As an entrepreneur, one of the biggest decisions you’ll make is what entity type to form. A lot of aspiring business professionals are drawn to the Limited Liability Company (LLC for short).
And it’s not surprising why: an LLC gives personal asset protection and a flexible taxation structure without compromising flexibility and easy business upkeep. Long story short, it’s easy to operate an LLC (okay, relatively; all business is a bit complicated).
However, if you’ve looked at the Washington Secretary of State’s business resources, you’ll quickly notice that not all LLCs are created equal. Washington distinguishes between standard LLCs and PLLCs.
Not sure what that means? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Washington PLLCs, including how they differ from LLCs, who can form one, and more importantly, how to get started.
Washington LLC vs. Washington PLLC: What’s the difference?
On the surface, LLCs and PLLCs seem really similar. And quite frankly, they have more similarities than differences. Most importantly, both LLCs and PLLCs have what’s commonly referred to as “limited liability” or “personal asset protection.”
We won’t give a long-winded explanation, but essentially, personal asset protection ensures that your private funds, your house, your car, and other assets can’t be claimed if your business is sued or defaults on a debt. In other business types (a sole proprietorship, general partnership, etc.), that can happen—and the consequences can be disastrous.
In general, almost anyone can form an LLC. However, many states, Washington included, don’t allow certain professions to form a standard LLC; they have to form a Professional Limited Liability Company instead (a Professional Corporation is also an option, but we won’t go into that here).
Here’s why: a PLLC combines elements of a standard LLC and a business like a partnership. Creditors cannot come after the personal assets of a PLLC’s members. However, the PLLC still allows for members to be sued for malpractice.
So if you’re an engineer and one of your designs causes an injury that gets you sued, you can be held accountable. But if another member is responsible for the malpractice, you’re not penalized.
Here are the Washington professions that are required to organize as a PLLC:
- Certified public accountants (CPAs)
certified public accountants (CPA), chiropractors, dentists, osteopaths, physicians, podiatrists, surgeons, chiropodists, architects, veterinarians, and attorneys.
Please note that this isn’t a comprehensive list of professions in Washington that can form a PLLC; these are the most common ones, though.
A lot of states have pretty strict rules about how many members (i.e., owners) of the PLLC must have licenses in the business’s profession. Usually, states require at least half of the members to be licensed professionals. Washington isn’t quite as strict; just one member of the PLLC must be actively licensed for the profession. However, the state does dictate that every single professional—members and employees alike—involved in the business’s profession must obtain an active license.
Does your business fall into one of the above categories? If not, check out our guide for forming a Washington LLC. But if you’re one of the professions listed, then this guide can help.
How to Set Up a Washington PLLC
Setting up a Washington PLLC might seem complicated on the surface, but if you know what to do, it’s a fairly straightforward process. In the rest of this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know for setting up your PLLC. By the time we’re through, you’ll have your business up and running.
If you’re busy and just want to hand off the PLLC formation, Incfile and Northwest are two good PLLC formation services that take care of it for you. Sadly, our favorite LLC service Zen Business does not (yet) offer professional LLC formation.
1. Ensure your professionals have the necessary licenses
Remember how we talked about how many professionals in your business need to be licensed? Since Washington requires at least one member to be licensed as well as every person who will be practicing the trade, you’ll want to take care of licenses before anything else. The Washington State Department provides a list of licenses for different professions in the state.
Please note that this is a pretty comprehensive list; all of the PLLC-specific professions are included, but you’ll have to find sort through to find them. Thankfully, each listing directs you to the appropriate board. By clicking on the appropriate link, you’ll find the specific website where you can apply for your licenses.
2. Choose a name for your PLLC
Technically speaking, you can take care of this step while you’re handling licenses. And if you’re like us, you’ll want to give it plenty of thought. Thankfully, Washington doesn’t have a ton of rules on what your name has to be. For starters, your name cannot be the same as the name that’s already in use in the state. You can use a Corporation Name Search to check availability.
