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Home » How to Start an LLC

How to Start an LLC in 2024 (8 Steps, 5 Minutes)

Author: Chandra Dhopatkar
Published: 1/9/2024 11:17 a.m. EST
Last Update: 3/12/2024 3:33 a.m. EST
Edited by: Jennifer Bonilla

Research how to start an LLC. Then, follow the steps to form an LLC in your state.

Person learning how to start an LLC on a tablet.
Person learning how to start an LLC on a tablet.

Starting a limited liability company (LLC) is a crucial step for many entrepreneurs, offering liability protection and other benefits. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to establish an LLC, should you want to do it yourself.

Another alternative however is to use an LLC formation service. Some services will file your state-required paperwork for free, saving you time, while ensuring it’s done correctly.

Recommended: Bizee will file your state paperwork for free and give you expert guideance and advice (you just pay the state fee).

Best LLC Formation Services for Starting an LLC

Bizee BannerZenBusiness BannerNorthwest BannerIncNow Banner

In the ever-evolving landscape of business formation, opting for a professional LLC formation service offers a multitude of advantages, especially in light of recent legislative changes. With the introduction of the Beneficial Ownership Information (BOI) Report required by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), it’s more crucial than ever to stay abreast of compliance requirements. These LLC formation services not only provide expertise in the latest legal developments but also ensure that your business adheres to all necessary regulations, including those concerning limited liability protection and pass-through taxation.

Utilizing these services can significantly simplify the process of setting up your own limited liability company. They can assist with complex tasks such as drafting an operating agreement template, navigating self-employment taxes, and minimizing the risk of unlimited personal liability. Additionally, they often offer resources to help manage your business effectively post-formation, like guidance on obtaining a business credit card.

Here are some of the best LLC formation services that can help streamline the process of starting your LLC:

Bizee, powered by Incfile

  • Free LLC Formation: Eliminates the cost barrier, requiring only state fees.  
  • Ongoing Support: Provides a year of free registered agent service, crucial for legal compliance and handling official documents.
  • Business Tools: Offers tools like tax consultation and an online dashboard, ensuring your business stays on top of compliance alerts and legal changes.
Visit Bizee

ZenBusiness

  • Affordable Plans: Designed to be budget-friendly, catering to startups and small businesses.
  • User-Friendly Platform: Makes the process hassle-free with an intuitive online platform.
  • Additional Business Services: Extends services beyond formation, including EIN registration and assistance with compliance and operating agreements.
Visit ZenBusiness

Northwest Registered Agent

  • Expert Support: Delivers personalized guidance, particularly valuable for understanding new requirements like the BOI Report.
  • Privacy by Default®: Prioritizes your data privacy, a critical aspect in today’s digital age.
  • Local Expertise: Offers local expertise in every state, beneficial for businesses operating in multiple jurisdictions.
Visit Northwest

IncNow

  • Fast Processing: Ideal for entrepreneurs eager to launch their businesses without delay.
  • Inclusive Packages: Provides comprehensive solutions, including essential features like registered agent services.
  • Experienced Advisors: Offers expert advice, ensuring your LLC formation aligns with current legal standards.
Visit IncNow

By choosing one of these services, you gain the reassurance that your LLC will be formed accurately and remain compliant with the latest laws and regulations. This peace of mind is invaluable, especially considering the potential legal complexities and financial implications of running a business.

Steps to Form An LLC

Forming a Limited Liability Company (LLC) requires following specific steps in a certain order to ensure your business is structured correctly for both legal protection and tax benefits. Here’s a quick breakdown of the steps followed by a thorough examination of each down below, each underpinned by the need to comply with state laws and federal regulations, like the recent Corporate Transparency Act (CTA).

