Are you looking to start a professional corporation in North Carolina, but you’re not sure where to start?
Professional corporations are those owned and operated by licensed professionals, like doctors, lawyers, and architects. There are quite a few important steps you’ll need to take to create your North Carolina professional corporation and maintain it, so this guide will outline the rules and regulations involved with this process.
We’ll cover everything you need to know, from picking names, choosing a board, navigating taxes, and more. To get started, please reference our guide below or hire a professional online incorporation service.
What is a North Carolina Professional Corporation?
On the surface, a professional corporation and a regular corporation look very similar. Both businesses can issue stock, both have bylaws, and both are governed by a board of directors and an executive team. Both pay corporate income taxes, too.
And more importantly, both corporation types offer personal asset protection. Simply put, a shareholder or member of the business isn’t liable for the business’s debts. So a member of the corporation can’t be sued; the corporation is sued. However, in a professional corporation, there’s one exception: individual members can be sued for malpractice.
That’s especially important because professional corporations usually offer professional services, such as lawyers, dentists, doctors, chiropractors, and more. All of those trades can be sued for malpractice. But in a PC, only the person responsible for the malpractice can be sued. That makes it a better option for most professionals.
In North Carolina, a corporation is only allowed to offer professional services (i.e., form a professional corporation) if every share of stock is owned by a person licensed for the profession. This reduces a PC’s ability to fundraise somewhat, but the advantage of liability protection remains.
7 Steps to Start a Professional Corporation in North Carolina
Now let’s jump into the specific steps you’ll need to take to form a professional corporation in North Carolina. Later on in this guide, we’ll discuss the steps you need to take in order to maintain your corporation in North Carolina. But let’s start at the beginning.
1. Select Your Board of Directors
A professional corporation is only as good as its board of directors, so you’ll want to appoint carefully. And while the bulk of people involved in the day-to-day operations of your business will be licensed in your profession, we recommend having your board be a bit more diverse.
For example, a dental PC might want a director with legal experience, one with business growth expertise, a financial expert, and so on. This gives you diverse input to help the business succeed.
North Carolina also makes it pretty simple to choose your board because there isn’t a long list of rules for your board. The only explicit rules are that you must have at least one director at all times, and at least one director must be licensed in the PC’s profession. As long as you meet those minimum requirements, you can set out all remaining terms for your board in your company bylaws.
2. Designate a Registered Agent
Every North Carolina professional corporation—and even other entity types—must appoint a registered agent. This individual accepts “service of process” from the state on your behalf. Basically, if the state ever needs to notify you regarding a lawsuit or an upcoming annual report due date, they’ll contact your registered agent. Your agent forwards that notice to you.
North Carolina has a few legal requirements for your registered agent, though:
- Every entity that files with the Secretary of State (both domestic and foreign) must appoint a registered agent
- The agent must be an individual resident of North Carolina OR a business entity with authority to operate in the state
- An agent must be continuously maintained
You can find a full rundown of state laws in The North Carolina Business Corporation Act.
Technically, you can serve as your own registered agent, but we don’t recommend that. For starters, you’ll be busy running the day-to-day affairs of your corporation. It’s also important to note that the registered agent’s address goes on the public record; some entrepreneurs are uncomfortable with that idea. Because of that, it’s a good idea to appoint a third party, like an individual that you trust or one of our top registered agent services.
3. Choose a Name for Your Corporation
Technically, you can complete this step at any point during the process, but we’ve put it here—depending on how involved your board of directors or fellow incorporators are, they may want to be involved in the naming process.
Choosing a name can be one of the most fun—and challenging—parts of starting a PC. There are a few things to keep in mind when picking a name.
Meet North Carolina’s Legal Requirements
The trickiest part of naming a business is adhering to the state’s legal requirements for naming a business. Thankfully, North Carolina keeps its laws relatively simple:
- Your name must include the phrase “professional association” or “professional corporation” (their abbreviations are permitted, too)
- The name of your nonprofit cannot imply or directly state a purpose that goes against state law or the nonprofit’s Articles of Incorporation
- Your name must be “distinguishable upon the records of the Secretary of State,” or distinct from the names of other entities in the state
You can find more details about business names in the state’s naming statutes or get started by doing a name search.
Pick a Descriptive Name That You Like
As long as you meet legal requirements, you have a lot of leeway to pick the perfect name for your professional corporation. In general, you should choose a name that’s memorable, describes what your business does, and is easy to say and remember. More importantly, you should pick a name that you and your team likes. You should feel good when you tell other people about your business, and your name is a big part of that.
You can also reserve your name with the Application to Reserve a Business Entity Name form. This procedure costs $30, but it protects your name for 120 days. That buys you time for other business start-up steps. After all the work to create a name, you don’t want to lose it to another business.
