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Updated: 1/25/24

How to Start an LLC in Iowa

So, thinking of dipping your entrepreneurial toes in the fertile Iowa soils with an LLC in Iowa? While you’re already knee-deep in ambition by beginning your research, be prepared to roll up those sleeves. The road to business ownership in the Hawkeye State is paved with meticulous steps and attention to detail.

Forming a limited liability company (LLC) in Iowa isn’t exactly a walk through the cornfields, but that’s why we’re here, ready to help you navigate every twist and turn. This guide is a map designed to provide clarity in the occasionally winding LLC formation process. We’ll also spotlight some services we offer that can lend you a hand when the terrain gets rough. 

A significant landmark on this trek? The Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Registering here ensures your LLC is a real entity recorded with the state, making communications and updates seamless. To register, arm yourself with an LLC name, a registered agent, and a definitive business address.

Next, craft that all-important operating agreement. You’ll likely also need an EIN. And if this all feels overwhelming, fear not. We’ll unpack these steps, helping ensure you’re equipped for every leg of the journey.

Just to be clear, our guide zeroes in on establishing a domestic LLC in Iowa. If you’re considering starting a foreign LLC or a professional LLC (PLLC), that’s a separate process altogether. Stick with us, and you’ll navigate the LLC landscape with ease and confidence.

  1. Name your LLC in Iowa
  2. Appoint a registered agent in Iowa
  3. File Iowa Certificate of Organization – Form 489.201
  4. Create an operating agreement
  5. Apply for an EIN

Step 1: Name your LLC in Iowa

illustration of step 1 in forming an llc in iowa

Decide on a unique name for your LLC in Iowa. Choosing a distinctive name for your company is a critical first step in the LLC formation process. Your company’s name should resonate with your brand and comply with Iowa’s naming regulations. Without a distinct name, the Iowa Secretary of State won’t let you register your business. As a result, you’ll need to decide your LLC name before forming your business entity and submitting the necessary paperwork.

Iowa Secretary of State Requirements

You want to be sure your LLC’s official name isn’t already being used in the state of Iowa. Follow the instructions on our Iowa business name lookup page to check name availability. Consult the state statute of Iowa limited liability company naming guidelines (Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act, §489.108) to know what words can and can’t be used.

With this in mind, the final words of your company name must be some form of “LLC.” You have plenty of options to meet this requirement. You can spell out “Limited Liability Company” or write out “Limited Company” instead. “Limited” may be abbreviated as “Ltd.,” and “company” may be abbreviated as “Co.” Additionally, any of the following abbreviations are acceptable: “LLC,” “L.L.C.,” “LC,” or “L.C.” However you choose to write it, the phrase must come at the very end of your company name (e.g., “Iowa Ice Cream, L.L.C.”).

Reserving a Business Name

Not yet ready to officially form your business entity? Once you choose a name, you have the option to reserve it so that no one can take it before you file your Iowa LLC Certificate of Organization. Iowa allows you to reserve a business name for 120 days for a small fee.

A few other things you’ll want to think about when it comes to your Iowa LLC name:

Other Important Naming Considerations

  • DBA: A DBA or “Doing Business As” name is a fictitious name you can use for your business if your official LLC’s name doesn’t necessarily reflect your business’s purpose. In Iowa, you’ll need to file a Fictitious Name Resolution with the Secretary of State and pay a small filing fee to claim your Iowa DBA
  • Trademark: Visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office website to see whether your business name or logo is federally trademarked, especially if you plan to do business outside of Iowa. You may also want to run a quick Google search to ensure no other business entities are using a similar business name or logo. Trademarks also happen at the state level. Go to the Iowa Secretary of State website to find out more about trademarks in Iowa or apply for an Iowa trademark of your own.
  • Domain name: Something else to think about with your LLC name is the availability of website domains that will match your desired name. A quick domain name search will let you know whether it’s in use, and we can help you register your website domain name.