  1. Choose a Business Name: Selecting a unique business name is the first step. Your state agency will have specific naming guidelines, and the name must include “LLC” or “limited liability company.” Remember, the name sets the tone for your business identity.
  2. Designate a Registered Agent: Appointing a registered agent who is available during business hours is essential. This role involves handling important legal documents and ensuring compliance with state regulations.
  3. Obtain LLC Articles of Organization Form: This document, necessary for filing with your state agency, marks the official start of your LLC. It may be known as the Certificate of Formation or similar in some states.
  4. Prepare the Articles of Organization: Include details like your business name, address, and the management structure. This step involves a filing fee and is crucial for legally establishing your LLC.
  5. File the Articles of Organization: Filing this document with the state is what legally establishes your LLC. Ensure accuracy to avoid complications.
  6. Create an Operating Agreement: Though not mandatory in all states, an operating agreement is advised. It outlines the LLC’s structure, ownership, and financial and managerial rights, offering limited liability protection.
  7. Maintain LLC Compliance: Regularly filing reports and paying any necessary fees keeps your LLC in good standing. This compliance is key to benefiting from pass through taxation and avoiding self-employment taxes issues.
  8. Comply with the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA): As of January 1, 2024, LLCs must adhere to the CTA, which involves filing a BOI report with FinCEN. This step is crucial for transparency and aligns with federal regulations, particularly important if your business structure is beyond a sole proprietorship.

Each of these steps plays a vital role in the formation and maintenance of your LLC and are a first step to building business credit. By following them, you ensure that your business is legally compliant, financially sound, and poised for success. Remember, forming an LLC is not just about legal formation; it’s about setting up a robust foundation for your business.

1. Choose a Business Name

Selecting the right business name is a pivotal first step for any LLC owner in establishing their enterprise. When you’re brainstorming the name you want for your LLC, it’s crucial to ensure it’s unique and adheres to your state’s specific legal requirements. This includes making sure the name hasn’t been claimed by another business and doesn’t infringe on existing trademarks.

  • Compliance with State Laws: Your chosen name must align with state laws, which often means avoiding names that are already in use or imply regulated industries, like banking or insurance. Each state agency responsible for business registration has its guidelines, and your LLC’s name must also meet these criteria to avoid legal complications.
  • Inclusion of LLC: Legally, your business name should include “LLC” or “limited liability company.” This not only complies with state laws but also clearly signifies your business as an LLC, which is particularly important if transitioning from a sole proprietorship or another business form.
  • State Website Check: To confirm the availability of your desired name, visit your state’s business filing agency’s website, typically the Secretary of State. This site is a valuable resource for checking name availability and ensuring compliance. This step helps in avoiding the potential for a legal subpoena due to name infringement issues.

Remember, the name you choose plays a significant role in how your business is perceived and can impact everything from branding to legal recognition. As part of the seven-step process to create an LLC, selecting the right name and ensuring its availability and compliance is essential. It’s a foundational step that sets the tone for your business identity and legal standing as a limited liability company.

2. Designate a Registered Agent

A registered agent plays a vital role in maintaining the legal compliance of your LLC. This agent acts on behalf of the LLC, receiving crucial legal documents and ensuring your business stays informed of legal obligations.

As an LLC owner, you have the option to appoint a registered agent service or assume this role yourself.

If you elect to be your own agent, you must be available at the registered address during business hours.

Professional registered agent services offer expertise and privacy, ensuring that your LLC complies with state laws and filing requirements.

Checklist:

  • Role: Receives legal documents for the LLC.
  • Eligibility: Anyone over 18, available during business hours at a state address.
  • Self-Appointment as Registered Agent: You have the option to appoint yourself as the registered agent. However, this requires you to be consistently present at the business address during standard business hours and to have a good understanding of legal processes and documents. Additionally, consider the implications for your privacy before choosing this option.
  • Professional Services: Hiring a professional agent incurs fees but offers expertise.

3. Obtain LLC Articles of Organization Form

The next step to form your LLC is obtaining the Articles of Organization form, a crucial LLC paperwork required by your state.

This form may be known by various names, such as the Certificate of Formation or LLC Formation Certificate, and is essential for registering your LLC legally.

