Difference between Partnership and Company – Legal Insights


Updated: 09 May 2024

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Are you curious about the distinction between a partnership and a company? Understanding the nuances between these business structures is crucial for entrepreneurs and business owners. While both involve multiple individuals collaborating, they differ significantly regarding liability, decision-making processes, taxation, and legal requirements.

Partnerships offer shared responsibility among owners, while companies provide limited liability protection. Tax implications vary based on the structure chosen, impacting profits and losses differently.

Table of Content
  1. Defining Partnership Firm
    1. Sharing Profits and Losses
    2. Minimum Requirement
  2. Explaining Company Meaning
    1. What is a Company?
    2. Formation Process
    3. Indian Companies Act, 2013
    4. Minimum Members Requirement
    5. Key Differences
  3. Key Differences
    1. Maximum Members
  4. Ownership and Control
    1. Partnership
    2. Company
    3. Transferability of Shares
  5. Legal Status
    1. Partnership Firm
    2. Company
    3. Implications of Liability and Decision-Making
  6. Formation Process
    1. Partnership
    2. Company
    3. Capital Requirements
  7. Financial Liability
    1. Audits Comparison
    2. Partners' and Shareholders' Financial Liability
    3. Impact on Decision-making
    4. Legal Implications
    5. Taxation Variances
  8. Profit Distribution
    1. Partnership
    2. Company
    3. Differences in Profit Sharing
    4. Examples
      1. Partnership:
      2. Company:
  9. Management and Decision Making
    1. Management
    2. Decision Making
    3. Differences in Management and Decision-Making Authority
  10. Closing Thoughts

Defining Partnership Firm

Sharing Profits and Losses

A partnership firm is an agreement where multiple individuals collectively come together to run a business. Profits and losses are shared by the partners based on their agreed-upon terms. This mutual sharing of financial outcomes is a distinctive feature of partnership firms.

In a partnership, each member contributes resources such as capital, skills, or labour toward the common goal of the business. The business’s profits are shared among the partners according to the periods of the partnership agreement. Conversely, if the company incurs losses, the partners will share these according to their agreed-upon ratios.

Difference between Partnership and Company

Minimum Requirement

At least two members must be involved in the venture to establish a partnership firm. This requirement ensures that more than one individual contributes to and oversees the business’s operations. Having at least two partners also helps distribute organizational responsibilities and decision-making.

  • Pros:
  • Shared decision-making
  • Combined resources for business growth
  • Cons:
  • Potential for disagreements among partners
  • Shared liabilities for debts and obligations

Explaining Company Meaning

What is a Company?

A company is a legal entity formed by individuals, shareholders, or owners to engage in business activities. It has a separate legal existence from its owners and can enter contracts, own assets, and incur liabilities.

Formation Process

A company is created to offer products or services, operating as a separate legal entity from its owners. It is established by registering with the government and abiding by specific regulations.

Indian Companies Act, 2013

Under the Indian Companies Act of 2013, companies in India are governed and regulated. This act outlines the procedures for incorporation, operation, governance, and dissolution of companies in the country.

Minimum Members Requirement

  • Private Limited Company: Required at least two members to form a company.
  • Public Limited Company: This type of company requires a minimum of 7 members for formation. 
Difference between Partnership and Company

Key Differences

  1. Regulation: Companies are governed by specific laws, such as the Indian Companies Act, which ensures compliance with statutory requirements.
  2. Ownership Structure: Shareholders own companies through shareholding, allowing for easy transfer of ownership.
  3. Scope of Operations: Companies often engage in larger-scale operations to raise capital through share issuance.

Key Differences

Maximum Members

Partnership firms allow up to 100 members, making them ideal for smaller setups. In contrast, private limited companies can have a maximum of 200 members, while public limited companies can have unlimited members.

Ownership and Control

Partnership

Ownership and control are closely intertwined in a partnership as all partners collectively manage the business. Decisions are typically made jointly, ensuring a balanced power structure. Each partner has an equal say in the company’s operations and direction. This setup fosters collaboration and shared responsibility among the partners.

