bylaws in place — as soon as you make the entity conversion. This could help you avoid getting turned down for tax-exempt status and owing taxes to the IRS, he said.

4. Decide what to do with your business assets

After you convert a for-profit corporation to a nonprofit organization, all existing business assets would be held in a charitable trust, which means assets could only be used for the organization’s charitable purposes going forward. Intellectual property could be included as well, such as books, music or art.

You could take assets out of the business before making the conversion if you want to limit the assets that are put into the nonprofit, Takagi said. Then, any assets you decide to put into the nonprofit at a later time could be categorized as a charitable donation.

If you’re concerned about a delay in receiving tax-exempt status, you may not want to lock all of your assets in a charitable trust right away. You could form a separate nonprofit and continue running your business to maintain access to your assets, Takagi said.

“It might be more practical in some cases to not convert but run them side by side for a little while,” he said. “Then either merge or dissolve the company and then donate assets to the nonprofit at that time [when] you already know the nonprofit has 501(c)(3) status.”

5. Set up your fundraising strategy

Once you no longer run a for-profit business, you must begin collecting charitable donations to keep the operation afloat. Nonprofits need to generate a profit, despite their title, but those profits must be reinvested in the organization rather than distributed to owners and shareholders, as a business would do.

State laws regulate fundraising activities. You may be required to register with a state entity before you begin soliciting donations from local residents, and you may need to register in multiple states if your donor base crosses state lines. For example, nonprofits in North Carolina must obtain a license from the Charities Division of the Secretary of State’s office. Depending on your state, you could be required to renew your registration each year to continue legally accepting donations.

Private and public grants and individual donations are common funding avenues for nonprofits. Donors would likely want to understand the organization’s mission and target market before giving money. A misconception about the nonprofit sector is that organizations can easily secure money with few strings attached, Asare said. However, donors often scrutinize nonprofits before making a contribution.

“Nowadays, there aren’t many places you can get money without the expectation that organization is making an impact,” she said.

Donors could be suspicious of a nonprofit that was formerly a for-profit business, Asare said. Be prepared to explain how you plan to spend donations to show you’re not seeking personal financial gain.

“I think a good measure would be looking at what percentage of the dollar is going to the services and programs,” she said. “This is something donors are interested in and they will ask.”

Ongoing requirements after making the switch

After you’ve made the change from for-profit to nonprofit, you’d need to meet ongoing requirements to remain compliant as an organization. From filing certain tax forms and reports to paying particular taxes, here are some requirements to keep on your radar:

Form 990: Most tax-exempt organizations are required to file IRS Form 990 each year. Nonprofit entities must describe the organization’s activities, governance, financial information and accomplishments to justify its tax-exempt status.

Organizations that have generated at least $200,000 annually or have assets worth at least $500,000 must file Form 990 yearly, while organizations with fewer assets and a lower income can file Form 990-EZ, a shorter version of the form. Form 990-N, which is even shorter, is available to nonprofits with gross receipts of $50,000 or less.

Employment taxes: Nonprofits with employees must pay employment taxes, which include federal income tax withholding and Social Security and Medicare taxes. You could be responsible for federal unemployment tax as well.

State filings: States often require nonprofits to file reports each year. These reports could include corporate filings, financial reports, fundraising registrations and state tax-exemption forms. Failing to file annual reports with your state office could result in penalties or loss of your tax-exempt status.

The requirements for nonprofits may seem excessive, but policies are in place to ensure that organizations are honest about how the program uses donated money, Asare said. Compliance standards act as a safeguard to make sure money is going toward services and not into the pockets of the people in charge.

“The window is closing on some of that bad behavior,” she said.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Melissa Wylie
Melissa Wylie |

Melissa Wylie is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Melissa at [email protected]

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Brick-and-Mortar vs. Online Banks: Which is Better for Small Businesses?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Separating your personal and professional finances is crucial when starting a business, and changes in technology are making it more convenient to do so. Not only could you turn to traditional brick-and-mortar banks, but you could take advantage of the resources that digital banks offer.

Opening a business bank account would allow you to clearly track your income and expenses without putting your personal spending in the mix. Managing a business bank account would also help you build your credit profile — you could become eligible to open a business line of credit or credit cards connected to your account.

Whether you choose an online bank or a brick-and-mortar bank would depend on which type fits your needs as a business owner. Keep reading to find out what kind of bank would be best suited for you.

Small business banking: Brick-and-mortar vs. online banks

A key difference between traditional and online banking is the flexibility that digital banks provide, said Barry Coleman, vice president of counseling and education programs at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Small business owners could have around-the-clock access to online banking services as long as they have a device and an internet connection.

“This can certainly help busy business owners who are strapped for time by allowing them the option to bank on their schedules,” he said.

Brick-and-mortar banks

Although most brick-and-mortar banks now offer online banking features, consumers still must make some transactions in person, Coleman said, such as cash transactions that require personal identification. When opening a business checking account with Chase, for example, customers must meet with a business banker before enrolling in online and mobile programs. Still, this could be a draw for some business owners.

“Some consumers are simply more comfortable having a physical banking location where they can perform transactions and speak to banking associates in person,” Coleman said.