Step 2: Appoint a registered agent in Iowa

illustration of step 2 in forming an llc in iowa

Designate a registered agent. Consistent with other states, Iowa requires new LLCs to designate a registered agent as part of the business formation process. You’ll need to list your registered agent and their address on your Certificate of Organization.

The primary purpose of a registered agent is to receive correspondence from the Iowa Secretary of State and documents related to legal proceedings on behalf of your business. Simply put, if your business is subpoenaed or sued, process servers and the state of Iowa need to know how to get the paperwork to your LLC’s leadership.

The Importance of a Registered Agent

  • Your registered agent serves as the designated recipient for crucial legal documents and many official notices from the state.
  • Whether it’s a lawsuit, notice, or any other essential communication, your registered agent helps ensure you receive timely and accurate information.
  • Maintaining a registered agent is not just good practice; it’s a legal requirement. Failing to do so can result in penalties and administrative challenges that can hinder your LLC’s operations.

Registered Agent Requirements

  • Your chosen registered agent must be at least 18 years old and possess a physical street address within Iowa where they are available during regular business hours to receive legal documents.
  • The registered agent can be an individual or a business entity authorized to conduct operations in Iowa.
  • While you can act as your own registered agent, this can be problematic and inconvenient. Registered agents must remain at the registered office during all normal business hours, and being served with a lawsuit in front of customers can be bad for business.

Hiring a Registered Agent Service

  • Many business owners opt for the services of professional registered agent companies. These services provide added benefits, including enhanced privacy, reliability, and convenience.
  • When you enlist a registered agent service, they take on the responsibility of receiving and forwarding legal documents, freeing you to focus on managing your business.

Changing Your Registered Agent in Iowa

  • If the need arises to change your Iowa registered agent, you must complete and submit a Statement of Change of Registered Office and/or Agent form to the Iowa Secretary of State. This form can be filed online or by mail, accompanied by the required filing fee.
  • Ensure that your new registered agent meets Iowa’s stipulated requirements before making the switch.

Step 3: File Iowa Certificate of Organization, Form 489.201

illustration of step 3 in forming an llc in iowa

Submit the paperwork to form your LLC. The cornerstone of forming your LLC in Iowa is the Certificate of Organization. This document outlines the fundamental aspects of your organization, including its name, purpose, and the details of your registered agent.

Once you choose a name and your LLC’s registered agent, you’ll have all the information necessary to file the formal business formation paperwork (Form 489.201). You either file online through Iowa’s Fast Track Filing system or by postal mail by sending your Certificate of Organization to this address:

Iowa Secretary of State Business Services Division
321 E. 12th St.
Des Moines, IA 50319

Please note that Iowa does not provide Certificate of Organization paperwork or an application, so you’ll need to draft it yourself or hire a third party (like us) to do it. To complete your Certificate of Organization, you’ll need the following information:

  • Your LLC’s name
  • Your registered agent’s name and address (individual or business entity)
  • The mailing address for your business (can be different than the registered address)
  • The duration of your LLC — if you don’t address this, the duration will be perpetual
  • The signature of the LLC’s organizer

You can file your Certificate of Organization online, by mail, or by fax with the Iowa Secretary of State. There’s a fee of $50 for this regardless of your method of filing.

Amending Your Iowa Certificate of Organization

You only need to file your Certificate of Organization once. However, if you end up making any changes down the road — such as changing your business’s address — you’ll need to file an Amendment to Certificate of Organization with the Iowa Secretary of State along with a fee.

How fast can I form my Iowa limited liability company? 

Filing turnaround times are approximate and vary by factors like the time of year, but online filings can take as little as one day. Filings by mail may take approximately five to seven business days, not counting the time in transit.

If you have us handle filing your Articles of Organization, once the state approves your LLC, your paperwork will be available from your ZenBusiness dashboard, where you can keep it and other important paperwork digitally organized.