Pros:

  • Shared decision-making leads to diverse perspectives.
  • Partners have a hands-on approach to managing the business.

Cons:

  • Disagreements among partners can lead to delays in decision-making.
  • Lack of centralised authority may result in inefficiencies.

Company

Contrastingly, in a company, ownership and control are more distinctly separated. The directors appointed by shareholders oversee the company’s operations, while the shareholders retain ownership rights. Shareholders exercise control indirectly through voting at general meetings to elect directors and approve significant decisions. This structure ensures a clear hierarchy of power within the organization.

Pros:

  • Clear separation of ownership and management roles.
  • Shareholders can hold directors accountable for their decisions.

Cons:

  • Shareholders may feel disconnected from day-to-day operations.
  • Directors may prioritize shareholder interests over other stakeholders.

Transferability of Shares

Due to partnerships’ mutual trust and collaborative nature, transferring ownership shares requires consent from all partners. This process ensures that new partners align with existing values and goals. Conversely, shares can be transferred without unanimous consent from all shareholders in a company governed by the Companies Act. This flexibility allows for easier changes in ownership without disrupting business continuity.

Partnership Firm

A partnership firm does not have a legal identity separate from its owners. The firm and the partners are considered one entity. Partnerships are governed by company law and established based on mutual agreement among the people involved. Unlike companies, there is no requirement for registration with a government authority.

Company

In contrast, a company is recognized as a distinct legal entity from its owners. It has its own legal identity, rights, and obligations. Companies are registered under specific laws and must comply with regulations outlined by the government authorities.

The registration process involves submitting various documents to the company’s registrar, ensuring transparency and accountability in their operations. Companies are assigned a unique registration number that identifies them in legal transactions. Moreover, depending on the jurisdiction’s regulations, a maximum number of shareholders is usually allowed in a company.

Implications of Liability and Decision-Making

The distinction in legal status between partnerships and companies has significant implications for liability and decision-making processes within these entities. Each partner is personally liable for the business’s debts and obligations in a partnership firm. This means that partners’ assets are at risk in case of financial liabilities.

Formation Process

Partnership

Forming a partnership is relatively straightforward, usually requiring an agreement among group members. Partners can be individuals or entities joining forces for a common business goal. The process typically involves drafting a partnership deed outlining roles, responsibilities, profit-sharing ratios, and decision-making mechanisms.

Partnerships do not need formal registration with the government, making them easy to establish. However, it is advisable to register under the Indian Partnership Act of 1932 to avail of legal benefits and protections. Partnerships are governed by the terms set in the partnership deed, ensuring clarity in operations and dispute resolution mechanisms.

Company

Incorporating a company involves several steps that differ significantly from forming a partnership. The process begins with students deciding on the company structure – private limited, public limited, or one-person company. Next, they must obtain a Director Identification Number (DIN) and Digital Signature Certificate (DSC) for the proposed directors.

Following this, section students must apply for name approval with the Registrar of Companies (RoC). Once approved, they prepare the Memorandum of Association (MoA) and Articles of Association (AoA), which outline the company’s objectives and internal rules. Subsequently, they file these documents and other necessary forms to secure a Certificate of Incorporation.

Capital Requirements

Partnership firms typically have lower capital requirements than companies due to their flexibility. Partners can contribute capital based on mutual agreements without a minimum prescribed amount, allowing partnerships to operate effectively even with minimal initial investments.

On the other hand, companies have stricter capital requirements mandated by law based on their type – private or public. For instance, private companies must have a minimum paid-up capital of INR 1 lakh at the time of incorporation. Public companies have higher thresholds depending on their operations and regulatory obligations.

Difference between Partnership and Company

Financial Liability

Audits Comparison

Partnership firms typically do not have a mandatory audit requirement, unlike companies that must conduct annual audits. This disparity arises from the distinct legal structures of partnerships and companies. While companies are subject to stringent regulatory oversight, partnership firms enjoy more flexibility in their financial reporting obligations.

