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Business owners often legally form their business as an official company for tax purposes and to shield personal liability, usually an LLC or a corporation. A registered agent is mandated by law for some legal entities, including corporations, partnerships, and limited liability companies (LLCs).
A registered agent serves as the point of contact between your company or organization and the government and must always be available during normal working hours to accept official mail on behalf of a business and process mail (i.e. taxes, compliance-related notifications, legal paperwork, refunds, complaints, etc.).
Even though you may occasionally serve as your own registered agent, doing so is typically not advised. There are many benefits to using a registered agent service rather than acting on your own behalf.
Today we’ll take a look at some of the top online registered agents for your business and see who offers the best value.
- Many entrepreneurs and sole proprietors eventually form their company as an LLC or corporation, which ultimately requires them to also have a registered agent in their state of business filing
- Registered agents correspond with the government and others on your behalf, keeping your business compliant with legal responsibilities and the filing of required forms every year with the state
- There are several registered agent services online to choose from, since you can form your business in any state and have a remote registered agent take care of everything for you, but their prices can differ significantly
Aside from the fact that a registered agent is required by law in many cases, the advantages of using a third-party registered agent for your convenience are many.
You can relocate your business without having to submit an obligatory (and expensive) change of address form if it has a different physical address from the formal administrative business entity location. You’ll also be reminded to pay annual state fees and file an annual report, which your registered agent can do for you as well.
It won’t be necessary to accept the delivery of potentially embarrassing documents (like a summons) in front of customers or staff, and the risk of a missed lawsuit resulting in a default judgment is removed, allowing the business owner to travel or maintain odd business hours without restriction.
Since the registered agent’s address is public information, it adds another layer of privacy protection for your company, especially if you operate from home (and receive less junk mail). It’s also great for people with digital businesses who may not have a physical business address and want to have an LLC, but don’t want to use their home address.
But first, assuming you’re starting from scratch, or sole proprietor, which type of business entity should you choose?
What’s the Best LLC, S Corp, C Corp and Registered Agent Service for Your Business?
Today, we’re going to be comparing NW Registered Agent vs. IncFile vs. Swyft Filings vs. ZenBusiness, but before we do that, it’s important to set ourselves up for long term success and savings, even before we get to that step.
Because you can file for business formation in essentially any state, you should investigate which state offers the best scenario for your overall business, profits, and personal earnings and tax obligations, as well as their total annual associated fees for staying up to date.
This is why states like Delaware, Wyoming, and Nevada often come up when talking about forming an LLC, S Corp or C Corp. A quick overview: Wyoming is the cheapest, Delaware is the most pro-business for litigation purposes but a bit pricier, and Nevada is the most expensive but gives you the most privacy as an individual for income tax purposes.
Technically, you must file in one state to form your business and then register it in each state where you have customers and transactions, to stay current on state sales tax and all other state-specific compliance. This makes automating the process essential if you plan to do business around the country or even if you just want to make your life easier.
Most registered agent services out there do the same thing, so at the end of the day, it will come down to a few things when making your own decision. For most people, that will probably be price, reliability, overall ease of use, and the ability to cancel someday, if necessary, and dissolve your LLC as well as discontinue services.
How to Choose a Good Registered Agent
A good registered agent is reliable, easy to communicate and coordinate with, and won’t break your bank—now or a few years from now, if they suddenly decide to raise prices.
- Simplified, transparent pricing – While it goes without saying, you should know what you’re paying for in order to get it. However, some services are ambiguous with their pricing so they can get you for one-off transactions as time goes by, or charge you on a quarterly basis because listing the annual price outright demonstrates its unaffordability.
- Easy and fast processing of documents – From time to time, you’ll get official mail sent to your business. Your registered agent may offer some type of document scanning and mail forwarding/opening service, which can be very handy, especially if you’re always traveling and only have online access.
- All-in-one solution that you can afford – Depending on your situation, it might be cheaper to get a registered agent within your own state, and you’re supporting the local economy, much like yourself. However, if you go with a nationwide provider, make sure that they offer the full range of services that you need so that you’re automating as much of the compliance process as possible.
- It’s easy to cancel and they respond to public complaints – Many businesses are not registered with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), however they can still respond to consumer complaints in an open, transparent forum accessible by anyone online. If you’re going to be doing yearly business with a company for the next decade, you’ll want to be sure that they respond to customer service issues promptly, issue any refunds fairly, and make it easy for you to cancel for any reason.
Please remember that most registered agents charge a fee to file any paperwork for you with the state, on top of additional state fees. Many registered agents will even waive or greatly reduce your initial filing fees for your LLC, in hopes of securing your long term business.
