The dream of becoming the next prominent entrepreneur is not so far out of reach once you have an idea that you can turn into a business. If you already have your idea, you might wonder which legal status to give your business — and you have likely considered a limited liability company (LLC).
Starting a new business in Wisconsin can feel overwhelming. What are the steps your business needs to take to operate? If you are setting up an LLC, there are some specific steps to take in Wisconsin to ensure your business, you, and the other LLC members (owners) are protected. This guide will help you with each step of the journey.
To start a limited liability company in the Badger State, you’ll need to file your Articles of Organization with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. But before it becomes an official LLC, you’ll need to decide on a name for your business, appoint a registered agent, and consider creating an operating agreement. While some steps are more complicated than others, this step-by-step guide will break down each task so that building your business is a straightforward process. Complete each task, and you’re one step closer to getting your Wisconsin LLC up and running. Along the way, we’ll also show you how our services can eliminate many of the hassles and headaches for you.
Step 1: Name your Wisconsin LLC
There’s a lot to a name: It has to be catchy enough to draw people in, clever enough to represent your brand, and compliant enough to get approved by the state. To ensure your LLC name is compliant with Wisconsin regulations and available to be used, it will need to be unique from all existing ones in the state.
Make a list of possible names and then follow the instructions on our Wisconsin Business Entity Search page to see if your desired name is available in the state. Before you begin brainstorming ideas, it might be helpful to check Wisconsin’s detailed guidelines for naming an LLC on the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institution’s website. Note that slight variations in spelling, punctuation, and designator are not enough to be considered unique in Wisconsin.
As with other states, Winsconsin state law mandates that your company’s name end with the proper designator. For LLCs, you have a few options: Limited Liability Company, Limited Liability Co., LLC, or L.L.C. Whichever one you settle on must appear at the very end of your company’s name — with or without a comma before it.
Finding an available business name is the first step. Then, if you like, you can reserve it to ensure nobody else scoops it up. If there’s going to be a long time between the date you’ve chosen your name and the time you expect to file your Articles of Organization, Wisconsin allows you to reserve a business name for 120 days for a fee. If you’d rather not deal with this process yourself, we have a business name reservation service that can handle it for you. As part of the service, we also check to see if your desired name is available.
When you’re coming up with a business name, it’s wise to consider whether you can secure a matching domain name so that your future website can be easily found online. We have a tool to help you do a preliminary domain name search, and our domain name registration service can help you secure the online name that will best serve your company.
Something else to think about is whether you’ll want to use a trade name or “Doing Business As” (DBA). A DBA is simply a name you use for your business that isn’t its legal name. To get a DBA in Wisconsin, visit Wisconsin’s Department of Financial Institution’s website and search for your new DBA name to make sure it isn’t already in use. If the name is available, you can file online via the same site.
Finally, to make sure you’re entirely in the clear with your desired business name, visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office website to make sure your business name or logo isn’t already federally trademarked. Trademarks can also happen at the state level. To find out more and/or apply for a state trademark, go to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions website page for trademarks.
Step 2: Appoint a registered agent in Wisconsin
Once you’ve picked and reserved your company’s name, you’ll need to choose a person or entity to be the point of contact for all legal matters — in other words, appoint a Wisconsin registered agent. If your company is subpoenaed or sued, the state of Wisconsin will deliver all necessary documents to your registered agent.
It is possible to be your company’s registered agent; however, it’s often better to outsource the role. You can choose any person who is a resident of the state of Wisconsin or any business entity that is authorized to do business in Wisconsin, as long as they also have a physical street address in the state. Hiring an outside registered agent service ensures all of these requirements are met and is an affordable way to avoid awkward encounters in front of customers.
Some additional benefits of hiring an outside registered agent service like ours include:
- Freedom to leave the office: The registered agent must be present at the office during all normal business hours
- Ensure compliance: A registered agent service like ours can ensure your business is compliant with the state regulations for maintaining registered agent.
- Keep legal documents all in one place: Our registered agent service can help organize any legal documents and keep them in one place so that you don’t have to search for anything.
Step 3: File Wisconsin Articles of Organization
Picking a name and a registered agent isn’t enough to make your business official yet. To make it an official LLC in Wisconsin, you’ll need to complete your Articles of Organization and file it with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. Filing government paperwork like this can be a nerve-racking experience for many people, which is why we’re here. With our business formation plans, our professionals handle the filing for you to make sure it’s done quickly and correctly the first time. But, although we can handle this for you, we’ll show you how the process works below.
There are a few things you will need to fill out the form. Make sure you have the following on hand before you begin:
- The name of your LLC
- The name of your registered agent and the registered office address
- The type of management your LLC will use
- The names and addresses of each organizer
- The name of the person drafting the document
- The preferred effective date
- The ability to sign the document with one or more organizer signatures
- Information on how to reach the designated contact person
- Payment for the nonrefundable fee
If you prefer to fill out the document on paper and mail it in, you will be responsible for paying a higher non-refundable fee than you would if using the online system. While sending your paperwork via mail will take about five days to process, you can pay an optional fee for expedited service. With expedited service, your Articles of Organization will be processed by the close of the first business day following the date of receipt. We can handle this expediting process for you with our faster filing speeds service.
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, LLC member certificates, contracts, compliance checklists, etc. We offer a customized business kit to help you keep these important documents organized and looking professional.
