You have a big idea, truckloads of ambition, dreams of a thriving Alabama LLC, and you’re mentally prepared to make it happen. But the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and for you, that first step is filing the Certificate of Formation.
With such grand plans, the last thing you might want to do is file paperwork, but completing the Certificate of Formation is what authenticates your LLC, making it official in Alabama. It’s perhaps the most important step in starting your Alabama LLC. Following this guide will help take the tedium out of paperwork and get your business started quickly.
But before you dive into the Certificate of Formation, you should have a few pieces of information ready to help streamline the process.
Quick Note: If you’d like to have an online service file the Certificate of Formation for you or simply need to save time, hire an LLC formation service. Two popular options are LegalZoom and ZenBusiness.
Choosing an LLC Name
Before anything else, you will need to decide on an LLC name. You must include a business name on your Certificate of Formation, and if the Secretary of State deems that name unacceptable or unavailable, the document will be rejected, so make sure you nail down a good name right away.
As you settle on a name, adhere to the state’s business naming requirements by ensuring that it contains the terms “Limited Liability Company,” “L.L.C.,” or “LLC,” and does not include any terms that would identify it as a banking, insurance, or government entity. Finally, your chosen name must not already be in use. Perform a business name search to determine if it’s distinguishable in the Secretary of State’s records.
Once you’ve found your perfect name, you must reserve it by filing a Name Reservation Request Form before including it on your Certificate of Formation. This reservation lasts for one whole year and you can renew it at least 90 days before it expires.
Choosing an Alabama Registered Agent
A registered agent is your LLC’s liaison to the state, the mediator who takes care of all your important legal, tax, and compliance documents, keeping your business in good standing. Registered agent information is an essential part of your Certificate of Formation, as in: your form will be rejected if you don’t include it. So, be sure to touch base with your desired agent before sitting down to file.
This agent will fall into one of two categories: individual or business entity. If you choose an individual, that person must be an Alabama resident with a physical and mailing address in the state. But if you go with a business entity (like a registered agent service) it must be authorized to do business in Alabama.
Quick Note: If your first choice doesn’t work out, don’t worry. You can always change your registered agent in the future.
Preparing to File Your Alabama Certificate of Formation
Now for the main event: the Certificate of Formation. Here’s your opportunity to get your LLC officially on record and authorized to conduct business in Alabama.
You’re likely itching to start your LLC and since the Certificate of Formation is the document that officially gets it going, you probably want to submit it ASAP. To streamline the process, gather the necessary information beforehand and you’ll breeze right through. Here’s what you’ll need:
- LLC name
- Name and address of the person who prepared the form
- Registered agent name and address
- Confirmation that the LLC has at least one member
- Whether or not the LLC is a Series or Professional LLC
- An effective date up to 90 days after the filing (optional)
- Credit card information (if paying by card)
Along with your Certificate of Formation, you must also submit a copy of your Name Reservation Certificate.
In most states, you would submit your formation documents to the Secretary of State’s office, but in Alabama, you won’t. Instead, you’ll submit the original document and two copies to the Office of the Judge of Probate in your LLC’s home county (find a list of county probate judges here). The Probate Judge will then submit your forms to the Secretary of State’s office.
There are a couple of fees associated with the Certificate of Formation so have a credit card or check ready to go. The fees are as follows:
$100 – Standard processing
$200 – Expedited processing
$50 – Minimum Probate Judge fee
Certain judges have specific payment rules and requirements – some don’t accept credit cards or expedited processing, for example – so check with your county’s Probate Judge before filing to make sure you’re following the correct protocol.
Standard processing time varies depending on which filing option you choose. If you’re in a hurry, the expedited processing option, which will process within 24 hours after it’s received, might be a good choice. Otherwise, processing will typically take 3-5 business days. However, during heavier processing times, it can take as long as 14 business days.
Depending on your LLC’s county, you have three different, but equally-valid, filing options: mail, in person, and online. After confirming filing procedures with your county’s Probate Judge, choose the one that best suits your timeline and preferences.
Download a paper application here. Once you’ve filled it out and included your Name Reservation Certificate, mail the original plus two copies to the Office of the Judge of Probate in the county where the LLC will be located.
Or, if you want to get out for some fresh air, you can hand-deliver the documents directly to the County Probate Judge’s office.
As of early 2019, three counties process applications online: Jackson, Montgomery, and Baldwin. The state is currently preparing the remaining counties to accept online submissions. Check with the Probate Judge in your county for more information.
The filing date is effective immediately on the date that the Probate Judge files your Certificate. You do have an option to delay the filing, but it must be filed within 90 days after the Certificate application is signed.
What About Foreign LLCs?
The process outlined above works for domestic LLCs (those formed in Alabama), but what if your business is expanding to Alabama from another state? In this case, disregard the Certificate of Formation. Your LLC will go in a different direction.
Alabama Secretary of State, Business Services
P.O. Box 5616
Montgomery, Alabama 36103-5616
The Application for Registration costs $150 for standard processing and $250 for expedited service (24 hours).
This process is called foreign qualifying your business and it’s required for all foreign entities. Don’t commence your business activities without foreign qualifying or you might face some serious penalties form the state.
However, after the state has successfully processed your filing, you’re ready to go! Feel free to make deals, sell products, hire employees, and take care of other miscellaneous business responsibilities in Alabama.
Want Help Filing Your Certificate of Formation?
Let’s be honest: you’ve got a lot on your plate. Filing paperwork can take time away from your other tasks, ones more focused on setting your budding LLC up for success.
The good news is that you don’t need to file the Certificate of Formation yourself. But if an attorney is out of your price range, hiring an LLC creation service is a great option.
There’s no shortage of business incorporation services out there, but not all of them are equal. Each one offers different packages, costs, and processing times, so it’s important to find the right fit for your LLC.
While each service has optional upgrades and perks packages, on the most basic level, they will review your business information, prepare your formation documents, and submit them to the Alabama Secretary of State. They will complete everything outlined in this guide and notify you when your Certificate of Formation has been filed. You won’t have to lift a finger.
There are other benefits too. Some services will include a year of free registered agent service when you hire them. Other services offer order tracking, notifications on future documents, assistance drafting your operating agreement, or coverage of certain LLC formation costs.
Which is the Best LLC Service?
All you need to do now is research every service extensively and make side-by-side comparisons for each option. Easy, right? Just kidding – we did all of that for you.
And from our meticulous research of reviewing and ranking the top LLC services, we’ve drawn the conclusion that IncFile and Northwest are your best overall options.
They might not have the brand recognition of LegalZoom, the industry giant, but both have amazing customer support, affordable prices, and include a year of registered agent service.