Start Your LLC in Washington

How to Start an LLC in Washington

Amazon, Boeing, Costco, Microsoft, Starbucks, UPS – these are just a handful of the global companies that started as small businesses in Washington State. Maybe you’re about to launch the next Zillow or Tim’s Cascade Snacks – the first thing you need to do to turn your dream into a reality is to make your business official by forming an LLC in Washington State. 

Luckily, we’re here to help. Here is a comprehensive guide to limited liability companies (LLCs) in Washington. You’ll learn how our products and services can help you start, run and grow your business from the ground up.

LLC requirements vary state by state so it’s important that you are well-versed in Washington laws before proceeding. Generally, it comes down to these steps:

Starting an LLC in Washington

Starting a limited liability company in Washington State isn’t as complicated as you may think. It does, however, demand careful attention to detail. Before you can file your Certificate of Formation, there are preliminary matters to consider. These include choosing a unique name that meets Washington state’s criteria, appointing a registered agent to accept legal correspondence for your business, and formulating a comprehensive operating agreement. 

It might sound like a lot, but our many tools and support services can make the process of forming an LLC in Washington easier. This leaves you to focus on what you really want to do: build and grow your business.

1. Name your Washington LLC

Before you register your LLC in Washington, you need to decide on a name. Make sure that your LLC name isn’t taken by another company in the state. Also, make sure it is unusual enough to be distinguished. The state has a business name search, but with our Washington business name search page tool, we’ll walk you through it step by step.

Washington LLC Naming Requirements

Washington state law requires you to include some variation of “Limited Liability Company” as the name’s suffix. You can end your company’s name with the full “Limited Liability Company,” shorten it to “Limited Liability Co.,” or use the abbreviations “LLC” or “L.L.C.”

The state additionally prohibits certain words and combinations of words from appearing in LLC business names. You cannot use words that would suggest your limited liability company is a financial institution, like “banker,” “banking,” “trust,” or “cooperative.” You also can’t combine the words “trust” and “loan.” Finally, you may not use any combination of two or more of the following words: “savings,” “association,” “society,” “home,” “loan,” or “building.”

Reserve a Business Name for your Washington LLC

You might not be ready to take the next step and file your Certificate of Formation right away. Washington gives you the option to reserve your intended name for 180 days, so if you need some time, use our name reservation service to make sure your name is ready when you are.

As you search for available business names, check if relevant domain names are available for those business names. A website is an affordable marketing tool that can drive customers to your business. You want a domain that aligns with your LLC name, making the website easy for search engines to find. Check out our domain registration and domain name search services for more information.

File a DBA in Washington

If you plan to use an alternate name for your limited liability company, you’ll need to complete this process twice. Known as a trade name or “Doing Business As” (DBA) name, you’ll first need to check that your trade name is available and compliant with Washington’s requirements. Unlike your LLC’s official name, your trade name should not have any business entity suffix, including “Limited Liability Company,” “LLC,” or “L.L.C.” The trade name should also not include any words relating to financial institutions, such as “bank,” “trust company,” “credit union,” or other similar words or phrases.

Once you’ve found an acceptable DBA name, you will need to register it. This guide to Washington DBAs can give you the specifics.

2. Appoint a registered agent in Washington

Washington Registered Agent Requirement

Every registered Washington business entity needs to have a registered agent. This is a person or entity acting as the point of contact for service of process and other legal documents on behalf of the business.

The registered agent must meet two conditions:

  • have a Washington residency in the form of a permanent address in the state and
  • have the authorization to do business in the state.

Can You Become Your Own Registered Agent?

As an LLC member, you can list yourself as a Washington registered agent for your company; however, this option is not always in your best interest. If you are served with a lawsuit, for example, you don’t want to receive this paperwork at your place of business, with customers and clients around.

Instead, consider our professional registered agent service. We can help you fill this legal requirement and make sure all important documents get to you in a discreet and time-efficient manner.

