Entrepreneurship is exciting—the thrill of developing a winning product or service, bringing that idea to life, and making life better for your clients—it’s fun. But unfortunately, it’s not free. Long story short: starting a business has a price tag. LLCs are no exception.
If you’re hoping to start an LLC in Washington, you’ll quickly learn that you’ll have a pretty long list of fees for forms, licenses, and applications that you’ll need to get started. Some of those are optional fees, and some are unavoidable. In this guide, we’ll walk you through all the costs you can expect when starting a Washington LLC. By the end, you’ll have a clear picture of how your new business will impact your wallet.
What’s the least amount I have to pay to form an LLC in Washington?
If you’re crunching the numbers before diving right in, good on you! Planning ahead is a surefire way to start your business off on the right foot. But let’s make one thing clear: the phrase “cost to start an LLC” is a bit deceptive. That’s because you don’t want to get stuck focusing on the “day one” expenses of business.
That’s right—when budgeting for start-up costs, you need to account for the costs you’ll pay today and the costs you’ll pay a year or two down the road.
So let’s talk start-up costs and ongoing costs for your Washington LLC. But to keep things simple, here we’ll cover the non-negotiable costs. Later on, we’ll talk about services that are nice to have (but you can live without if you have to).
WA LLC Start-up costs
There are two primary start-up costs in Washington. The most important one is the Certificate of Formation. The fee is $180. But regardless of whether that sounds like pocket change or an expense you’ll have to budget for, you can’t avoid this cost. After all, the Certificate is what officially forms your business in the state. Without it, you’re not a recognized business.
Washington LLCs will also need to obtain business licenses in order to run a compliant business. For starters, there’s the general business license. Every LLC will need to get it by filing a Business License Application for $90.
There’s also a good chance that an industry-specific license will apply to your business. For example, Washington requires licenses for architects, cosmetologists, employment agencies, and more. You’ll need to do some research to learn which ones fit your LLC. The Washington State Department of Licensing is a good place to check. Unfortunately, we can’t provide a comprehensive list or price tags for these licenses, but you can reasonably expect to pay an application fee when you get one.
Ongoing costs for an LLC in WA
If your business lasts (and we’re confident it will), then you’ll have several ongoing costs. These include license renewals, annual reports, and taxes. Let’s dig into those prices and fees.
Washington requires you to renew your state general business license every year (read more about the process here). Beyond that, you may have to renew your professional or occupational licenses, too. Each Washington licensing board has its own policies for renewals, though, so we can’t really list them all here. This guide would be tedious if we did. When you obtain your professional licenses, we recommend taking note of the renewal requirements for your industry so none of the fees surprise you.
In Washington (or any state, for that matter), one of the biggest annual costs you’ll have will be taxes. But Washington is a bit unique; unlike many states, Washington doesn’t have a state income tax for corporations or individuals. Instead, they levy a business and occupation tax, which acts a lot like a gross receipts tax. Then, of course, there’s a state sales tax to consider. Washington charges 6.5%.
There’s also a wide variety of miscellaneous business taxes that might apply to your LLC: syrup, watercraft, and timber are just a few examples. But we won’t dig into all the nitty-gritty details here. If you think a miscellaneous tax might apply to you, we recommend checking out the Washington State Department of Revenue.
Most states require LLCs to file some version of an “annual report,” or a document that informs the state about the current standing of your business. This document is usually required in addition to annual tax reports, since it usually includes information about your business address, members, your registered agent, and so on.
Washington actually requires two different business reports. First, there’s an initial report, which you’ll file within 120 days of starting your business. The initial report costs just $10. The annual report, however, costs $50. It’s due each year by the end of your LLC’s anniversary month. As long as you file on time, that’s all there is to it.
What are the discretionary costs to form a Washington LLC?
When you’re starting your business, your budget is usually pretty tight. Prioritizing costs can get tricky. The costs we listed above are unavoidable. Well, technically, you can avoid them, but you’ll be heavily penalized if you do. And there’s not much point to spending all that money on starting a business only to knowingly let it be dissolved because you didn’t pay your ongoing costs.
But if you can help it, doing the “bare minimum” is probably not the best way to start your business. There are plenty of discretionary costs you can pay for certain services that make life easier. Here, we’ll dig into those costs—and why you might consider paying them.
1. Name reservation application
Naming things can be a bit tricky; after all, sometimes inspiration is a little lacking! And since Washington doesn’t allow you to use a name that someone else has already claimed, you have to work even harder to pick one that’s unique, memorable, and just right for your business.
It’s a multi-step process, really: you have to brainstorm name ideas, choose just the right words, meet state name requirements, and of course, ensure that the name isn’t already in use (you can check using a Business Corporations Search).
If you’re like a lot of people, you probably want to ensure that your hard work doesn’t go to waste once you’ve created the perfect name. So you have to lay claim to your new business name. You can do so either by filing your Certificate of Formation, or by filing a Name Reservation Application. You should only file this form if you’re not yet ready to file your Certificate. Otherwise, you’d be wasting your hard-earned cash. Washington requires a $30 fee for this application, but it protects your chosen name for 180 days.
