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Wisconsin LLC For Beginners: No Attorney Required

Wisconsin LLC For Beginners: No Attorney Required

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Wisconsin LLC For Beginners: No Attorney Required

Are you considering starting your own business in Wisconsin but don’t know where to start? An early step that needs to be taken is forming the business structure, and a popular choice is the Limited Liability Company (LLC).

There are many benefits to forming a Wisconsin LLC, and this guide will explain what an LLC is, the benefits of forming one in Wisconsin, and how to go about doing it.

Related: How to start a business in Wisconsin

Is an LLC right for you?

An LLC, or Limited Liability Company, is a type of business entity that provides limited liability to its owners. This means that the personal assets of the LLC’s owners are protected in the event that the business is sued. An LLC can be set up with just a few simple steps, and it can be operated like any other type of business.

Unlike a sole proprietorship or partnership, where the small business owner can be personally liable for lawsuits against the business, the LLC is a separate business structure, protecting the LLC owner’s personal assets.

Besides liability protection, the Limited Liability Company provides several other benefits over the sole proprietorship, general partnership, and corporation because of the multiple tax options, ease of administration, and management flexibility.

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Steps to Form a Wisconsin LLC

Step 1: Choose a Name for the LLC

The first step in forming a Wisconsin Limited Liability Company is to make sure the name you want is available.  

It’s critical to do a Wisconsin LLC name search before registering an LLC name, as the name of each LLC must be distinguishable from other entity names registered in the state of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions makes it easy to search and verify if your LLC name is available. 

In addition to the name being unique, the entity designator (identifier used at the end of the business name) must be either:

  • Limited Liability Company
  • Limited Company Co.
  • L.L.C.
  • LLC

Pay careful consideration to any periods, as a missing period may impact the approval of the Articles of Organization.

A comma may be used after the business name and before the designator.  “Cowboy Cleaners LLC” and “Cowboy Cleaners, LLC” are both acceptable.

If there is an LLC name you want to use, but you are not ready to register the LLC, the Name Reservation Application can be filed with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions to hold the LLC name for up to 120 days.

Before settling on a name, you may want to do a domain name search to see if a URL that will match your business name is available.

Step 2: Appoint a Wisconsin Registered Agent

Every LLC in Wisconsin is required to have a registered agent, which is simply someone with a Wisconsin street address who will be responsible for any legal correspondence, most often if the business is served papers in the event of a lawsuit. Most LLC owners are their own registered agent, but it is possible to hire a registered agent service like Northwest Registered Agent. The reasons why someone would hire a registered agent service include when the owner lives in another state or if the owner prefers that their personal address not be on public record.

The basic requirements to be a registered agent in Wisconsin include:

  • The agent must be a Wisconsin resident at least 18 years of age or a commercial registered agent service with a registered office in the state.
  • The agent must have a physical address in the state (PO Boxes aren’t allowed).
  • The agent must generally be available during normal business hours at the address provided to receive service of process.

Learn more about the requirements for a registered agent in Wisconsin.

Step 3: File the Wisconsin LLC Articles of Organization

The paperwork to officially create an LLC in Wisconsin is called the Articles of Organization. To submit the paperwork, you can either file online through the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions’ website. If you prefer to fill out and mail the application, download the Certificate of Formation (Form 502).

Related: How to fill out the Wisconsin Articles of Organization

When filling out the Articles of Organization for the first time, there are a few sections and terminology that may be confusing. To help get your LLC started right, let’s go over these.

Purpose: Generic language stating the LLC is organized under Chapter 183 of the Wisconsin Statutes.  This language is needed in order to form an LLC in the state, and no action is needed.

Registered office address: The Registered Agent must have a physical address in the state, and PO Boxes are not allowed.  This address may be the address of the LLC, but it doesn’t have to be.

Management: This section asks if the LLC is Member-Managed or Manager-Managed.

  • Member-Managed LLCs have an active involvement in the management and have the authority to act on behalf of the LLC.
  • Manager-Managed LLCs are hired by the LLC members to run the LLC, similar to a CEO of a corporation.  This is generally used when there are passive members in the LLC, and the members do not actively manage or operate in the affairs of the business.

Most LLCs are member-managed.

Organizer information: An LLC Organizer is someone involved in forming the Articles of Organization.  The Organizer may or may not become a member, such as a mentor, attorney, or accountant, but any LLC member can be listed as an organizer.

Select the drafter: The drafter is the person who entered the information into the Articles of Organization, and their name needs to be included in this section.  This is likely one of the members, attorney, or entity formation service.

