Think of all the people you communicate with regularly to run your LLC. Business partners, employees, banks, lawyers, and financial advisors all probably come to mind. But what about the state? It may not be at the top of your list, but running a successful LLC in South Carolina requires consistent interaction with the state.
Formation documents, business information changes, lawsuits, and professional licenses – all of these (and more) require you to work with state agencies. The good news is that you don’t need to do it yourself.
Introducing the registered agent. A South Carolina registered agent is an intermediary for your LLC, a person or company that handles your communication with the state. They’re a vital part of any LLC’s success. Before you file your Articles of Organization, you’ll need to have a designated registered agent. How? Why? Who? Read on to find out.
What is a South Carolina Registered Agent & is it Necessary?
An LLC cannot be formed or do business in South Carolina without first having a registered agent on file with the Secretary of State. This is required by law and the penalties can be serious. Maintaining a registered agent doesn’t just keep you in good standing. It also provides an important service.
Think of your registered agent as your ambassador to the state, handling all your LLC’s important legal, tax, and compliance information. This can either be an individual, company or registered agent service, as long as they comply with that state’s requirements (below) and consent to the appointment.
As soon as they’re appointed, your registered agent must be consistently available in South Carolina to receive and act on mailed documents and service of process. Here’s what the South Carolina LLC specifically says:
The Secretary of State website provides some additional context on the role of your registered agent:
And once you’ve chosen a registered agent, you should never let your LLC go without one, because the state won’t hesitate to dish out punishments for operating with no agent, even possibly administratively dissolving your LLC.
What are the Requirements of a Registered Agent?
The state only has a few broad requirements for who can serve as your registered agent, but they’re important to remember as you make your decision. An acceptable agent must:
- Be an individual South Carolina resident or a corporation authorized for business in South Carolina.
- Have a physical address in South Carolina (P.O. boxes are not allowed).
- Have a mailing address in South Carolina.
Have a valid registered agent in mind by the time that you file the Articles of Organization because you’ll need to include their information. Here’s a look at the form:
You’ll notice that there’s a space for the agent’s signature. This means that whoever you choose must agree to the appointment and having their information on the public record.
When you’ve got potential options for your registered agent, review each one to make sure that they meet these requirements. If they do, you’re good to go! If not, you’ll need to keep looking.
Who can be a Registered Agent in South Carolina?
South Carolina’s registered agent requirements are pretty broad, so you’ll have no shortage of options. On top of that, your agent can be either an individual or a professional service. But think carefully before choosing, because each option has its own pros and cons. Let’s take a closer look.
You may choose to appoint a single person as your registered agent. Some LLC owners take on registered agent duties themselves. Others appoint one of their partners or managers. Some will even appoint a family member. As long as the proposed agent fulfills the state’s requirements, they’re a valid option.
In addition to being a South Carolina resident, your agent must not currently be establishing residency or receiving benefits in another state, even if that residency is still forthcoming.
Some smart registered agent choices include attorneys, accountants, or other LLC partners, people who understand the ins and outs of business operations.
- Convenience – Having familiarity and mutual trust with your registered agent is extremely beneficial, and appointing an acquaintance can provide both. Plus, you’ll always know how to contact them.
- Cost – Hiring someone you know often won’t cost a dime. It’s certainly cheaper than a professional service.
- Scheduling – Part of a registered agent’s duty is being consistently available to receive mailed documents and service of process. If your agent goes on vacation or moves out of state, it will throw a wrench in your plans.
- Punctuality Risks – Some state communications and filings are very time-sensitive. If your agent is unavailable when documents are delivered, it could slow down the entire process and put you at risk for late fees and penalties. Even worse, a friend or family member could lose or misplace a document. So if you’d rather not interrogate Aunt Louise about the location of a particular tax form, you might consider using a registered agent service instead.
Registered Agent Service
If safety and reliability is your goal, hire a registered agent service. A business acting as your registered agent must be either a domestic entity in South Carolina or a foreign entity who has foreign qualified in South Carolina.
