Most adults dream about starting their own business at some point in their lives. If you feel like you’re finally ready to put an idea into action in Wisconsin, it may be intimidating to start the paperwork. Do you need to incorporate? Are you required to get a tax number? Where do you even find the necessary documents to register your name in Wisconsin? What the heck is “Articles of Organization”?

Whether you’re opening an internet café, a women’s clothing boutique, or a watch repair shop, there are steps you’ll need to follow to make everything official in the Badger State. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know enough about registered agents, Taxpayer Identification Numbers, annual reports, and operating agreements to form a limited liability company (LLC) in Wisconsin.

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How is an LLC formed in Wisconsin?

Although legal structures—such as corporations, partnerships, and nonprofits—provide their own advantages and disadvantages, most entrepreneurs will opt to form a limited liability company. That’s because LLCs are, by comparison, simple and informal to create while still providing some protection from business-related debts and lawsuits.

Ready to establish your LLC in Wisconsin? Work your way through this list:

1. Name the company

Mulling over names might be one of the most creative parts of launching a business, but the state requires all company names to be unique. To make sure another company isn’t already using the name you want, search the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions business name database to check availability. 

If the name is taken, business owners must come up with a different name or a variation that sets it apart. 

In addition, the state of Wisconsin has a few other rules entrepreneurs should know about when it comes to naming the company: 

  • In Wisconsin, your LLC name will be required to include one of the following four options: “LLC” or “L.L.C.” or “Limited Liability Company” or “Limited Liability Co.”
  • The name of your business must be “distinguishable” from others on file in Wisconsin. Once you determine a suitable name, you can file a Name Reservation Application online or by mail. The name reservation is good for 120 days and the fee is $15.
  • A long, formal business name may sound too stuffy for signs, menus, business cards or t-shirts. Luckily, you have the option to pick a second name for everyday use. You’ll sometimes hear this fictitious name referred to as a “trade name” or a “DBA” (an acronym for “doing business as”). Filing this name with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions doesn’t establish ownership rights, but it does let the public know the name is being used. Use the Registration of Tradename/Trademark application to file by mail or online. The fee is $15.

2. Pick a registered agent

Some of the forms you’ll be required to fill out to make your business legal in Wisconsin will ask for information about your registered agent. This person or business entity must have committed to accept important legal documents on behalf of your LLC. 

3. File Articles of Organization with the State of Wisconsin

As with other states, Wisconsin LLCs must create Articles of Organization by filing the following information online with the state. Expect to provide these pieces of information on the Articles of Organization:

  • The name of your LLC
  • Your registered agent’s name and address
  • A designation of member-managed or manager-managed
  • The organizer(s)’ name and address
  • The LLC’s phone number and email address 
  • The LLC organizer’s signature
  • The name of the drafter of the articles

You’ll pay a $130 fee to file online with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions or $170 to file by mail.

4. Create an operating agreement

Not all paperwork for your LLC will be mandatory, although even the pieces that are optional are highly advisable. One such piece is the operating agreement; a mostly internal document that helps clarify the duties, rights, liabilities, powers, and obligations of members. 

Assuming you’re like most entrepreneurs, your schedule is already jam-packed with a long list of to-do items, so it makes sense that you’d be tempted to skip this optional task.

But having an operating agreement on file can help protect you in the case of legal woes by spelling out the details of your LLC on paper. Without an operating agreement, your LLC’s existing articles of organization, bylaws, or other company agreements will collectively become your operating agreement.

Not sure what to include in an operating agreement? Just search the web for examples and templates.

5. Obtain an EIN

It may feel like the fees to file paperwork are adding up quickly, but here’s one that doesn’t cost a penny: obtaining an employer identification number (EIN).

Sometimes called a “taxpayer identification number” (TIN), this number can help you establish a separate business bank account (vs. using your personal bank account). But do you really need one? Here are some criteria to help you decide:

  • Are you forming an LLC with multiple members? Get an EIN.

Or

  • Are you forming a single-member LLC with employees? Get an EIN.

