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How to Start an LLC in North Carolina – Step-By-Step Guide

How to Start an LLC in North Carolina
(Last Updated On: April 19, 2024)

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Starting an LLC in North Carolina offers entrepreneurs a straightforward path to establishing a business entity that combines flexibility and liability protection. Aspiring business owners need to navigate a series of essential steps to embark on this journey. 

From selecting a unique business name and appointing a registered agent to file the necessary documents with the North Carolina Secretary of State, the process involves careful planning and adherence to state regulations. Understanding the intricacies of taxation, obtaining the requisite licenses, and drafting an operating agreement are also pivotal aspects. 

This guide aims to demystify the process, providing a comprehensive roadmap for individuals looking to embark on the exciting venture of forming their own Limited Liability Company in the Tar Heel State.

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How to Start an LLC in North Carolina: Basic Steps

Step 1: Select a Name for Your North Carolina LLC

The initial step in establishing an LLC is choosing your company’s name. It’s imperative that LLC names in North Carolina are distinctive from other business entity names. You can verify the uniqueness of your chosen name by utilizing the North Carolina Secretary of State LLC lookup tool.

As is the case in most states, the name of your North Carolina LLC must include an indication that it’s a limited liability company. This can be achieved by using the complete designation “Limited Liability Company” or an approved abbreviation, such as:

  • Limited company
  • Ltd. Co.
  • LLC
  • LC
  • L.L.C.
  • L.C.

Before establishing an LLC in North Carolina, it’s advisable to conduct a thorough name search for your business within the state and beyond its borders. This precautionary measure helps avoid potential future complications related to brand confusion.

If you have a preferred name but are not yet ready to complete the filing process, consider reserving your LLC’s name for future use. This reservation, which lasts for 120 days, safeguards your chosen name from being claimed by another business.

To reserve your LLC name, you can use either of the following methods:

Mail:

Business Registration Division

P.O. Box 29622

Raleigh, NC 27626

In Person:

Business Registration Division

2 South Salisbury Street

Raleigh, NC 27601

The filing fee for this process is $30.

Bonus Tip: In today’s digital age, establishing an online presence is crucial. Conduct a general online search for your anticipated business name to secure a URL or website address. This step ensures that your chosen domain isn’t already used and prevents potential competitors from claiming it. While an annual fee is associated with using your domain, it’s a valuable investment for your business.

>> Choose Your North Carolina LLC Name With ZenBusiness >>

Step 2: Choose a Designated Agent for Your North Carolina LLC

Understanding the role of a designated agent is crucial for LLC owners. This individual or entity is the primary contact for essential documents from the state within your LLC. The designated agent is responsible for receiving service of process, tax forms, and other critical information from the North Carolina Secretary of State. To comply with state regulations, North Carolina LLCs must have a designated agent.

The designated agent must be capable of conducting business in North Carolina, meet the age requirement of over 18 years (if an individual is selected), and maintain a physical street address in NC. An alternative is to opt for a designated agent service, a third-party provider that accepts legal notices and correspondence on behalf of your business entity. Many North Carolina LLCs find this option advantageous. 

Employing a professional service ensures that there is always someone available during regular business hours to receive important business documents promptly and respond accordingly, allowing you to concentrate on business growth.

Insider Tip: If you operate from a home office or desire to keep your LLC’s business address confidential, consider exploring the option of a virtual address for listing your LLC.

For those opting for a do-it-yourself approach:

  • If you choose the DIY route, conduct an online search for registered agent services. Alternatively, you can use North Carolina’s LLC lookup tool and specifically select “Registered Agent” from the drop-down menu if you have a particular registered agent service in mind.
  • If you decide to use an online LLC service to create your LLC, it’s advisable to explore their registered agent package. This streamlined option provided by the service can simplify the process, ensuring that your designated agent’s responsibilities are handled efficiently.
  • If you opt to enlist the services of an attorney to facilitate the formation of your LLC, inquire whether they’re willing to serve as your registered agent. This way, your legal representative can take on the role of the designated agent for your LLC.