- Privacy – Some documents delivered to your registered agent will contain sensitive information. Do you want details about your lawsuit or taxes lost out there in the world? Definitely not. A friend or family member might misplace these documents, but a professional service will not. Plus, in South Carolina, all registered agent names and addresses are available to the public. This might make an individual uncomfortable, but hiring a company will keep this personal information off the record.
- Reliability – Handling and processing time-sensitive documents is a registered agent service’s specialty, its area of expertise, its main game. Hire a professional service and you can be sure that your filings will be submitted properly and punctually, so you’ll never have to deal with late fees or other penalties.
- Location – Many registered agent companies offer service in most or all 50 states, so if business is booming and you decide to expand outside South Carolina, you won’t need to find a new agent for each state.
- Cost – There’s no getting around it – hiring a service costs more than appointing an individual who’s willing to do it for free. However, for a reasonable price (roughly $100/year), you’ll receive premium services. Taking your car to a mechanic costs more than letting your neighbor try to fix it, but the mechanic gives you peace of mind that the job will get done right, and that may very well be worth the cost.
All of the other steps in the LLC formation process will keep you busy, but take some time to ensure you find a registered agent that fits with your business model, goals, and values. Do this, and your LLC will reap the benefits for years to come.
How to get a Free Registered Agent
Here’s a pro tip: you can get the reliability of a registered agent service and the cost-effectiveness of an individual. The best of both worlds. When you hire certain LLC services to start your business, they’ll throw in free registered agent service.
How it Works
Hire a company like IncFile or ZenBusiness to form your South Carolina LLC. In addition to taking care of your Articles of Organization and other formation requirements, they will automatically include a registered agent. It’s a great two-for-one deal.
And an LLC service is pretty affordable – $110 for the South Carolina LLC formation fee, plus a small service fee. That’s great value for the number of benefits you receive. Some services will even cover and consolidate your LLC formation costs.
Take this route and you’ll sweep all formation paperwork and registered agent duties off your plate. Plus, to keep track of everything, these services provide user-friendly online dashboards, so you can follow everything they’re doing to keep your LLC in good standing.
Registered Agent Changes and Resignation
You may have a wonderful registered agent, someone who takes care of everything efficiently and who you trust completely. But you know what they say: all good things must come to an end. At some point in the life of your LLC, you may need to change your South Carolina registered agent.
There are two ways to make this change. You can do so through the Business Entities Online filing system. Just click “Existing Business,” then search your business name and choose “Add Filing.” While this is the most efficient method, you can also file a “Notice of Change of Designated Office, Agent, or Address of Registered Agent” form by mail or in person. Both the electronic and paper forms cost $10 to file.
There are a number of reasons you might need to file for a change, but the most common is a registered agent’s resignation.
South Carolina law doesn’t require your agent to notify you before resigning. However, it does require the agent to retain their duties for 30 days after submitting an official resignation. This allows your LLC time to find and appoint a replacement so you can avoid the penalties for operating without an agent.
And you don’t want to experience the penalties. Bring on that new agent sooner rather than later – if you let 60 days pass without an agent on file, your LLC can be administratively dissolved.
Have Questions or Concerns?
This guide contains almost everything there is to know about South Carolina registered agents. However, you might have a unique situation that requires additional information. Reaching out to the South Carolina Secretary of State is easy, and they’ll have the answers you need. Here’s how to go about it:
Visit Their Website
The Secretary of State’s website contains a lot of helpful information on registered agents and the LLC formation process in general. You might find this FAQ page particularly useful, as it contains answers to common registered agent-related questions.
Give Them a Call
If you’d rather chat with a human, you can! Just reach out to their Columbia office at 803-734-2158.
Alternatively, you could reach out to Northwest Registered Agent (the best registered agent service in our opinion) via phone or email. They’re quick to respond and very knowledgeable.