Congratulations on venturing into entrepreneurship! If you’re reading this, you’re probably ready to start a business in North Dakota but aren’t sure where to begin.

The good news is, launching a business in North Dakota is a pretty simple process in terms of paperwork, whether you’re forming a limited liability company, corporation, or partnership. From getting a registered agent and filing your name to obtaining a tax identification number and filing Articles of Organization, we’ve got tips to help you shift from concept to reality. 

Just follow these steps to ensure your business is legal and you’ll be open for business in the Peace Garden State in no time.

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How is an LLC formed in North Dakota?

Many small start-ups will choose to form an LLC for the sake of simplicity. If you that’s the route you plan to take, you can jump right into the process of making your business legal in North Dakota by following these steps:

1. Name the company

Although you may think that coming up with the perfect name for your business is the easy part, there is something you need to know: the name might already be taken in North Dakota. 

Luckily, there are some workarounds that can help you keep the name—or at least some version of it—even if it’s already been claimed in North Dakota. To better understand your options, consider the following:

  • According to North Dakota law, the legal name that you list for your limited liability company is required to contain the phrase “Limited Liability Company” or the abbreviation “LLC” or “L.L.C.”
  • In addition, the name that you choose for your LLC must be distinguishable from others registered with the North Dakota Secretary of State. You can do a quick search on the business name database to find out what’s available. If the name is free, you can reserve it for 12 months using a Reserve Name Application. Just mail it in with your $10 filing fee or file it online via the portal.
  • Worried the name you chose sounds too formal for signs, business cards, or menus? You’ve got another option: Choose a trade name for your LLC. Often called a “DBA”, this fictitious business name can be something with more real-world appeal. It’s $25 to file the Trade Name Registration (form 13401) with the North Dakota Secretary of State and you can register online, by mail or via fax.

2. Pick a registered agent

Some of the forms you’ll be required to fill out for the North Dakota Secretary of State will ask you to list your registered agent. The role of this person or business entity it so remain available during business hours to accept legal documents on behalf of your LLC.

3. File Articles of Organization with the State of North Dakota

Your next step is to file the Articles of Organization with the North Dakota Secretary of State. Although the name sounds fancy, the pieces you’ll need are quite basic, including the name of your limited liability company, the address of your LLC’s principal office, the registered agent’s name and address, the date your LLC is formed, and the purpose of your LLC.

The LLC organizer must sign and submit the document for state approval.

Once you create these articles, you can file them on the State’s FirstStop portal or via fax or mail. However you file, you’ll need to pay the $135 fee.

4. Create an Operating Agreement

Next up: you’ll want to create an operating agreement. Although it’s not required to create or file one with the North Dakota Secretary of State, it’s highly recommended that you don’t skip this step. Why?

Because even though the operating agreement is more of an internal document, it helps define the rights, duties, liabilities, powers, and obligations of the members. This is beneficial to both the LLC and the members themselves.

The operating agreement can help you more definitely separate your LLC as its own separate entity in the case of a lawsuit.

Not sure how to create an operating agreement? A quick search online will give you samples and templates.

5. Obtain an EIN

As an LLC, you’ll be required to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service if:

  • You have more than one member, even if you have no employees; or
  • You form a one-member LLC with employees; or 
  • You form a one-member LLC and elect to have it taxed as a corporation instead of a sole proprietorship

The process to get your EIN (a.k.a. a Federal Tax Identification Number) is free and easy. Just apply for it by following the steps on the IRS website.

6. File an Annual Report

All foreign and domestic LLCs in North Dakota are required to file an annual report by November 15. The first annual report isn’t due until the year AFTER your initial LLC registration.

Simply pay the $50 filing fee and use the online portal to fill out the necessary information.

What is a North Dakota registered agent?

North Dakota isn’t unique in requiring you to list a registered agent on some of your forms. This person or entity represents your LLC by being the point of contact to accept vital business-related documents delivered during regular business hours.

Do I really need a registered agent in North Dakota?

Yes. Like other states, you’ll need to list a registered agent on some of the forms you submit to the North Dakota Secretary of State to legally establish a business. 

