If you’re setting out to start a new business, there’s a lot to consider. What is your business model, and do you have a business plan? How much capital do you have to invest in your venture? And how are you going to go about actually forming the business? In many cases, working with an online incorporating service is a great idea, as it can save you a lot of time and hassle.
What is a business incorporation service? Basically, it’s a company that helps you complete all the necessary steps in order to form a new business. Most services offer options to form:
- Corporations (C-corp, S-corp, sometimes B-corp)
- Limited Liability Companies (LLC)
- Nonprofit Corporations
- Partnerships and sole proprietorships
These services will guide you through the somewhat complex business formation process. They will work directly with your state’s business department (usually the Secretary of State) to obtain and file the necessary paperwork. Working with an incorporation service can help ensure that everything is done accurately, and efficiently, so you can move on to running and growing your new business.
This article will break down all the benefits of working with a business formation service, what to consider when choosing a specific company to work with, and how much you can expect to spend. Plus, we’ll list out our recommendations for the best online incorporation services.
Benefits of using an online business formation service
For most entrepreneurs forming new businesses, we recommend going through a trusted incorporation service. The benefits almost always outweigh the costs. Here are some key benefits to consider:
The services listed below process thousands – even hundreds of thousands – of applications every year. They can help ensure that every form is filled out accurately, and every requirement is satisfied fully. This can save you a lot of time, and hassle, in the long run.
In most cases, you can do all this work yourself. However, it’s almost certainly going to take you a lot longer than it would to simply work with a service. In business, time is money – the fees charged by these services can easily pay for themselves with time savings.
Forming a new C-corporation, S-corporation or LLC is more than just filling out some forms. For instance, many states require you to select a Registered Agent, who helps manage official correspondence for your business. Many incorporation services can also serve as your Registered Agent, saving you time and money.
Guidance & Advice
Choosing between all the different business structures can be intimidating, as can the process of actually applying for the relevant licenses. Incorporation services can help guide you through the process, and most have detailed resources to help you select the right business entity for your needs.
Business Name Search
Most services will help you with selecting a proper – and available – name for your business. Usually, there will be an online search tool to help you find a company name. Plus, you can usually add on Doing Business As (DBA) names as an additional service.
Incorporation services focus on getting your business started – but the reality is, many of them can be useful for years to come. For instance, many services offer ongoing compliance support, helping you to file Annual Reports, renew licenses, and ensure your business stays in good standing with relevant state and federal agencies.
Templates & Documents
Many services offer ongoing access to your documents (articles of incorporation, articles of organization, LLC operating agreements, etc.), as well as digital access to helpful templates. For instance, some services have digital templates for business contracts, corporate bylaws, invoices, and other legal documents.
The majority of our recommended services offer various features beyond just initial business formation. For instance, many offer tools to build websites, trademark and copyright services, business tax consulting for IRS compliance, legal help, and much more. In many cases, you can choose a single service that will satisfy most or all of your business’ legal needs.
Should every entrepreneur use an online incorporation service?
We’ve established why these companies are useful – but should everyone forming a new business use one?
In most cases, yes – the majority of entrepreneurs, startup owners, and nonprofit founders can benefit from using these services. The relatively small cost is usually far outweighed by the benefits. Of course, some states make the process easier than others, while some are quite complex.
However, if you’re just forming a sole proprietorship, it may be unnecessary to use a service. The process of forming a sole prop is far simpler than that of an LLC or corporation. In fact, many services don’t even offer the option to start a sole proprietorship through them.
With that said, even sole proprietors can still benefit from some of the other services that these firms offer – so it’s still worth checking out their offerings, regardless of your desired business structure.
How much do incorporation services cost?
Costs vary depending on the service you choose, the business structure you are forming, and the specific features you want. Most services have a basic package for low costs, along with one or more premium packages with extra features.
There are essentially three categories of expense when it comes to using these services: The state filing fees (mandatory), the service’s own fees, and the add-on services you select.