4. File your Articles of Incorporation
Now that you have your board, agent, and name all lined up, you’re all set to file your Articles of Incorporation. This two-page document is what officially forms your business in North Carolina, and it requires some foundational data about your business. This is the information you’ll need to provide:
- The name of your PC
- Number, class, and value of shares the corporation can issue
- Name, address, and mailing address (if applicable) of your registered agent
- Any other provisions you wish to include
- The purpose of your corporation, including the service you’ll offer
- Name and address of each incorporator
- Name and attached license information of at least one licensed incorporator
- Certification from your licensing board that all of your shareholders are compliant licensees
- Effective date for the filing
- Name and signature of at least one incorporator
All told, this form is quite simple to complete; just fill in all the requested information, and you’ll be set to go. If you prefer, you can also file this form online. Either way, you’ll need to have payment on hand for the $125 filing fee.
5. Establish Your Corporate Record & Hold Your First Board Meeting
Now that your professional corporation officially exists, it’s time to establish your corporate record. Your board of directors will help you do this during your first board meeting.
The very first step you’ll take is drafting your bylaws. North Carolina doesn’t dictate a lot of legal requirements for the day-to-day operations of your business, so that’s where your bylaws will come in. Your bylaws are basically the operating manual for your business: how the board is appointed and maintained, shareholder policies and distributions, how officers are appointed, and much more. Every PC will have slightly different bylaws, but it’s essential to have them.
In addition to creating bylaws, at your first meeting, you’ll want to appoint someone to take minutes at each meeting. These minutes form another vital part of your corporate record, summarizing all important activities and decisions.
Other important tasks for your first meeting include appointing officers, drafting a conflict of interest policy, establishing committees (if applicable), and more. No two board meetings are exactly alike, but the first one is a crucial (and busy) one.
6. Obtain Business Licenses
As a professional corporation, you won’t be a stranger to the licenses required by your industry. But we’d be remiss not to remind you of them!
In North Carolina, every shareholder and at least one of your directors is required to maintain the licenses for your industry. Your employees are also required to have licenses if they’re offering the PC’s service. If any members of your organization need to renew or obtain a license, then the North Carolina Business and Occupational License Database is a great place to get started.
Some states also require a general business license on top of professional licenses, but North Carolina doesn’t require this on the state level. Instead, cities and counties in North Carolina can require one, so you’ll need to check with your local government. Another good starting point is to read our guide to NC business licenses.
7. Set up a Business Bank Account
If you don’t already have one, it’s time to get a business bank account. This enables you to ensure that your business funds and personal funds are always separate—an essential distinction to maintain your personal asset protection. Most banks will ask to see your bylaws (and maybe even your formation documents) as part of this process.
You can also look into getting a business credit card if you feel your company is ready for that step.
3 Steps to Maintain Your North Carolina Professional Corporation
Now that your business is up and running, it’s time to maintain it compliantly. There are three major areas you’ll want to tackle (or plan ahead for): taxes, insurance, and annual reporting.
1. Prepare for Taxes
Taxes are a fact of life for a corporation. Before you do anything else, we recommend obtaining an EIN, or an Employer Identification Number—even if you don’t have employees. That’s because an EIN acts like a social security number for a business. What’s more, it’s free (and quick) to obtain through the IRS.
After that, if you have employees, you’ll want to anticipate your contributions to unemployment insurance taxes and income withholding taxes on the state and federal levels.
And of course, there are corporate income taxes to account for (21% for federal taxes and 2.5% for state ones). These taxes are arguably the biggest expense a corporation will face in a given year. Income taxes are supplemented by North Carolina’s miscellaneous industry taxes: dry cleaning solvents and insurance premiums are just a few of them. You can find more information on miscellaneous taxes with the North Carolina Department of Revenue.
Not every tax will apply to your North Carolina PC, and this is not an exhaustive list. Taxes are complicated and vary significantly depending on your business. We highly recommend consulting with a tax professional to ensure that you’ve covered all of your responsibilities.
To keep things organized and simple for all things tax, we recommend setting up an accounting software and working with a qualified professional.
2. Obtain Business Insurance
In addition to the malpractice insurance that each practitioner maintains, we highly recommend maintaining a general liability insurance policy for the business as a whole.
Lots of things can go wrong: fallen trees at your physical location, a fall on your property, malfunctioning equipment…it’s a long list. This general policy isn’t required by North Carolina law, but we recommend it so you’re protected no matter what. Accidents and natural disasters can be very expensive.
North Carolina does require one insurance policy, though: workers’ compensation. Any North Carolina business with employees must maintain one of these policies. For more information on this requirement, please consult the North Carolina Industrial Commission.
3. Anticipate Your Annual Report
All businesses in North Carolina are required to submit an annual filing called the annual report. This report updates the state regarding any information about your business that might have changed over the course of the year. It’s a very simple online filing.
Technically, you can file this form by mail, too. But we recommend filing online to streamline the process (and keep the filing fee lower). For most PCs, this form is due on April 15th. But if your tax year ends on a month other than December, it will be due on the fifteenth day of the fourth month after your fiscal year closes.
As long as you file online and on time, the filing fee is just $22.50. This form might not seem like much, but don’t overlook it; delinquent filings can cause a lot of hassle. If you’d prefer to have a service handle this obligation for you, there are a handful of reliable report filing services.
Getting Help With Your North Carolina Professional Corporation
Feeling overwhelmed or just need an extra hand? Here are some of our favorite resources for North Carolina professional corporations.