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Step 3: Submit Articles of Organization for Your North Carolina LLC

To officially register your LLC in North Carolina, you need to file articles of organization with the Secretary of State. For a North Carolina LLC, these articles must include the following details:

  • Your LLC’s name
  • The name and address of each member who is signing the articles
  • The name and address of the North Carolina registered agent or registered agent service
  • The principal office address and phone number of the LLC
  • The effective date of the articles
  • The signature of a member, organizer, or representative

The articles of organization can be submitted online through the Secretary of State’s website. If you choose to file online, the filing fee is $125.

How to File:

  • Online: NC Secretary of State
  • Mail: Business Registration Division, P.O. Box 29622, Raleigh, NC 27626
  • In Person: Business Registration Division, 2 South Salisbury Street, Raleigh, NC 27601

Insider Tip: If you’ve previously registered your business as an LLC in another state, the process for starting an LLC in North Carolina varies slightly. Instead of filing articles of organization, you need to submit an Application for a Certificate of Authority to register your LLC in NC. This legal document authorizes your foreign LLC to conduct business in the State of North Carolina, and the filing fee for this application is $250.

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Step 4: Draft an Operating Agreement for Your NC LLC

While creating an LLC operating agreement isn’t a mandatory step in initiating your North Carolina LLC, it’s highly advisable. An LLC operating agreement serves to outline the organizational structure of your LLC, specifying each member’s ownership percentage. It also delineates the allocation of profits, losses, member rights, responsibilities, and voting powers. Importantly, the operating agreement addresses what occurs if a member decides to depart from the LLC.

One compelling reason to have an operating agreement is that default LLC laws come into play if you lack one or if it fails to address a particular issue. For instance, North Carolina’s Limited Liability Company Act stipulates that, in a member-managed LLC, each member is a manager with a single vote, regardless of their capital contribution. 

This would be the default rule without a specified operating agreement. If you wish to assign votes based on the amount of capital contributed, this needs to be explicitly stated in your operating agreement.

Despite not being required to be filed with the state, the LLC operating agreement holds legal significance. It’s a binding document that can mitigate conflicts between members by clearly outlining their duties.

Additionally, your operating agreement should indicate whether your North Carolina LLC is structured as a member-managed LLC or a manager-managed LLC:

  • Member-managed: Members listed in the articles of organization collectively oversee the company’s operations.
  • Manager-managed: Members appoint one or more managers to handle the day-to-day operations of the LLC.

Insider Tip: While the process of starting an LLC in North Carolina is relatively straightforward, crafting an operating agreement can be more intricate. If your NC LLC involves multiple members, seeking guidance from a business law attorney is advisable. They can assist in drafting an operating agreement that safeguards each member’s rights and helps prevent potential future issues. Many LLC formation services offer templates for operating agreements as well.

>> Create Your LLC Operating Agreement With ZenBusiness Today >>

Step 5: Obtain an Employment Identification Number (EIN) for Your North Carolina LLC

If you’re exploring how to start an LLC in North Carolina, acquiring an Employer Identification Number (EIN) is essential. This federal identifier, issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), is crucial for tax-related purposes and will distinguish your business. You can conveniently fill out an online registration form at no cost to obtain your EIN.

Insider Tip: Securing a business EIN aids in maintaining a clear separation between your LLC’s finances and those of its members. This separation is advantageous for both tax considerations and liability. Even for a single-member LLC, having an EIN is valuable, not only for taxes but also for tasks such as opening a business bank account and applying for insurance.

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Step 6: Submit the Annual Report

Once you’ve grasped the steps involved in launching an LLC in North Carolina, the subsequent imperative is to maintain its good standing. To achieve this, your LLC must file an annual report with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office by April 15th of the year following its organization.

The annual report serves to keep your North Carolina LLC up to date, documenting any alterations to the company’s address or member names. Adhering to this annual filing requirement is crucial to prevent the risk of forfeiting your registration or the LLC license to operate. Failure to file the annual report can lead to the eventual administrative dissolution or revocation of your NC LLC.

Submission Methods

By Mail:

Business Registration Division

P.O. Box 29525

Raleigh, NC 27626

In Person:

Business Registration Division

2 South Salisbury Street

Raleigh, NC 27601

Filing Fee: $200

Insider Tip: If you decide to close your NC LLC, it’s advisable to file the articles of dissolution rather than allowing the state to dissolve your company. Should you wish to resume business operations after the dissolution, you will be required to pay additional fees and submit all overdue annual reports.

