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How to Start an LLC in Wisconsin
Wisconsin is a great place to start a business. If you want your Wisconsin business to be taken seriously, starting an LLC is a great selection. Wisconsin LLC’s help provide liability protection and more tax related benefits than other business structures. In 5 steps, this guide will assist you in getting your Wisconsin LLC registered. Follow the step-by-step instructions provided below to get your LLC formed.
If you want to learn more about LLCs’ basics, you can read our guide, What is an LLC and how does it work, where we go over the benefits an LLC can provide. You can also use the table of contents below to jump ahead to a specific section.
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Steps to Starting an LLC in Wisconsin
To form an LLC in Wisconsin you’ll need to file Articles of Organization and pay a $130. By setting up a Wisconsin LLC your buisness will be recognized as a legal entity separate from it’s owner(s). As a result of this legal distinction between the owners and the business, the owners of an LLC get personal liability protection. This protection helps to protect the owners in the event that the business is sued or accrues debts. The owners personal assets like their car, home, and personal bank account are protected from being ceased to repay business debts or monetary judgements against the business in most cases. This separation is why many businesses choose an LLC over an informal business structure like a sole proprietorship or partnership, as they do not have these protections.
To complete the process to create an LLC in Wisconsin, follow the steps below.
1. Name Your Wisconsin LLC
Initially you’ll want to determine the legal name for your Wisconsin LLC. In Wisconsin there are a few rules you’ll need to follow to ensure your name meets the naming requirements laid out by the State of Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions:
- Your LLC name must be different from any other Wisconsin business
- Name must include the word “limited liablity company” or a designator that denotes that it is an LLC such as “LLC” or “Ltd.”
- Cannot include phrases that could confuse the LLC with a government agency
- Should not include restricted words like Bank, Attorney, or Insurance unless accurately describing the business’s activity. Including these words often requires additional filings and/or a professional license to be approved.
- Cannot include designators of different entity types such as “Inc”, “Incorporated”, “Corp”, “Corporation”, “LP” or “LLP”
Name Search Process
- Conduct a Wisconsin Name Availablity Search:
Once you have your desired company name, you’ll want to conduct a Wisconsin name availability search to ensure that the name is not currently in use by an existing business or is not significantly similar to an existing business.
- Verify Domain Availability:
In addition to verifying that your LLC name is available for use, you may also want to take the time to register the domain name for your LLC. Even if you don’t plan on creating a business website, you can register your website domain to ensure that others cannot use your business name. You can register domains for less than $10 with namecheap.
Pro Tip: When conducting your name search, you may find that the name was used in the past, but that business has since closed or dissolved their LLC. While you can proceed with a previously registered name, we recommend choosing a different name. Using a previously registered name can lead to delays in getting your business started due to the high likelihood that your EIN application will receive reference error 101. This error can cause the obtain of your EIN to go from a 15-minute process to potentially taking weeks to receive.
When in this process, be sure to take some time to develop a good business name. If you’re struggling, you can get some help to get your creative juices flowing by visiting our guide: How to Come up with a Business Name.
2. Choose a Wisconsin Registered Agent
After you’ve come up with a great name for your Wisconsin LLC, the next step is determining who will serve as your registered agent. A registered agent can be a person or a registered business who serves as the main point of contact with the State to receive notices and accept service of process documents if your business is sued. Every Wisconsin LLC needs to list a registered agent on their LLC filing document, known as Articles of Organization, so you’ll want to make this decision before you start the filing process.
Who Can Serve as a Wisconsin Registered Agent?
Any person who is a resident of Wisconsin or a company registered with the state, who has a physical address within the state, and is always available during regular business hours can serve as your registered agent. If an LLC member fits these requirements, they can serve as a registered agent. While some business owners will choose to list their business address and themselves as the registered agent, there are several reasons this could harm your business:
- You receive a lawsuit in front of a client: If you receive service of process for a lawsuit or other legal dispute at your business address, customers and clients could quickly become aware of the information you wish to keep private. You can avoid this embarrassing situation by choosing a third party as your registered agent.
- You miss important documents: Registered agents are expected to be available at all times during business hours. If you are frequently away from the office or expect to take a vacation this year, you should probably reconsider listing yourself as the registered agent. The last thing you want is to find out your business is tied up in a lawsuit or late on tax filings simply because you missed receiving service of process or other important documentation.
3. File Your Wisconsin Articles of Organization
To legally create your Vermont LLC, you’ll need to file a document known as Articles of Organization with the Vermont Secretary of State.
