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How to Start an LLC in Washington in 7 Steps – 2024 Guide

How to Start an LLC in Washington in 7 Steps – 2024 Guide
(Last Updated On: February 27, 2024)

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Starting a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in Washington is a straightforward process that offers entrepreneurs a flexible and protective business structure. Forming an LLC provides personal liability protection for its members, along with the simplicity of operation. 

Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur or an established business owner looking to restructure, this guide will walk you through the essential steps to successfully launch your LLC in the state of Washington. 

From choosing a unique business name to filing the necessary documents, let’s explore the key elements of initiating your LLC journey in the Evergreen State.

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How to Start an LLC in Washington State – Step-By-Step Guide

Selecting the appropriate business entity stands out as the most crucial decision for entrepreneurs. Opting for a Limited Liability Company (LLC) proves popular due to its simplified formation compared to a corporation, coupled with the benefits of tax advantages and operational flexibility. 

Are you contemplating if an LLC is the optimal structure for your small business? If the answer is yes, embarking on the journey to start an LLC in Washington State is a straightforward process known for its simplicity.

This guide serves as a comprehensive, step-by-step resource to navigate you through the intricacies of initiating an LLC in the state of Washington. For additional assurance or if you seek professional assistance, consider utilizing one of the top-notch LLC formation services.

The process of starting an LLC in Washington involves the following key steps:

  1. Choose a Name for Your Washington State LLC
  2. Designate a Registered Agent in Washington
  3. Submit a Certificate of Formation
  4. Draft an Operating Agreement
  5. Ensure Compliance with Washington State LLC Tax and Regulatory Obligations
  6. Submit Annual Reports
  7. Washington LLC Tax Filing Obligations

1. Choose a Name for Your Washington State LLC

Begin by selecting a name for your Washington State LLC, which will serve as the official business identifier registered with the Secretary of State. Once your LLC’s formal name is registered, you have the option to register a “trade name” under which your business will operate. 

There are four key considerations for naming your LLC in Washington State:

  • Uniqueness: Ensure that your LLC’s name is distinct and unique from all other names in the Washington Secretary of State registry. Utilize the Washington Corporations and Charities Filing System’s business name search to confirm availability.
  • Business Notation: Your LLC’s name must include the notation “LLC,” “Limited Liability Company,” “Limited Company,” “Limited Liability Co.,” or “L.L.C.”
  • Restricted Words: If your chosen name incorporates terms like “bank,” “attorney,” or “university,” additional paperwork is required to justify their use with the state.
  • Prohibited Words: Avoid using words that could create confusion between your LLC and a government agency, such as the FBI, Treasury, or State Department.

You have the option to reserve a business name up to 180 days before initiating your LLC in Washington State. Complete a name registration form and submit it to the Secretary of State, along with a $30 filing fee (or $50 for expedited service).

Insider Tip: Given Washington’s close business ties with neighboring states, it’s advisable to cross-reference name databases for Oregon and Idaho before finalizing your Washington State LLC name.

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2. Designate a Registered Agent in Washington

LLC proprietors are obligated to designate a registered agent in the state of Washington.

What is a registered agent? A registered agent is an individual or business entity entrusted with the responsibility of receiving crucial tax documents, legal notifications, lawsuit notices, and official government communications on behalf of your business. Consider your registered agent as the primary point of contact between your business and the state.

Who qualifies as a registered agent? A registered agent must be either a resident of Washington or a business entity, such as a registered agent service, authorized to conduct business in the state. It’s permissible to select an individual within your company, including yourself.

Insider Tip: If you’re planning to establish a Washington State LLC but don’t intend to maintain a physical in-state office, several registered agent services permit you to use their street address as your official business address. This option can be particularly advantageous if your home address is located outside the state.

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3. Submit a Certificate of Formation

The subsequent step in initiating an LLC in Washington State involves submitting a certificate of formation to the Washington Secretary of State, either through the online filing system, by mail, or in person. This document includes essential details such as:

  • The official name of your LLC
  • The duration period of your LLC (if not indefinite)
  • The name and address of your registered agent
  • The signed consent to service from your registered agent
  • Both the physical and mailing addresses of your LLC

What are the costs associated with starting an LLC? In Washington State, the fees are as follows:

  • Filing a certificate of formation online incurs a $200 fee and typically takes two to three business days for approval.
  • Alternatively, filing by mail costs $180, and in-person filing is priced at $150. Both of these methods are processed in the order they’re received, with an additional $50 fee for expedited two-day processing.