>> Secure Your LLC Annual Report Now with ZenBusiness >>

Ensure Your Company’s Compliance

Obtaining the licenses and permits for your North Carolina LLC is crucial for adhering to federal, state, and local regulations. The fees and prerequisites for these licenses vary, depending on the specific type of business license required.

It’s advisable to consider engaging a professional service to research your business’s licensing requirements.

Adhere to North Carolina LLC Tax Filing Obligations

Staying informed about North Carolina LLC taxes is essential. Depending on your business’s nature, you may need to register for one or more types of tax:

Sales Tax

If your business involves selling physical products, registering for a seller’s permit through the North Carolina Department of Revenue website is typically necessary.

North Carolina’s base state sales tax is 4.75%, with additional local sales taxes of up to 2.75% imposed by counties and cities.

Employer Taxes

If hiring employees, register for Unemployment Insurance Tax with the North Carolina Division of Employment Security and Employee Withholding Tax with the Department of Revenue.

Income Tax

  • State: North Carolina imposes a flat individual income tax rate of 4.75%, with state tax returns due annually by April 15. Calculate your tax or determine your tax bracket on the North Carolina Department of Revenue website.
  • Federal: Report federal income tax using either Form 1065 (multi-member LLC) or Form 1040 Schedule C (single-member LLC).

Employing Staff for Your North Carolina LLC

If your North Carolina LLC plans to hire employees, ensure compliance with the law by following these steps:

  • Verify new employees’ eligibility to work in the US
  • Report employees as “new hires” to the state
  • Provide workers’ compensation insurance for employees
  • Withhold employee taxes
  • Display workplace compliance posters visibly in your workspace

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Explore Business Insurance Choices in North Carolina

Despite meticulous planning in the establishment of your North Carolina LLC, unforeseen events can occur, potentially resulting in financial losses. While LLCs offer a level of personal asset protection, acquiring insurance is advisable to address any coverage gaps. 

Additionally, if your plan includes hiring employees in North Carolina, insurance purchase is a necessity. Types of insurance that a North Carolina business should contemplate include:

  • Liability insurance: Provides coverage for legal actions arising from accidents, injuries, or negligence.
  • Commercial property insurance: Shields your business from expenses related to fire, weather damage, or theft.
  • Professional liability insurance: Safeguards manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers from liability concerning unsafe products.
  • Cyber liability insurance: Guards North Carolina businesses against costs associated with experiencing a data breach.
  • Umbrella insurance: Assists in covering amounts exceeding policy limits on other insurance plans.

>> Explore Comprehensive Business Insurance With ZenBusiness in North Carolina >>

Promote Your LLC

A well-structured marketing plan for your North Carolina small business encompasses several crucial components:

  • Market research: Understanding your LLC’s target customer is essential and can be achieved through comprehensive market research.
  • Advertising and promotion: While traditional paid advertising may seem traditional, it remains an effective means of promoting your product or service. You can manage and place these ads yourself or enlist the services of an agency.
  • Social media: Establishing a robust social media presence on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube is crucial for businesses in North Carolina. Consistent content publication aligned with your brand enhances visibility and facilitates customer base growth.
  • Public relations: Cultivate strong relationships with media outlets, both within North Carolina and nationally, to organically elevate your LLC’s reputation within customer communities.
  • New business and customer retention: Utilize marketing materials, digital tools, and platforms to build authentic relationships with customers, fostering customer retention and encouraging them to refer others to your business, thereby expanding your customer base.

>> Market Your North Carolina  LLC With ZenBusiness >>

How to Terminate an LLC in North Carolina?

Dissolving an LLC in North Carolina follows a systematic legal approach, commencing with thoroughly examining the LLC’s Operating Agreement. This agreement should outline the specific conditions and procedures governing dissolution. 

Subsequently, a unanimous vote among all members is required to proceed with the LLC’s dissolution in accordance with North Carolina state law. Following a successful vote, the next step involves submitting the Articles of Dissolution to the North Carolina Secretary of State.

Several LLC services are available to facilitate the dissolution process. For instance, ZenBusiness offers a comprehensive suite of services designed to ensure compliance and the smooth operation of businesses, which proves valuable during the dissolution proceedings. 