New business owners could also benefit from the guidance that bankers provide, said Grier Melick, business consultant at the Maryland Small Business Development Center. Establishing a personal relationship with a banker could also be beneficial if you plan to apply for a small business loan. You may have a better chance of being approved for funding if the bank already knows and trusts you.

“Oftentimes, small business owners do not know everything that they need to from a business banking perspective,” Melick said. “Having some direct human involvement can help with that.”

Online banks

Online banks have lower overhead costs than traditional banks, and those lower costs typically result in higher interest rate yields on deposits for digital banks than branch-based banks, he said. For instance, a high-yield business savings account could have an APY as high as 2% and no minimum account balance.

However, brick-and-mortar banks have the advantage of allowing customers to make cash deposits or withdrawals; an online bank typically wouldn’t offer that feature, Coleman said. Online banks sometimes belong to free ATM networks, like Allpoint, which would allow you to avoid the withdrawal fees that you’d incur at other ATMs.

Best of both worlds

It’s possible to have accounts at both types of banks, Melick said. For example, the owners of a brick-and-mortar store may start with an account at a local bank branch, then open a digital account when they decide to start selling online.

“Instead of severing ties with the bank, they could open an online account as well to handle their other revenue streams,” he said.

You could be subject to banking fees at both traditional and online banks, Coleman said. However, online banks generally charge considerably fewer fees and you may be able to avoid overdraft, monthly maintenance and ATM fees that come with a traditional bank account.

Here’s a quick look at how the two types of banks stack up.

Online banksBrick-and-mortar banks
24/7 access to accounts and banking features.Online banking features typically offered, but some transactions may have to be completed in-person during bank hours.
High-yield accounts available.Lower interest rates because of overhead costs.
Customers cannot complete in-person cash transactions or meet with bank representatives.Customers can make cash transactions, and bank representatives are available for meetings.

Digital services on the horizon for traditional banks

Online banks are growing in numbers and popularity, Coleman said. Traditional banks have taken this trend as a cue to bolster digital offerings for consumers.

“As a result, we are seeing traditional banking introduce more digital options for providing services,” he said.

The presence of digital financial technology is expanding within the financial services industry, comprising 7% of the total equity of U.S. banks, according to research from consulting firm McKinsey. To keep up, traditional banks must consider ramping up digital efforts in areas such as design, innovation, personalization, digital marketing, data and analytics to provide value to customers.

A few traditional banks rolling out expanded digital services include:

Bank of America

Earlier this year, Bank of America created Business Advantage 360 for customers who have business deposit accounts with the bank. The free tool provides a digital dashboard showing business owners their major expenses and transactions, as well as automated cash flow projections that can be adjusted to account for new sales or other data. Users can also connect with small business bankers through the dashboard.

PNC Bank

PNC Bank rolled out a digital business lending platform this year in partnership with OnDeck, an online small business lender. Leveraging OnDeck’s digital loan origination process, PNC aims to provide customers with business financing in as few as three days, a significantly faster timeline than how long it would take to process a conventional bank loan.

Popular Bank

Similarly, New York-based Popular Bank announced a partnership last year with Biz2Credit, an online lender serving small businesses. Popular Bank leans on Biz2Credit’s technology to digitally process loan applications outside of regular bank hours, effectively speeding up time to funding.

As the lines begin to blur between online and brick-and-mortar banks, business owners may find themselves with an increasing amount of digital opportunities. However, a demand for brick-and-mortar banking will likely remain. Small business owners who borrowed from an online lender reported feeling less satisfied than those who borrowed from a community bank — 49% vs. 79% — according to a Federal Reserve survey.

“Whether consumers turn to online only banks, or traditional banks that offer online products and services, the availability of online options will more than likely continue to grow,” Coleman said.

Which bank is best for your small business?

Whether you choose an online bank or a brick-and-mortar bank to house your business funds would depend on your personal preference, Coleman said.

No matter which you pick, make sure the Federal Deposits Insurance Corporation insures your bank of choice, he said. Single consumer accounts, joint accounts and business accounts, among others, would be protected at FDIC-insured banks in the event of bank failure. Deposits up to $250,000 should be safe and covered.

If you like having the ability to sit down with a banking professional to discuss your business needs, a branch-based bank could be the better choice, Coleman said. The physical presence that traditional banks provide could add a level of trust and reassurance. Keep in mind, though, that most locations have standard business hours that may not be conducive to your schedule as a business owner, he said.

A digital bank would allow you to complete your banking activities on your own time, said Coleman, though traditional banks oftentimes provide online services as well. He also noted that you may want to avoid using a public WiFi network to make business transactions, as those networks may not be secure and your information could be vulnerable.

A digital bank wouldn’t offer the same in-person service as a traditional bank, Coleman said, but you may not feel like you’re missing out.

“If the business owner already knows what they are looking for in a bank, and the online bank meets their needs, then they may prefer the online bank for its convenience, potential lower fees and higher interest on deposits,” he said.

All business owners should at least consider opening a high-yield savings account for cash that isn’t needed for daily operations, Melick said.

“Small businesses need to make sure that every penny they make works for them,” Melick said. “Oftentimes, the best way it can is through online banking accounts.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Melissa Wylie
Melissa Wylie |

Melissa Wylie is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Melissa at [email protected]