Once you get your physical paperwork back from the state approving your new LLC, you’ll want to keep it in a safe location along with your other important documents, such as your operating agreement, member certificates, contracts, compliance checklists, transfer ledger, etc. We offer a customized business kit to help you keep these important documents organized and looking professional.

Step 4: Create an operating agreement

illustration of step 4 in forming an llc in iowa

Draft an operating agreement. Iowa state law doesn’t require LLCs to adopt an Iowa LLC operating agreement as part of the formation process. However, drafting an operating agreement can help provide certainty and solidify your expectations regarding your new company.

LLC operating agreements are internal roadmaps that govern, among other things, the relationship between the business’s members. Without an Iowa operating agreement, your business will be subject to default Iowa LLC law, which might not be aligned with your ideas and expectations for running your business. By drafting an Iowa operating agreement, you take management of your business into your own hands.

Here are just a few of the benefits an operating agreement offers to business owners:

  • An agreement helps separate your business from your personal assets in the eyes of the courts, further sheltering your savings from legal liability.
  • Operating agreements can help prevent and resolve conflicts between members by clearly indicating the powers and privileges of each member.
  • Creating an agreement empowers you to customize your business’s rules and procedures to serve your LLC’s interests, requirements, and expectations. A well-drafted operating agreement specifies the rules and procedures to guide the LLC if you want to add or remove members from the business.
  • Adopting an agreement can improve your chances of securing investments.
  • An agreement can define your LLC’s management structure. While some companies choose to be member-managed, others designate a manager to run day-to-day operations.

If you’re unsure as to how to begin creating an agreement for your LLC, we offer a customizable operating agreement template to save you time researching and crafting the agreement yourself.

Step 5: Apply for an EIN

illustration of step 5 in forming an llc in iowa

Obtain an IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN). After forming your new LLC with the Iowa Secretary of State, you’ll need to register with the federal government. Specifically, you may need to obtain an EIN from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). An EIN functions like a Social Security number for your business, allowing you to perform critical functions like hiring employees, applying for a business bank account, and paying taxes.

You can get your LLC’s EIN through the IRS website, by mail, or by fax, but if you’d rather not deal with that particular government agency, we can get it for you. Our Employer Identification Number service is quick and eliminates the hassle. We can also help you get an EIN for an existing company.

At the state level, if you have employees, collect sales tax, or meet certain other conditions, you’ll need to register with the Iowa Department of Revenue. Plus, you’ll need to report new hires to Iowa’s Centralized Employee Registry (CER).

After Forming an Limited Liability Company in Iowa

Once your LLC is established in Iowa, your work isn’t quite finished. There are several important steps to solidify your business’s foundation and ensure compliance.

Getting Business Licenses and Permits

Securing the appropriate business licenses and permits is essential in Iowa. Depending on your business type and location, the requirements will vary. While Iowa doesn’t require a general business license, there’s a good chance your city or county might. You may also be required to get an industry-specific license or permit.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this step, our business license report can help.

Opening a Business Bank Account

Once you’ve secured an EIN, you’ll be able to open a business bank account. Having separate accounts for your business and your personal banking is critical for sorting out your finances at tax time and helps you avoid commingling funds. Commingling funds can not only make your taxes more difficult, but it could also be used against you if someone takes you to court to challenge whether you and your LLC are truly separate entities (that is, they want to sue you for not just your business assets, but also your personal assets).

We offer a discounted bank account for your new business. This allows for unlimited transactions, online banking, a debit card, and more. When you want to authorize others in your business to use the account, we offer a banking resolution template to simplify the process.

For further help managing your new business’s finances, try ZenBusiness Money. It can help you create invoices, receive payments, transfer money, and manage clients all in one place.

Setting Up an Accounting System

Implementing an effective accounting system is key to managing your finances, preparing for taxes, and keeping accurate records. There are a wide variety of tools available for accounting, such as a spreadsheet, accounting software, or hiring a professional. What matters most is that you have a system in place.

