A registered agent is an individual or company designated to receive legal and government documents and notices like tax forms, annual report filings, license renewal reminders, and court summonses on behalf of your company.
States require most business entities to have a registered agent, sometimes called a statutory agent, resident agent, or service of process agent, so the business has a reliable point of contact to receive official documents.
Limited liability companies (LLCs), corporations, and limited partnerships all must have registered agents from the time the business is formed through the life of the business. The agent's name and contact information should be included in your articles of organization or articles of incorporation.
Registered agents must meet only a few requirements:
Small business owners sometimes designate themselves or another company officer or employee as their registered agent. Some designate a third party like an attorney or CPA. Larger businesses and those with multiple locations usually use a registered agent service, but these services are also used by small business owners. (A registered agent service agrees to receive all official documents bound for its clients, and promptly forward these notices to clients as soon as they receive them. These services also keep track of—and keep their clients apprised of —required due dates for government filings.)
While most states allow you (the business owner) or a company employee to serve as a registered agent, doing so can add to an already overburdened workload, delay receipt of important documents, and even result in fines.
For example, suppose the IRS sends you a notice about a problem with your tax return and gives you a deadline for responding. The notice arrives on a day that you are especially busy, and you toss it in a stack of mail and forget it, or you misplace it entirely. Or, what if the notice arrives when you are out of the office on vacation?
By the time you remember the notice, recover it, or return from vacation, you might not have enough time to gather the information you need. Worse yet, the due date for replying might have passed. The next thing you know, you're looking at an assessment or a fine because you missed the deadline.
Acting as your own registered agent also means that your address and phone number will be listed on public documents, accessible to anyone, including scammers and identity thieves. Publicly available contact information can be especially risky for home-based businesses, and any business is more likely to be inundated with junk mail because many companies use these lists for bulk mail sales solicitations.
Possible harm to your reputation (and pride) are additional potential downsides of acting as your own registered agent. If you're served with a subpoena, lawsuit, or summons, the service can occur in full view of employees or customers, affecting your business as well as your reputation.
An Internet business with no physical address and companies with locations in more than one state usually must rely on third party or registered agent services.
But even when you're able to serve as your own registered agent, you might decide to use a service instead because most offer additional benefits beyond simply receiving documents on your behalf.
Some of the services these companies provide include:
Tracking due dates for government filings. Registered agent services will track and notify you when documents such as annual report filings and license renewals are due. Some might also provide you with a compliance calendar to help with day-to-day administrative management.
Maintaining document copies and files. Registered agent services maintain files of all your documents in one location, giving you a backup. Some services scan documents electronically so that you can access your legal and government paperwork electronically from your office.
Help with paperwork. Some services save you time by automatically populating documents you file annually or quarterly with standard information like your company name and license or tax number.
Fees for registered agent services average between $100 and $300 per year.
If you designated yourself as your registered agent when you started your business, and later decide to hire a service; or if you change your registered agent for another reason, you'll need to notify the state or states where you operate by filing a change of registered agent form.
The form, also called a change of agent form, statement of information form, change statutory agent form or something similar, is available online, usually on the Secretary of State's website.
The information required to make the change varies slightly by state, but in most cases, you'll need to provide:
Once you've completed and signed the form, you'll need to return it in person, by mail, or by fax in most states. States that allow you to submit the form online usually process it immediately. Otherwise, processing times vary from two business days up to 20 business days in Arizona.
Fees also vary by state. Some don't charge anything, but in most cases, fees range from $5 to $60. Many states offer expedited processing for an additional fee.