Washington also requires your business name to include one of the following designations:
- Professional Limited Liability Company
- Professional Limited Liability Co.
For more information on naming requirements in Washington (and how to use the search tool), check out our WA LLC naming guide.
As long as you meet those two requirements, just about any name is fair game. Your own creativity is the only limit. That said, we recommend that you pick a name that’s memorable, easy to say and spell, and gives your customers an idea of what services your business provides. Last but not least, pick a name that you and your members like—at the end of the day, it’s your business!
If you’ve thought of the perfect name but you’re not quite ready to use it, you can reserve it for by filling out a Name Reservation form. There’s a $30 fee for this filing (plus $50 for expedited processing, if you prefer). Once complete, the form will ensure that your name is protected for 180 days.
3. Appoint a registered agent
Every registered business, regardless of type, is required to appoint a registered agent in Washington. Essentially, a registered agent acts as the point of contact between the state and your business. Any official communications—whether that’s a reminder to file your annual report or service of legal process against your business—will be delivered to your registered agent, not your business.
You can serve as your own registered agent, but we recommend that you appoint someone else. It simplifies your life and keeps your personal address off the public record (an agent’s address is listed as public information). We have a few recommended services, too. For more information on registered agents and what the role includes, look here.
You are required to list your registered agent on your Certificate of Formation, so don’t skip this step!
4. File your Certificate of Formation
Once you’ve taken care of licenses and appointing your registered agent, it’s time to officially form your business! You can do so by filing the Certificate of Formation for a Professional Limited Liability Company. In Washington, PLLCs have a different form than regular LLCs, so make sure you don’t use the wrong form on accident!
In general, this document informs the state about your business, including what profession you’re involved in, who the members are, how the business will be managed, contact information, the name and address of your registered agent, and more.
There is a $180 filing fee ($200 for online filings), and you can file by mail or online. Once the state processes and approves your Certificate, your business will be an official entity in the state of Washington!
One quick note before we move on: Washington requires every PLLC to file an initial report within 120 days of forming your business. They allow you to file it at the same time as the Certificate of Formation, so we recommend getting it out of the way immediately.
What’s next: Maintaining your Washington PLLC
Your PLLC is now an official entity within the state. Exciting stuff, right? Take a deep breath, congratulate yourself on your hard work…and then get back to it, because there’s more to be done.
Honestly, forming the business is the relatively easy part. There are plenty of ongoing requirements you’ll need to take care of. Failing to do so could cost you your good standing in Washington (or just make life more difficult than it needs to be).
Let’s jump into what you should do after filing your Certificate of Formation.
1. Draft an operating agreement
Unlike a corporation, which must file bylaws with the state, an LLC or a PLLC is not required to file an agreement with the state. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to write one. All PLLCs should draft an LLC operating agreement.
The document itself doesn’t need to be complicated; long story short, it should dictate how your business operates. But writing one at the outset will help down the road. For example, an agreement can detail how new members join the business, how they buy out, how profits are distributed, the rights and responsibilities of each member, and more. By setting these policies out in the beginning, you can set yourself up for success.
An operating agreement is also essential if you intend to get a business bank account; most banks request a copy of your agreement when you open an account.
2. Get general business licenses
Don’t confuse this step with the professional licenses we’ve listed above! As a PLLC, industry-specific licenses are part of the game. You can’t technically exist without those. However, it’s not uncommon for states to also require a general business license.
Washington has several detailed criteria that, if met, requires each business to complete a Business License Application. For example, every business that operates under a name that’s different from your own legal name must obtain a general business license. That’s true for every PLLC, so your business is not exempt from the requirement.
There is a $90 fee for a new business license. You can file by mail or online. If you file online, you’ll receive your license within approximately 10 business days. Mail-in filings take up to 3 weeks to process.
