Kentucky offers a great shot at opportunity for sole proprietors. The Blue Grass state has a solid economy and some state laws that firmly back those in business. Even so, you need to become familiar with the rules and regulations of owning a sole prop in Kentucky before you launch a business.

Kentucky, like every other state, has its own unique set of laws and rules regarding sole props. We’ve created this guide to help you through the fields of information and included some advice too that will help you go the distance with your business.

What is a sole proprietorship?

A sole proprietorship is a business structure in which the business is unincorporated and has a single owner. For tax and legal purposes, the business and the owner are considered the same entity. This is the simplest version of a business that one can form, and many people who freelance or sell goods are operating as a sole proprietor without realizing it. Because there is no separation between the business and the owner, the owner is personally responsible for all debts and litigation that the business is named in.

Who is a sole proprietorship best for?

By definition, a sole proprietorship is an unincorporated business with a single owner. Anyone looking to form a partnership or have multiple owners should choose a different structure. A sole proprietorship will be a good fit for someone looking to maintain total ownership of their business who is willing to take on the liability associated.

Because a sole proprietorship is simple to start and requires no fees or paperwork, it can be a good option for anyone who needs to get a business up and running quickly. It can also offer a good test case for a business idea without any upfront requirements.

It can be more difficult to get funding and credit in a sole proprietorship, so if investments are required, having capital at the start can make this structure easier.

How to set up a sole proprietorship in Kentucky

1. Choose your business name

Kentucky law allows you to operate a sole proprietorship under a name other than your own. While you can use your name, most people choose a specific business name. If you want to do this, you should first search the Kentucky Secretary of State website to see if the name you chose is taken or if something similar exists. You can also request information in writing or by phone at (502) 564-3490

In Kentucky, a business name must not:

  • Match any other business name in the state
  • Be misleading
  • Use any certain government agency terms or abbreviations like FBI or EPA

2. File a trade name

If you choose to run a business under your own name, you don’t need to register it with the state.

However, Kentucky does require sole proprietors to register their trade name, or assumed name, with the state. So, if you decide to call your business something besides your legal name, the state needs to know about it. The form you fill out is the Certificate of Assumed Name, and it’s available through the Secretary of State.

The doing-business-as (DBA) name must be renewed every five years. While other types of businesses, like LLCs or partnerships, are required to file their DBAs with the Secretary of State’s office, sole props are required to file their assumed names with the county clerk in the location where their business is based. The fee is $20.

You will be required to set up an account with the State of Kentucky in order to get forms and other business information online.

3. Obtain licenses, permits, and zoning clearance if needed

Depending on the industry of your business, you may need to obtain a variety of business licenses or permits. This is managed by the Kentucky Business One Stop, though some areas like health care are licensed by independent areas.

You should also explore local regulations like building permits and zoning clearances where appropriate.

While the State of Kentucky doesn’t require a general business license for sole props, local cities and counties do require business licenses for anyone doing trade. These are offered by the local municipality where the business is located and you should talk to the county or city clerk about how to get a business license and the fees.

Local governments may have other paperwork for you to file before you can open business. That may include approval from the Department of Health, Fire Marshal’s Office, an occupancy permit, and zoning approval.

The state also may require you to have a professional license if you are in certain professions like hairstylist, dentist, or contractor. More information is at the Department of Professional Licensing website.

4. Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

If you’re planning a new hire, you need to obtain an EIN. This nine-digit number is issued by the IRS and used for tax purposes when you need to report wages. You can file for an EIN online through the IRS website.

If you do not have employees, you can use your Social Security Number to file taxes and are not required to have an EIN. However, some banks will require new business owners to have an EIN to open a business bank account, so you may want one anyway.

Next steps

Once you have these pieces in place, your own business is ready to operate! With a solid business plan, you can begin doing business, generate marketing materials, land your first clients, and plan for growth.

How is a sole proprietorship different from an LLC or freelancing?

Anyone who does work on a freelance basis can technically be considered a sole proprietor of their business. They will pay taxes individually and usually operate under their own name, assuming liability associated with their work. However, there are a number of ways the two can differ.

A sole proprietor is able to hire employees and is responsible for employment taxes, while a freelancer usually cannot do this without filing paperwork and effectively becoming a sole proprietor. Freelancers also do not have to adhere to the same local regulations that a business might and cannot purchase the same types of insurance. An independent contractor is considered somebody who has a relationship with external clients, while a sole proprietorship operates as a small business.

In contrast, an LLC is another form of business. An LLC, or limited liability company, must file articles of organization and register with their state. This also protects small business owners (or owners, as an LLC can have multiple) from personal liability, and the business is treated as a separate legal entity for tax purposes. Because of this separation, LLCs are often given larger lines of credit or more likely to attract future investments in times of growth.