By this time you’re probably realizing how often you’ll need to supply an address for your new business. That can be unsettling for some business owners, especially those running their business from home. In instances where you’re not required to give the registered agent address or official principal address for your business, a virtual business address can come in handy.
With our virtual business address service, we’ll supply you with a physical street address where you can have your mail sent without divulging your real address to more people than necessary. Then we can forward that mail to the address of your choice.
Step 4: Create an operating agreement
LLC operating agreements cover the rules your company will follow, how finances will be handled, how decisions will be made (including member voting structure), and details any additional necessary rules. However, not every state requires LLCs to have one, including Wisconsin.
Considering Wisconsin doesn’t require an operating agreement for LLCs, you may feel drafting one is unnecessary — especially if you’re starting your LLC alone. But this isn’t always the case. Operating agreements can also be used to outline your company’s fate in the event of your demise and protect you and your assets if your company is dissolved or faced with bankruptcy. If you’re creating an LLC with other members, each involved party will need to sign the document, formalizing their agreement to the terms.
Since the state of Wisconsin doesn’t require an operating agreement, there is no form to fill out and file with the Department of Financial Institutions. If you’re unsure as to how to begin creating an operating agreement for your new LLC, we offer a customizable template to help get you started.
Step 5: Apply for an EIN
Before your LLC formation can be finalized, you’ll need to obtain a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN), also known as an EIN. You will need this nine-digit number if you’re a multi-member LLC or have employees. An EIN is required for tax and financial paperwork, including filing taxes, hiring new employees, and opening business bank accounts.
You can apply for your LLC’s EIN through the IRS website, by mail, or by fax, but if you’re unfond of dealing with that particular government agency, we can get it for you. Our EIN service is quick and eliminates the hassle.
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 (i.e., 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, check out our ZenBusiness Money App. It can help you create invoices, receive payments, transfer money, and manage clients all in one place.
Wisconsin LLC FAQs
How much does it cost to start an LLC in Wisconsin?
Starting an LLC in Wisconsin is relatively affordable. The state fees for forming an LLC can range from $130 to $185, depending on factors such as your method of filing and whether you choose to reserve your business name. Note that fees change over time, so check the Department of Financial Institutions website for the most recent fee schedule.
What are the benefits of an LLC in Wisconsin?
LLCs aren’t the only type of business you can form in Wisconsin. However, 90% of our customers choose to form an LLC over all other types. Compared to corporations, limited partnerships, and other forms of entities, LLCs come with inviting benefits.
Forming a Wisconsin LLC means you’ll reap the following benefits:
- Personal asset protection: Your personal liability will be separate from your business liability and debts.
- Tax incentives: You’ll only pay personal taxes rather than both personal and corporate taxes with an LLC. In Wisconsin, in particular, you can take advantage of the Enterprise Zone Tax Credit.
- Flexible management: You’re not required to have a board of directors or annual meetings as you would in a corporation.
- Less reporting: Compared to corporations, LLCs have fewer required meetings and reports.
For a more in-depth look at why an LLC might be a better option for you, see our breakdown of what an LLC is.
How is a Wisconsin LLC taxed?
LLCs are typically considered “pass-through entities,” meaning they are not subject to corporate taxes. Instead, the profits are passed through to the owner’s personal income, and the responsibility to pay taxes falls on the individual. This is unlike most corporations, in which profits are taxed twice, first at the business level and again at the individual shareholder level. This holds for all Wisconsin LLCs — unless you choose to file as a corporation, you will not be required to pay Wisconsin’s corporation income tax. However, your LLC could be subject to various other taxes, including:
- State employer taxes, if you have employees
- State unemployment insurance taxes, if you have employees
- Sales and use tax, if you sell goods
- Excise tax, if you sell beverages, fuel, cigarettes, or tobacco
Taxes can be confusing, so if you want to ensure nothing is missed and your business is filing correctly, you may want to work with a trusted professional. 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.
What is the processing time to form my Wisconsin LLC?
In about five business days, your Articles of Organization will be processed with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, regardless of your means of filing. For an extra fee, you can have your documents processed by the next business day.
Do I need to file an operating agreement with the state of Wisconsin?
No. The operating agreement is kept internally by the members. While some states legally require LLCs to have an operating agreement, Wisconsin does not.
What tax structure should I choose for my Wisconsin LLC?
When you get an EIN, you will be informed of the available tax classification options. Most LLCs elect the default tax status and, therefore, are taxed as pass-through entities.
You can also file as a corporation. This route has its advantages for certain LLCs, but be sure to review each option’s details and consult a tax professional to determine the best one for your business.
Does Wisconsin allow a Series LLC?
A Series LLC is a group of LLCs operating under one “parent” entity. Wisconsin allows a watered-down form of a Series LLC, but it does not specifically provide for a liability shield between the different series.
Which licenses and insurance are required for an LLC in Wisconsin?
Determining which business licenses and/or permits your LLC needs requires some research because licensing can be industry-specific and happen at the federal, state, and local levels. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do all this research, or if you just want peace of mind knowing that your business has all the licenses and permits it’s legally required to have, our business license report service can do the work for you.
When it comes to insurance, Wisconsin requires every small business with employees to provide workers’ compensation insurance. You’re also required to have commercial auto insurance for any vehicle you use in connection with your business. See a qualified insurance agent to see what your LLC’s specific insurance needs are.