Business owners often focus on the tax consequences of business structure. But asset protection is a growing concern in these litigious times, leading to the rising popularity of “limited” forms of business such as the Limited Liability Company (LLC).
LLCs have a unique asset protection feature against charging orders. Maybe you have heard of these? A recent Forbes article titled “The Misunderstood Charging Order,” offers a basic explanation:
The charging order itself is not the lien; rather, the lien is what is placed by the charging order. Think of the charging order as a can of spray paint, and the paint is the lien. The charging order basically sprays the lien on the debtor/member’s interest. Stated differently, the charging order is the vehicle by which the lien is placed on the debtor/member’s interest — it is not the lien itself.
While this is a complex subject, basically a charging order is a creditor’s first and last tool to extract your interests and capital from your business (assuming they don’t try to pierce the veil). In a corporation, a charging order can allow a creditor to actually gain a debtor’s stock interests in the business. This can be disastrous. “Limited” company structures are specifically designed with charging order protection, something that could be important to you as a business owner.
The original article goes into greater detail, but essentially the charging order protection means that while a creditor can place a lien on your LLC membership interests and claim any distributions, a creditor cannot claim the membership interest itself and sabotage the business.
While a “limited” company structure does provide a level of asset protection, keep in mind it is not a panacea. Do not just presume that a creditor will see an LLC and run away or settle for pennies on the dollar (as LLCs are often marketed), as that is rarely the case.