ZenBusiness can provide your registered agent

When you use our registered agent service, we’ll provide you with an agent who’s available to receive important legal, tax, and other notices in person. This gives you the peace of mind of knowing you’re in compliance with the registered agent requirements. And, it helps avoid embarrassing situations where you could be served papers for a lawsuit in front of clients and employees.

As a bonus, our service also keeps you organized. When you get important documents, we will quickly inform you and keep them together in your online digital dashboard so that you can view, download, and/or print them whenever you want. It’s better than rummaging through piles of papers to try to find important legal documents when you need them.

3. File a Washington LLC Certificate of Formation

Once you’ve decided on a business name and appointed a registered agent, the next step is making your Washington LLC official! To do so, you’ll need to complete a Certificate of Formation and file it with the Washington Secretary of State. This is the official document that formally establishes your LLC as a recognized legal entity in Washington.

Information Required in the Washington LLC Certificate of Formation

To complete your certificate, you’ll need:

  • Registered agent name and address. As noted above, this is the person or business that will receive legal documents on behalf of your business, be available during regular business hours, etc.
  • Principal office address and contact information. You will need to provide a phone and email contact for your business. Your business street and mailing address (if they are different) are also required. Please note: Unless you are acting as your own registered agent, this address is not the same as your registered agent’s address.
  • Duration. You will pick if your company has a perpetual duration, if it expires after a certain number of years, or if it expires on a specific date.
  • Effective date. This is the date your business begins to exist. You can select the date of filing or a different date, but the date is not allowed to be more than 90 days from your filing date. It also cannot be prior to the filing date.
  • Executor. Washington requires each business to have at least one executor. An executor is a person forming the LLC and signing the Certificate of Formation. An entity is not allowed to be its own executor.
  • Governor. Washington also requires each business to have at least one governor. A governor is a person or entity listed on the business’s annual report, and in an LLC is usually a member or a manager.
  • Nature of the business. You can be specific, but a more general statement will suffice.
  • A return address for filing. This is the email and address where you want follow-up correspondence on your application to go.

File Online with the Washington Secretary of State

The Washington Secretary of State prefers online filing but does accept paper forms with an extra fee. Once accepted, your LLC will receive a Washington State Unified Business Identifier (UBI). Be sure to keep a record of that number, as you will use it when dealing with other state agencies. Within 120 days of forming an LLC in Washington, you are required to file an Initial Report, which is really the first annual report your LLC will file every year.

Get Professional Filing Help

If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. Take a look at our business formation packages and let our team do the work for you. Once the Washington Secretary of State approves your LLC, your state paperwork will be available on your ZenBusiness dashboard, where you can keep it and other important business paperwork digitally organized.

In addition, we offer customized business kits to help you keep these important documents organized and looking professional. Whether it’s an operating agreement, member certificate, business contracts, compliance checklists, transfer ledgers, or anything else, you can be sure it’s all in one safe place.

4. Create an operating agreement

An operating agreement is a legal document where you put in writing how the business will run, the breakdown of responsibilities, how profits will be shared, and more. All members (owners) of the LLC will approve and sign it, making it a binding contractual relationship between the members. Washington does not require a business to have an operating agreement, but most experts strongly encourage all LLCs to have one.

Why You Should Get an Operating Agreement in Washington

This is because you can tailor an operating agreement to your business’ needs. If a conflict arises, the default state LLC laws will control the outcome. You can help avoid unpleasant situations like this by using our operating agreement template, available in many of our formation plans.

What does a Washington operating agreement look like? What’s contained inside will depend on the specifics of your business, but there are a few things you will want to include:

  • Percentage of ownership and distribution of profits
  • Voting rights and responsibilities
  • Division of roles and responsibilities with members and any managers
  • Required meetings
  • Buyout and buy-sell rules

Once it is completed and signed, it should be kept in a secure location with other important business formation information.

