A limited liability company (LLC) is one of the most common business entity types and for good reason. It provides management flexibility, tax benefits, and limited liability. Compared to corporations, LLCs are simple to form and maintain. Each state has its own requirements, and it's important to take the time to set up your business properly.
Select a name for your business that's marketable and will attract customers. Before you settle on a business name, you should make sure the name is available. If another company is already using your proposed name, your state might not let you register it. Additionally, if you use another business's name, you might be infringing on that company's trademark.
The first step to choosing a business name is conducting an online search to see if another business is using the name. If a business on the other side of the country offers goods and services that are entirely different from your business, you might be able to use the same name without infringing on their trademark. However, you'll find many exceptions to this rule, and as a result, it's best to find an original name.
Many states provide an online search tool for business names, but that kind of search will show only businesses registered in your state. You should also search the United States Patent and Trademark Office database to determine if another company has national trademark protection. You can perform these searches on your own or you can ask a trademark attorney to do a clearance search for you. A trademark lawyer can also give you legal advice about the risks of moving forward with your chosen name as well as your own trademark rights in using a name for your business.
For a step-by-step guide to choosing a name for your company, read our article on making sure your proposed business name is available.
Every LLC must have a registered agent, who accepts official documents on behalf of the company, such as correspondence from the government and notices of lawsuits filed against the business. Typically, the agent must have a physical address in the state where you organized the LLC. Some areas allow a company to serve as a registered agent, as opposed to an individual. You'll list the agent's contact information on your business formation documents.
To legally form an LLC, you must file the appropriate paperwork with the state. Your state might refer to the paperwork as the "articles of organization," "certificate of formation," or "certification of organization."
The cost to form an LLC will vary by state, with filing fees typically ranging from $50 to $450. You'll face additional costs if you hire a professional registered agent or if you apply for additional licenses, such as health permits or liquor licenses.
You have the option to form your LLC in a different state than where you reside or do business. Some business owners select states that have lower filing fees and tax rates, such as Delaware and Wyoming. To do so, you need a registered agent that provides services in the selected state.
For more on which state to choose, read our article on where to form your LLC.
On the filing paperwork, you'll list whether your LLC is member-managed or manager-managed. Member-managed means the owners are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company. Manager-managed means the company either brings in a third party or chooses one or more of the LLC members to handle the affairs of the business, while the non-manager owners take a more passive role.
An employer identification number (EIN) is a unique tax identification number for your business. The application is free and simple to complete. You can submit your application online on the IRS website.
If your LLC has more than one owner, or if you have employees, you need an EIN. If you have a single-member LLC and no employees, you probably don't need an EIN. However, many business owners use an EIN to protect their own identity, so they don't have to use their Social Security numbers on their business accounts. Some banks even require businesses to have EINs to open an account.
An operating agreement provides the guidelines for how owners will run and manage the LLC. This governing document should cover issues like:
States don't usually require LLCs to create an operating agreement. However, most LLCs can benefit from drafting one, as the agreement helps resolve conflicts among owners. In addition, if an LLC isn't treated as a separate business, the owners might lose their liability protection.
By forming an LLC, keeping your personal assets separate, and following business formalities, you're creating a clear line between your personal assets and the business's assets, so that you won't be personally responsible for the debts of the business. One such business formality is creating an operating agreement. When you draft and follow an operating agreement, you're demonstrating to anyone who's interested (such as a creditor of the business) that the LLC is separate from your personal assets.
LLC owners can create their own operating agreements. You'll find a number of online tools and templates to help you create an agreement tailored to the needs of your company. If you have questions or need assistance, you can reach out to a business attorney.
Depending on your state and type of business, the government might require additional licenses and permits. Some towns and counties require all businesses to obtain a general license to do business locally. Other industries, like food and alcohol, require a number of different licenses from government agencies. You should check with your state and local government to determine your business's legal obligations.