File your biennial reports

In Iowa, LLCs are required to file a biennial report every two years to maintain their good standing with the state. This report is a crucial administrative task that ensures your LLC’s continued compliance. Typically, the biennial report includes essential details about your business, such as its name, principal office address, registered agent information, and the names and addresses of the LLC’s members and managers. It’s important to mark the filing deadline on your calendar and submit the report electronically through the Iowa Secretary of State’s website. Keeping up with this regular obligation will help you avoid penalties and help ensure your LLC remains in good standing with the state of Iowa.

Stay in compliance

After establishing your LLC, it’s important to stay compliant with Iowa’s regulations. This includes submitting a biennial report to the Iowa Secretary of State, helping ensure your LLC remains in good standing.

Staying Updated About Legal Requirements

Staying informed about ongoing legal and tax obligations is important for your LLC’s compliance in Iowa. This includes understanding state taxation requirements and any changes in business laws.

Laws in Iowa are subject to change at any time, so it’s essential to stay as informed as possible. Some businesses maintain a regular consultation with a state business attorney to keep up to date. 

Pros and Cons of Forming an Iowa LLC

Like any business structure, an LLC has its advantages and disadvantages. When you’re deciding what structure is right for you, it’s important to consider the following perks and drawbacks.

Pros

The primary advantage of an Iowa limited liability company is the limited liability protection it offers. This means the personal liability of LLC members is generally limited to their investment in the company, safeguarding personal assets from business debts. There’s also tax flexibility, allowing LLCs to choose whether they want to be taxed like a sole proprietorship or partnership or as a S corporation or C corporation. Additionally, LLCs have fewer formalities and compliance requirements compared to corporations, which can be especially helpful for small business owners. 

Cons

However, there are challenges, such as complexities and costs associated with compliance and maintaining the LLC, like filing biennial reports. Raising capital can be more challenging for LLCs, as they cannot issue stock. There’s also the risk of losing liability protection if formalities are not maintained appropriately.

How much does it cost to start a Iowa LLC?

The state fees for forming an Iowa LLC can range from approximately $50 to $60, depending on factors such as whether you choose to reserve your business name. Note that fees change over time, so check the Iowa Secretary of State website for the most recent fee schedule.

That doesn’t include things like licenses and permits and ongoing costs like filing your Iowa biennial report (the biennial report fee is due on odd-numbered years).

When you start an LLC, there are a few different costs you need to budget for. 

  • Filing Fee for Certificate of Organization: $50
  • Registered Agent Service Fee: $100-$300 depending on the service you hire
  • Biennial Report: $30 if you file online, $45 if you file a paper form

These costs provide a general idea of the financial commitment required to start and maintain an LLC in Iowa. They’re subject to change at any time, so check the Secretary of State’s website for the latest filing fees. 

Foreign LLCs in Iowa

When expanding a business to Iowa that was originally formed as an LLC in another state, it’s essential to register as a foreign LLC in Iowa. Here’s a detailed overview of how foreign LLCs operate in the state:

  • Definition and Requirement: A foreign LLC in Iowa refers to any limited liability company that was formed under the laws of another state or country but is conducting business in Iowa. The state of Iowa requires any foreign LLC that transacts business in the state to register with the Iowa Secretary of State.
  • Registration Process: To register, the foreign LLC must file a Limited Liability Company Foreign Registration Statement with the Iowa Secretary of State. This document requires information about the LLC, such as its original date of formation, the state or country of origin, and its principal office address.
  • Certificate of Existence: Along with the statement, the LLC must also submit a Certificate of Existence (or a document of similar nature) from its home state. This certificate, sometimes referred to as a Certificate of Good Standing, verifies that the LLC is legally formed and compliant with its home state’s regulations.
  • Registered Agent: Like domestic LLCs, foreign LLCs in Iowa must designate a registered agent with a physical address in Iowa. This agent is responsible for receiving legal and tax documents on behalf of the LLC.
  • Compliance with Iowa Laws: Once registered, the foreign LLC must comply with all Iowa state laws pertaining to LLCs, including tax requirements, annual reporting, and any sector-specific regulations relevant to the business.
  • Taxation and Fees: Foreign LLCs in Iowa are subject to state taxes, including income tax and, if applicable, sales tax. They must also pay the required filing fees for registration and any ongoing fees for continued compliance.
  • Name Availability: If the name of the foreign LLC is already in use or not distinguishable from existing entities registered in Iowa, the LLC will need to adopt an assumed name for conducting business in the state.
  • Ongoing Reporting Requirements: Foreign LLCs must file biennial reports with the Iowa Secretary of State. These reports keep the state updated on key information about the LLC, such as address changes or changes in management.

