How to Start an LLC in Wisconsin (April 2024 Update)

Meow Technologies, Inc.

Meow Technologies, Inc.

If you're an entrepreneur looking to launch a business in the Badger State, forming a Wisconsin limited liability company (LLC) is likely one of the first steps you'll need to take. The number of new LLC formations reached record highs across the U.S. in 2021 and 2022, and Wisconsin saw its share of new business registrations. An LLC formation can be an affordable way to separate your personal and business assets while gaining credibility with customers. Wisconsin LLCs also provide owners flexibility in management and possible tax savings. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the process for starting an LLC in Wisconsin using straightforward, actionable steps:

Wisconsin LLC 101

Before getting into the nitty gritty, let’s quickly go over some LLC basics relevant to Wisconsin entrepreneurs:

  • LLCs protect owners’ personal assets from business debts and liability claims.
  • Most Wisconsin LLCs have pass-through taxation so profits are only taxed once at the individual level. Some LLCs elect S-corp or C-corp tax status instead.
  • An operating agreement is highly recommended but not legally required in Wisconsin.
  • Wisconsin LLCs must file an annual report to stay compliant.
  • LLC formation fees in Wisconsin range from $130 to $170 plus annual fees.

Now let’s jump in to the step-by-step process for launching your Wisconsin LLC!

Step 1. Check Wisconsin LLC Name Availability

Your Wisconsin LLC name needs to follow certain guidelines, so it’s wise to do your homework before settling on the perfect business name. The rules for Wisconsin LLC names include:

  • Must contain words like “limited liability company” or the abbreviation “LLC”
  • Can’t be identical or deceptively similar to names of existing Wisconsin businesses
  • Restricted words may require additional approvals

Once you have a business name in mind, complete this name availability search to see if your chosen name is already taken by another Wisconsin entity. If so, you’ll have to get creative with another name that follows state guidelines.

Consider searching for available domain names as you brainstorm Wisconsin LLC names too. Even if you don’t plan on having a website immediately, you’ll likely want one someday. Buying matching domains now prevents branding headaches down the road.

In Wisconsin you can also reserve an available LLC business name for up to 120 days for a small fee while you complete additional startup tasks.

Step 2. Assign a Registered Agent in Wisconsin

Wisconsin law mandates that every LLC appoints a registered agent to receive important legal and tax documents on the business's behalf. Your agent must meet these criteria per WI requirements:

  • Must have WI address open during normal business hours
  • Can be an individual or a commercial service
  • Name & address are listed in formation paperwork

Appointing yourself or an internal staff member will disclose your personal address in public filings. Using a registered agent service will keep your home or office address private. It also ensures you have someone available at all times to accept legal notices.

Step 3. File Your WI LLC Articles of Organization

To legally form your Wisconsin LLC, you must file Articles of Organization paperwork with the state along with paying a formation fee. Here are tips for completing this process smoothly:

  1. Gather required information beforehand like your registered agent details, management structure, and member/organizer names.
  2. Submit the articles online for the lowest filing fees. Cost is $130 vs $170 for mailed paper forms.
  3. Pay additional state fee for expedited next-day processing if you need your LLC formed quickly.
  4. Use a formation service that handles filing paperwork correctly at low cost.

The WI Secretary of State should approve articles within 5 business days if mailed. Online submissions process immediately upon payment. Documents like your LLC articles require public disclosure of some personal details with Wisconsin. Hiring a registered agent service lets you safely list their business address on public filings to protect your privacy.

