Starting a new business can be intimidating, for a wide variety of reasons. Even something that seems simple at first can in reality be quite complex. For instance, the actual process of forming and registering a new business entity is more involved than many entrepreneurs expect. Fortunately, a variety of LLC formation services and incorporation services can help make it much easier.
What is an LLC formation service? Basically, it’s an online service that helps you navigate the business filing requirements set by your state. These services are basically middlemen - you still technically register through your state’s agency, but the service does the actual legwork for you. Instead of filling out physical forms and corresponding with your state’s Secretary of State’s office, you’ll fill out digital forms, and be guided through the process by the service you pay for.
Many of these services can also serve as your Registered Agent, which is a requirement in many states. While you can serve as your own Registered Agent in some states, it’s often better to hire a professional to do it.
With a business formation service, you can typically form the following types of business entities:
Almost all services offer corporation and LLC formation options. Partnerships, sole proprietorships, and nonprofit corporations are only offered by certain companies. If your goal is to open one of these, be sure to double-check that the service you are considering offers that option.
Also, keep in mind that sole proprietorships are much easier to form, compared to any other business entity. You may not need the help of a service in order to start a sole prop.
For the majority of entrepreneurs, the benefits of working with a business incorporation service will typically far outweigh the costs. Here are some of the biggest perks of hiring one of these services:
These companies take the guesswork and hassle out of registering a new business. If you file directly with your state, you’ll need to navigate a somewhat complex, often outdated system. You’ll also need to manually fill out forms, draft legal documents, and more - all of which can be overwhelming. When you work with a service, they can make the process far more simple. Plus, their experience helps ensure accuracy, reducing the odds of any issues.
In the business world, time is money. That’s why many entrepreneurs opt to outsource tasks like company formation. The companies on this list process tens of thousands of business applications every year, and they are well-versed with requirements in all US states. Some companies even offer same-day processing (although you’ll still have to wait for the state to do their part). By working with a service, you can free up your own time to what matters most: actually running your new business!
Many registration services can also serve as your Registered Agent. In all states, it’s required to have a Registered Agent assigned to your new company (for most business structures). This agent handles legal and official correspondence between the business and state/federal agencies. Some states allow the business owner or an employee to be the registered agent, but in most cases, it’s helpful to have a professional do it.
The focus of these services is on helping you through the initial steps of business formation. With that said, most also offer valuable ongoing services. Many can be your Registered Agent for years to come, help you with annual report filing, and help keep your business in good standing with ongoing requirements from state and federal agencies.
With most of these services, you’ll have ongoing, digital access to your key business formation documents: LLC operating agreements, articles of incorporation, articles of organization, etc. Some services also offer handy templates, such as business contract templates, banking resolution templates, bylaws, invoices, and more.
Choosing a company name is an important - and often overlooked - part of starting a business. Incorporation services usually have some sort of business name check, which can help you select an available company name. Plus, you can select Doing Business As (DBA) names, allowing your firm’s parent name to differ from any brand names that you operate under.
Most formation services also offer a host of optional services that can help meet the needs of your business. Some offer intellectual property protections, such as trademarks and copyrights. Others can connect you with business tax consulting, for ongoing IRS compliance. And some offer more diverse legal help, such as consulting, contract review, business conversion services, and more.
How much do LLC formation services cost? Typically, expect to spend $50-$150+ for a service to help you (with a basic package), plus $50-$300+ for state filing fees.
When you work with one of these services, there are two price categories: The service’s own fees, and state fees.
State fees are charged regardless of whether you use a service or not. This money goes directly to the state you are forming a business in. They cover business license and incorporation costs for the state agencies responsible for issuing new business permits.
State fees for LLCs are typically $70-$200+, while corporations are closer to $100-$300+. LLCs are usually lower cost than corporations or partnerships, but this is not always the case.
That said, these fees vary hugely from state to state. For example:
When you work with a service, you will see a preview of the total cost, including state fees, during the checkout process. And while the service will charge you these fees, the full amount is passed on to the state.
Service fees are charged by incorporation services themselves. This money goes towards running their platform, paying for customer service representatives, etc. In general, expect to spend $50-$100+ for the basics, or $150-$300+ for a more premium package. Keep in mind that LLC filing fees may vary from incorporation fees, so your choice of business structure can affect costs.
If you just want help with the basic requirements of new business formation, you can opt for a cheaper, simpler package from a service provider. If you want extras, like an Employer Identification Number (EIN) federal tax ID number, Registered Agent services, you should opt for a more substantial plan.
