Setting Up a Single-Member LLC

Learn all the essentials to starting a single-member LLC in this in-depth guide.

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You’ve decided to start a business on your own — a single-member LLC (SMLLC). Awesome! An SMLLC can be a great way to start your business on a solid footing.

What is an SMLLC?

A single-member LLC is a limited liability company that has a single business owner. Typically, anyone who owns an LLC is referred to as a “member.” Many LLCs have multiple members, but in this business structure, just one member forms the company.

Single-Member Limited Liability Companies vs. Sole Proprietorships

Two of the most popular options for starting a business as a sole owner are forming an SMLLC or operating as a sole proprietor. A sole proprietorship would let you get started immediately without filing any paperwork. But that convenience comes with a substantial disadvantage: the sole proprietor has personal liability for everything. And your personal assets can be confiscated to help pay for your business debts if something goes wrong, such as the business being sued.

Starting an SMLLC requires a little more paperwork at the outset, but it gives you personal asset protection (in most cases). As the only member of the SMLLC, you still have the autonomy to call the shots — just with more liability protection. It’s why many entrepreneurs decide they need an LLC.

Start Your Single-Member LLC

How to Start a Single-Member LLC

Knowing how to start a single-member LLC is an important process, but you can boil it down to five basic steps. Some states may require an additional step or two, and some have different names for some of the steps. Likewise, some requirements will vary from state to state. But most states will follow these basic steps. Let’s dig in.

Step 1: Pick a single-member LLC name

What will people call your business? Now’s the time to decide. As the only member of the LLC, you get 100% say in your name, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Ideally, your name should be:

  • Memorable for your customers
  • Descriptive of what you do (without limiting future options)
  • Compliant with state regulations

Last but not least, your business name must be completely unique from other names in your state. It should also contain a designator like “LLC” or “Limited Liability Company” at the end to let people know they’re working with an LLC. The requirements for this designator vary by state.

Step 2: Get a registered agent for your SMLLC

No matter where you’re starting a business, you’ll need a registered agent, known in some states as a resident agent or agent for service of process. A registered agent is an individual or a company that accepts official legal and state communications on behalf of a business. This includes any legal correspondence about lawsuits (called “service of process”), official state notices, and more.

To be a registered agent, typically a person must be at least 18 and have a physical address (not a P.O. box) within the state where the business is located. They also have to be present at that address during all regular business hours. Because of that, many SMLLC owners choose to appoint someone else as their agent or use a registered agent service like ours.

Step 3: File SMLLC founding documents

Once you have your name picked and your agent appointed, it’s time to start filing state paperwork. In most states, the official form is called the “Articles of Organization,” and you can find it on your Secretary of State’s website (or equivalent government site). Most states even let you file these legal documents online.

Be prepared: when you file your Articles of Organization, you’ll need to pay a state filing fee. Every state charges a different fee; some just require $50, and others charge $300 (or more). As soon as the state accepts your payment and paperwork, your SMLLC is officially created.

Step 4: Create a single-member LLC operating agreement

An operating agreement is sort of like a charter for an LLC; it describes the specifics of how an LLC will operate. Generally speaking, the operating agreement details how much of the profits each member gets, how new members can be appointed, and more. An operating agreement also helps maintain the personal asset protections of the LLC.

Even though you’re starting a single-member LLC, it can be helpful to create an operating agreement. You never know how your business will adapt later on; an operating agreement lays the groundwork for future growth. Plus, if anyone ever challenges your LLC’s legitimacy in court to try to go after your personal assets, having an operating agreement in place is one more thing to demonstrate to the court that you and your LLC are indeed separate entities.

Are you unsure as to how to create an operating agreement for your LLC? We offer a customizable template to help get you started. Our chatbot walks you through the process of creating your agreement and allows for e-signature of the document.

Step 5: Get a single-member LLC EIN 

An EIN, or Employer Identification Number, acts like a Social Security number for a business entity; it’s how the IRS identifies you as a taxable entity. You can easily apply for one with the IRS for free. If you plan to hire employees, owe excise tax, or a bank asks for one when you apply for a business bank account, you’ll need this number.