We also recommend that you take another look at the state’s list of licenses to make sure you’ve covered all of your bases. By now, you’ve already obtained the state business license and the license needed for your profession. However, it’s also possible that Washington has a unique license type that applies to your business that we haven’t touched on here.
3. File for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
If you plan on having employees—even if it’s just one or two—then you’ll need to obtain an Employer Identification Number from the IRS. Technically, you can hire someone to file this form for you, but we recommend doing it yourself. It’s free to do on your own, and (unlike a lot of IRS tax forms) pretty easy to file.
Please note that you need to complete the filing in one sitting, so be sure to have your Taxpayer Information Number (the SSN for most people) on hand. Once you complete the filing online, you’ll receive your number almost immediately.
4. Look into business insurance
You’re a licensed professional. You’ve taken the exam, or you’ve worked hard to obtain the certifications needed for your trade. But don’t assume that your license alone will protect you from all the things that can go wrong while running your business.
Ideally, nothing too drastic will happen, but just in case, it’s a good idea to obtain liability coverage for your business. Washington does not require you to have a general business policy, but we recommend it.
However, Washington does require any business with workers (i.e., either employees or independent contractors you’ve hired) to obtain workers’ compensation insurance. This policy protects both you and your workers if and when there’s an accident on the job. You can learn more about these policies and register for an account at the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.
Last but not least, you should get a business auto policy for any company-owned vehicles (if applicable).
5. Complete annual filings
Every year, your PLLC will have two primary annual filings: taxes and annual reports. Almost every state requires both types, but the exact timing and procedures for them varies from one state to the next. Let’s talk about taxes and annual reports in Washington.
One of the biggest advantages to a PLLC is that you can choose your taxation structure. You get to elect to be taxed as a corporation (the business itself pays the taxes) or as a pass-through entity (the tax burden passes through to the members, who pay the tax as individuals).
Prior to filing tax reports and paying your fees, you will need to register with Washington’s Department of Revenue. This will help you get set up for sales taxes, withholding taxes, and more.
Unlike a lot of states, Washington does not have a corporate income tax or a personal one—not in the traditional sense, anyway. Instead, Washington requires a business & occupation tax. We won’t go into a ton of detail, but this tax acts like a gross receipts tax.
Next, if your business sells a qualifying good or service, you’ll need to collect and pay the state’s sales tax. Currently, Washington has a statewide rate of 6.5%. You can learn more about the sales tax here. We could also dig into all the miscellaneous taxes that might apply to your business, but we don’t want to make this guide tedious! For a full look at all business taxes, check out the Washington State Department of Revenue.
All PLLCs in Washington must also file an annual report; it’s a different form than your annual tax return. Essentially, the document updates the state about the current standing of your business, from your finances to your registered agent and several things in between.
Don’t forget that the state requires an initial report within 120 days of filing your business. After that, you’ll file the annual report, which is due each year by the end of your LLC’s anniversary month. There is a $50 filing fee. We recommend filing online; it’s the easiest, and it ensures that your report is processed quickly.
It’s important to file the report on time, since failing to file can cost you your good standing with the state. In extreme cases, the state could administratively dissolve your business.
6. Set up a business bank account
One of the biggest advantages to a PLLC is the fact that your personal assets are protected (with the exception of malpractice). However, those assets are only protected if you keep your personal funds and your business funds completely separate. Mixing them is a major legal no-no.
To keep them separate, you’ll need to get a business bank account. As an added bonus, you’ll be able to get checks and debit cards for your business, which makes it easier to buy supplies for your business. Plus, a lot of people are more comfortable writing checks to a business than they are writing a check to “John Smith.” It gives you another level of credibility with your clients.
By permitting professionals to form PLLCs, Washington provides you with unique opportunities: liability protection, opportunities to work with fellow owners, flexible taxation, the reputability of a registered business, and more. Setting up a PLLC isn’t a walk in the park, but by following the steps in this guide, it doesn’t have to be difficult. We hope this guide has helped you do just that, and we wish you the best as you start a PLLC in WA.