How to Start a Sole Proprietorship in Iowa

Last updated: March 13th, 2024
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Are you ready to embark on your entrepreneurial journey and start a business in Iowa? If so, establishing a sole proprietorship might be your perfect option. As a sole proprietor, you’ll have full control and ownership of your business, allowing you to pursue your passion and make your mark in the business world. In this thorough guide, we’ll walk you through the necessary steps to start a sole proprietorship in Iowa, from choosing a business name to obtaining licenses and permits.

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What is a sole proprietorship?

A sole proprietorship provides the most basic business structure – it is owned and managed entirely by one person responsible for its debts and liabilities. The simplicity of set-up makes sole proprietorships a go-to choice for many new business owners going solo. Unlike Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) and corporations, there is no legal distinction between a sole proprietor’s personal and business assets.

While this simplicity can be advantageous, sole proprietorships also have drawbacks. Most notably, they offer entrepreneurs little protection for the owner’s assets. Weighing these protections and limitations is important in deciding if a sole proprietorship is the right structure for your business.

A step-by-step guide to starting your Iowa sole proprietorship

1

Choose a business name

All sole proprietorships in Iowa must be named the same as the owner’s legal name by default. If you wish to do business under a different name, you must file a “doing business as” (DBA).

Here are the steps to filing your DBA:

  1. Choose a business name: Your business name is the foundation of your brand identity and a key factor in attracting customers and establishing credibility. When selecting a name, it’s important to ensure it is unique, it’s not misleading, and describes what your business does.
  2. Check availability: Before finalizing your name, it’s essential to check its availability.

Check these two resources:

  1. Check online availability: Build your brand online by securing matching domains and social media handles. Start by checking if your preferred name is available as a .com domain that you can use for your website. Also, verify that related usernames on social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are free to claim. Claiming these digital assets now also prevents confusion down the road as your company grows.
  2. Register the business name: As a sole proprietor in Iowa, you are not required to file a trade name with the state. Instead, you must register your DBA name with the county recorder where your business operates.

Each county may have its own registration process and fees, so it’s important to research the specific requirements in your county. You can find your counties’ contact information from the Iowa State Association of Counties.

Once you know which county you need to contact, you can find the form online, which you can print, complete and return to your county recorder’s office.

2

Obtain an (Employer Identification Number) EIN

Sole proprietors without staff can use their Social Security Number (SSN) for federal tax purposes rather than registering for an Employer Identification Number (EIN).

However, there are several advantages to proactively obtaining an EIN from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a sole proprietor:

  • Opens up business banking opportunities: An EIN facilitates the opening of dedicated business bank accounts, credit cards, and loans to keep finances separate from your funds.
  • Helps establish business credit: Applying for credit under your new EIN rather than SSN allows you to build credit tied to your company’s financial profile.
  • Eases hiring process: Obtaining an EIN is beneficial for adding employees in the future, as it distinguishes your business from your personal tax documents.
  • Enhances business privacy: Your EIN replaces using your SSN on business paperwork, protecting your identity and personal information.
  • Prepares for business growth: An established EIN can streamline transitions if you incorporate or change structure as your business grows.

You can apply for your EIN here.

3

Obtain Iowa business licenses, permits, and zoning clearances

  • In Iowa, sole proprietors do not require a general business license.
  • However, depending on the nature of your business activities, you may need to obtain specific licenses, permits, or zoning clearances to operate legally and compliantly.
  • There are three helpful online resources for understanding licensing requirements:
  • It’s also important to consider any local regulations, building permits, or zoning laws that may apply to your business. Contact your city and county governments to ensure compliance with these requirements.
4

Register for taxes

At the federal level, you must pay individual income tax on the net profits from your business. When filing your personal tax return (Form 1040), this business income gets reported with your personal income (Schedule C). Your income tax rate will depend on your total taxable income amount.

You may also need to pay self-employment tax, which funds Social Security and Medicare.

