A Registered Agent Will Keep Your Business Out of Legal Trouble. Here Are Your Two Best Options

An image to accompany a story about registered agents Credit: Getty Images
A registered agent is needed to start an LLC in all 50 states, but the process doesn’t have to be intimidating. Here’s what to know about this component of your business.
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Best pricing for simple filings
ZenBusiness
From $0, plus government filing fees
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Good for Speedy Checkout
Swyft Filings
From $49, plus government filing fees
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Best for business and personal filings in one place
LegalZoom
From $79, plus government filing fees
Jump to details
Best for step-by-step guidance
Northwest Registered Agent
From $100, plus government filing fees
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A registered agent is a person or agency that will help you keep your business out of legal trouble, and all 50 states require one in order to start a business.

“The biggest thing to ensure is that the registered agent you choose is legitimate,” says Natalie Bullen, a financial advisor and CEO of Unapologetic Wealth Management. “Every state is different regarding the requirements for a registered agent and what a registered agent can do. The responsibilities vary. You want to ensure you’re dealing with a legitimate business by checking them out on the Better Business Bureau to ensure they’ve got appropriate licenses for this type of work.”

Your two options are to either be your own registered agent or hire an agency or business that offers a professional registered agent service. Many virtual mailbox services, such as iPostal1, Anytime Mailbox, and others, also provide registered agent services. Choosing the best representation for your business is important, as your registered agent is publicly listed on your official documents filed with the Secretary of State.

Best pricing for simple filings
ZenBusiness
ZenBusiness
Best pricing for simple filings
ZenBusiness
Learn More externa link icon
  • Price:
    From $0, plus government filing fees
  • Additional help available:
    Yes
  • State-specific checkout:
    Yes
Overview:

When you’ve helped launch over 300,000 businesses, you know you’re doing something right.

ZenBusiness is a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC), a type of corporation that generates services that contribute to the public good, and agrees to operate sustainably and responsibly. The Austin-based company is also a unicorn, last valued at $1.7 billion in November 2021. ZenBusiness’ website includes recommended resources for women and BIPOC business owners, along with clear statements on diversity, equity, and inclusion. ZenBusiness also has an “excellent” rating on TrustPilot, based on the average of the over 10,000 reviews it has received from customers.

Most notably, however, the company’s Starter package will let you file the essentials for free, plus the cost of state filing fees.

Starter package

  • Standard filing service: ZenBusiness team will file and return your completed documents with the state.
  • Standard filing speed: ZenBusiness will process and return the completed state documents, based on when the order is received, as well as the backlog the state is working through at that time. This can range from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the state.
  • Expense and deduction tracking: Each Starter package includes a free Money Essential tool that allows customers to easily track expenses and tax deductions for improved accounting and easier tax return preparation.
Good for Speedy Checkout
Swyft Filings
Swyft Filings
Good for Speedy Checkout
Swyft Filings
Learn More externa link icon
  • Price:
    From $49, plus government filing fees
  • Additional help available:
    Yes
  • State-specific checkout:
    Yes
Overview:

Swyft Filings has helped over 250,000 business owners in all 50 states with filings since its inception in 2015. Founded by a lawyer, the company’s services assist with LLC formation, DBAs, registered agents, and S corporation elections. They also work with new and established nonprofits. Continued support or professional guidance is available after you file if you want a helping hand.

The company is focused on business filings only, and does not offer personal legal counseling. Swyft Filings has a 4.8/5 rating from over 5,300 reviews on Trustpilot, a reviews aggregator service. The company has formation-specific FAQ sections, live chat, and a toll-free phone number you can call if you want to speak to someone personally. As its name suggests, Swyft Filings’ website is lightning fast and easy to navigate.

Best for business and personal filings in one place
LegalZoom
LegalZoom
Best for business and personal filings in one place
LegalZoom
Learn More externa link icon
  • Price:
    From $79, plus government filing fees
  • Additional help available:
    Yes
  • State-specific checkout:
    Yes
Overview:

LegalZoom helps you set up an LLC in your state quickly, easily, and entirely online. An LLC is needed for important business functions, such as opening a business bank account. Different states have different business formation requirements; LegalZoom customizes the process for you based on what state you live in, and the company helped consumers form 447,000 businesses in 2021, according to a press release.

