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Start an LLC in WisconsinIf you’re looking for a reliable DIY guide for starting an LLC in Wisconsin, look no further. Below you’ll find all the information you need to launch your business and handle any associated costs. Follow each step carefully and your LLC will be established and ready to hit the ground running.

That said, the process can be complex, with various filings and costs, so if at any point you need help, you can hire an online incorporation service – they’ll take care of the paperwork so you can spend more time growing your business.

Recommended: Compare the Top LLC Services

If you’re new to the process of starting an LLC, you might also be unfamiliar with the LLC formation services that are reliable and offer great value – like ZenBusiness. As a reference point we compared them to the two most well known LLC formation services, IncFile and LegalZoom. See our comparison guides for more information:

ZenBusiness vs LegalZoom or ZenBusiness vs IncFile

 

Step 1: Name Your LLC

What’s in a name? Quite a bit, actually. Your business name is your Wisconsin LLC’s identity, its personality, its reputation. Find a name that sticks in customers’ minds – while conveying your brand qualities – and you’ve struck gold. A unique, memorable name can draw in new customers and keep existing ones coming back.

Your LLC name is going to appear everywhere: business cards, marketing collateral, websites, legal contracts, bank accounts, invoices, directories, and much more. So be sure that it conveys your product, service, brand, and values.

While you can (and should) be creative with your business name, there are certain state requirements that it must follow.

Check out Wisconsin Statutes 183.0103 and you’ll find that your LLC name must include the words/abbreviations “Limited Liability Company,” “Limited Liability Co.,” “L.L.C.,” or “LLC.” Additionally, cannot contain any language that would imply an unlawful purpose.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, your name must be distinguishable from every other name registered or reserved with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.

But “distinguishable” often has different meanings in different states. So, what about Wisconsin? The following are not considered distinguishable features:

  • Singular, plural, and possessive forms of the same word
  • “Insignificant words” (the, and, of)
  • Numbers expressed as numerals vs. words (2, two)
  • Business Type Identifiers (corporation, incorporated, company, limited, cooperative, limited partnership) or any abbreviations thereof
  • The name “Wisconsin” or its abbreviations
  • Punctuation, capitalization, and spacing

To make a name distinguishable, you must make a significant change to one or more of its keywords. See the Department of Financial Institutions FAQ page for more information.

For Example

Consider this: your friend Fanny wants to open a flower shop in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The name she is considering, Flowers by Fanny, LLC is already in use. So she comes up with a new one: Fanny’s Florals and Design, LLC. This name is similar to the original but includes new words, distinguishing it in the Department of Financial Institutions’ records.

Determine the Name is Available

Of course, you will only need to make distinguishable changes if your name is already taken. Don’t make the mistake of ordering business cards, creating advertisements, and using a name on documents like the Articles of Organization without first confirming it’s available. Use the Department of Financial Institutions’ Corporate Records Search to see if there’s an existing business using your desired name.

Maybe you pegged a distinguishable name right away, or maybe it took some modifications, but either way, once you have a unique name, you can lock it down by filing a name reservation.

Optional: Name Reservation

You may have fallen in love with a particular name, but still have some preparation and paperwork to sort out before starting your LLC, and you’re worried that someone will swipe it in the meantime. To calm your nerves, you can reserve that name in Wisconsin for 120 days.

Think about Fanny. After making her name distinguishable, she’s ready to make it official, but if she’s waiting on some paperwork to start her LLC, she can protect her business name by sending a Name Reservation Application and a $15 fee to:

Department of Financial Institutions

P O Box 7846

Madison, WI 53707-7846

Or, you can hand-deliver your form to 4822 Madison Yards Way, North Tower, Madison, WI 53705

There’s no option to file online, so you’ll need to send this form by mail. Standard processing time is 5-7 business days, potentially longer during peak filing periods. But if you want to lock your name down right away, you can pay an additional $25 for expedited, next-day processing. Just check the appropriate box in the form’s top-right corner.

Filing the Articles of Organization will automatically register your name, so you can skip the reservation if you’re ready to start your LLC right away.

 

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent

Fanny’s LLC is quickly taking shape, and if it’s going to operate in Wisconsin, she’ll need a go-between for state and legal communications. This is called the registered agent.

A registered agent is a key component of your budding LLC, handling all of its sensitive communication with the state so you don’t have to. But maintaining an agent isn’t just a convenience, it’s required. Wisconsin Statutes 183.0105 states that “each limited liability company shall continuously maintain in this state a registered office and registered agent,” so don’t do business without one!

Taxes, lawsuits, maintenance requirements, and more – the registered agent takes care of it all. If you had to do this yourself, it would pile additional tasks onto your already-full plate. Plus, your agent makes your business available to receive documents even when you’re out of town or away from the office. This is especially important if your physical office is outside Wisconsin.

Now for the practical application, the “how-to.” Declare a registered agent by including their name and address on your Articles of Organization. Make sure that your agent is aware of the appointment so they’re not caught off guard when mail and state communications start arriving.