Additional state and local taxes

  • If you sell goods or taxable services in Iowa, you may be required to collect sales tax. Determining if your goods or services are subject to sales tax is crucial by referring to the state’s Sales and Use Tax Information guide. You must register for a sales tax permit to begin collecting sales tax.
  • You may need to pay use tax to Iowa if you purchase taxable items from out-of-state suppliers without paying sales tax.
  • In addition to sales and use tax, you may be subject to other state and local taxes based on your business activities. It’s important to research and understand these additional tax obligations. Iowa’s Local Option Tax is an example of a local tax that may apply in certain jurisdictions.

Additional steps

After you’ve secured your EIN, registered for federal taxes, and received the necessary licenses, you’ve completed the essential steps to establish your sole proprietorship.

We suggest a few more tasks to help your small business stay aligned with rules and well-organized.

5

Open business bank accounts

Drawing a line between your personal and business finances is crucial for maintaining accurate financial records and preserving your personal assets. To set up business accounts, adhere to the following steps:

  • Business bank account: Establishing a separate account can simplify the tracking of income and costs, simplify tax filing, and lend credibility to your operation.
  • Business credit card: Having a business credit card not only helps segregate personal and business expenses but also aids in monitoring business-related costs and building your business’s credit, which can prove beneficial in the future.
6

Get liability insurance

As a sole proprietor, you bear the full brunt of any business liabilities, making insurance a crucial aspect of your business plan. This can protect you from unforeseen claims or incidents. We recommend looking into the following:

  • General business liability insurance: This policy covers accusations of property damage, bodily harm, or personal injury linked to your business activities.
  • Professional liability insurance: If you offer services, this insurance is critical as it shields you from claims of supposed negligence, mistakes, or oversights in your service provision.
7

Maintain business records

Keeping records is important for tax filing and managing your sole proprietorship’s financial affairs. You should make an effort to precisely track the following:

  • Income
  • Expenses
  • Assets and liabilities
  • Inventory
  • Billing documents

Using bookkeeping software and spreadsheets or setting up a systematic method can help handle documents. Being as organized as possible will prove helpful when it’s time to file taxes, and it promotes the overall financial health of your business.

Sole proprietorship vs. LLC

While a sole proprietorship might seem appealing due to its simplicity and few legal needs, it’s vital to consider possible downsides and look into other types of business structures, like an LLC.

Here are some things to think about when choosing between a sole proprietorship and an LLC:

  • Protection from debt: One big plus of starting an LLC is its protection from debt. As a sole proprietor, you are responsible for any money owed or legal claims against your business, which could put your own assets at risk. On the other hand, an LLC gives a clear divide between your personal and business assets, keeping your personal belongings safe from business debts.
  • Looking professional: An LLC could make you look more professional in customers’ eyes. Starting an LLC shows more dedication to your business.
  • Potential to grow: If you plan to make your business bigger or attract outside funding, an LLC gives you more room to grow than a sole proprietorship.
  • Flexibility with taxes: One plus of a sole proprietorship is how simple it is when it comes to taxes. You usually report money made and money spent by your business on your personal tax return with a Schedule C. An LLC also offers flexibility with taxes, as it can be treated like a sole proprietorship, a general partnership, or a corporation for tax reasons.

It’s important to remember that starting an LLC involves more steps and legal needs, like filing Articles of Organization and paying filing fees.

Useful resources to help start your sole proprietorship in Iowa

FAQs

Can I change my sole proprietorship to an LLC in the future?

Yes, it is possible to convert your sole proprietorship to an LLC. However, the process can be complex and involves multiple steps, including filing a certificate of organization, obtaining new licenses and permits, and updating contracts and agreements.

Do I need an EIN if I don’t have employees?

While an EIN is not required for sole proprietors without employees, obtaining one can provide various benefits, such as opening a business bank account.

How do I know which licenses and permits I need for my sole proprietorship?

Determining the licenses and permits required for your sole proprietorship depends on the nature of your business activities. Refer to our resources in the article for links to licensing resources.

Do I need liability insurance for my sole proprietorship?

While liability insurance is not legally required for sole proprietors, it is highly recommended. Liability insurance provides liability protection in case of accidents, property damage, or lawsuits related to your business activities.

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