IncFile (Bizee) Reviews
IncFile’s strength lies in its flexibility and upfront, transparent approach to pricing, though even they don’t want to scare you by reminding you that the first year of free registered agent service automatically renews your second year at $119/year. But then, I guess that’s what I’m here for, to dig around and search for the fine print.
IncFile also scores an impressive 4.7 on Trustpilot.
While that’s not a bad price, depending on everything else you might need, it still shows you the challenge that both business owners and registered agents must overcome in doing long term business together in a way that’s mutually beneficial.
IncFile also charges you $99 to file your annual report, so that comes out to $218/year essentially to stay compliant, if you go with their cheapest package. The beginner package (silver) offers free LLC formation ( + state fee ) to get you started.
And, because IncFile recently changed its name to Bizee, they’re offering a free LLC and registered agent services for anyone who signs up. Just pay the state filing fee.
The gold and platinum packages cost a one-time $199 and $299 + state fee to start but you also get a host of other benefits, like an EIN business tax number, 30-minute tax consultation and other helpful additions that could save you money in the long run.
Finally, the platinum package also provides everything above plus a domain name, business email, and expedited filing.
IncFile also offers valuable services like help with your business license research package, including permits for business signage and parking for your business.
It’s only appropriate that we cover ZenBusiness next, since they have pricing that at first glance appears similar to IncFile, at least to the untrained eye.
ZenBusiness also offers a free LLC. They also have higher-tiered packages (Starter, Pro, and Premium) that cost $0, $199, and $299, respectively, but they’re going to cost you more in the long run compared to IncFile.
Just how much more?
If you got the basic, free LLC filing package with either service, IncFile would save you $1,000 per decade. Just think about what you could do with $1,000, generally speaking. That’s probably 10 years’ worth of new athletic shoes for most people.
ZenBusiness vs. IncFile
Let’s not forget that even if you do buy the $199 option with ZenBusiness but want an EIN, it will cost an additional $99, whereas IncFile includes it in their similarly priced option.
But it’s actually much worse for people who buy the ZenBusiness Pro or Premium packages, because you’ll be paying $199 or $299/year after that for limited benefits. And, you’ll still have to get a registered agent service if you’re forming your business in another state, which is $199/year.
IncFile is the clear winner on price, saving you around $100/year minimum, since a ZenBusiness registered agent cost $199/year as well as $99 for the annual report. At the cheapest price package, both ZenBusiness and IncFile are free + state filing fees to get started, but only the IncFile registered agent service is free the first year.
You’ll get compliance features, like an included annual report and two free amendment filings (which are administrative in nature and rarely needed on a regular basis), with the ZenBusiness Pro $199/year package, but is it really necessary?
Compared to ZenBusiness, you’re basically giving them $100/year for no reason when you could just order the annual report from your IncFile dashboard once a year at the end of the calendar year for $99 with no additional fee, save the registered agent service for $199.
This makes the IncFile Gold package the most affordable and attractive option compared to ZenBusiness, when based solely on price.
ZenBusiness, however, is a registered business with the BBB with an A+ rating that regularly responds to public customer complaints too. However, some of the customer reviews are quite adamant about surprise charges for registered agent services and a difficulty in switching registered agents or canceling their service in the future.
It sounds like you’ll have to call in and deal with customer support to get the fastest solution or file a complaint on the BBB website to get ZenBusiness to cancel your account.
Swyft Filings Reviews
Swyft Filings is brutal. Seriously, the prohibitive cost of their annual registered agent service almost precludes their mention. But they are a relatively big name for LLC and registered agent services (big enough to be reviewed by Forbes), and I’m including them as an example of why transparent pricing is critical to understand before you do business with anyone.
I’ve already given objective comments in my Swyft Filings Review on this site. But in the context of this article and its competitors, Swyft Filings further demonstrates why comparison shopping is always going to be your best bet and will result in the greatest probable outcome for you.
They offer you $99 to get signed up and incorporated, and they’re even nice enough to pay the state filing fees, but that’s it. And, it’s a setup. Because, after writing my initial review of Swyft Filings, I see they have removed most of the pricing for their plans. I find this incredibly strange since this has to be recent.
And no, I’m not taking credit for it. Because I’m not the only one out here on the web who takes issue with a company that charges you $600/year for basic compliance, which you could essentially do yourself for free or for a couple hundred bucks with a transparent, professional service.
I’d highly recommend any alternative to Swyft Filings at this point. A website with no pricing on their LLC formation services until you fill out all your information, and with no FAQs describing recurring charges for a service like this is unacceptable.