Popular Iowa Cities for Businesses

Here are some of the largest population areas in Iowa and their potential business categories:

Des Moines, IA: Des Moines is the capital and largest city in Iowa, making it a significant business hub. Key business categories include finance, insurance, technology, healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing.

Cedar Rapids, IA: Cedar Rapids is another major city in Iowa. Major business sectors include manufacturing, healthcare, education, and technology.

Davenport, IA: Davenport is part of the Quad Cities metropolitan area. Business opportunities include retail, healthcare, tourism, and logistics due to its location along the Mississippi River.

Sioux City, IA: Sioux City is located in the western part of Iowa. Business sectors include agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, and education.

Iowa City, IA: Iowa City is known for its university, the University of Iowa. Opportunities in education, healthcare, technology, and hospitality may be prominent.

Waterloo, IA: Waterloo is in northeast Iowa. Manufacturing, healthcare, logistics, and agriculture-related businesses are significant in this region.

Ames, IA: Ames is home to Iowa State University. Research and technology-related businesses often thrive here, along with education and healthcare.

We can help


At ZenBusiness, we believe every aspiring entrepreneur should have the tools and support necessary to create a business, which is why we’ve made it easy with our free LLC service. We handle the complexities of starting an LLC in Iowa, while you focus on your business. Along with LLC formation, we provide worry-free compliance services and more to keep your business in good standing. With expert support on hand every step of the way, we have everything you need to run and grow your business effortlessly.

So, whether you’re starting a bakery in Davenport or a childcare center in Ankeny, join the hundreds of thousands of businesses we’ve helped launch today.

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Iowa Limited Liability Company FAQs

  • LLCs are among the most popular business structures because they afford personal liability protection for the owners without a ton of complex requirements. Compared to corporations, LLCs operate with far more flexibility and avoid certain kinds of taxation. 

    Iowa is no exception — an LLC is an excellent choice for small business owners across the state. The benefits of forming an Iowa LLC include:

    • Protection of your personal assets from the business’s legal liability and debts
    • Empowering flexible management and ownership structures tailored to the nature of your business and its owners
    • Fewer reporting and maintenance requirements than corporations
    • Exemption from “double taxation.” Owners pay only personal taxes, rather than paying taxes on both corporate profits and individual earnings.
    • Legitimizing your business in the eyes of customers and potential business partners

    For an in-depth explanation of the benefits of the LLC business structure, check out our comprehensive LLC article.

  • As mentioned above, LLCs provide the benefit of avoiding “double taxation.” The business pays no federal income tax, passing the income through to the LLC’s owners. Then, each owner pays taxes on the earnings as regular income. This is unlike most corporations, in which profits are taxed twice, first at the business level and again at the individual shareholder level.

    The LLC tax structure can save business owners a significant amount of money compared to C corporations (the most common type of corporation). However, LLCs can also elect to be taxed as a corporation if they wish, subjecting owners to double taxation; sometimes this has advantages for larger LLCs. However, Iowa LLCs electing to be taxed as a C corporation will need to pay the state’s corporate income tax.