This document outlines the fundamental aspects of your LLC, marking the official start of your LLC.

You can typically find this form on your state’s business filing website, reflecting the specific LLC laws and requirements of your state.

Checklist:

  • Source: Available on the state business filing website.
  • Variation in Names: Different states may use varying titles like:
    • Articles of Organization
    • Certificate of Formation
    • Certificate of Organization
    • Articles of Formation
    • Certificate of Incorporation (less common for LLCs, more typical for corporations)
    • LLC Formation Certificate
    Each state may have its preferred terminology, so it’s important to check with your specific state’s business filing agency for the exact name of the document required to establish an LLC.

4. Prepare the Articles of Organization

Preparing the Articles of Organization is a key step in setting up your LLC.

This document requires you to provide essential details about your LLC, such as the business name, principal address, the nature of the business, and information about the registered agent. 

It’s also the stage where you define the management structure of the LLC, deciding whether members can manage the LLC or a designated manager will handle operations.

This preparation is crucial for establishing your LLC successfully and ensuring that all aspects of the LLC are legally documented.

Checklist:

  • Essential Information: Business name, address, purpose, management style, and registered agent details.
  • Signatures Required: From owners or organizers.
  • Additional Steps: Some states require pre-filing public notices.

5. File the Articles of Organization

Filing your LLC formation document with the state is a critical step in establishing your LLC legally.

This process involves submitting the prepared Articles of Organization along with the required filing fee.

The state will review your submission, and upon approval, your LLC will be officially registered.

This step often culminates in the issuance of a Certificate of Registration, essential for further business activities like opening a business bank account. There are lots of business bank account benefits.

Accurate completion of this step ensures that your LLC is up and running in compliance with state laws.

Checklist:

  • Review and Fees: Ensure accuracy and prepare to pay the state filing fee.
  • Certificate of Registration: Issued upon approval, useful for banking and tax purposes.

6. Create an Operating Agreement

Crafting an LLC Operating Agreement is a vital step in delineating the structure of your LLC.

This agreement outlines the ownership of the LLC, the distribution of profits and losses, and the roles and responsibilities of LLC members.

Although not mandatory in all states, an operating agreement is highly recommended to maintain your LLC’s smooth operation, especially when the LLC has more than one member.

This document can be created online or with professional assistance, depending on the complexity of your LLC.

Checklist:

  • Content: Details of financial and management rights and responsibilities.
  • Benefit for All LLC Types: Useful for both single and multi-member LLCs.
  • DIY or Professional Help: Templates are available, but complex cases may need legal assistance.

7. Maintain LLC Compliance

To keep your LLC in good standing, it’s important to comply with ongoing state requirements, which often include filing an annual report and paying any necessary fees.

These requirements ensure that the state is updated with the latest information about your LLC.

Regular compliance helps protect your LLC legally and maintains its status as a legitimate business entity.

Checking your state’s LLC guidelines regularly is crucial for keeping up with any changes in compliance obligations and understanding how your business is an LLC that adheres to all legal standards.

Checklist:

  • Annual Requirements: Regular filing and fees to keep the LLC in good standing.
  • State-Specific Information: Found on your state’s business filing website.

8. Comply with the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA)

Starting January 1, 2024, adherence to the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA) becomes a critical new step for LLCs. This requirement highlights the unique nature of LLCs also being subject to federal regulations, which applies to both single member LLCs and multi member LLCs.

Understanding the CTA and BOI Reporting:

  • Purpose: The CTA targets illegal financial activities, emphasizing why LLCs are unique in their need for transparency. This reporting helps in mitigating risks associated with business debts and enhances the limited liability protection that LLCs provide.
  • Who Must File: The mandate extends to most domestic LLCs, which are common structures for new business ventures. It’s worth noting that a few states may have specific nuances in how this federal requirement is implemented.
  • Exemptions: Entities like publicly traded companies, already registered with the SEC, are exempt, given their existing disclosure obligations.
  • Reporting Details: Vital for federal income tax purposes, this reporting aids in financial tracking and compliance, aligning with Internal Revenue Service standards.