Mistakes can be made when trying to form an LLC by yourself, and business formation professionals can be expensive. If you want a cost-effective and convenient way to create your LLC (and keep more of the money you make from your side hustle or business when tax time rolls around), LegalZoom is a great option.

Best for step-by-step guidance
Northwest Registered Agent
Northwest Registered Agent
Best for step-by-step guidance
Northwest Registered Agent
Learn More externa link icon
  • Price:
    From $100, plus government filing fees
  • Additional help available:
    Yes
  • State-specific checkout:
    Yes
Overview:

Northwest Registered Agent became popular for its $39 LLC formation service, which it offered in its early years. It’s also well known for its commitment to customer service; the company’s tagline is “We’re just not annoying”, and the website manifesto outlines the family-owned business’ commitment to communication and transparency. Northwest Registered Agent’s website makes checkout very simple, and it automatically directs you to state-specific filing details, making it easy to customize your order.

A handy feature of Northwest Registered Agent’s checkout process is that you don’t totally need to know everything you might need or want from a filings perspective when you sign up. The guided checkout process explains filings as you go, allowing you to customize your order and ensure you’ve set yourself up for success.

Here’s what you need to know about the responsibilities of a registered agent, how to choose a registered agent for your business, and advice from business owners and financial professionals on what you need to consider.

What Is a Registered Agent, and What Are They Responsible For?

A registered agent is an individual or entity appointed by a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation to receive service of process, official mail, compliance documents, and legal notices on behalf of small business owners. A registered agent signs for and receives these documents. 

The registered agent lets you know when documents are received, and can open or scan your mail on your behalf and send it to you. A registered agent’s main job is to ensure your business complies with state and federal laws by keeping you informed and filing annual reports. 

Think of a registered agent as the gatekeeper for your business, which is why it’s essential to choose wisely. 

Why Do I Need a Registered Agent? 

Every state designates that business entities, such as LLCs and corporations, must name a registered agent to receive communications and other legal documents on behalf of the business.

You can be your own registered agent. Professional registered agents also keep copies of your official documents. In case of theft, natural disaster, or other unexpected losses, you will have a backup for all your business and legal documents.

Can I Be Penalized For Not Having a Registered Agent?

You can’t register a business without first having a named registered agent. For most states, not having a registered agent means losing your certificate of good standing. Losing your certificate of good standing with the state your business is registered in could mean losing legal protections.

Not having a registered agent also means no one available to accept legal documents, such as lawsuits, which could lead to untold financial and legal consequences. You could have a judgment against your business without your knowledge. 

Who Can Be a Registered Agent? 

In most states, you can be your own registered agent. You can also hire a registered agent service to handle the role on your business’s behalf. However, there are some requirements.

  • If a person, the company’s registered agent must be at least 18 years old. 
  • If a business, they must have a physical business address (not a P.O. box) in the state where your business is formed.
  • If a business, they must be approved to offer registered agent services in the state where your business is formed.
  • The registered agent must keep standard business hours to receive official correspondence and legal documents. 
  • The registered agent information must be listed on formation documents. 

In most states, you can be your registered agent, which means your name will go on the public record. Registered agents also have to keep regular business hours at your registered address, so it’s important to realize that if you’re thinking about becoming your own registered agent. 

Pro Tip

In most states, a registered agent will need to list their name and address on the public record and keep regular business hours. Think about that when deciding who your registered agent will be.

“I registered an LLC in Minnesota and chose to be my own registered agent,” says Julio Molina, an entrepreneur and motivational speaker. “The process of becoming my own registered agent was pretty straightforward.” 

Can My Spouse Be My Registered Agent? 

Yes, your spouse can be your registered agent if they meet all the criteria required by the state where your business is registered. But you may want to consider whether they are the right person for the job, considering that their physical address will be listed on the public record.

Should You Hire a Registered Agent or Be Your Own? 

A registered agent service is a professional organization or agency offering assistance as your official registered agent, and is the “person” available to receive legal documents and correspondence. These services can range from virtual mailboxes to lawyers and agents to guide services such as LegalZoom. 

“When I registered my LLC in Philadelphia, I handled the business formation myself and became my own registered agent,” DeAngelo McCoy, a life coach and personal trainer. “It’s a personal decision as to whether or not you’ll be your own registered agent. Think about how comfortable you are with having your information be public.” 