When completing the Wisconsin Articles of Organization filing, you’ll need to provide the following information:
- Name of your LLC
- Business address
- Name and contact information for each member
- Name and contact information for the registered agent
- Official start date of the LLC
- How the LLC will be managed (member-managed vs. manager-managed)
Key Information about the Wisconsin Articles of Organization Filing Process:
- How much does it cost to start an LLC in Wisconsin:
Standard Filing Fee: $130
Expedited Filing Fee: N/A
- How long does it take to form an LLC in Wisconsin:
Standard Filing Turnaround Time: Immediate
Expedited Filing Turnaround Time: N/A
4. Create a Wisconsin LLC Operating Agreement
An operating agreement is a legal document that establishes the duties of the members as well as rights, responsibilities, ownership percentage, and other important legal guidelines. It is advised to have an LLC operating agreement, but it isn’t required in Wisconsin. Without an operating agreement an LLC is at increased legal and financial risk.
There are three main reasons why your LLC needs an operating agreement:
- Protects the LLCs limited liability status:
An operating agreement helps prove that your LLC is a legitimate business venture and isn’t operating as a sole proprietorship or partnership. Without an operating agreement, you could be at risk of losing your personal liability protection if you were sued or had outstanding debts that were unable to be paid.
- Provide Clear Rules for Resolving Disputes:
While it may not seem likely now, disputes regarding business operations and strategic decisions are common. It can save you a lot of hassle by outlining formal processes to resolve conflicts and outline operating procedures.
- Protection against default Wisconsin governing rules:
If an LLC does not have an operating agreement, they are subject to the state’s default rules. These rules are very general and, as a result, are not ideal for most LLCs and can have significant downsides. Creating an operating agreement can ensure that your LLC is not subject to the default state governance rules.
Having a professionally created operating agreement is your best bet. However, not everyone can afford to have a lawyer draft a custom operating agreement. If you want to create a basic one yourself, be sure that you include these items:
- Percentage of ownership allotted to each member
- Members’ responsibilities and powers
- Voting rights (if applicable)
- General internal structure of the LLC
- How profits will be distributed
- Buyout and buy-sell rules outlining the procedures for transferring ownership interest
5. Get an EIN
If you are a multi-member LLC (have two or more owners), you are required to obtain an EIN. EINs are also needed to open a business bank account or hire employees. Because of this, we recommend that every LLC get an EIN.
EINs are an ID number issued by the IRS for tax and employment reporting purposes. You can think of an EIN as a social security number for a business. You can apply online for free directly with the IRS by using their online application system, know as the EIN assistant. Note that the EIN assistant is only available from 7 AM – 10 PM Eastern.
Wisconsin LLC EIN Filing Tips:
When applying for your EIN, be sure to wait until the State of Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions has approved your LLC. If your Wisconsin LLC filing is rejected, you will need to either amend your EIN filing or obtain a new EIN under the correct name.
When applying for an EIN for an LLC, you must list your LLC name correctly. In the LLC name field, be sure that your name is listed exactly as it appears on your approved Articles of Organization document. A conflict in your name could result in delays when setting up a business bank account or applying for loans and lines of credit.
The online IRS EIN Assistant has a timeout security feature that will end your session if you are inactive for 15 minutes or longer. As a result, you’ll need to complete your EIN application in one sitting. Because of this timeout feature, we recommend that you collect all the information you’ll need to complete the application and have it on hand before starting. This information includes:
- Number LLC members (the owners of an LLC are referred to as members)
- Designate a Responsible Party – A responsible party is the designated person with financial control over the entity. You’ll need to provide this person’s name, address, and SSN.
- Physical Address and Phone Number of the LLC
- The legal name of the LLC
- County where the LLC is located
- State where the LLC is located
- State where the Articles of Organization were filed – Wisconsin
- LLC Start Date
- If the LLC owns a high motor vehicle with a taxable gross weight of 55,000 pounds or more
- If the business involves gambling
- If you will need to file excise taxes
- If you will sell or manufacture alcohol, tobacco, or firearms
- If you will have or expect to have any W-2 employees within the next year, and if so, how many
Steps After Your Wisconsin LLC is Formed
Now that your LLC is legally registered with the State of Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, there are still several steps to take before you start conducting business. Often, when you search how to start an LLC in Wisconsin, the instructions stop once the paperwork is filed. Yet, there are several more steps you can take to ensure your business is set up for success.