Next Steps for Your Business:

  1. Determine if Required to File: Essential for every LLC owner, whether running a single-member LLC or part of a multi-member LLC, to check their filing obligations under the CTA.
  2. Prepare Necessary Information: Gather and report accurate owner information, ensuring your LLC continues to benefit from pass-through taxation and maintains its legal standing.
  3. File Electronically: Compliance involves electronically submitting the BOI report through FinCEN, a key step to operate legally and transparently.

Importance of Compliance: Keeping up with this new requirement is crucial to avoid penalties and maintain the integrity of your LLC. It’s a significant addition to the LLCs’ operational checklist, particularly for those with complex ownership structures, and impacts how LLCs manage their self-employment taxes and other financial responsibilities.

More Important Steps for Your Limited Liability Company

When forming and managing an LLC, there are crucial steps beyond the initial registration to ensure legal compliance and operational efficiency. These steps are fundamental in safeguarding the interests of your LLC, whether you are just starting or running an existing business. They play a significant role in defining how your LLC operates and in maintaining its good standing. Understanding these additional responsibilities is key to leveraging the advantages that an LLC structure offers, from financial protection to legal compliance.

Business Licenses and Permits:

It’s important for every LLC, whether a new LLC or an existing LLC, to check state-specific requirements for legal operation. Obtaining the right licenses and permits is vital for your small business to function legally.

Business licenses and permits are a critical step in the LLC formation process. Whether you’re setting up a new LLC or managing an existing LLC, understanding and complying with your state’s specific legal requirements is essential.

This is especially true if your LLC is a Series LLC or operates in a specialized industry.

Remember, the types of licenses and permits needed can vary greatly depending on the state where the LLC is registered and the nature of your business.

Employer Identification Number (EIN):

An EIN is essential for every business owner looking to set up an LLC, an EIN is necessary for keeping business and personal tax returns separate. This is a key step in maintaining your LLC.

Businesses intending to operate an online LLC must obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN). This unique number is used by the IRS for tax purposes and is used for differentiating your personal tax return from your business activities.

An EIN is not only a requirement for federal tax filing but also a necessity for opening a business bank account and hiring employees. It plays a crucial role in maintaining the corporate veil, thereby offering an added layer of protection for your assets.

Separating Assets to Stay In Good Standing

For the financial protection of your LLC, it’s important to keep business and personal finances distinct. This separation helps in clearly delineating LLC profits and losses.

For a multi-member LLC or a Series LLC, maintaining a clear distinction between business and personal finances is imperative.

This separation is crucial for tracking LLC profits and losses and is integral to the financial health and legal protection of your business.

By keeping separate accounts and records for personal and business finances, you reduce the risk of legal complications and ensure clearer financial management.

This practice is necessary for maintaining the limited liability protection that an LLC structure provides.

Registering Your Business Entity in Other States

If your LLC operates across state lines, you may need to register as a foreign LLC in that state. This is an important step for LLCs that vary by state in terms of operation.

This is particularly relevant for Series LLCs that operate various divisions in different states. Registering as a foreign LLC is necessary to comply with local laws and tax requirements. It ensures that your LLC is recognized and can legally operate in each state, protecting your business interests and keeping your LLC in good standing across multiple jurisdictions.

Types of LLCs

Understanding the different LLC structures available is crucial when setting up a business. Each type of LLC offers unique features and benefits, catering to various business needs and objectives. Whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or part of a team, choosing the right type of LLC is important for legal and financial reasons. This choice impacts everything from personal assets protection to tax status and the necessary paperwork for filing paperwork. Let’s explore the different types of LLCs that are uniquely suited to different business ventures.