Partners’ and Shareholders’ Financial Liability

Partners in a partnership firm are personally liable for the deficits and losses incurred by the business. This means their assets can be used to settle the firm’s financial obligations. In contrast, shareholders in a company have limited liability, meaning they are generally not personally responsible for the company’s debts beyond their investment in the business.

Impact on Decision-making

  • Due to their unlimited liability, partners in a partnership firm may be more cautious when taking risks or making financial decisions. This heightened sense of duty can lead to more conservative financial strategies.
  • Shareholders in a company with limited liability may feel more comfortable taking risks as their assets are protected. This dynamic can influence decision-making processes within the company.
  • The legal implications of financial liability differ significantly between partnership firms and companies. Partnerships often involve shared responsibility among partners for all aspects of the business, including its economic health.
  • Companies operate as separate legal entities from their shareholders, providing protection for individual shareholders against the company’s liabilities.

Taxation Variances

  • For tax purposes, partnerships are considered “pass-through” entities. The partners are responsible for reporting their profits and losses on their tax returns.
  • Companies face corporate taxation on profits before distributing dividends to shareholders, who pay taxes individually.

Profit Distribution

Partnership

Profits are typically distributed according to a partnership’s rules. Partners can agree to share profits equally, based on their capital contributions, or through a different arrangement. The flexibility of profit distribution in partnerships allows customisation to suit the partners’ needs.

Company

A company’s profit distribution is structured according to share ownership. Shareholders receive dividends based on the number of shares owned by shareholders. Companies may also retain a portion of profits for reinvestment or future growth. The distribution of profits in companies is more standardised and follows regulations set by the company’s board and relevant authorities.

Differences in Profit Sharing

Partnerships:

  • Profit sharing in partnerships is often more flexible and can be tailored to each partner’s contribution or agreement.
  • Partners have greater control over how profits are distributed and can adjust them as needed.

Companies:

  • Profit sharing in companies is determined by the number of shares each shareholder owns.
  • Shareholders have limited influence over profit distribution decisions primarily governed by company policies and regulations.

Examples

Partnership:

Pros:

  • Flexible profit-sharing arrangements that can be adjusted based on partners’ needs.
  • Partners have more control over how profits are distributed among themselves.

Cons:

  • Disputes may arise if partners disagree on profit-sharing terms.
  • Unequal contributions could lead to disagreements over profit allocation.

Company:

Pros:

  • Standardised profit distribution procedures ensure transparency and consistency.
  • Shareholders benefit from clear guidelines on how profits will be allocated.

Cons:

  • Limited flexibility for shareholders to customize profit-sharing arrangements.
  • Decisions regarding profit distribution may not always align with individual shareholder preferences.

Management and Decision Making

Management

Partnerships typically have a flexible management structure in which all partners collectively make decisions. Each partner has an equal say in the management of the business, promoting a sense of equality and shared responsibility. This structure allows for quick decision-making, as partners can act promptly based on mutual agreement.

Decision Making

In partnerships, decisions are often made through consensus among all partners. This collaborative approach ensures that all partners are involved in critical decisions, fostering a sense of unity and teamwork. However, reaching a consensus may be challenging, especially if partners have differing opinions.

Differences in Management and Decision-Making Authority

Partnerships:

Pros:

  • Quick decision-making due to equal partnership involvement.
  • Promotes a sense of equality and shared responsibility among partners.

Cons:

  • Challenges in reaching a consensus when opinions differ.

Companies:

Pros:

  • Structured decision-making process based on corporate regulations.
  • Maintains accountability and transparency in decision-making.

Cons:

  • Slower decision-making processes due to hierarchical structures.

Closing Thoughts

Understanding the difference between a partnership firm and a company is crucial for individuals or entities considering different business structures. The critical variances in ownership, legal status, formation process, financial liability, profit distribution, and management highlighted in this article provide valuable insights into the unique characteristics of each entity type. By grasping these differences, decision-makers can align their preferences and goals with the right decisions.


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