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What are the advantages of a sole proprietorship?

Fast and inexpensive startup

Unlike other business structures, a sole proprietorship does not have to register with the state or pay the associated fees. If a fictitious name is being used, there may be a registration process for the trade name, but it is optional. This lack of paperwork and cost means that you can start a sole proprietorship almost immediately and without bureaucracy.

Tax benefits

In a sole proprietorship, all profits and losses for the business are included in the owner’s personal income tax returns. This leaves the owner responsible for state, local, and federal taxes that include their business, but they are not subject to corporate tax rates or specific business taxes. Additionally, being self-employed offers tax credits and benefits to the owner.

Complete control over your business

The sole proprietor of a business has complete control and is responsible for all decision-making within the business. With no partners or shareholders, you are free to run your business as you choose and take risks without implicating others.

What are the cons of a sole proprietorship?

Personal liability

Because the owner and the business are the same in a sole proprietorship, it can leave the owner vulnerable in multiple ways. Any business debts are also considered a personal debt, and any lawsuits against the business also implicate the owner. If these result in collections or seizures, the owner’s personal property can be taken in order to meet the obligations of the business.

Difficulty with funding

If a sole proprietor wants to raise capital, they may have fewer options to do so. Without stock in the business to sell, investors are less likely to get involved. Banks may also be less inclined to offer credit because the owner will be responsible for the business loans in the end.

Risks of hiring employees

As long as they have a valid Employer Identification Number, a sole proprietor is able to hire employees as needed. However, if any legal issues arise related to an employee, it could put a strain on the owner as their personal assets are on the line for lawsuits and other costs.

How are sole proprietors taxed in Kentucky?

Income taxes

With this type of business entity, taxes are a part of the personal tax return of each owner. Business profit is calculated and reported on a Schedule C form which is for Profit or Loss from Small Business.

A Schedule C will calculate the income of the business, including all income and expenses, along with the costs of goods sold and costs for home-based businesses. The rest of the calculation is the net income, which is the amount of taxable business income.

This net income is entered on the Schedule C and included with other income and losses the owner (and their spouse) reports for the purpose of income taxes.

The owner then pays income tax on all of the income listed on their personal return, including income from business activity at the applicable rate for the year.

Kentucky is one of several states that has a flat tax rate for income tax filers. The rate is 5% no matter how much you earn. That’s good news for sole proprietors because you can earn as much as you can without facing additional state income taxes. However, various incomes could affect your federal income tax rate.

Other taxes

As a self-employed individual, there are additional taxes necessary to pay. Based on the business’ income, the sole proprietorship must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. If the business operates at a loss, the tax is not payable, but you will not receive benefit credits for that year.

There may be other employment taxes and property taxes that are applicable.

Sole proprietors are required to pay property taxes in Kentucky. Their tax payments could be a part of their rent for a commercial building or directly if they own a building for their business. Those with home-based businesses may get a break with a deduction of federal tax filings but could see an increase in property value, amounting to more tax, to the state.

Unlike other states, local taxing districts in Kentucky determine the real property tax. Property tax is based on assessed value. Local districts also determine the amount of tax for personal property, like cars, trailers, equipment, and mobile homes. That tax is also based on an assessed value.

Kentucky also has a 6% sales tax that all businesses that sell goods and services must pay. Unlike other states, Kentucky doesn’t allow local cities or counties to impose their own sales taxes.


Will I need to register to collect sales tax as a sole proprietorship in Kentucky?

Yes, sole props who sell goods and services are required to collect sales tax and must register with the Kentucky Department of Revenue. 

Do I have to register a sole proprietorship in Kentucky?

Those who operate a business under their legal name do not need to register their business name in Kentucky.

What are the advantages of registering a trade name in Kentucky?

One advantage is it gives your business credibility. It also helps you get a local business license and can be beneficial as you seek to open a checking account in the DBA name, as some banks require registration.

Do sole props in Kentucky need payroll?

No, sole props typically don’t have any employees as they run the business themselves. You can pay those who work for you as an independent contractor and issue a 1099 form at the end of the year. Those who do hire employees where they are permanently hired by the company will need an Employment Identification Number (EIN) before hiring anyone.

Can a sole prop write-off deductions in Kentucky?

Yes, a sole prop can write off anything allowable on their federal returns and issue the same information on their state income tax returns. Every state has different eligible deductions so you will need to talk to an accountant about what Kentucky allows.

Do I need a business checking account for a sole proprietorship in Kentucky?

It isn’t required in the state to have a separate business checking account. You can write business checks from your personal account. However, it is wise to have a separate account for tax filing purposes as that makes it easier to track your earnings and expenses.