2. Obtaining a Trade Name
Wait—didn’t we just cover business names? Yes. But there’s a distinction: your business name, which you’ll write in on your Certificate of Formation, is the legal name of your business. A Trade Name, sometimes called a DBA, assumed name, or fictitious name, is like a nickname for your business. For example, your legal name might Joseph Smith, but your friends call you Joe for short. Joe is a perfectly valid name, but you can’t put it on legal paperwork. You’d have to legally change your name to do so.
A Trade Name acts kind of like a nickname for your business; some LLCs and corporations also use Trade Names to establish new product lines or new “businesses” under the LLC “parent company.” But regardless of why you use a Trade Name, if it differs from your legal name, you need to register it before you can use it.
Technically, registering a Trade Name in Washington happens when you get your business license application; the two registrations go hand in hand. You can register as many Trade Names as you need when you pay the $90 to file your business license application fee. There are spaces to list all the Trade Names you plan to use.
But before you can do that, you do need to ensure that your desired Trade Name is even available to use. You cannot use the same name as another entity, since Washington requires every name on the record to be distinct. For more information on this registration, check out our guide to Trade Names in Washington.
3. LLC formation services
Paperwork is a massive hassle. And unless you’re starting an LLC to help other Washington residents with their paperwork, odds are you don’t want to deal with much paperwork yourself.
The bad news? Paperwork is an unavoidable part of starting a Washington LLC: the Certificate of Formation, annual reports, initial reports, license applications—the list goes on and on. The good news? You can hire an LLC formation service to do the pesky paperwork for you.
Of course, there’s some cost involved. And while there are a lot of great LLC formation services, they aren’t all created equal. And they all have different price points.
Many LLC formation services offer a wide variety of packages, with basic options starting at low prices like $39 from Zen Business (one company, Incfile, even offers a starter package for $0). But if you’re willing to shell out some serious cash for comprehensive assistance, you’ll find package prices going as high as $799.
These services are completely optional; you can DIY your Washington LLC formation. But many entrepreneurs find the time saved is worth the money. If you do opt to hire a service, please make sure you take the time to understand what you’re buying. Some services charge one-time fees, and others tack on “free services” that will cost you next year. If you don’t read the fine print, you can get slapped with unexpected service fees. And surprise bills are never fun.
4. WA Registered agent services
Washington law clearly states that every LLC must designate a registered agent to act as a middleman between your business and the state. Long story short, the registered agent accepts service of process (and any other official communication from the state) on your behalf.
Technically, this is another thing you can DIY; Washington allows you to serve as your own registered agent. However, in our opinion, it’s worth the expense to hire a registered agent.
Why? For starters, a registered agent’s address becomes part of the public record; anyone in the state can find that address. That leads to spam mail (sometimes worse). Plus, a registered agent must be present at the registered address during all standard business hours. If you serve as your own, you’d be tied down to your location constantly. A registered agent service prevents those annoyances. A service will also help you keep track of annual filing requirements, license renewals, and more.
These services typically charge an annual fee. For example, annual fees for our top 4 Washington registered agent services range from $99 to $299 per year depending on the service you choose. That said, some offer the first year free if you use them as an LLC formation service.
Quick Note: If you need to later down the line, you can always change your registered agent.
5. Expedited filing fees
In Washington, how you file your LLC makes a big difference. Mail-order filings can take anywhere from 1-4 weeks to process. Online filings are automatically expedited, which cuts down processing to 2-5 business days instead. If you’d rather file by mail, you have the option to expedite your Certificate of Formation (or other documents) for a $50 fee. Since that expediting fee isn’t unreasonable, it’s well worth the extra expense to expedite your filing. That said, patience works, too. You can let your budget and your timetable be the deciding factors.
6. Business attorneys
Starting a business is a complicated process. And it’s a legal one. We do our best to make the process seem less daunting with guides like this one. But at the end of the day, we can’t write a guide that would cover every single question every business will ever face. That’s because your business is unique.
Business attorneys, however, can talk you through all the nuances of forming and running your business. In many cases, the advice of an attorney can save you thousands by helping you avoid expensive legal mistakes.
However, the upfront costs of hiring a business attorney can be pretty pricey. For example, many attorneys charge per hour, with rates ranging between $150-$350. Others offer “LLC formation packages” for flat rates that fall between $500-$2000. And of course, those fees vary based on the attorney’s experience, location, and so on.
If you’d like to hire one, we recommend checking out sites like Avvo.com. Their database is nearly comprehensive, so it’s a great way to search Washington business lawyers. You can also narrow results by location, cost, overall satisfaction rating, and more. It’s the best place to look to find the right legal consultation for your business.
Long story short: starting a Washington LLC can be a pretty pricey endeavor. If you look at each cost separately, it doesn’t seem too bad (perhaps with the exception of the $180 fee for the Certificate of Formation). But when you add them all up or tack on some additional services, the total price tag grows pretty quickly.
Thankfully, since you’ve read this guide, you know what you’re up against. And sometimes, knowing is half the battle—and now you’re armed with all the information you need to budget the start-up costs so you can start your Washington LLC off on the right foot. We wish you and your new business the best!