Delayed effective date: This is an optional section, but if you want the Limited Liability Company to start on a later date, click the “Declare Delayed Effective Date” button and then enter a date less than 90 days in the future.  The main reason for delaying the LLC start date is when the filing is made close to the end of a calendar year, and the business isn’t going to have any activity until the start of the year.  You can eliminate the need to file a partial-year business tax return by delaying the start date until the following year.

By not selecting anything, the effective date will be the date when the Department of Financial Institutions files the Articles of Organization.

If you are worried about making a mistake when forming your LLC, or just don't want to deal with filling out state paperwork, an LLC formation service will help guide you through the process. My top recommended services include:

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What To Do After Forming A Wisconsin LLC

Once the LLC has been formed, there are a few additional steps to take care of. Below is a list of the most common tasks.

Prepare a Wisconsin LLC Operating Agreement

The operating agreement is an internal document that governs the framework of an LLC.  This document covers items like ownership rights, member responsibilities, how profits and losses are distributed, and more.

Under Wisconsin Law, Statute Chapter 183 states that every Wisconsin LLC may adopt an operating agreement, but it isn’t required by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.  Despite it not being required, there are several reasons it is recommended to have one.

LLCs in Wisconsin are not required to have an operating agreement, but it is still worth considering. Without an operating agreement:

  • The LLC could be subject to generic state rules that may be detrimental in the event of a lawsuit.
  • Member’s personal liability protection may be diminished.
  • Members may not fully understand their roles and responsibilities, which could lead to costly disputes in the future.

Obtain an EIN

If the LLC will hire employees or is owned by more than one member, an EIN is required. 

The EIN or Employer Identification Number (also referred to as a Federal Employer Identification Number, FEIN, or Federal Tax ID Number) is a unique 9-digit tax identification number assigned to a business by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Similar to a social security number for an individual, the EIN identifies business entities for tax purposes. The EIN will be needed to hire employees, open a bank account, build business credit, register for business licenses and permits, file federal and state taxes, and more.

There is no cost for the EIN when registering through the IRS. The number is available immediately when applying through the IRS website; however, you can also register by phone, fax, or mailing IRS Form SS-4.

If an Employer Identification Number isn’t required, the LLC can use either the owner’s social security number or register for an EIN. 

Related: How to Apply for an EIN

Open an LLC Bank Account

Opening a bank account for your LLC is important for liability protection as the account separates the business’s funds from the member’s personal funds.

Several documents will be needed to open a business bank account, such as:

  • A banking resolution is a document that authorizes the members to open a business bank account on behalf of the LLC.
  • Copies of the original LLC formation paperwork from the state showing the creation of the LLC.
  • Driver’s licenses of the members.
  • Occasionally, the bank will request a Wisconsin Certificate of Good Standing to prove the LLC is active and in good standing with the state.

Related: How to open a business bank account for your LLC

Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

After forming the LLC, various business licenses and permits will be needed before starting the business. Some common registrations include:

  • Business license: Some cities require businesses to obtain licensing before starting.
  • Professional license: Certain services, such as barbershops, accountants, salons, and others, must be licensed. ​A full list of professions is maintained by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services.
  • Seller’s permit – In order to sell products and certain services, sales tax registration with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue will be necessary.

Related: What business licenses are needed in Wisconsin?

File Wisconsin LLC Annual Reports

LLCs are required to file an annual report with the Wisconsin Secretary of State.  The annual report updates ownership information and other details.

Related: How to file a Wisconsin LLC annual report

File the Beneficial Owner Information Report

Beginning in 2024, any individual who owns at least 25% or has “substantial control” of an LLC or corporation in Wisconsin or any other state must file the Beneficial Ownership Information (BOI) form with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). BOI reports are filed electronically through FinCEN’s website.

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Wisconsin LLC FAQs

How much does it cost to start an LLC in Wisconsin?

To start an LLC in Wisconsin, the state filing fee to submit the Articles of Organization with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions is $130 for online filings and $170 for filing by mail.

How long does it take to start an LLC in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin LLCs that are formed online are processed immediately, while mailed-in forms typically take 5-7 days for the state to approve.

Is there a yearly fee for an LLC in Wisconsin?

Each year, an annual report and $25 state fee must be submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.

What is a Foreign Limited Liability Company?

A foreign LLC isn’t a special type of LLC. Instead, it’s an LLC that was formed in another state that wants to operate physically in Wisconsin. Physically operating means having a presence, such as having an office or hiring an employee.

Related: What is a foreign LLC?

Wisconsin LLC For Beginners: No Attorney Required

Wisconsin LLC For Beginners: No Attorney Required

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