  • Single-Member LLC: This type of LLC is owned and operated by one individual, making it a preferred choice for solo entrepreneurs starting their first LLC business. It offers simplicity in management and potential additional tax benefits. A single-member LLC might need a DBA (Doing Business As) if operating under a different name.
  • Multi-Member LLC: Ideal for partnerships, this LLC structure allows multiple members of the LLC to own and manage the business. It’s akin to a general partnership or limited liability partnership, offering each member protection of personal assets while sharing business income and responsibilities. This structure may require more complex legal and tax advice due to the dynamics of multiple owners.
  • Specialized Forms: Options like Series LLCs, Professional LLCs, and L3Cs offer business owners various ways to tailor their LLCs to specific needs. A Professional LLC is for certain licensed professionals, and a Series LLC allows for the creation of separate entities under one umbrella, providing unique opportunities for asset protection and business operation. These specialized forms often require specific licenses or permits and are designed to meet the needs of specific types of businesses.

LLC vs. Other Business Types

When deciding to start a business, understanding how an LLC compares to other business structures is vital. Each type has its own legal and tax implications, and the choice depends on factors like the nature of your business, financial goals, and the level of liability protection you need. Here’s a comparison of an LLC with other common business entities, highlighting their unique characteristics and the pros and cons of each.

  • Sole Proprietorship: This is the simplest business structure, often chosen for its ease of setup and minimal regulatory requirements. However, it lacks the liability protection that an LLC offers. In a sole proprietorship, the business assets and liabilities are not separate from the owner’s personal assets, potentially putting them at risk.
  • Partnership: This structure involves two or more people and offers different liability structures. A limited partnership (LP) and a limited liability partnership (LLP) provide varying degrees of personal asset protection. Partners in an LP or LLP may need to file specific tax forms and are usually not exempt from federal income taxes on their share of business income.
  • Corporation: A corporation is a more complex legal entity that provides significant liability protection to its owners. Corporations can be taxed as either a C-corp or an S-corp, each having different tax implications. Business owners must determine the best option for their situation, considering factors such as the desire to pay income tax at the corporate level or pass it through to individual tax returns.
  • Nonprofit Organization: This is a unique entity that exists primarily for educational, charitable, religious, or other societal benefits. Nonprofits are exempt from federal income taxes and operate without the intention of generating profits for owners. They have specific requirements for maintaining their tax-exempt status and often require a distinct approach to management and funding compared to an LLC business.
  • Cooperative: Often known as a co-op, this business model is user-owned and operated. Members of a cooperative share in the profits and decision-making processes. Cooperatives are distinct from LLCs in terms of ownership structure and profit distribution. They are often chosen by groups with a specific purpose or mission, and like LLCs, they may offer some level of liability protection.

LLC Tax

Navigating the tax implications of an LLC is an essential part of managing your business effectively. LLCs offer a unique and flexible approach to taxation, which can be particularly advantageous compared to other business structures. Understanding these tax benefits and state-specific rules is crucial for ensuring compliance and optimizing your financial strategy.

  • Pass-Through Taxation: One of the major benefits of an LLC is the avoidance of double taxation, which is commonly associated with corporations. In an LLC, taxes on business profits are “passed through” to the personal tax return of the owner, making the process simpler and often more favorable. This structure means that profits are only taxed once, at the individual owner’s rate, rather than both at the corporate and personal levels. This pass-through taxation is especially beneficial for small businesses and LLCs with multiple owners, as it can simplify tax filing and potentially reduce the overall tax burden.
  • State-Specific Rules: It’s important to note that tax regulations for LLCs can vary depending on the state where the LLC is registered. Some states impose unique requirements, such as franchise taxes or additional filings, which can affect how an LLC is taxed. LLC owners should ensure they are aware of these state-specific rules to maintain compliance and avoid potential penalties. In some cases, LLCs may need to pay an annual fee or tax specific to their state, in addition to regular income taxes. LLCs should also obtain a tax ID for their business, and ensure their business account and physical address information is up-to-date for tax purposes.