Or

  • Will your LLC be taxed as a corporation? Get an EIN.

The process is quite simple. Just apply on the IRS website.

6. File an annual report

Depending on the state where you’re doing business, you may be required to file an annual certificate, biannual report, or annual report.

In Wisconsin, you’ll need to file the latter by the end of the calendar quarter of the anniversary month of your LLC’s formation. If, for example, you formed your LLC on July 15, you’ll need to file your annual report before the September 30 deadline. (To be clear, the quarterly due dates are March 31, June 30, September 30 and December 31.)

Your registered agent will receive a notice with instructions from the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. 

You can file the annual report online, along with a $25 filing fee. 

What is a Wisconsin registered agent?

Several of the required forms you’ll be filling out for the State of Wisconsin will ask you to provide basic information about the registered agent you’ve chosen. The job of the registered agent—which you may also see referred to as an “agent for service of process”—will be twofold: to commit to being available during business hours to accept important paperwork on behalf of your LLC and, in some cases, to process that paperwork and notify you.

Do I really need a registered agent in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin, just like other states you might do business, requires LLCs to list a registered agent on some paperwork. 

Can I be my own registered agent in Wisconsin?

Although you can serve as your own registered agent in Wisconsin, it’s important you understand the pros and cons before committing to doing it yourself. 

Who can be a registered agent in Wisconsin? 

There is a standard set of rules across the United States defining who can be a registered agent. These same criteria apply in Wisconsin:

  • If the person is an individual, they must be 18 years old or older.
  • Whether a person or business entity, the registered agent must have a street address (home, business or office) in Wisconsin in order to accept document deliveries in person. Post office boxes cannot be used in place of a street address. 
  • Availability to accept paperwork during regular business hours is required. 

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

When start-up funds are tight, it’s hard to justify spending money on a service you can do yourself. But before you commit to serving as your own registered agent, take a moment to read through the benefits of outsourcing the job:

  • Local options. Since Wisconsin registered agents need to have a street address in the state, you won’t be able to fulfill your requirements if you don’t yet have a residence, business, or office space. On the other hand, commercial registered agents can provide you with a street address to which you can have documents delivered.
  • Availability. You’re not promised a 15-minute window for every delivery of paperwork. Knowing this, will you have the availability to stay in one place to await the knock on the door during regular work hours, five days a week?

Not likely. New ventures typically require entrepreneurs to interview and train employees, attend meetings with investors or prospective vendors, or oversee the work of contractors. Using a commercial agent will free up time for you to handle other essential tasks.

  • Privacy. Are you aware that it’s often uniformed law enforcement who is tasked with delivering legal paperwork? 

It’s worth noting that when law enforcement shows up at your house, office, or business, there’s a chance that someone will witness their arrival. This could translate to customers, employees, or neighbors getting the wrong idea. Using a commercial registered agent can help ensure privacy.

  • Experience. You might consider yourself to be business-savvy, but are you up to speed on Wisconsin’s state and federal guidelines and compliance regulations? Commercial registered agents specialize in such matters and can fill out paperwork on your behalf.
  • Time savings. Let’s say you DO have the experience to handle all your own filings. Do you have the time? Registered agents won’t require a big financial investment and letting them handle some of your paperwork will clear some time from your schedule.

List of Wisconsin registered agent services 

Now that you’ve reviewed the benefits of using a commercial agent, are you ready to outsource the work? Here are some options in Wisconsin:

  • 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 Wisconsin?

Most registered agents in Wisconsin charge $49 to $125 for one year of services.

How does an owner select a registered agent in Wisconsin?

Choose a few registered agents and then research their rates and services. Once you settle on one and sign up for their service, provide the information on forms where indicated.

Can a company change its registered agent?

To change your registered agent, file a change form on the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institution’s website and pay the $10 filing fee.

What’s a statutory agent?

A statutory agent or an agent for service of process is the same as a registered agent. The name can vary by state. 

What’s a commercial registered agent?

A commercial registered agent is someone you’re paying for their service. If you act as your own registered agent, choose “non-commercial.”