A Wisconsin LLC cannot be its own registered agent. Otherwise, the state is fairly flexible as to who you choose. There are two options for who can serve as a registered agent: an individual or a company.

Individual as Registered Agent

You may think that an individual registered agent would need specialized training or experience, but this isn’t the case. Anyone can serve as your registered agent, provided that they have a physical address in Wisconsin (not a P.O. box) and are over 18 years old. You can even appoint yourself as the agent, as long as you meet these basic requirements.

Registered Agent Service

It can be a lot easier, though, to use an LLC formation service like IncFile or Northwest Registered Agent, so we highly recommend it. Not only will they take care of business formation requirements, but they’ll also include a free registered agent service. Or, if you’d rather start your Wisconsin LLC on your own, you can use a national registered agent service to cover your agent duties.

During the life of your LLC, you may, at some point, need to change your registered agent. Perhaps you want to switch from an individual to a professional service, or maybe your existing registered agent resigns. Either way, you’ll want to make the change as soon as possible because operating without an agent on file can lead to administrative dissolution.

 

Step 3: File the Formation Documents with the State

This is where the LLC formation process kicks into high gear. Let’s check back in with Fanny.

She’s reserved her unique business name, designated a registered agent, and she’s ready to get her LLC off the ground. It’s time for Fanny to take on the most important LLC document: the Articles of Organization. This filing creates a record for Fanny’s Florals and Design, LLC with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, giving it the authorization to commence business in the state.

Want to file without leaving your desk? There’s an online option for that. Prefer a paper form? That’s a valid option too. However, the filing fee depends on which you choose.

Online Filing

This isn’t just the quickest way to file – it’s also the cheapest. Wisconsin’s QuickStart LLC online service will process your Articles of Organization the same day it’s submitted. Plus, it only costs $130, compared to $170 for a paper form.

Hard Copy Filing

Some people just like a tactile form better, though. If you’re one of those people, complete the application and mail it, with a check for $170, to:

Department of Financial Institutions

P.O. Box 93348

Milwaukee, WI  53293-0348

Or, if you live in Madison, you can hand-deliver it to 4822 Madison Yards Way, North Tower Madison, WI 53705.

Standard processing time for hard copy filings is 5-7 business days, but you can pay an additional $25 for next-day processing. Once your Articles of Organization has been processed, you’re well on your way to kicking off your business activities in Wisconsin.

 

Step 4: Create an Operating Agreement

The operating agreement is the framework that holds up an LLC, the vital underpinning that establishes processes for its procedures, activities, and conduct. Essentially, it serves as your company’s bylaws.

While you aren’t required to maintain an operating agreement in Wisconsin, doing so is immensely beneficial for your LLC, facilitating efficiency and protecting your personal assets in legal disputes. So, it’s in your best interest to create one.

Let’s say our friend Fanny sells a percentage of her company to two other owners. Her operating agreement could stipulate how the LLC’s assets would be distributed among them in the case of dissolution. But if she decided to maintain sole ownership, the agreement could be used in court as evidence that the LLC’s assets are separate from her personal ones. These are just two examples, but the operating agreement governs everything from member duties to the tax structure.

If you’ve decided to draft an agreement, there are two ways to go about it:

  1. Write it yourself. Don’t be intimidated by this option. There are plenty of free online templates that serve as helpful guides. You can create an effective document from most of the templates out there, but we recommend this one, courtesy of Northwest Registered Agent. It’s got everything you need to draft a solid agreement.
  2. Hire an attorney. If you want to be absolutely sure that you don’t miss any important details, an attorney can write or review the agreement for you, ensuring that it complies with state law, includes all necessary information, and avoids the state’s default laws.

What are default laws?

Each state has its own set of generic, baseline laws for how LLCs should operate. These laws, however, only govern matters not included in your operating agreement. Take dissolution, for example. If your LLC ever dissolves, your operating agreement would determine what happens to its remaining assets and debts. But if you fail to include it in the agreement, the state will make that decision for you.

Because default laws are broad and not tailored to your specific business, they often aren’t in your LLC’s best interest, so it’s best to avoid them by being as comprehensive as possible in your agreement.

 

Step 5: Get an EIN

There’s simply no way to avoid taxes. In fact, it’s illegal to try, so don’t do it.

Federally, LLCs are classified as “pass-through” entities, businesses that don’t file corporate tax returns, but whose owners include income and losses on their individual returns. Still, there are certain circumstances that require LLCs to pay federal taxes, like classifying as a corporation or partnership, hiring employees, or selling merchandise. So, in Fanny’s case, if she plans on hiring additional florists and selling bouquets, she will need to apply for an EIN.

The Employer Identification Number (EIN) is a nine-digit number that the IRS will use to identify your company’s tax accounts, so if you pay any business taxes, it’s extremely important to have one. Click the “Do I need an EIN?” link on this page to see if you fall into this category. If so, apply for an EIN one of three ways:

Online

Need to get this done quick? File online – it’s by far the most efficient method. You can only complete the process between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday, but you’ll receive your number immediately upon finishing the digital form. Keep in mind that you will need to provide a valid individual taxpayer number (like a Social Security Number) as part of the process.