State filing fees vary in each state. For an LLC, expect to spend between $50 and $300+, depending on the rules for your specific area. Corporations are generally a bit more costly, at around $100-$400. To be clear: You will need to pay state filing fees whether you use an incorporation service or not. This money goes directly to the state. State fees are charged the first year, and there may also be ongoing renewal costs (but they will be lower than the initial cost).
Incorporation service fees vary by the company and the level of service you select. At a low level, expect to spend $50-$100. For extra features, like an Employer Identification Number, or Registered Agent service, expect to spend more like $100-$300+.
Add-on services vary significantly. Fees for annual report filing, for instance, might be $50-$100 per year. Expedited processing may add $100 or more. Ongoing Registered Agent services may cost $50-$125+ per year. Most services offer a variety of add-ons to choose from, so you can customize your selection to fit your needs.
Many services offer pre-built packages to choose from, with the option to add on additional services. Generally speaking, the middle option is often the best value, but it of course depends on the specific needs of your business.
How to choose an online incorporation service
We’ve done the research and testing for you, to share the best LLC and corporation formation services available today. You can find the list of our recommendations below.
With that said, it’s still worthwhile to have an idea of what you should be looking for in these services. Here are some things for small business owners to keep in mind:
When starting a new business, you’ll have your choice of a sole proprietorship, LLC, corporation, or nonprofit corporation. In some cases, limited partnerships (LP) or limited liability partnerships (LLP) may also make sense. Make sure that any service you’re considering offers the support for the business structure you’d like. Also, keep taxation treatment in mind – for instance, if you’d like to elect S-corp status, or apply for 501 (c)(3) status for a nonprofit, make sure the service you choose offers these options.
The best online business formation services offer an array of features to serve your business. Look for things like online access to documents, ongoing Registered Agent services, ongoing compliance support, dedicated customer service, and any other features or services you need.
Pricing & value
How much does the service cost? Is it in-line with average price points (see above)? More importantly, does it seem like they are offering enough value to justify the price tag? Be sure to look at both upfront costs and ongoing expenses. With that said, you don’t necessarily just want a low price – you want a good balance between cost and value.
What other perks does the service offer? Do they include bonus features, like a business website or hosting? Do they offer exclusive discounts or deals on compatible business services and products? Is there a tax/accounting consultation with a CPA available?
Ease of use
A major selling point of a good incorporation service is that it should be easy to use. This information can be somewhat hard to gauge without actually trying the service, but you can look to customer reviews and feedback to get a feel for things.
How many business days will it take to process your documents? Do different formation packages have different processing speeds? Keep in mind that turnaround times will always vary depending on the state, but you still want to choose a company that will process your documents in a timely manner.
Does the service offer any sort of worry-free guarantee or satisfaction guarantee? Do they stand behind their services if something goes wrong?
The best online incorporation services
Through extensive research, testing, and analysis of customer feedback, we’ve compiled a list of the best business formation services. We picked these options based on a combination of their features, pricing, customer ratings, and overall value.
Northwest Registered Agent
Northwest Registered Agent is a business services company with a few core offerings. As the name suggests, they focus on Registered Agent services, but also offer incorporation, renewal, ongoing compliance, etc. They also have a few accessory services, like mail forwarding and virtual offices. They have a customer-first approach, which prioritizes privacy, transparency, and customer service over all else.
What makes it unique
Northwest is a very ethical and transparent company. They do not sell your data and do not try to sell you on dozens of services that you don’t need. By focusing on a core selection of services (business formation, registered agent services, ongoing compliance, etc.), Northwest has been able to perfect its craft, resulting in stellar ratings from customers.
Another unique aspect of this company is its approach to service and customer support. When you sign up for any Northwest service, you’ll be paired with a Corporate Guide who is an expert in your state’s rules. This guide will help you through the incorporation process, and will also be your personal customer support agent.
- Excellent customer service
- One-on-one ongoing help from a personal Corporate Guide
- Transparent and simple fee structure
- No hidden fees or upsells
- Register new businesses, renew permits and remain compliant
- Excellent ratings with BBB, Trustpilot, etc.