✓ If you’re unsure as to how to start creating an operating agreement for your LLC in Washington, then check out this guide. Make note that, if you decide to form your LLC with ZenBusiness, all our plans include a customizable operating agreement template to save you time researching and crafting the agreement yourself.

5. Apply for an EIN

A federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) is a nine-digit code the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses to identify businesses for tax purposes. Most Washington LLCs need this Tax ID number, sometimes even those that are single-member LLCs with no employees. Getting an EIN should be a priority anyway, as it can help with practical things like opening a business bank account. You can use our EIN registration service to make it easy.

Our LLC formation service includes obtaining an EIN for your LLC but we can also help you get an EIN for an existing company

Open a Business Bank Account for your Washington LLC

Once you’ve secured your EIN, you’ll be able to open a business bank account. It’s important to keep separate accounts for your business and your personal banking, as failing to do so might land you in legal trouble and open your personal assets up to creditors or those looking to file a lawsuit against your business.

To help you avoid this, we offer a discounted bank account for new businesses. 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.

If you don’t feel confident in your financial skills quite yet, try ZenBusiness Money. It can help you create invoices, receive payments, transfer money, and manage clients all in one place.


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Washington LLC FAQs

  • The cost of starting an LLC in Washington State depends on your situation. Filing a Certificate of Formation requires a fee, and you must also provide your Initial Report within 120 days, which will cost an extra fee. The cost varies based on filing method, and you will pay more if you need expedited service. The total cost could range from $180 to around $300 based on these factors.

    In addition to this cost, you may have state and local business licenses, permits, and insurance to pay for when starting your Washington LLC. This will depend largely on the type of business you run. For example, if you work in the foodservice industry, you need a state business license, health permit, and possibly a liquor permit — to name just a few. LLCs with employees will need workers’ compensation insurance, as well.

    You’ll need to make sure your LLC has all the business 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. If you feel lost, our business license report service can do the work for you.

  • LLCs aren’t the only type of business you can form in Washington. However, about 90% of our customers choose to form an LLC over all other types. Compared to corporations and other forms of entities, LLCs come with enticing benefits. The reporting requirements for LLCs are less extensive than those of a corporation, for instance, and they allow for flexible management structures.

    Forming your LLC in Washington state means you’ll reap the following added benefits:

    • Skilled labor. Washington highlights its expert workforce as a major boon for business owners. One-third of workers have a postsecondary degree. The state’s many colleges and universities frequently work with businesses in public-private partnerships, feeding the workforce.
    • Excellent supply chain. Geographically, Washington is ideally situated for doing business. It’s on the coast, well-connected via ports and on-land transport. It’s also equidistant between Europe and Asia, allowing for promising international business opportunities. 
    • Favorable tax situation. Washington is one of the few states to have neither personal nor corporate income tax. The state also offers incentives to spur growth, for example, tax deferrals and credits. 
  • Your Washington LLC will likely need to pay taxes on the federal, state, and local levels.

    At the federal level:

    • If you choose pass-through taxation, your income taxes are paid on members’ personal tax returns without first being taxed on the business level. 
    • Owners typically make quarterly estimated tax payments during the year using form 1040-ES.
    • You can elect to have your LLC treated as a C corporation or S Corporation for tax purposes using the IRS Form 8832 for a C corporation and Form 1120-S for an S corporation. In doing this, you will need to file a business tax return and report your earnings on your personal taxes. 

    At the state level:

    • While Washington does not have a personal or business income tax, there is a Business & Occupation (B&O) tax, sales and use tax, property tax, and some industry taxes. You can find out more details by visiting the Washington Department of Revenue’s website.
    • Small businesses often will file an excise tax return. How often you need to file is assigned to you after you submit your business license application and is based on the estimated amount of tax you owe.

    At the local level:

    • Most of Washington’s cities and towns have a local sales tax rate, which will be collected by the Washington Department of Revenue.
    • Most also have a business and occupation tax that the cities collect on their own — for more information on these taxes, you will want to contact the city or town where you do business.