Online Incorporation Services
If you would like to hire an affordable business incorporation service to create your professional corporation for you, services like LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and Swyft Filings can help you out. These service providers can handle most of the formation process, while still charging much lower rates than a business attorney’s fees.
There isn’t the same level of personalization that a lawyer can provide, but online incorporation services can still be a tremendous help. The only major issue with these service providers is the fact that they can’t provide any actual legal advice, so you need to know what you want ahead of time.
North Carolina Business Attorneys
There are some situations where hiring a business lawyer is a preferable route to using an online incorporation service. The professional corporation as a business structure can be highly complicated and specialized, and if you want to have the peace of mind that every single step was taken care of by a true expert, hiring a business attorney to form your North Carolina professional corporation is the way to go.
If you would like to pursue this route, there are some convenient services that can help you choose the right lawyer for your business. We like to use Avvo, which has extensive reviews and ratings for hundreds of North Carolina business lawyers, which can make it much easier to select an attorney who has your best interests in mind and also has the expertise to get the job done right.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I speed up the process?
Processing speeds for North Carolina are usually a tad slower than average, with most documents taking 6-14 business days. If you need faster processing, you can pay $100 for 24-hour turnaround or $200 for guaranteed same-day processing.
Can a North Carolina professional corporation elect S-corporation status?
In most states, there’s a big advantage to electing S-corporation status, which allows a corporation to be taxed more like a pass-through entity. Since individual income taxes are often lighter than corporate ones, this election can reduce your tax burden. To qualify for this status, a corporation must have 100 or fewer shareholders and only one class of stock.
North Carolina PCs can apply for this status with the IRS using Form 2553. The advantage proves to be pretty significant for a lot of businesses, but not all of them; it all depends on your total income levels. We recommend chatting with a tax professional to discuss which choice is right for your business.
Do I have to file my corporate record with the state?
North Carolina does not require you to file your corporate record with the Secretary of State; you’re simply required to keep one. Most professional corporations choose to keep a classic binder with these records, but you can pick the method that works for you. Just ensure that it’s accessible somewhere onsite, and you’ll be able to add to it or consult it as needed.
What’s the difference between a PLLC and a PC? Can I form one in North Carolina?
A PLLC, or Professional Limited Liability Company, is an LLC formed by professionals in regulated industries. Some states, North Carolina included, offer it as an alternative to the PC because LLCs are a little easier to run (and have tax advantages over corporations). You can pick the option that’s best suited to your business’s unique needs.
Are incorporation services like ZenBusiness and Northwest worth it?
That depends on what your needs are. If you want to keep your expenses as low as possible, then you might find yourself bewildered by the state fee and the service’s package fees put together. But if you don’t want to endure the hassle of dealing with paperwork, or you simply want a teammate to help you through the process, a service may be a big help to you.
Another important note is that neither ZenBusiness or Northwest file professional corporations. Yes, they are ideal if you’re looking to form a regular corporation or an LLC, but not professional corporations.
Should I hire a business attorney to help with my PC?
Ideally, yes (if you can afford it). But a business-lawyer relationship is a very important one, and you’ll want to find a lawyer that fits your budget, your personality, your industry, and so on. One of our favorite tools for North Carolina businesses is Avvo.com, where you can find lawyers in your city, based on the best customer reviews, and several other helpful filters. It’s a helpful tool.
Form a Professional Corporation in all States
We break down the professional corporation process in every state. View all of our guides below.
- Alabama Professional Corporation
- Alaska Professional Corporation
- Arizona Professional Corporation
- Arkansas Professional Corporation
- California Professional Corporation
- Colorado Professional Corporation
- Connecticut Professional Corporation
- Delaware Professional Corporation
- Florida Professional Corporation
- Georgia Professional Corporation
- Hawaii Professional Corporation
- Idaho Professional Corporation
- Illinois Professional Corporation
- Indiana Professional Corporation
- Iowa Professional Corporation
- Kansas Professional Corporation
- Kentucky Professional Corporation
- Louisiana Professional Corporation
- Maine Professional Corporation
- Maryland Professional Corporation
- Massachusetts Professional Corporation
- Michigan Professional Corporation
- Minnesota Professional Corporation
- Mississippi Professional Corporation
- Missouri Professional Corporation
- Montana Professional Corporation
- Nebraska Professional Corporation
- Nevada Professional Corporation
- New Hampshire Professional Corporation
- New Jersey Professional Corporation
- New Mexico Professional Corporation
- New York Professional Corporation
- North Dakota Professional Corporation
- Ohio Professional Corporation
- Oklahoma Professional Corporation
- Oregon Professional Corporation
- Pennsylvania Professional Corporation
- Rhode Island Professional Corporation
- South Carolina Professional Corporation
- South Dakota Professional Corporation
- Tennessee Professional Corporation
- Texas Professional Corporation
- Utah Professional Corporation
- Vermont Professional Corporation
- Virginia Professional Corporation
- Washington D.C. Professional Corporation
- Washington Professional Corporation
- West Virginia Professional Corporation
- Wisconsin Professional Corporation
- Wyoming Professional Corporation