- Useful, unique services like virtual office and mail forwarding
- Fewer accessory services than many competitors
ZenBusiness is a popular option for entrepreneurs looking to register a new business. Zenbusiness offers a simple, fully online way to form a new LLC, corporation, or sole proprietorship. You can also use ZenBusiness to obtain an Employee Identification Number (EIN) tax ID number, keep up with ongoing state filing requirements, and much more. You can get started for as little as $49, making ZenBusiness a terrific value. Overall, ZenBusiness is perhaps the best LLC service on the market today.
What makes it unique
What sets ZenBusiness apart from the competition is its ongoing usefulness for small businesses. ZenBusiness serves as your Registered Agent, and helps with ongoing business filing and compliance, provides tools to build business websites, and offers valuable resources for the success of your business. This means that ZenBusiness can be a valuable partner for your business for many years to come!
- Choice of LLC, corporation, or sole proprietorship
- Variety of plans available to suit your needs
- Serves as your Registered Agent
- Valuable ongoing services for business
- Compatible with requirements in all 50 states
- Simple and fast online applications
- Annual pricing structure (ongoing costs)
- State filing fees charged separately
See the full review of ZenBusiness here.
Incfile is an online incorporation service that can help you form a new LLC, corporation, or nonprofit in an efficient manner. They offer a streamlined suite of services, focusing on the nuts-and-bolts of starting a new company. Compared to the competition, they offer very competitive pricing.
What makes it unique
Incfile is unique in that they focus almost exclusively on new business formation. While many competitors offer a huge range of services, Incfile chooses to dial in their specialty – new business formation. Incfile’s tagline is “Where Business Begins”, which is very appropriate, given their focus.
Another unique factor that Incfile brings to the table is that they are the only service to provide a free business formation service. With their basic plan, you can actually start a new corporation or LLC for $0 + state fees. Incfile makes money through partnerships and by recommending compatible products to business owners, allowing them to offer extremely competitive pricing.
- Very competitive pricing
- The only service to offer a free incorporation service (just pay state fees!)
- Three simple packages to choose from
- Valuable special offers from partners
- Also offers some ongoing services, like Registered Agent services
- Free online learning center for entrepreneurs
- Mediocre ratings with BBB and Trustpilot
- Some complaints about customer service responsiveness
See the full review of Incfile here.
Swyft Filings is another popular online business registration service that offers a wide variety of useful services. They can help you form a new LLC, corporation, or even a nonprofit – all from the comfort of your home. Plus, Swyft helps with obtaining an EIN, obtaining specialized permits and licenses, and much, much more.
What makes it unique
Swyft Filings is unique in that it provides a wide range of business services, far beyond simple business registration. For instance, Swyft can serve as your ongoing Registered Agent, help you convert your business structure, help you obtain reseller permits and other business licenses, and much, much more. Essentially, Swyft Filings can help with just about any business licensing, regulation, compliance, or legal issue your company might face.
Plus, Swyft Filings is also unique in that it provides registration services for nonprofit entities. If you’re looking to start a charity and obtain 501 (c)(3) status, Swyft is a great service to choose from.
- Form corporations, LLCs, and more
- Form nonprofits and apply for 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status
- Registered Agent service optional
- Competitive pricing from $49 + state fees
- Huge range of business services
- Business domain name, website, and hosting available
- More advanced ongoing features, like business conversion and ongoing compliance
- Lifetime support included, even though fees are one-time charges
- Sole Proprietorship business structure not advertised (although this is usually easy to register on your own)
- State registration fees charged separately
See the full review of Swyft Filings here.
LegalZoom is a provider of legal services, spanning from business formation to estate planning. They offer a huge range of services, and can even pair you directly with attorneys for personalized advice, at a rock-bottom price. They are helpful for both business and personal legal needs and have become a trusted partner for millions of customers.
What makes it unique
LegalZoom goes beyond the basics of business formation to offer an entire suite of legal services. For businesses, a very valuable service is LegalZoom’s Business Advisory Plan, which gives you unlimited 30-minute consultations with qualified attorneys for business legal advice.