Insider Tip: If you have already established your LLC in another state and wish to conduct business in Washington as an LLC, ensure compliance with these three requirements for registering your “foreign” LLC:

  • Confirm adherence to the specified naming requirements by verifying the availability of your LLC’s name through the Secretary of State’s business search.
  • Nominate a Washington State registered agent, adhering to the outlined requirements.
  • Submit an online Foreign Limited Liability Company Registration with the Secretary of State, incurring a $200 fee (or $180 for mail submission).

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4. Draft an Operating Agreement

While it’s not a legal requirement when establishing an LLC in Washington State, drafting an operating agreement is a prudent step. This document serves to eliminate ambiguity surrounding the fundamental aspects of your LLC’s operations. Key components of a comprehensive operating agreement encompass:

  • Detailed delineation of the LLC’s business structure
  • Identification of LLC members and their respective roles and responsibilities
  • Description of the operational framework for the LLC
  • Establishment of plans for the distribution of profits, income, and losses
  • Formalization of each member’s ownership stake
  • Creation of protocols for the inclusion of new members and the departure of existing members from the LLC

An operating agreement proves particularly valuable in the event of litigation or disputes among members. Without such an agreement, state law would take precedence over the individual interests of the owners.

Moreover, an operating agreement reinforces the separation between an LLC and the personal assets of its members, thereby bolstering the core objective of limiting liability for its members.

Insider Tip: While you can develop an operating agreement during the LLC formation process in Washington State, it’s also acceptable to address this matter at a later stage deemed suitable for your business. If you initially establish your Washington LLC as a single-member entity but later consider expanding membership, consulting with an attorney to craft an operating agreement can be beneficial.

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

5. Ensure Compliance with Washington State LLC Tax and Regulatory Obligations

By default, for federal tax purposes, an LLC operates as a “disregarded tax entity.” This implies that its members report all profits and losses in their individual tax filings instead of filing separate taxes on behalf of the business. 

The profits undergo a “pass-through” mechanism, avoiding corporate taxes. Given Washington State’s absence of income tax, members often find advantages in this tax structure.

Acquire an EIN for Your Washington State LLC

While it’s not mandatory to register for a federal employer identification number (EIN) when establishing an LLC in Washington State, the process is free, straightforward, and highly beneficial. This nine-digit number serves as a distinct identifier for your business, akin to an individual’s Social Security number.

The IRS issues an EIN to streamline tax payments and business operations. If your Washington LLC has multiple owners, obtaining an EIN is compulsory. Additionally, an EIN is essential for activities such as opening a business bank account, securing a loan, hiring employees, and maintaining financial segregation between the LLC and its members.

>> Secure Your EIN With ZenBusiness >>

Obtain Business Licenses

Virtually all businesses operating in the state of Washington are required to secure some form of business licensing. Additionally, specific county, city, and local licensing prerequisites may apply to your business operations. A crucial step in establishing an LLC in Washington State involves identifying the necessary licenses for your activities.

Consult the Washington State Department of Revenue’s Business Licensing Wizard for a comprehensive understanding of location-specific requirements applicable to your business. You can conveniently acquire state and many local business licenses through the Department of Revenue’s online platform or by submitting a Business License Application form by mail.

Enroll for State Taxes with the WA Department of Revenue

An LLC that generates profits of $12,000 or more, or is liable for specific taxes like alcohol, import, or employee taxes, is obligated to register with the Washington Department of Revenue.

Insider Tip: Seek guidance from your local Small Business Association chapter for expert advice on licensing, employment regulations, workplace safety, funding, marketing, and other matters relevant to managing your Washington State LLC. The WA Secretary of State’s website also offers valuable guides for reference.