What’s worse? It’s probably being done on purpose to obscure their competitiveness, since they’re likely just outsourcing the work to a third party themselves anyway, which would explain the exorbitant 2x markup compared to others.
Northwest Registered Agent Reviews
First off, Northwest Registered Agent does everything in-house and locally, including document scanning. They offer a similar package as both IncFile and ZenBusiness’s $199 first-year charge, which includes free registered agent service when you get your LLC or corporation filed through them.
They provide a free account through which you can file the LLC and do everything yourself. Within this account dashboard, you can mark items off your business compliance checklist or just opt to pay them to do it for you at any time.
NW Registered Agent also gets A+ scores for a few different BBB websites where customers have made public comments regarding their overall experience with the company, as well as issues and their current status. The company does respond quickly to customer complaints.
However, here’s where it gets ugly. NorthWest Registered Agent scores 3.2 / 5 on TrustPilot, with many recent reviews complaining that things fell through the cracks when customers talked to their “Corporate Guides,” which are essentially outsourced customer service agents who are also included to help you better understand your specific industry’s business licensing requirements, or they were unable to provide necessary information regarding Northwest Agent’s actual physical address in Sacramento, CA.
Some customers have discovered that Northwest’s website for customers is not always the easiest to use or understand, which may be due in part to issues with the web design that create a confusing user experience.
Finally, another customer realized that Northwest Registered Agent filed the LLC but outsourced it locally to a third party in-state registered agent. Remember when I advised getting a local registered agent because it might be more appropriate for you or it might be cheaper? While they claim to do everything themselves, clearly this customer would disagree.
Northwest Registered Agent does get a lot of positive reviews as well, so it seems kind of hit-or-miss when it comes to people being upset or really happy with what they got. Ultimately, you’ll need to decide for yourself.
I do, however, love NW Registered Agent’s general motto, which is to “make starting and running a business less annoying than their competitors.”
Regarding the fact their customer support is all U.S. based, they say on their website:
“It’s not that we’re some over-the-top super current inclusive, hipster, empathetic social mission-driven BS “benefit corp” company looking to democratize something (whatever that means), visionaries, or even nice people. It’s just that we’re not complete freaking idiots or liars about our true motives.”
Succinctly put. What’s not to love about a company that shrugs off the “woke” so unapologetically?
They also throw in a free phone service and allow you to buy your EIN with them as well at $50 which is cheaper than much of the aforementioned competition that charges $99, with the exception of IncFile’s Gold Package. To top it off, they provide limited mail forwarding for your first five items they receive on your behalf.
NW Registered Agent’s yearly price is similar to IncFile at around $125/year for registered agent service, with the ability to add on your state annual filing within your dashboard.
Conclusion: Who’s the Best Registered Agent Service?
If you’re planning on running a business, then sooner or later you’re probably going to have to establish a company, whether an LLC or a corporation. Then, you’ll have to get a registered agent or be your own.
From there, you’ll have to decide whether you want to have a professional service take care of all of it for you or research how to do it yourself. If you choose a registered agent service, just remember that, much like a professional mailbox service, they may change their prices a few years from now.
From the above options, we like IncFile and Northwest Registered Agent for their transparency, no-nonsense approach. Neither is perfect, and you might even find an option out there not mentioned in this article that suits your needs better, though our top picks made Forbes top 5 list.
Whatever you do, our advice is to select the registered agent with the best price and customer service for your business on an ongoing, operational basis,, as well as the fewest number of major complaints or anything that indicates a systemic flaw in their business model.
Just don’t get attached to any of them, and make sure to watch your credit card bill for mystery and unexpected charges.
Frequently Asked Questions – Choosing a Registered Agent for Your Company
The method for changing a registered agent varies by state, as does the amount each state charges for making the change; some jurisdictions charge no money for filing a change of registered agent, while others charge a nominal fee. Do a web search for links to each state’s business services website, where you can learn more about the forms you’ll need to complete to change your registered agent. Most states offer downloaded forms on their websites. You can also contact your state’s business services office, which is frequently part of the Secretary of State’s office, to learn more about what is required to change your registered agent.
All 50 states require businesses that register as legal entities (LLCs, partnerships, corporations) with the state to have a registered agent, also known as a statutory agent or agent of process. While that person may be the business owner, it cannot be the LLC itself. There are advantages to electing someone else to be your registered agent, from maintaining compliance automatically during business hours, even when you’re on vacation to being able to conceal your own address. The purpose of the registered agent is to correspond with government on your behalf for legal notices and subpoenas, as well as state protections and advocacy for consumers.