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  • Dennis Bingham

How to Form an LLC: A Step-by-Step Guide for 2024

Updated: May 28


Image of an LLC benefits checklist

Starting a new business venture can be an exciting yet daunting task. As you get your operations up and running, one of the first legal decisions you'll need to make is how to structure your company.


Forming a limited liability company (LLC) is a popular choice for small business owners because it combines aspects of partnerships, sole proprietorships, and corporations into one flexible business structure.


This guide will walk you through all the steps in forming an LLC in 2024, from choosing a business name to creating an operating agreement and obtaining licenses.


 We'll also cover important compliance requirements to keep your LLC in good standing. With some planning, you can establish an LLC to give your new venture a solid legal foundation.


What is an LLC, Exactly?


An LLC combines aspects of a corporation and partnership but has more flexibility than either. Forming an LLC can provide many advantages, but there are also some drawbacks.


Pros:

  • Limited liability protection - An LLC shields personal assets from business liabilities and debt. If the worst happens, your house and savings stay safe.

  • Pass-through taxation - Profits and losses "pass-through" to the owners' tax returns. No pesky double taxation here!

  • Flexible management structure - the structure stays casual and relaxed - less stuffy than a corporation.

  • Easy to form and maintain - LLCs cost little to create and run. An LLC has significantly less paperwork than a corporation.


Cons:

Of course, every rose has its thorns:


  • Self-employment taxes - LLC owners pay self-employment taxes on profits.

  • Limited life span - Some states make LLCs dissolve after 30 years.

  • Limited capital-raising options - LLCs can't raise money through public stock offerings.


After weighing the pros and cons, forming an LLC is often a good choice for small businesses and startups.


Now, let's get to the fun part - setting one up!


Picking a Business Name


Your LLC's name makes that critical first impression, so consider it! The official name must include "Limited Liability Company," "LLC," or similar per legal requirements.


Research thoroughly so your chosen name isn't already taken in your state. Double-check the Secretary of State's records online to avoid trademark troubles. 


Tips for LLC naming success:


  • Work your primary goods/services into the name

  • Keep it simple - easy to spell and say

  • Shorter is better 

  • Throw in something unique


You can always do business under a fictitious name (DBA) if you prefer a general brand different from your official LLC name.


Appointing a Registered Agent


All LLCs need an official point person to receive legal documents - aptly called a registered agent. This person/service needs a physical address in the state where you'll form the LLC.


Using a registered agent service can spare you headaches down the road. They'll ensure compliance with statutory service requirements. Some popular registered agent services include IncFile, Northwest Registered Agent, and ZenBusiness.


If not using a service, appoint a reliable individual in your LLC as the registered agent. Just know they must be available during regular business hours to receive and pass along time-sensitive mail. 


Preparing the Paperwork


The formal process of registering your LLC with the state starts here. You'll draft and submit what's fittingly called Articles of Organization, including: 


  • Your LLC's official name and address.

  • Registered agent's name and contact details.  

  • Names and addresses of all members.  

  • Short description of your business purpose.

  • Dissolution date (required in some states).


Filing fees typically range from $50-$500 depending on your state.


Many states let you submit the articles online for simplicity's sake. Your LLC legally exists once the state approves and processes your paperwork.


Creating an Operating Agreement


An operating agreement outlines the ownership structure, member responsibilities, voting rights, rules, and regulations for your LLC's operations. It's an internal governing document that is not filed with the state. 


The agreement should cover financial and managerial procedures, like how profits and losses will be allocated among members. It also determines if management power is vested in all or select managing members.


While not legally required, having an operating agreement is strongly recommended.


Operating agreements help settle disputes and provide legal protections if things are unplanned. They benefit both single and multi-member LLCs.


Snagging an Employer ID Number 


An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is a unique tax ID number for your business needed for hiring employees, opening business bank accounts, and filing taxes.


As a new LLC, you must get an EIN before your first tax return is due. The easiest way is to apply online at IRS.gov. The EIN is issued immediately; you can print confirmation directly from the IRS website.


Making it Official


After approval of your articles of organization, take steps to make your LLC official:


  • Obtain local licenses and permits.  

  • Open dedicated business bank accounts.

  • Set up bookkeeping and accounting. 

  • Build a business website and branding. 

  • Print snazzy marketing materials with your new LLC name.  

  • Brush up on compliance requirements. 


Following the proper legal steps gives your LLC legitimacy and strength right out of the gate!


Keeping Your LLC in Good Standing  


To keep your LLC compliant and active, follow your state's required filing and reporting rules. Typically, this involves:


  • Submitting annual reports with updated info. 

  • Paying yearly renewal fees ($25-$150 usually).

  • Keeping meticulous meeting records.

  • Reporting any changes to registered agents or addresses. 


Stay on top of all communications from the Secretary of State. If you miss required filings or payments, your LLC could lapse into "inactive" status or even dissolution.


Also, proper financial records and operating agreements must be kept up to date. 


Follow state and local licensing and permitting rules relevant to your industry.


Keeping compliant helps prove your LLC is functioning legally.


Understanding How LLCs Are Taxed


LLCs provide tax flexibility: 

 

  • By default, profits/losses pass through to owners.

  • Multi-member LLCs can choose partnership taxation. 

  • Single owners can opt for corporate taxation if they wish.


LLCs with multiple members must file a partnership tax return. Profits are allocated to members based on ownership percentage, and self-employment tax must be paid on member income.


For single-member LLCs, no separate business return is required. The owner reports profits/losses on Schedule C of their tax return.


Hiring an Accountant Has Perks! 


A knowledgeable accountant or CPA provides invaluable financial guidance like:


  • Optimizing tax treatment 

  • Setting up accounting systems

  • Filing necessary paperwork

  • Uncovering available deductions  

  • Structuring owner distributions 


Consider an accountant your LLC's financial guru!


How to Form an LLC


Forming an adequately constructed LLC gives your new venture liability protections that come in handy.


Follow this guide, and you'll be well on your way to getting your LLC up and running with all its legal ducks in a row!


Remember to stay on top of compliance requirements, keep immaculate financial records, and use your LLC status fully. Here's to soaring success!


Additional Resources


Thank you for reading this article on How to Form an LLC. We recommend these additional articles related to choosing a legal structure.

 

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