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6. Submit Annual Reports

After the approval of your certificate of formation, it’s imperative to take additional steps to maintain the current and good standing status of your LLC. Each Washington state LLC and corporation is required to file an annual report (referred to as an annual renewal) with the Secretary of State. The initial annual renewal must be submitted within 120 days of the approval of your certificate of formation. The filing fee for each annual report is $60.

Rectifying Filing Errors

If there are mistakes in your Certificate of Formation, you have the option to amend it with the Secretary of State. This process incurs a $30 fee, and you can utilize the online Statement of Correction form. Clearly outline the corrections or amendments needed, specifying inaccuracies and defects in the original paperwork.

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

7. Washington LLC Tax Filing Obligations

Depending on your business’s nature, you may need to register for various tax forms:

Sales Tax

If you’re involved in selling physical products, you typically must register for a seller’s permit on the Washington Department of Revenue website. Washington’s base state sales tax is 6.5%, with the possibility of additional local sales tax of up to 4.1% imposed by counties and cities.

Employer Taxes

Hiring employees necessitates registration for Unemployment Insurance Tax with the Washington Employment Security Department.

Business & Occupation Tax

Most Washington businesses are obligated to pay Business & Occupation Tax through the Washington State Department of Revenue. This tax is calculated based on the gross income of business activities, and tax rates differ according to your LLC’s classification.

Income Tax

While Washington lacks an individual income tax, reporting federal income tax is essential. For multi-member LLCs, use Form 1065, and for single-member LLCs, use Form 1040 Schedule C.

Hiring Employees

When Hiring Employees for Your Washington LLC, Ensure Compliance by:

  • Verifying that new employees can legally work in the US
  • Reporting new hires to the state
  • Providing workers’ compensation insurance
  • Withholding employee taxes
  • Displaying workplace compliance posters conspicuously in your workspace

>> Simplify Your Tax Needs With ZenBusiness >>

How to Start an LLC in Washington – Buyer’s Guide

What Constitutes an LLC?

A limited liability company (LLC) stands as a prevalent business structure among entrepreneurs in the United States, with over 35% of small businesses adopting this form. The primary appeal lies in the legal safeguards and tax advantages associated with this entity.

Individuals who own LLCs, referred to as “members,” typically bear no direct financial responsibility for the business debts. Instead, the LLC itself assumes liability for its financial obligations, safeguarding owners from personal financial repercussions. Additionally, members are generally shielded from most legal claims lodged against the LLC.

LLCs commonly benefit from pass-through tax status, implying that taxation occurs at the members’ personal income levels. This approach mitigates the imposition of an additional layer of taxation, a characteristic feature for many US corporations. 

It’s noteworthy that, in specific scenarios, LLC owners have the option to elect corporate tax treatment, subjecting the business to corporate tax, particularly at the federal level.

Expanding the Reach of Your Washington State LLC

Initiating an LLC in Washington marks a pivotal moment in your business journey, with a supportive Cascadian community ready to contribute to your success. 

When considering expanding beyond state borders, you might explore registering your Washington LLC as a foreign entity in neighboring states. For example, if you plan to operate in Oregon, learn about the process of registering your Washington LLC as a foreign LLC there. Similarly, if your business ventures extend to Idaho, consider registering your Washington LLC as a foreign entity in that state.

The procedure for registering as a foreign LLC mirrors the initial steps of establishing an LLC in Washington. It involves filing a document containing essential information, akin to the certificate of formation, and remitting the associated fee. To maintain active status as a registered foreign LLC, an annual renewal document must be filed, accompanied by the requisite fee.

As your business expands, you may discover that the LLC structure no longer aligns with your organizational needs. Washington State law facilitates a smooth transition by allowing the conversion of an existing Washington LLC to a corporation through the filing of articles of conversion. 

Once your business reaches this stage, seeking guidance from an experienced business attorney is advisable.

How to Dissolve Your Washington State LLC?

To dissolve your Washington State LLC, submit a Certificate of Dissolution to the Secretary of State. The form is straightforward, requiring basic information such as the company name, the mailing address for the stamped form, and the signature of a manager or member.