There are dozens of business formation services, all competing to gain you as a customer. How do you navigate the many options to select the right one for your start up? Here are some key factors to consider:
Essentially, you want to find a service that offers the features you need, at a price that fits your budget. The biggest thing to consider is whether the service you are considering actually supports the business structure you want to form. While all services support LLCs and corporations, only a handful support nonprofits and partnerships.
Beyond that, it’s largely a matter of choosing a service with package(s) that fit your individual needs. For some recommendations, see our list of the top options below.
To help readers select the right fit for their needs, we’ve compiled a list of the best online business formation services. Our selections were made based on a combination of features, pricing, customer service, review scores, and overall value.
ZenBusiness is an online business registration service that makes it simple to accurately and quickly start a new company. You can choose from sole proprietorship, LLC, or corporation. They can even help you obtain an Employee Identification Number (EIN). Plus, ZenBusiness serves as your Registered Agent, at no additional cost!
Beyond the initial business formation, ZenBusiness can serve as a valuable partner for years to come. They provide useful resources, powerful tools, and ongoing compliance support, to help your business grow and thrive.
ZenBusiness is best for owners who want powerful tools to both start and grow a small business.
Unlike most competitors, ZenBusiness offers an ongoing subscription service that acts as a partner for your business, for many years to come.
ZenBusiness helps with all the standard business formation tasks, helping you satisfy state requirements for the formation of an LLC, corporation, or sole proprietorship. They make this process simple and fast.
What makes ZenBusiness unique is that they offer a wide variety of ongoing services to help meet your business needs. They offer:
See the full review of ZenBusiness here.
Swyft Filings is an online incorporation service that serves both businesses and nonprofits. With it, you can form an LLC, S-corp, C-corp, nonprofit entity, and more - plus obtain EINs, DBAs, and much more. Swyft also helps with other business licensing and permitting needs, and provides an array of ongoing business services.
Who Swyft Filings is best for
Swyft Filings is best for business owners who want a huge suite of available features, including advanced business conversion, ongoing reporting and compliance, and more. It offers one of the most comprehensive portfolios of business services out of all the competitors on this list.
It’s also a great choice for nonprofit founders, as it provides both nonprofit registration and helps with tax-exemption applications.
What makes Swyft Filings unique
Swyft Filing’s support for a wider range of organizational structures makes it unique. For instance, you can form either a C-corp or an S-corp, and you can form nonprofit entities. Plus, if you need to convert your business structure in the future, Swyft can help with that, as well. Here are some unique features of Swyft Filings:
See the full review of Swyft Filings here.
Harvard Business Services is a business formation service that specializes in forming new businesses in the state of Delaware. They make it simple to form a new LLC or corporation while taking advantage of all of Delaware’s business-friendly rules. They also offer some ongoing services, such as a Registered Agent service, but their focus is definitely on new business formation.
Harvard Business Services is best for founders who want to take advantage of Delaware’s business-friendly courts, tax laws, and regulations. Delaware is well-known for being one of the easiest states to form a new LLC in, and they have advantageous tax laws and efficient business courts. Plus, you don’t need to be a Delaware resident in order to form a company there. With HBS, business owners from all over the country can easily form a Delaware LLC or corporation. In fact, HBS even offers Delaware incorporations for international clients.
Harvard Business Services is one of few companies that specialize in business formations in a specific state (Delaware). While most competitors offer plans for new companies in all US states, HBS dials in their services to work with only Delaware. This makes them very efficient, and allows them to offer some of the lowest prices in the industry. Here are some unique features of this service:
MyCorporation is an online business formation service that provides help with incorporation, registering new trademarks, obtaining permits, and more. With the service, you can form a new LLC or corporation, with your choice of S-corp, C-corp, and even B-corp. Nonprofit corporations are also supported.
MyCorporation is best for business founders who want help with initial business formation, and who would also like help with intellectual property protections. The service offers help with obtaining copyrights, trademarks, patents and more.
It’s also a good choice for founders wanting to support a cause. Not only does MyCorporation help with the formation of new charities and nonprofits, but they also help obtain B-corp certification. B-corporations, or benefit corporations, are companies that opt to make social and environmental goals a substantial aspect of their business model.
MyCorporation is unique in the specific range of services they offer. They are among just a handful of incorporation services that makes it easy to start a new nonprofit corporation or B-corp, and they are also among the few that offer intellectual property protections. Here are some unique aspects of MyCorporation:
See the full review of MyCorporation here.
BizFilings is an LLC formation service that helps with initial formation, as well as ongoing business filing requirements. Their pricing is transparent and competitive, and they support a wide variety of business structures. A diverse lineup of service offerings makes it easy to select the features that are best suited to your needs and budget.