You can hire an entity or service to be your registered agent or be your own, but it’s good to consider the pros and cons. 

Pros

  • A registered agent service handles all the paperwork. You may not know the ins and outs of paperwork, but a registered agent service could.

  • The registered agent service’s name and address are listed on the public record, offering you privacy.

  • The registered agent service is experienced with processes and can guide you accordingly.

Cons

  • It could cost between $100 and $300 per year to hire a registered agent service.

  • If you hire the wrong service, your business could have major legal and financial consequences.

  • If you try to cut corners and use an inexperienced provider, you may miss important documents or other correspondence.

One other consideration is the size of your business. You may have a business registered in one state but have employees and operate in other states. You may need to hire a registered agent service to accommodate that.

“I registered an LLC in Georgia and chose to become my own registered agent,” says Maleeka Hollaway, who owns a brand communication and PR agency. “When I started my business, I didn’t know I had an option. I didn’t understand my options until I started looking into expanding to another state and learned I would need someone there to get the paperwork.” 

How Do I Become a Registered Agent? 

If you desire to be your own registered agent, here are the steps. 

  • Meet the registered agent requirements for the state in which your business is registered. 
  • List yourself in your business formation documents filed with the state your business is registered in. 
  • If you’re changing registered agents, you file paperwork with the state. 
  • Follow the registered agent rules and requirements in the state you live.

“When I registered my business in Washington, DC., I chose to be my own registered agent even though I have an accountant,” says Isi Aladejobi, an entrepreneur who owns a career coaching consultancy. “One thing to think about is if you’re not strong with paperwork, deadlines, or organization, it might be worth it to hire someone trustworthy to help you out.”

Frequently Asked Questions About Registered Agents

How much does a registered agent cost?

There is no cost if you choose to be your own registered agent. If you hire a service, typical costs can range from $100 to $300 a year.

Can I change the registered agent of my LLC?

The exact process varies from state to state, but yes, you can change the registered agent for your LLC.

How do I change my registered agent?

If you want to change your registered agent, you must file a Change of Registered Agent form with the state where the business is registered. Most states provide downloadable forms online on the Secretary of State’s website. You can also request those forms in person.

Your state will require a “change registered agent” form and a form showing your new registered agent consents to being designated. Fill out and sign the forms, and your registered agent will have to do the same.

Once you’ve completed the forms, file them. Some states offer online filing, but you can also file the necessary documents by mail or in person. Check the exact requirements with the state where your business is registered.

What are the different types of agents?

There are several types of registered agents and definitions in the registered ecosystem. Here are the types and their functions.

A statutory agent or resident agent is another name for a registered agent. A statutory or resident agent is an individual or entity appointed by an LLC, S Corporation, C Corporation, or other legal business entity to accept legal documents, correspondence, and compliance paperwork. All states (other than New York) require business entities to officially designate a statutory or resident agent.

A commercial registered agent is an individual or entity that has filed a special listing statement with their state’s corporation authority. They are a type of registered agent that is a business’s legally designated recipient for service of process. Twelve states distinguish between a commercial registered agent and a noncommercial registered agent.

Commercial registered agents represent hundreds or thousands of companies and can inform the state what companies it represents and file bulk address changes.

Noncommercial agents are individuals or entities that have not filed a listing statement with the Secretary of State. Individuals and many single-state registered agent companies fall under a noncommercial registered agent category and only operate in one or a handful of states.

What other terms might I need to know about?

Service of process refers to the procedure for which a party to a lawsuit gives an appropriate notice of legal action. It’s when you are going to be sued, and the paperwork needs to be delivered to you. A registered agent is a person that handles the service of process.

National or USA registered refers to a national registered agent service that works in all 50 states. There’s no such thing as a national registered agent because registered agents must be local, so a national registered agent is a team of registered agents, with one in every state.

BOC-3 process agent refers to a representative and form that designates an agent for service of process for freight brokers.

Are any of these agent services free?

There are no free registered agent services. The only option for a free registered agent is if you decide to become your own.

Get Your Business Up and Running Today

Choosing the right registered agent or service is important for your business. Use this guide to decide the best option that aligns with your goals. Building a business with the right registered agent is a great way to create financial independence.