    Sales tax:

    • Sales tax depends on location, and businesses collect sales tax based on the rate of the location where the product or service was delivered.
    • To determine the correct rate, the state has provided an online lookup tool.

    State employment tax:

    • Unemployment tax (also called unemployment insurance tax) is paid quarterly to the Employment Security Department (ESD).
    • Tax calculations are based on a rate supplied to your business by ESD and multiplied by each employee’s wages.

    Workers’ compensation premiums:

    • Workers’ compensation premiums are also paid quarterly to the Department of Labor and Industries.
    • Rates are calculated on the risk classification your business will receive from the department and multiplied by hours worked by employees in that classification.
    • Employers can deduct a portion of the rate from an employee’s pay — the amount of which will be included in your rate notice.

    Those who purchase any of our plans get a free accounting consultation and tax assessment from our specialists to receive helpful resources and no-obligation recommendations around your bookkeeping, accounting, and tax needs.

  • It depends. Your Certificate of Formation will be processed with the Washington Secretary of State in the order in which it is received. Online filing is the quickest way; your LLC paperwork is usually processed within two business days.

    Washington has options for expediting your filing for an additional fee. If you’re in a hurry to form your LLC and don’t want to jump through the hoops of the state’s expedited filing processes, we can handle it for you with our faster filing speeds service.

  • No. The operating agreement is kept internally by the members. While some states legally require LLCs to have an operating agreement, Washington is not one.

  • As an LLC, you have different tax classification options to choose from. The majority of LLC owners opt for the default status. Under this set up, profits are passed through the LLC to the members. You pay taxes only on your individual income tax return. This is unlike most corporations, in which profits are taxed twice, first at the business level and again at the individual shareholder level.

    Alternatively, you can have your LLC taxed as a corporation federally, but this is usually advisable only for much larger and more profitable businesses. A tax professional can advise whether this makes sense for you.

    Note that the LLC will likely be subject to other state taxes, however. Washington requires LLCs to pay business and occupation taxes, for instance. These are calculated based on your business’s gross receipts. The tax rate varies depending on the type of business.

  • A Series LLC is a special business structure that allows multiple limited liability companies to operate under one “parent” organization. Washington does not allow Series LLCs (only a minority of states do).

  • All LLCs in the state of Washington need to file an Initial Report within 120 days of being formed. It should be submitted to the Washington Secretary of State. The Initial Report is the first version of the annual report required each year.

  • You’ll first need to review your Certificate of Formation and operating agreement, as these documents should outline how your business handles the addition of new LLC members. If your LLC is member-managed, you may need consent from specific members before adding a member. Similarly, if your LLC is manager-managed, you may need approval from the manager.

    Once the addition of the member has been agreed upon, you will need to amend your operating agreement or draft a new agreement entirely to document the changes.

  • Yes, any business entity doing business in the state is required to file an annual report. This rule applies regardless of whether it is a domestic LLC or a foreign LLC authorized by the Washington Secretary of State to conduct business in Washington. The Washington LLC annual report can be filed online or mailed in. In both cases the filing gee is the same – $60. For more information and if you need help filing an annual report for your LLC go here.

  • Formally, you can. However, there is a number of pitfalls you need to be aware of. These pitfalls can be avoided with ZenBusiness’s professional registered agent service. If you want to learn more about the registered agent service and the pros and cons of being your own registered agent, please visit this page.

  • Before starting the dissolution process, the members of an LLC should vote to dissolve it. For the subsequent steps please refer to our Washington business dissolution guide.

  • An LLC registered in a different state, also referred to as a foreign LLC, should undergo registration with the Washington Secretary of State before it can conduct business in the state.

“This is your life.
You want to get it right.”

– Mark Cuban on Starting a Business

Entrepreneur and Shark Tank host lays out
3 steps to follow when starting a business

  • Form an LLC to protect your liability
  • Set up your banking and accounting
  • Grow sales by marketing your website

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