When people ask me this question my only answer is: I don't know you. So how could I tell you to how to best protect the investment assets you may or may not have?
Best answer ever to this question, is a question: What did your CPA tell you?
Annoying right. Well, more annoying that grand generalities are WRONG ANSWERS.
Here is what I do.
I have a holdings company. It is literally called, "McCallum Holdings".
It is the parent company for all my other LLCs or partnerships I have.
I have one LLC for each different risk profile in my holding company. So, I identify the risk difference based off of the business's actions and customers. If I was actively flipping or performing renovations for other investors (coming to a midwest city near you in 2017) I would have it in a corporation. "Why?" you ask. like my 3 y.o. daughter does for EVERYTHING. Because I told you so (I say to my daughter and my CPA says to me). There are some things that I have to know, want to know, and want to know that the guy I pay knows better than the IRS. This is one of those questions I defer to YOUR CPA.
I don't flip but, I will have a long expensive chat with my CPA when I get that right property under contract.
All of my businesses are LLCs. I do have a trust, it has lent all my LLC's their capital so in essence. it owns all my businesses, well, at least it holds the debt. The trust belongs to my kids but I get to blow all the money until they come of age. An age I will unlikely see, even at 38 I know this is my retirement time. And I love it.
I have one LLC for my high end expensive rentals OR rentals I have previously lived in OR the tiny little houses in my cute tiny small town that I rent out because if you aren't a good person you pretty much get chased out of town by the other people living here. So, low risk.
I have another LLC for my less expensive "cash flow" properties. If someone in one of my properties or areas stole all these properties it wouldn't break my heart. I milk the cash flow out of these to pay off my better properties. It helps to defer some risk and I listen to my CPA.
Anyone seeing a pattern yet?
I WOULD RATHER REPRESENT MYSELF IN A COURT OF LAW THAN TRY AND DO MY BOOKKEEPING AND TAX PROTECTION. So should you.
Q: But what's a series and should I use them?
A: They are new and last I asked have not been formally challenged in fed courts, so ask your CPA.
Q: I own a couple properties in my name personally, when should I start my LLC?
A: When you first started owning rental properties. Call a CPA now. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
Q: How do I choose a CPA?
A: Find one that is also an investor themselves, or one that has many RE investor clients, find out what type of investing they do. If it is in the same state, property type, and class that you have or are targeting...hire them.
Q: My CPA can set up my LLCs but I like doing my own taxes.
A: Because I said so. (if its good enough for my daughter...)
I'm not brilliant but I what stupid is, I don't even know if what I'm doing is right. I know there are better ways to do it. I know you can have Delaware trusts...and then there is the Nevada trust thing but K.I.S.S.
If you don't have $5M in net worth you don't need those types of things.
I talk to my CPA Thursday, so if anyone has a question they'd like me to ask, I'd be happy to do so. Otherwise, hit up a CPA on BP or two with a quick question. But, respect their time. Don't ask for free services, they aren't going to mentor you through your taxes. FEEL free to hire them tho! They are here for the right reasons.
So, life lesson here, CALL A CPA. Or see if @Jim Kennedy has a minute to chat. I think his addiction is as strong as mine is to this site.