Best pricing for simple filings
ZenBusiness
From $0, plus government filing fees
Jump to details
Good for Speedy Checkout
Swyft Filings
From $49, plus government filing fees
Jump to details
Best for business and personal filings in one place
LegalZoom
From $79, plus government filing fees
Jump to details
Best for step-by-step guidance
Northwest Registered Agent
From $100, plus government filing fees
Jump to details
Best pricing for simple filings
ZenBusiness
ZenBusiness
Best pricing for simple filings
ZenBusiness
Learn More externa link icon
  • Price:
    From $0, plus government filing fees
  • Additional help available:
    Yes
  • State-specific checkout:
    Yes
Overview:

When you’ve helped launch over 300,000 businesses, you know you’re doing something right.

ZenBusiness is a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC), a type of corporation that generates services that contribute to the public good, and agrees to operate sustainably and responsibly. The Austin-based company is also a unicorn, last valued at $1.7 billion in November 2021. ZenBusiness’ website includes recommended resources for women and BIPOC business owners, along with clear statements on diversity, equity, and inclusion. ZenBusiness also has an “excellent” rating on TrustPilot, based on the average of the over 10,000 reviews it has received from customers.

Most notably, however, the company’s Starter package will let you file the essentials for free, plus the cost of state filing fees.

Starter package

  • Standard filing service: ZenBusiness team will file and return your completed documents with the state.
  • Standard filing speed: ZenBusiness will process and return the completed state documents, based on when the order is received, as well as the backlog the state is working through at that time. This can range from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the state.
  • Expense and deduction tracking: Each Starter package includes a free Money Essential tool that allows customers to easily track expenses and tax deductions for improved accounting and easier tax return preparation.
Good for Speedy Checkout
Swyft Filings
Swyft Filings
Good for Speedy Checkout
Swyft Filings
Learn More externa link icon
  • Price:
    From $49, plus government filing fees
  • Additional help available:
    Yes
  • State-specific checkout:
    Yes
Overview:

Swyft Filings has helped over 250,000 business owners in all 50 states with filings since its inception in 2015. Founded by a lawyer, the company’s services assist with LLC formation, DBAs, registered agents, and S corporation elections. They also work with new and established nonprofits. Continued support or professional guidance is available after you file if you want a helping hand.

The company is focused on business filings only, and does not offer personal legal counseling. Swyft Filings has a 4.8/5 rating from over 5,300 reviews on Trustpilot, a reviews aggregator service. The company has formation-specific FAQ sections, live chat, and a toll-free phone number you can call if you want to speak to someone personally. As its name suggests, Swyft Filings’ website is lightning fast and easy to navigate.

Best for business and personal filings in one place
LegalZoom
LegalZoom
Best for business and personal filings in one place
LegalZoom
Learn More externa link icon
  • Price:
    From $79, plus government filing fees
  • Additional help available:
    Yes
  • State-specific checkout:
    Yes
Overview:

LegalZoom helps you set up an LLC in your state quickly, easily, and entirely online. An LLC is needed for important business functions, such as opening a business bank account. Different states have different business formation requirements; LegalZoom customizes the process for you based on what state you live in, and the company helped consumers form 447,000 businesses in 2021, according to a press release.

Mistakes can be made when trying to form an LLC by yourself, and business formation professionals can be expensive. If you want a cost-effective and convenient way to create your LLC (and keep more of the money you make from your side hustle or business when tax time rolls around), LegalZoom is a great option.

Best for step-by-step guidance
Northwest Registered Agent
Northwest Registered Agent
Best for step-by-step guidance
Northwest Registered Agent
Learn More externa link icon
  • Price:
    From $100, plus government filing fees
  • Additional help available:
    Yes
  • State-specific checkout:
    Yes
Overview:

Northwest Registered Agent became popular for its $39 LLC formation service, which it offered in its early years. It’s also well known for its commitment to customer service; the company’s tagline is “We’re just not annoying”, and the website manifesto outlines the family-owned business’ commitment to communication and transparency. Northwest Registered Agent’s website makes checkout very simple, and it automatically directs you to state-specific filing details, making it easy to customize your order.

A handy feature of Northwest Registered Agent’s checkout process is that you don’t totally need to know everything you might need or want from a filings perspective when you sign up. The guided checkout process explains filings as you go, allowing you to customize your order and ensure you’ve set yourself up for success.