Can I be my own registered agent in North Dakota?

Yes. As is the case with all states, North Dakota lets you serve as your own registered agent.

Who can be a registered agent in North Dakota? 

There are three criteria to represent yourself as a registered agent in the state of North Dakota. This includes:

  • You must be 18 or older.
  • You must have a street address in North Dakota. This can be your house, business, or office. No post office boxes are allowed because documents must be delivered—and accepted—in person.
  • The person or entity you’ve chosen to be your registered agent must be accessible to accept paperwork for your LLC during business hours Monday through Friday.

Why would a company choose to work with a registered agent service? 

Like many entrepreneurs, you’re probably looking for ways to lower your start-up costs, leading you to consider serving as your own registered agent. Before you jump on the DIY bandwagon, you may want to consider why paying a registered agent could be money well spent. Here are a few of the advantages to weigh with pros and cons:

  • Local options. If you’re new to North Dakota or don’t live in the state, you may not have an office, storefront or house set up in the state yet. Since one of the requirements to represent yourself as a registered agent is that you have a street address in North Dakota, you’re already disqualified from performing the duty. Luckily, you’ll have plenty of affordable options to hire a commercial registered agent.
  • Availability. As any new business owner will tell you, finances aren’t the only thing that’s tight when you’re launching an LLC. Time, too, is a hot commodity. Depending on the nature of your business, you could be swamped with employee training, vendor or investor meetings, running errands, or talking to contractors. It’s not always feasible to stay put 40 hours a week just to wait on possible document deliveries.
  • Privacy. Although not every legal document that you’ll receive is a lawsuit, it’s important to realize that perception is reality when it comes to law enforcement delivering your LLC’s paperwork. Yes, your employees, neighbors, and customers may be present when uniformed officers deliver these sensitive documents. Paying an off-site commercial registered agent may help provide privacy.
  • Experience. Like every state, North Dakota requires you to abide by state and federal compliance regulations and deadlines. You probably won’t have as much experience dealing with these confusing factors as a commercial registered agent. 
  • Time savings. Hypothetically, let’s assume you know enough to fill out complicated paperwork you’re your LLC. Will you have the time to do it? Paying a registered agent can help take one more item off your already-long list of things to do.

List of North Dakota registered agent services 

Have you decided to use a commercial registered agent? Here’s a list of registered agent services that will collect documents for your company and notify the owner when they arrive. Some choices in North Dakota to kick off your search include: 

  • Incfile.com: Incfile.com can help entrepreneurs file their LLC formation paperwork and serve as the company’s registered agent. The online company offers a host of beneficial business services that includes filing reports and other necessary documents with the state. The first year is free. After that, it’s $119 a year. 
  • Northwest Registered Agent: For $125 a year, Northwest Registered Agent offers an online portal, real-time updates when mail is received, and pricing that remains the same each year. The company offers its services in several states and has years of experience in the field. Additional business services are also offered. 
  • Swyft Filings: Swyft Filings offers registered agent services that start at $149 a year. Users get an online dashboard, report and filing reminders, and secure document storage for this fee. In addition, the company has a buffet of other business services available when you have a need.

How much does a registered agent service cost in North Dakota?

The fees to hire a registered agent service in North Dakota tend to run from $30 to $199. The fees increase as features increase. 

How does an owner select a registered agent in North Dakota?

After you choose a registered agent, you’ll need to fill in the information for that person or entity on your LLC formation documents.

Can a company change its registered agent?

If you change your mind about representing yourself as a registered agent or just want to switch from one registered agent to another, simply fill out the form on the North Dakota Secretary of State’s website to update your registered agent and file it with the $10 fee.

What’s a resident agent?

You may see the phrase “resident agent” used interchangeably with registered agent. The title varies by state. Additional names include statutory agent, corporate agent, or resident agent. 

What’s a commercial registered agent?

When filling out LLC-related forms, you may be asked if your registered agent is commercial or noncommercial. If you choose to represent yourself, check the box for noncommercial. If you pay a person or entity to represent you, choose commercial.