The plan costs less than $35 a month, presenting tremendous value for small businesses. You can seek advice from these attorneys on all business matters – contract disputes, lease negotiations, hiring, and more – all for one flat monthly fee. If needed, LegalZoom also offers a personal version of this service, for just $10 a month.
- Widest array of legal services of any provider on this list
- Business & personal services
- Help with forming a new business, and remaining compliant with existing businesses
- Business Advisory Plan allows you to consult directly with attorneys for less than $35 a month
- Competitive pricing
- Access to a network of legal professionals in all 50 states
- Over 4 million customers served
- Does not provide in-court representation
- Some reviews mention poor experiences with customer support
See the full review of LegalZoom here.
Harvard Business Services
Harvard Business Services (HBS) is an LLC formation service that focuses on helping businesses incorporate in the state of Delaware. They can help you form a new LLC or corporation while taking advantage of Delaware’s business-friendly tax laws and regulations. They also offer a number of ongoing services, including a Registered Agent service.
What makes it unique
HBS is unique in that it specializes in business formation in a single state: Delaware. With the service, business owners from all over the country (and indeed, the world), can form a Delaware LLC or corporation easily. You do not need to live in the state in order to form a business there.
Delaware is widely considered to be the most business-friendly state in America. Over 50% of publicly traded firms are incorporated in Delaware, and as much as 65% of the Fortune 500 firms call Delaware home. Harvard Business Services alone has helped start more than 200,000 companies in the state. If you’d like to take advantage of Delaware’s business-friendly rules, using Harvard Business Services is a great way to go.
- Form LLCs or corporations
- Form new businesses in Delaware, even if you live elsewhere
- Makes it easy to take advantage of Delaware’s business-friendly regulations, courts and tax laws
- HBS serves as your business’ Registered Agent
- Very competitive pricing that includes state registration fees
- Lifetime support included
- Delaware only – you cannot form a company in any other state with HBS
- Ongoing compliance resources and services are minimal; HBS focuses on the formation of new companies
MyCorporation is a popular online business legal services provider. They offer standard services, such as new business formation, ongoing compliance support, Registered Agent services, etc, in addition to select intellectual property protection services. They offer a huge range of business services, making MyCorporation a one-stop-shop for many companies.
What makes it unique
MyCorporation goes beyond the basics to offer a full suite of business legal and filing services. In addition to incorporation services, MyCorporation also helps with copyrights, trademarks, patents, and more. If you’re looking for a partner to help protect your intellectual property, MyCorporation is a good option. Plus, the company also has valuable resources and services for nonprofit entities and charities.
- Provides intellectual property protection services
- Helps you register a new trademark or copyright
- Helps with taxation election, i.e. S-corp status
- Helps you transfer, alter, or sell a business
- Support for corporations, LLCs, and nonprofits
- Ongoing support for businesses
- Ongoing corporate maintenance, such as Annual Report filing
- Large online resources library
- State registration fees are charged separately
See the full review of MyCorporation here.
BizFilings is an online business filing service that helps with many aspects of business legal requirements. They can help you form a new business, as well as stay compliant and up-to-date with your existing company. Pricing is clear and competitive, and they make it easy to customize your services to fit your needs.
What makes it unique
BizFilings supports all business structures, including limited partnerships (LPs), limited liability partnerships (LLPs), and sole proprietorships. Many competing services do not help with forming partnerships, so BizFilings is a good option for those going into business with a partner.
After your business is formed, BizFilings can also help with more complex legal matters, including business conversion or sale. They aim to be a complete solution to your business’ filing needs.
- Form a new LLC, corporation, sole proprietorship, or partnership
- Supports partnership business structures (many services don’t)
- Helps with all business filing requirements, both initial and ongoing
- Transparent pricing
- Choose from pre-built packages, or build your own
- Helps you obtain an employer identification number, DBA, etc.
- Ongoing Registered Agent service is more expensive than average
See the full review of BizFilings here.