How to Start a Sole Proprietorship in Rhode Island

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by How to Start an LLC Team
Last updated: June 20th, 2024
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If you want to start a one-person ownership business in Rhode Island, a sole proprietorship could be the perfect choice. The most basic form of business structure is a sole proprietorship. in the United States. In Rhode Island, you don’t need to file legal documents with the state government to establish one. However, you should still follow some steps to ensure a smooth start for your sole proprietorship. This extensive guide will take you through each step of the process, from selecting a business name to obtaining necessary licenses and permits as well as registering for taxes.

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What is a sole proprietorship?

A sole proprietorship is the simplest type of business entity, where the owner and the business are seen as the same legal entity. They are popular amongst entrepreneurs and startups. 

Sole proprietors have complete control over their business but hold personal liability for any debts or obligations.

A step-by-step guide to starting your Rhode Island sole proprietorship


Choose a business name

You have the option to use your legal name or a trade or fictitious business name. Using a trade name can make your business appear more professional and trustworthy to customers. You must file a DBA (Doing Business As) if you wish to use a different name.

Here is how to file for a DBA:

  1. Choose a business name: Pick a name that describes your Rhode Island business and isn’t already used in the state. A memorable name can aid marketing, so make it engaging and descriptive.
  2. Check availability: Once you have chosen your name, you have to confirm your proposed name is not already taken by another business.

Search the following databases:

  1. Check online availability: We recommend checking that your business name is available as a .com domain and across key social media channels. An aligned online presence makes it easy for future customers to find your business and can make you appear more professional.
  2. Register the business name: Sole proprietors have to file their Certificate of Assumed Business Name with the county clerk’s office to operate under a DBA. You can find a full list of county clerks’ contact information here. Contact your city or town clerk to obtain the appropriate form for filing the certificate. In some cases, the certificate may need to be notarized, and a filing fee may be involved.

Obtain an (Employer Identification Number) EIN

An EIN, or Employer Identification Number, is a unique nine-digit number identifying a business entity. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issues EINs.

Sole proprietors can use their Social Security Number instead of an EIN for federal tax ID purposes, but obtaining an EIN has benefits:

  • Opens up business banking opportunities: Obtaining an EIN enables the opening of dedicated business bank accounts, credit cards, and financing.
  • Helps establish business credit: An EIN allows building business credit rather than relying solely on personal credit history.
  • It makes hiring employees easy: Getting an EIN distinguishes the business finances and tax documentation from the owner’s finances.
  • Enhances business privacy: Using an EIN instead of an SSN on business documents enhances privacy protections.
  • Prepares for business growth: An established EIN can simplify future transitions to more structured business entities.

You can apply for your EIN here.


Register for taxes

As a sole proprietor in Rhode Island, you must report all business income and losses on your personal tax return, Form 1040, using Schedule C.

Your net business income will be taxed at individual income tax rates.

You also must pay self-employment taxes for Social Security and Medicare, calculated using Schedule SE.

Access the information and the most current versions of Form 1040Schedule C, and Schedule SE on the IRS website.

Additional state and local taxes

  • Rhode Island imposes a sales tax on certain goods and services.
  • If your sole proprietorship involves selling taxable products or services, you must register with the Rhode Island Division of Taxation and collect and remit sales tax.
  • Register your business for taxes online through the Rhode Island Taxation Division’s website.
  • Additional business taxes may apply to your sole proprietorship, depending on your business activities. These can include franchise taxes, excise taxes, and other industry-specific taxes.
  • The Rhode Island Division of Taxation Combined Online Registration Service allows you to register to pay state taxes online.

Obtain Rhode Island business licenses, permits, and zoning clearances

  • Rhode Island does not require sole proprietors to obtain a general business license.
  • Rhode Island has specific licensing requirements for certain professions and occupations. These include real estate agents, wineries, and breweries. The Department of Business Regulation oversees these licenses.
  • You can use the Department of Business Regulation License Lookup tool to determine if your business requires a state license.
  • The state of Rhode Island also provides a professional license renewal website for certain types of businesses.
  • In addition to state licenses, you should check with your local city and county governments to determine if any specific licenses or permits are required for your sole proprietorship.
  • Most businesses do not require federal licenses, but if your business involves activities regulated at the federal level, you may need federal permits or licenses. The US Small Business Administration (SBA) provides a comprehensive list of federal agencies that issue licenses and permits.

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.


Open business bank accounts

To maintain clear financial records and separate your personal and business finances, it is essential to open a dedicated business bank account.

Having a separate business bank account offers several advantages, including:

  • Simplified bookkeeping and record-keeping: Separating your personal and business finances allows for easier tracking of income and expenses.
  • Facilitates accurate tax reporting: With a dedicated business bank account, you can easily identify and report business-related transactions on your tax returns.
  • Demonstrates professionalism: Having a separate bank account adds credibility to your business and enhances your professional image when dealing with clients, suppliers, and financial institutions.

Get liability insurance

As a sole proprietor, you shoulder complete responsibility for any business debts or obligations, making insurance an essential part of your business strategy. It safeguards you from unexpected claims or events. Consider exploring the following:

  • General liability insurance: This coverage handles allegations of property damage, bodily injury, or personal harm tied to your business operations.
  • Professional liability insurance: Particularly vital for service providers, this insurance defends against allegations of perceived negligence, errors, or lapses in your services.

Maintain business records

Rhode Island requires new businesses to maintain complete and accurate accounting records. Detailed record-keeping helps maximize tax deductions and organize your finances.

We recommend keeping records of the following:

  • Income earned
  • Expenses
  • Assets/liabilities
  • Inventory
  • Receipts

We recommend using bookkeeping software, spreadsheets, or an organized filing system to stay on top of your record-keeping. This will ensure you have all the necessary documentation come tax time.

Sole proprietorship vs. LLC

For some small businesses or startups, forming an LLC may be preferable to a sole proprietorship.

Here are some key advantages an LLC holds:

  • Liability protection: LLCs legally separate your personal and business assets. Sole proprietorships do not.
  • Credibility: An LLC’s structure appears more professional with customers.
  • Growth potential: LLCs are better suited if you plan to expand your business.
  • Tax flexibility: LLCs allow you to choose how your business is taxed. Sole proprietorships do not.

However, there are tradeoffs to consider:

  • Complexity: LLCs require filing articles of organization and completing annual reports. Sole proprietorships have less paperwork.
  • Cost: LLC formation and maintenance fees are higher than a sole proprietorship.


  • Consult a tax professional to decide which structure best fits your business.
  • Weigh liability protection vs. simplicity based on your goals and risk factors.


Do I need a registered agent for my business? 

No, sole proprietors are not required to have registered agents in Rhode Island. However, Rhode Island LLCs must designate registered agents.

Do you have to register a sole proprietorship in Rhode Island?

Registering a sole proprietorship with the state of Rhode Island is not required. You may need to obtain business permits or licenses depending on your activities.

Do sole proprietors pay taxes?

Sole proprietors must report business income and expenses on their personal tax returns. You may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments. Sole proprietors also pay self-employment tax for Social Security and Medicare.

What do sole proprietors need to do to start a business?

Key steps include choosing a business name, obtaining an EIN if desired, acquiring necessary permits/licenses, registering for applicable taxes, opening business bank accounts, getting insurance, and setting up record keeping.

What is the difference between a sole proprietorship and a single-member LLC?

A sole proprietorship offers no liability protection or legal separation between personal and business assets. A single-member LLC provides limited liability for the owner’s personal assets but involves more legal formalities.

Find out how to start a sole proprietorship

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