You can get your LLC’s EIN through the Internal Revenue Service website, by mail, or by fax. If you’re not fond of dealing with that particular government agency, we can get it for you. Our EIN service is quick and eliminates the hassle.

Single-Member LLC Taxes

When tax time rolls around, the LLC itself doesn’t pay any federal taxes on its business income. Instead, the owner of the LLC reports the income on their personal income tax return (often on Schedule C of Form 1040) and pays the appropriate taxes. This usually repeats on the state level, but not all states treat LLCs the same way the federal government does. Some states levy additional taxes on LLCs.

Taxes can get very complicated, so we highly recommend enlisting the help of a CPA.

Benefits of an SMLLC

Still wondering why you should form an SMLLC? Here are some of the benefits of starting a single-member LLC.

Flexibility

SMLLCs offer flexibility because they’re relatively simple to run. In most states, an SMLLC only needs to complete a few steps (like filing annual reports and maintaining business licenses) each year to stay compliant. Other structures like corporations have more complicated requirements.

Personal Asset Protection

Personal asset protection is a huge advantage of a SMLLC. In the eyes of the law, the SMLLC is a separate entity that must pay its own debts and face its own lawsuits — not the SMLLC’s owner. And if the business can’t pay up from its own accounts, collectors usually can’t come after the assets of the LLC’s single member. Check out more on keeping your personal and business assets separate.

Independence and Autonomy

Running a business by yourself comes with a lot of responsibility, but being the single owner of an LLC gives you a lot of freedom to make the choices that you want. You won’t have to consult stockholders or business partners when you want to add a product line, buy equipment, or make any changes. An SMLLC gives you full control of the business.

Extra Legitimacy

There’s nothing wrong with operating as a sole proprietorship, but some customers feel more comfortable paying checks to state-recognized businesses. The phrase “Limited Liability Company” adds legitimacy.

Pass-Through Taxation

Since LLCs are pass-through entities for federal income tax purposes, they often have lower tax liabilities. The sole owner pays personal tax rates after reporting their SMLLC income in their Schedule C. In many states, corporate taxes are much higher than personal income taxes. Plus, LLCs aren’t subject to double taxation, when a corporation’s owner pays taxes twice for the same business income. 

More Taxation Options

LLCs have pass-through taxation by default, but they also have the option to be taxed as either an S corporation or a C corporation. Being taxed as an S corporation also has pass-through taxation, but it also has the potential to save members on what they pay in self-employment taxes. Being taxed as a C corporation (the default form of corporation) does come with double taxation, but there are also benefits for certain larger LLCs, such as the ability to make more tax deductions.

We can help!

Starting a single-member LLC doesn’t mean you have to do everything solo. Our LLC formation service can get you up and running for $0 and zero stress. We can also help with registered agent service, compliance, name reservations, and anything you need to de-stress about the red tape and focus on what matters: your business goals.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational 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.

Single-Member LLC FAQs

  • There are pros and cons to both. Single-member LLC owners make all of the decisions independently, and they get all the profits. But they’re limited to the expertise and ideas they can provide individually. A multi-member LLC has to share its business profits between all its members, but they also share skills, ideas, and the workload.

  • The biggest disadvantage to an SMLLC is that you’ll shoulder all the responsibilities yourself (or hire people to handle tasks… again, by yourself). A single-member LLC is also limited to the capital investments they can provide individually.

  • For tax purposes, the IRS regards an SMLLC as a “disregarded entity.” In simpler terms, the IRS recognizes an SMLLC as a legitimate entity. However, it “disregards” it, or doesn’t tax it, during tax season. Instead, the IRS taxes the owner of the SMLLC for any personal income they make off the SMLLC’s profits.

  • Yes, and you might have to. Some banks require you to have an EIN to get a business bank account. And if you’ll be hiring any employees, you’re required to obtain one for employer-related taxes.