Considerations for Forming an LLC in Washington

Opting for an LLC structure in Washington comes with distinct advantages and drawbacks. On the positive side, LLC owners benefit from limited liability protection, shielding their personal assets from business debts and liabilities. 

the owners’ individual tax returns. The flexibility is notable as members can choose to manage the LLC themselves or appoint managers to handle operations.

However, it’s essential to weigh the cons. LLCs in Washington entail ongoing responsibilities, including the payment of annual fees and taxes to sustain the LLC’s active status. Furthermore, meticulous record-keeping is imperative, demanding detailed documentation of both financial transactions and operational aspects of the LLC. 

Balancing these pros and cons is crucial for informed decision-making when contemplating the formation of an LLC in Washington.

Our Picks of the Best-Registered Agent Services

ZenBusiness

When you join forces with ZenBusiness, the hassle of paperwork becomes a thing of the past. ZenBusiness offers an extensive range of LLC services, with a primary focus on ensuring the accurate establishment of your business. They excel in the timely completion and submission of the necessary paperwork to the relevant state government office. While ZenBusiness does have service fees, many clients find that they get outstanding value for their investment.

>> Try Out ZenBusiness >>

Northwest Registered Agent

Venturing into a new business involves handling a multitude of state-mandated paperwork, a task that can be overwhelming for new business owners. Northwest provides a spectrum of business services to assist entrepreneurs in identifying the required documentation, ensuring accurate completion, and submitting it promptly to the relevant government agency.

In addition to facilitating LLC establishment, Northwest offers various supplementary services, including valuable registered agent services, particularly beneficial for those new to business ownership.

>> Start Using Northwest Registered Agent >>

Incfile

Incfile offers an invaluable resource library that proves extremely helpful for aspiring business owners navigating the process of selecting the most suitable business structure. Additionally, Incfile provides support with essential documentation and filing procedures, simplifying concepts such as a registered agent, articles of organization, and EIN. The company has earned a strong reputation with positive feedback in online reviews.

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How to Form an LLC in Washington – FAQs

What Is the Cost Associated With Initiating an LLC in Washington State?

Entrepreneurs venturing into LLC formation in Washington State should anticipate initial expenses. The filing fees alone may exceed $200, contingent on the particulars of the business. The Washington Secretary of State imposes a filing fee of $180 for a standard online LLC registration, with an additional $30 processing fee possible.

Beyond state filing fees, budget for expenditures related to crafting an operating agreement, securing business licenses, enrolling in state and local taxes, and potentially engaging legal and tax professionals for guidance on the LLC establishment process.

How Much Time Does It Take To Establish an LLC in Washington State?

The duration for processing your LLC filings hinges on factors such as online or mail filing, expedited processing payments, and the workload at the Secretary of State’s office. Before filing, allocate time to research and select a business name, as well as designate a registered agent.

Is an LLC Service Necessary?

All tasks performed by an LLC service can be undertaken by a business owner without incurring service fees (though fees for filing must still be paid to the state or other entities, and additional costs may arise). While an LLC service can be valuable for those who prefer not to handle the filing independently, it may provide access to legal services that offer expertise. 

Alternatively, a local business lawyer can handle LLC formation, potentially at a higher cost but with the benefit of a personal relationship and assistance with various legal matters.

What Tax Flexibility Does an LLC Offer?

LLCs can adopt taxation structures akin to sole proprietorships, partnerships, C corporations (C-corps), or S corporations (S-corps). This flexibility enables LLC members to minimize their tax liabilities.

>> Launch Your Washington LLC With ZenBusiness Now >>

About the author

Dr. Gabriel O'Neill, Esq., a distinguished legal scholar with a business law degree and a Doctor of Juridical Science, is a leading expert in business registration and diverse business departments. Renowned for his academic excellence and practical insights, Dr. O'Neill guides businesses through legal complexities, offering invaluable expertise in compliance, corporate governance, and registration processes.

As an accomplished author, his forthcoming book is anticipated to be a comprehensive guide for navigating the dynamic intersection of law and business, providing clarity and practical wisdom for entrepreneurs and legal professionals alike. With a commitment to legal excellence, Dr. Gabriel O'Neill, Esq., is a trusted authority dedicated to empowering businesses within the ever-evolving legal landscape.