Step 4. Make a Wisconsin LLC Operating Agreement

Drawing up a detailed Wisconsin operating agreement is an important next step for your LLC even though it's optional. We highly recommend ALL Wisconsin LLCs have one since it:

  • Defines member roles, voting procedures, distributions of profits/losses
  • Sets ground rules for handling major business events like adding/removing members
  • Supports legitimacy in eyes of institutions like banks
  • Can help resolve disputes or interpret your intentions if challenged

Be sure to address all the key topics below that make sense for your Wisconsin LLC in the operating agreement:

  • Member capital contributions & ownership percentages
  • Profit/loss distributions
  • Voting procedures
  • Duties/responsibilities of members/managers
  • Transferring membership interest
  • Admitting new members
  • Dissolution terms and remaining asset distribution

Step 5. Obtain an Employer ID Number for Your WI LLC

Nearly all small business owners need to obtain an EIN, which is like an SSN for your Wisconsin LLC. The IRS issues EINs, and you'll use it when:

Applying online takes mere minutes and results in instant EIN assignment. Get started via the official IRS website. This step is crucial for separating your identity from your WI LLC for tax and legal purposes.

Step 6. Stay Compliant with Wisconsin

Congratulations on completing the initial Wisconsin LLC formation process! But the compliance duties won’t end there if you want to keep your LLC in good standing for the long run. Here are some ongoing legal obligations to remember:

  • File an annual report before your Wisconsin due date to confirm your LLC is active ($25 fee)
  • Pay all Wisconsin tax obligations at state and possibly local levels
  • Renew business licenses and other regulatory permits
  • Update your articles of organization if original details like your address or registered agent ever change

Using a compliance service helps automate filings, deadlines, and license renewals so you can focus on growing your business!

Costs to Start a Wisconsin Limited Liability Company

Now that you know how to form an LLC in Wisconsin, an obvious question is “How much does it cost to start a Wisconsin LLC?” Here is a breakdown of the expenses to expect:

  • Filing fee – $130 if you form online or $170 if you mail paper forms
  • Registered agent fee – $50+ per year minimum unless you want to disclose your home address publicly
  • Annual report – $25 to file each year
  • Licenses/permits/inspections – $0+ depending on your Wisconsin industry & local requirements
  • Taxes – Federal taxes like income & self-employment plus potential WI corporate taxes at the state level if you elect S-corp or C-corp status

How Long Does it Take to Start a WI LLC?

If you submit your documents digitally, expect a turnaround within a day or sooner in most cases. Mailed paper forms take roughly 5 business days for processing plus mailing transit time. You can also pay Wisconsin an expedited processing fee of $25 to receive a decision on your LLC formation by the following business day when using snail mail.

FAQs: Starting a Wisconsin LLC

How much does it cost to start a Wisconsin LLC?

Forming a Wisconsin LLC costs $130 if you complete the process online or $170 if you mail paper forms. You'll also owe annual fees like the $25 WI annual report charge. Consider registered agent and optional compliance service fees too.

What is the turnaround time for starting a Wisconsin LLC?

Online submissions process within a day normally while mailed forms take roughly 5 business days plus transit time. Pay $25 extra for next-day turnaround on paper applications. Using a service can make formation even faster.

What Wisconsin business licenses will my LLC need?

While no state general business license exists, specific industries like restaurants, retailers, professional services firms, contractors, etc. often need licenses or regulatory permits. Check state, county, and municipal agency websites relevant to your niche.

Does a single-member Wisconsin LLC require an operating agreement?

Yes! All LLCs should have an operating agreement outlining internal processes and procedures. It strengthens your company's legitimacy and your own limited liability protection.

How can I save money when starting my Wisconsin LLC?

Filing your formation documents electronically instead of using paper forms saves $40 off the bat. You can also serve as your own registered agent initially to skip those annual fees until your business grows. DIYing the process takes more time but costs less than using a service.

Starting a Wisconsin LLC: Final Takeaways

We hope this guide served as a helpful reference detailing how to start an LLC in Wisconsin in 2023. Just remember these key takeaways as you begin the LLC formation process:

  • File online for $40 savings over mailed submissions
  • Appoint a registered agent meeting WI statutory requirements
  • Consider reserving your chosen name for 120 days while starting your WI LLC
  • Create a solid operating agreement to clearly define internal processes
  • Apply for an EIN to open business bank accounts and hire employees later
  • Don’t forget annual reporting and other compliance tasks

Good luck with your new Wisconsin limited liability company!


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