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Launching a business in Washington is a fairly simple process, but certain things must be done to get up and running. Entrepreneurs must pick a company name, select a registered agent, file LLC formation documents, file for an identification number, and learn about the state’s requirement to file an annual report. 

While that might seem like a lengthy list, it’s fairly simple to work through. To help, we’ll explore how to start an LLC and explain terms like a registered agent. A registered agent is a person or company that accepts official documents on behalf of your company. Usually, these documents are confidential and are delivered by registered mail or in-person. 

Let’s discuss how a registered agent fits into setting up a Washington LLC and what steps to take to become a business owner in the state.

How is an LLC formed in Washington?

An LLC is established in Washington by filing LLC formation documents known as Certificate of Formation. In some states, the name of these documents vary. In some states, they’re called Articles of Organization, for example.  

Before filing the Certificate of Formation, follow these steps to set up an LLC with ease:  

1. Name the company

A company’s name is important. Once entrepreneurs have a name in mind, they should go to Washington Corporations and Charities Filing System to see if the name is available. Names are available as long as no other company in the state has the name. The website has a search function so owners can research names. 

If the name is available, you’re one step closer to naming your company. However, there are additional naming rules. The company must have “Limited Liability Company” or “LLC” in its name and it can’t suggest any connection with the government. By following all of these rules, you’ll select a legal name for your soon-to-be business. 

After settling on a name, it’s a good idea to look into a company domain name too. Ideally, the domain name would match the company name. However, the domain name might not be available. If that’s the case, it’s best to know that before officially declaring the business name to the state. 

It’s also worth noting that the state may ask some LLCs to verify their name. It doesn’t happen often, but in some cases, the state may want to make sure the company name isn’t misleading or can actually offer the services implied by the name. 

2. Pick a registered agent

Next on the list is to select a registered agent. A registered agent will receive official paperwork for the company that’s either mailed or served in-person.  

An owner can be his or her own registered agent, but a friend, neighbor, nearby business owner, or professional registered agent service can do the job too. 

The owner must decide whether a trusted person should fill this role or if a registered agent service is a better choice. A registered agent service will accept documents for your company, notify you of any deliveries, and mail the original documents to you. These services charge an annual fee for this.

3. File the Certification of Formation

To create your LLC, you’ll need to file a Certificate of Formation with the Washington Secretary of State. The document asks for the name of the LLC and its address, the name and address of the registered agent, the period of duration of your LLC (either perpetual or for a specific period of time), and the LLC organizer’s signature. 

Since business owners spent time selecting a name and picking a registered agent, this form won’t take long to fill out. 

The forms can be found online and submitted electronically. The forms can also be printed and mailed to the secretary of state. 

The fee to file is $180 if it’s done by mail and $200 if it’s done online. The State of Washington will immediately approve the application if it’s sent online, so while it may cost a little more, the approval process is something to consider. If it’s mailed in, the state says it will take up to a week to approve the certificate. 

Once approved, you’re officially a Washington LLC owner.  

4. Create a company operating agreement

Every company, no matter what state it resides in, should have an operating agreement. An operating agreement explains how a company is set up, how decisions are made, and lists responsibilities, both functional and financial, of each managing member. 

While the operating agreement doesn’t need to be filed with the state, business experts say it’s a vital document that can prevent many problems long-term. If an investor, for example, wants to argue about how much of the profit he or she is entitled to, it’s all spelled out in the operating agreement. 

For those who need help developing this document, run a Google search for an operating agreement template to get started. Entrepreneurs can talk with a lawyer about crafting this document too.

5. Obtain an EIN

Before you can hire any employee or even deposit money into a business bank account, you need an EIN.  To obtain an EIN, you can visit the IRS website and receive one in a matter of minutes. This number acts as your company’s identification number and is needed to open bank accounts, hire and pay employees, and pay taxes.

6. File an annual report

The State of Washington requires LLCs to file an annual report and pay a $60 filing fee. The secretary of state’s office usually sends reminders to companies when it’s time to file. 

What is a Washington registered agent?

A Washington registered agent is a person or company that is responsible for accepting official documents for your company. Whether it’s a person, like an owner or the company accountant, or a registered agent service that’s paid to fill the role, it’s an important choice that only an owner can make. 

Do I really need a registered agent in Washington?

Yes. A business owner can not file the Certificate of Formation without adding a registered agent. Every state requires LLCs to have a person’s name and address on file with the state. Think of this person as the company’s official point of contact. 

Can I be my own registered agent in Washington?

The owner can be the company’s registered agent. Many owners do so, especially those that are just starting out and work from home or from an office. However, there are other choices.

Who can be a registered agent in Washington? 

A registered agent can be the owner, a trusted friend, an employee, or another company – that includes a registered agent service. A registered agent service is a company that receives documentation on your behalf, for a fee. 

In Washington, the person or company must have a physical street address and be available during normal business hours. 

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

There are advantages of working with a registered agent service, which includes:

  • ConvenienceIn some cases, owners find registered agent services more convenient than filling the role themselves. The registered agent service is open during regular business hours and always has someone on staff to accept documents, which, for some owners, is worth paying for.
  • Time savingsA registered agent service often offers additional services that can save owners time. For example, a registered agent service can file the annual report and other compliance records, which is less an owner has to do.
  • PrivacySome of the paperwork that registered agents receive isn’t something you’d want your employees or customers to know about. If your company is sued, for example, it’s best that the paperwork is served at an off-sight location. 

List of Washington registered agent services 

You should have no problem finding a registered agent for your Washington LLC, but here are a few choices to get you started:

  • Northwest Registered Agent: Northwest is one of the most recognized names in the registered agent business. The company has decades of experience and local offices scattered across the U.S. to serve small businesses like yours. The cost for a registered agent service is comparable to others. Business owners can also take advantage of additional services like report filing.
  • ZenBusiness: ZenBusiness is fairly new to the market, but they’ve grown a strong following. Business owners love the affordable rates for a registered agent service, which are as low as $99 per year. The company offers worry-free compliance too, to help business owners file the necessary reports on time.
  • Incfile: Incfile is another trusted name for business services, including its registered agent services. Business owners can get a registered agent free for a year. That’s right, free. After the first year, the price kicks in at $119. An online dashboard, automatic mail forwarding, and tailored notifications also come with the service.

How much does a registered agent service cost in Washington?

The cost of a registered agent depends on what kind of services a business owner wants. A registered agent service that offers basic features, like mail forwarding, can cost about $50 a year. 

For more features, like same-day document scans, enhanced notifications, or assistance filing annual reports, the fees increase. A registered agent service that offers all the bells and whistles costs upwards of $150-250 a year.

How does an owner select a registered agent in Washington?

A registered agent is listed on the official LLC formation documents, or the Certificate of Formation. This document requires the name and address of the registered agent selected to serve your company. 

Can a company change its registered agent?

The registered agent can be changed at any time. The state has a change form that can be filled out and submitted. The agent of record can also be changed when the annual report is filed. There is no filing fee associated with this document. 

What’s a statutory agent?

Some states use the term “statutory agent” interchangeably with registered agent.

What’s a commercial registered agent?

A commercial agent or a commercial registered agent refers to a registered agent service or a professional company that a business owner pays to serve as its registered agent. A non-commercial agent is a person, like an owner or an employee, who serves as the registered agent.