Understanding these aspects of LLC tax is crucial for any business owner. Since LLCs provide various tax options and benefits, it’s often recommended to seek professional advice to determine the best tax strategy for your specific situation.

Conclusion

Forming an LLC involves critical steps like learning how to start an LLC, creating an LLC operating agreement, and understanding LLC filing requirements.

The process provides flexibility and protection, making it a popular choice for those looking to start an LLC online or in person.

Each state LLC has its nuances, and understanding these is key to getting your LLC up and running.

Whether you’re choosing an LLC for the first time or managing many LLCs, it’s essential to stay informed about the easy steps to start an LLC and how to maintain your LLC effectively.

FAQs

How Do I Create an LLC?

Creating an LLC involves several key steps, each important for ensuring your business’s legal and financial foundation. After choosing a distinguishable name for your LLC, you’ll need to file LLC formation paperwork with your state’s agency. Remember, the LLC cost and requirements may vary in different states currently. Appointing your own registered agent is crucial for handling legal documents. Additionally, crafting an LLC operating agreement is vital for defining management roles and responsibilities. This step is important for both single-member LLCs and multi-member LLCs, as it provides personal liability protection and clarifies business operations.

What Is an LLC Operating Agreement and Why Is It Important?

An LLC operating agreement is vital as it legally outlines the ownership structure and operational guidelines of your LLC. This document is essential for pass-through taxation and helps ensure that profits and losses directly affect the owner’s personal tax return. Even in states where it’s not mandatory, having an operating agreement helps mitigate personal liability and provides clear rules for conducting business, which is particularly critical for multi-member LLCs.

What Are the Steps to Start an LLC Online?

To start an LLC online, the process generally involves a few standardized steps. Firstly, decide on a unique business name and ensure its availability. Then, select a state for LLC registration, keeping in mind that LLC formation varies by state. File the Articles of Organization and appoint a registered agent who’s available during normal business hours. Next, create an operating agreement to define your LLC’s structure and operations. Finally, obtain business licenses and permits as needed, which is crucial for LLCs that collect sales tax or have other specific regulatory requirements.

What Are the Tax Implications of Forming an LLC?

The tax implications for an LLC are one of its most appealing aspects. Typically, LLCs enjoy pass-through taxation, meaning profits are taxed only once on the owner’s personal tax return, avoiding corporate income tax. For federal tax purposes, an LLC can also opt to be taxed as an S corporation (S corp), which might benefit certain businesses by potentially reducing self-employment taxes. However, the specifics can vary, and it’s advisable to consult with a tax professional to understand the best approach for your LLC.

How Often Should I File an Annual Report for My LLC?

The frequency of filing an annual report for your LLC depends on the state. Most states require this report as a way to keep the state updated on your LLC’s current information. This report is essential not just for compliance, but also for maintaining the LLC’s good standing. Failure to file can lead to penalties, and in some cases, can affect your LLC’s ability to conduct business.

Can I Set Up an LLC as a Professional LLC?

Yes, you can set up a Professional LLC (PLLC) if your business involves licensed professional services. A PLLC is similar to a regular LLC but is designed specifically for professions where state licensing is a requirement. This structure provides both limited liability protection and specific benefits relevant to professional practices, like law or medicine. It’s crucial to check your state’s regulations, as the rules and benefits, like certain tax advantages, can vary for a PLLC.

What Should I Consider When Naming My LLC?

When naming your LLC, consider that the name must be distinguishable from existing entities in your state. Avoid names that could be confused with government agencies. Including “LLC” or “Limited Liability Company” in your business name is typically a state requirement, indicating your business’s legal structure. The right name is more than a label; it’s part of your brand and should reflect your business identity and objectives.

Chandra Dhopatakar
Chandra Dhopatkar, MBA

Chandra, founder of “Build Business Credit in 30 Days,” specializes in increasing business valuations by helping companies build strong business credit.