BizFilings is a great choice for those who want to form a partnership, or a sole proprietorship. Many competing services do not offer these business structures, but BizFilings does. BizFilings also offers support for nonprofit corporations.
It’s also a good choice for those who want ongoing services at a competitive price. BizFilings helps with ongoing compliance, Registered Agent services, and can also help you navigate future changes to your business, such as corporate structure changes, or the sale of your business.
The biggest unique aspect of BizFilings is their support for nearly every business structure. With it, you can form an LLC, C-corporation, S-corporation, nonprofit corporation, limited partnership (LP), limited liability partnership (LLP), and even sole proprietorships. There are also some other unique features to consider:
See the full review of BizFilings here.
Incfile is an incorporation service with a relatively simple, streamlined selection of business formation services. They choose to focus on core offerings, so although they do offer some additional services, Incfile has a bit more narrow of a selection of specialty offerings. This razor-focus is highlighted by their tagline: “Where Business Begins”.
Incfile is best for those who want to form a new business, in the most cost-effective way possible. Incfile is known for offering some of the best values in the industry; they even have a $0 plan, in which you just need to pay for state filing fees.
It’s also a good choice for those who want recommendations for other useful services. Incfile makes a point of recommending its customers to compatible business services, like business bank accounts, business website hosting, and more. In most cases, Incfile does not directly offer these services, but instead partners with other companies to offer special deals.
Incfile is the only major incorporation service to offer a free LLC plan. It’s called the Silver Package, and it costs $0 + state fees, and still covers the basics that you’ll need in most states. On this plan, Incfile makes money through their partnership offers. There are some other unique features from Incfile that are worth considering:
See the full review of Incfile here.
LegalZoom is an online legal services provider. They do help with the formation of new businesses, but this is only one of LegalZoom’s dozens of legal services. They are helpful for both business and personal legal needs, and offer one of the most diverse lineups of services out of any provider on this list.
LegalZoom is best for those looking for a one-stop-shop for all legal needs. Not only does it help you form a new company, but it can provide valuable ongoing business services. For instance, LegalZoom provides ongoing business advisory services with real attorneys, for less than $35/month. They can help you review contracts, advise on business disputes, and much more.
Plus, LegalZoom is helpful on the personal front, as well. The service can help you draft a Last Will and Testament, plan for your estate, and much more - all from the same, intuitive online platform.
LegalZoom is far more than an incorporation service; it’s a full-blown legal services provider that offers just about everything a traditional law firm might. While LegalZoom won’t represent you in court, they can refer you to a qualified attorney who can - and provide legal advice through their advisory service. For everything else, they offer a streamlined and simple platform for useful legal services. Here are some unique features of LegalZoom:
See the full review of LegalZoom here.
Northwest Registered Agent is, as the name suggests, a Registered Agent service - but it has shifted focus to offer full-fledged business formation packages. Today, you can use Northwest to register a new LLC or corporation online, in all 50 states. Pricing is transparent and competitive, and Northwest takes customer service very seriously.
Northwest Registered Agent is best for those who want personalized guidance and service. When you use Northwest, you’ll be paired with your own Corporate Guide. This guide will help you through the business formation process, and will also serve as your personal customer support representative.
Northwest is also a good choice for those who value privacy and data security. Northwest puts a huge focus on protecting client data and personal information. They do not sell any client data, and they offer a number of useful privacy-boosting services.
Northwest takes a hands-on, personal approach, and aims to build a relationship with each of their customers. They achieve this primarily through their Corporate Guide program. They also prioritize relationships over profit, so they don’t sell data or try to force you into a bunch of add-ons. Here are some unique aspects of what Northwest brings to the table:
Harbor Compliance is a business compliance service based in Pennsylvania. They offer advanced compliance services, and specialize in companies that have operations in many states. Harbor Compliance boasts more than 25,000 clients, including many large firms and nonprofit organizations.
One of their key offerings is an easier way to manage compliance requirements for entire nationwide business operations. They offer a proprietary software that lets companies oversee and manage their compliance requirements nationwide.
Harbor Compliance is best for large companies with operations in several states. Their tools are specialized for the needs of larger, nationwide organizations. Many key aspects of their software and services are best suited for cross-state compliance issues.
For smaller businesses, Harbor Compliance can still help - but it may be overkill for some.
Harbor Compliance specializes in complex compliance situations for large companies with operations in many states. One of their unique offerings is a proprietary software that entrepreneurs and managers can use to stay on top of requirements. This software offers many unique features:
On top of their advanced software, Harbor Compliance offers many of the services that your business will need. They can serve as your Registered Agent, handle filing of annual reports, and much more.