Fax

You might prefer the feel and security of a paper form. In this case, download Form SS-4, complete it, and fax it to (855) 641-6935. You will receive your EIN within four business days.

Mail

Or, there’s always trusty postal mail. However, this is the slowest option, as processing typically takes around four weeks. If that doesn’t deter you, fill out Form SS-4 and send it to:

Internal Revenue Service Operation

Attn: EIN Operation

Cincinnati, OH 45999

Okay, so you’ve filed the Articles of Organization, designated a registered agent, adopted an operating agreement, and filed for an EIN. Time to start doing business, right? Sorry, there are a couple of additional steps you may need to take first. But don’t worry, you’re almost there!

 

Step 6: Taxes, Licensing & Income Reporting

For all intents and purposes, most LLCs will be official after completing all the prior steps. Still, it’s important for business owners like Fanny to keep looking ahead, as there are certain maintenance requirements to keep a Wisconsin LLC running smoothly and in good standing with the state.

Before you start doing business, create a plan for the following potential LLC requirements:

Taxes

Federal Taxes

As mentioned earlier, LLCs are almost always classified as “pass-through” entities, which means that they don’t pay income taxes directly to the federal government. That responsibility falls instead on the owners, who must include business income and losses on their personal 1040 tax returns and/or Schedule C. LLCs are flexible with tax structure, so you can choose to have yours taxed like a corporation instead. In this case, it would need to file a separate corporate tax return.

State Taxes

More good news: Wisconsin doesn’t impose a privilege or franchise tax on its LLCs, so as long as your company’s owners and/or members include business income on their personal tax returns, you won’t need to pay an additional state income tax.

Additional Taxes

But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for all business taxes. Depending on your circumstances, your LLC may need to pay certain peripheral taxes. Does your business sell merchandise? If so, it will be subject to a Sales Tax and Use Tax. Does it have employees? Then it will owe an Unemployment Insurance Tax and Withholding Tax. Register for the Sales, Use, and Withholding taxes through the Wisconsin One Stop Business Portal or by using the Application for Business Tax Registration, and register for the Unemployment Insurance Tax via the Department of Workforce Development.

Plus, depending on your LLC’s location, it may owe a local tax to the city, municipality, or county where it resides. Consult your local government’s website to find out.

Licensing

The Articles of Organization may have already made your business legitimate, but your LLC might still need to obtain a license before doing business. This all depends, however, on the type of business you run.

Let’s say, for example, that our friend Fanny wanted to begin selling food at her flower shop. She would need to obtain a Food Retail License before doing so. Glance over the Department of Safety and Professional Services website for comprehensive information on other required business licenses.

Plus, depending on your LLC’s location, it may owe a local tax to the city, municipality, or county where it resides. Consult your local government’s website to find out.

Reporting

Once you’ve taken all the steps to start your LLC, you’ll be off and running, making deals and growing the company. But when you’re rolling along and things are moving 100 miles per hour, don’t forget that Wisconsin requires all of its businesses to submit one important recurring filing: the Annual Report.

Your LLC must file an Annual Report by the end of the quarter during which it was formed (by March 31, June 30, September 30, or December 31). So, if you started your business on October 18, your report would be due by December 31. The filing comes with a $25 fee, payable by credit card or check.

When it comes time to file your Annual Report, use this page on the Department of Financial Institutions website, or go to Wisconsin’s One Stop Business Portal.

And we’ve come to the end. It’s a long process, and not always easy, but the reward is well worth it. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Your Wisconsin LLC is ready for takeoff. So go ahead and start with that big sale, promotional campaign, or business deal. Maybe you’ll see Fanny out there in the business world, selling her beautiful floral creations.

 

Need Help Creating Your LLC?

If you even skimmed this guide to look over the steps, you likely got a sense of how many moving parts there are when starting an LLC. Can you do it all yourself? Absolutely. We have complete confidence in you.

But if you’d rather hand it off to someone else and not have to worry about it again, we recommend using an LLC formation service. This way, you can go about your other business responsibilities with the confidence that everything will be submitted correctly and punctually.

Plus, an LLC formation service can handle maintenance items like Annual Reports, so you can take them off your to-do list. And on top of that, many services also provide a registered agent.

Sound good? Whether you know that you’ll need an LLC service or you’re just exploring your options, take a look at IncFile and Northwest Registered Agent. These are two of the top services available. And you can take our word for it because we’ve done a whole lot of research on the topic.


About Aaron Franklin

Frustrated by all the options and aggressive online sales tactics, my team and I created BestLLCServices.com to cut the clutter and bring clarity to entrepreneurs starting a Limited Liability Company. Our focus is on reviewing and comparing the top LLC formation services while also crafting free resources that help you start a business. We sincerely believe finding the right service and free information should be a simple process so you can get started with minimal friction.