Ways to Create an LLC: North Carolina Options

Before delving into the formation procedures, it’s essential to determine the most suitable approach for establishing your North Carolina Limited Liability Company.

Formation of Your Own LLC in North Carolina

Follow our step-by-step guide for a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to LLC formation, particularly suitable for uncomplicated business models with few members or employees. Your sole responsibility will be the payment of North Carolina’s filing fees.

Top LLC Formation Services in North Carolina

Whether you seek minimal assistance or comprehensive guidance for initiating your LLC, formation services are available to aid you in nearly every aspect. They provide support for tasks such as name reservation, articles of organization, registered agent services, operating agreements, and more. Some services even offer a money-back guarantee for the acceptance of your LLC application. 

Consider exploring companies like ZenBusiness, Incfile, and Northwest Registered Agent for a stress-free LLC formation experience.

ZenBusiness

Zenbusiness logo

Ease your worries about paperwork by partnering with ZenBusiness. This company provides an extensive range of LLC services, all geared towards ensuring your business is established correctly, with the necessary paperwork completed and submitted to the appropriate state government department. While ZenBusiness does have service fees, customers attest that they receive excellent value for their investment.

>> Try Out ZenBusiness >>

Northwest Registered Agent

Embarking on a business venture involves navigating through a plethora of state-mandated paperwork, which can be perplexing for new business owners. Northwest offers business services designed to assist entrepreneurs in identifying the right documentation, completing it accurately, and submitting it promptly to the relevant government agency. 

Beyond aiding in LLC setup, Northwest provides additional services, such as registered agent services, that prove valuable for new owners.

>> Start Using Northwest Registered Agent >>

Incfile

Incfile provides an extensive resource library to guide first-time business owners in determining the type of business they should establish. Following this, Incfile assists with documentation and filing processes, unraveling terms like a registered agent, articles of organization, and EIN. Incfile is a trusted partner for new businesses with a solid reputation and favorable online reviews.

>> Try Incfile Now >>  

Consider Hiring an Attorney

If your LLC involves numerous members, external investors, a substantial workforce, or plans for multi-state expansion, hiring a small business attorney can be beneficial for filing your LLC. An attorney can draft your operating agreement, ensuring the soundness of your business plans. 

Crucially, having an attorney familiar with the intricacies of your business can be advantageous if legal issues arise in the future. Some attorneys may also be willing to serve as your registered agent in North Carolina. 

How to Start an LLC in North Carolina – FAQs

Can an LLC Be Established at No Cost?

While the registration cost for an LLC varies by state, there is a registration fee in every state. Companies that claim to offer “free” LLC formation typically mean they will complete the paperwork at no charge, but the individual is still responsible for the state’s filing fee.

What Is the Cost of Starting an LLC in North Carolina?

According to the fee schedule of the North Carolina Secretary of State, the primary cost of establishing an LLC in North Carolina is the $125 fee for filing Articles of Incorporation. Additionally, there is a $10 fee for filing an Application for Reserved Name and a $5 fee for designating a registered agent. After formation, an annual $200 fee is required for filing the necessary annual reports.

Can I Submit LLC Forms Independently, or Should I Hire an Attorney?

All necessary paperwork and fees can be submitted to the state independently. Alternatively, some individuals choose to hire a lawyer or an LLC formation service to handle the paperwork. The decision often hinges on factors such as budget, time constraints, and comfort level with the legal process.

Is an Ein Equivalent to a Tax ID?

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) serves as one type of tax identification number designed for businesses with employees. Even without employees, an EIN may be necessary for various business activities, such as opening a bank account for an LLC. It operates as a Social Security number for your LLC. 

While using your social security number for business activities is possible for a single-member LLC without employees, opting for an EIN is advisable to safeguard personal information.

How Do I Initiate a Single-Member LLC in NC?

If you currently operate as a sole proprietorship, converting your small business into a single-member LLC might be worthwhile despite the additional paperwork and state fees. This transition protects personal liability while retaining the business’s “disregarded entity” status for federal taxes.

The NC Secretary of State’s forms include a single LLC application form for filing articles of incorporation, with no specified separate form or process for establishing a single-member LLC.

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