    The IRS administers federal taxes based on each member’s share in the LLC. So, if you own 50% of an LLC and are entitled to 50% of the profits, the IRS will tax you on 50% of the LLC’s earnings. Importantly, LLC owners might be required to pay self-employment tax to the federal government, which makes up for the fact that they don’t directly pay taxes related to Medicare or Social Security.

    When it comes to state income tax, Iowa upholds pass-through taxation. Unless the business elects to be taxed as a corporation, LLCs are not taxed separately from their owners. However, Iowa LLCs are subject to a variety of non-income-related taxes. Iowa business taxes may include:

    • State employer taxes (if you have employees)
    • State sales tax (if you sell goods)
    • State unemployment tax (if you have employees)
    • Taxes related to certain products (e.g., liquor or tobacco)
    • Taxes for using certain minerals or other public resources

    To understand your state tax burden, consider visiting the Iowa Department of Revenue education center for more information.

  • If you file online with the Iowa Secretary of State’s Fast Track Filing system, your Certificate of Organization is typically approved within 24 hours. If you choose to submit by fax or mail, processing time ranges from several days to several weeks.

  • No, you don’t need to file your LLC’s operating agreement with the state of Iowa. In fact, Iowa doesn’t require LLCs to create an operating agreement at all. However, drafting an operating agreement helps legitimize your business, helps prevent future disagreements between the business’s owners, and tailors the LLC’s rules to fit your needs and expectations.

  • Most entrepreneurs elect pass-through taxation at the state and federal levels — owners pay state and federal taxes on the income they earn from the business, but the LLC does not pay taxes as an entity. If an LLC has multiple members, the IRS by default classifies it as a partnership for tax purposes, requiring each member to pay taxes on their fair share. You can customize your ownership percentages in your LLC’s operating agreement.

    If you choose to be taxed as a C corporation (the default form of corporation), you’ll be taxed twice on your profits — once at the entity level and then at the individual level when you file your personal tax returns. Despite this double taxation, certain LLCs may benefit from this tax structure, as it has the most possible deductions.

    Being taxed as an S corporation also has pass-through taxation, but it allows LLC members to earn money from the business both from its profits and by being paid a salary. In some instances, this could reduce the self-employment taxes members pay because they would pay the Social Security/Medicare portion of their taxes on their salary, but not their share of the LLC’s profits.

    A qualified accountant should be able to advise you as to which tax arrangement would most benefit your LLC. You can learn more on our S Corp vs. LLC and LLC vs. Corporation pages.

  • Yes, Iowa law does permit the formation of a Series LLC structure, where several separate LLCs operate under one overarching “umbrella” LLC entity. The individual LLCs (sometimes called “cells”) may have different members, assets, and obligations. In theory, individual cells and the umbrella LLC are insulated from the debts and legal liabilities of the others, providing valuable protection for some small businesses.

  • You’ll need to make sure your LLC has all the licenses and permits it’s required to have by law. Unfortunately, because licensing varies by industry and location and can occur on the federal, state, and local levels, there’s no central place to check to see if you have all the licenses and permits you need. You’ll have to do some research.

    If you don’t have the time or inclination to do all this research, or if you just want the peace of mind to know that your business has all the business licenses and permits it’s legally required to have, our business license report service can do the work for you.

  • Before starting the dissolution process, the members of an LLC should consult their operating agreement and follow the steps for dissolution. If no operating agreement is in place, Iowa LLC law will dictate the terms. For the subsequent steps, please refer to our Iowa business dissolution guide.

  • If you already have an LLC in a different state and want to do business in Iowa, you don’t need to create a new LLC in the state. However, since your existing LLC is considered a foreign LLC in the state of Iowa, it requires a special procedure of authorization to conduct business. This implies filing for and obtaining a Certificate of Authority.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

ZenBusiness is a financial technology company and is not a bank. Banking services provided by Thread Bank; Member FDIC. The ZenBusiness Visa® Debit Card is issued by Thread Bank pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. Your funds are FDIC insured up to $250,000 through Thread Bank; Member FDIC.

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