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 Wisconsin, 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 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin?
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 Wisconsin 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).
WI LLC Start-up costs
There are two primary start-up costs in Wisconsin. The most important one (and one of the most substantial one, really) is the Articles of Organization. The fee is $170. But regardless of whether that seems like pocket change or an expense you’ll have to budget for, it’s a cost you can’t avoid. After all, the Articles of Organization is what officially forms your business in the state. Without it, you’re not a recognized business.
A lot of Wisconsin LLCs will also need to get licenses in order to run a compliant business. Wisconsin doesn’t have a statewide general business license, and in general, its cities and counties don’t, either. That said, many different trades—elevator mechanics, cosmetologists, and manicurists, to name a few—have to obtain professional or occupational licenses. Thankfully, Wisconsin’s One Stop Business Registration Portal makes it easy to find out which ones you need.
Ongoing costs for an LLC in WI
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.
Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about renewing a state general business license, but you might have to renew your professional or occupational permits. Each Wisconsin licensing board has its own policies for renewals, though, so we can’t really list them here. This guide would be tedious if we did. When you obtain your licenses, we recommend taking note of the renewal requirements for your industry so none of the fees surprise you.
In Wisconsin (or any state, for that matter), one of the biggest annual costs you’ll have will be taxes. But before we jump into the taxes themselves, we should point out that Wisconsin requires you to register for $20. This tax registration must be renewed for $10 every two years.
After that, you’ll be ready to handle your taxes. The most important one is the income tax. If you’re taxed as a pass-through entity, you’ll pay rates ranging between 3.86% and 7.65%. But if you’re taxed as a corporation, you’ll pay the franchise tax instead, which has a 7.9% rate. If you’re involved in retail sales, you’ll also be expected to collect and pay the state sales tax (5% plus local fees, if applicable).
There’s also a wide variety of miscellaneous business taxes that might apply to your LLC: cigarettes, rental vehicles, and alcohol 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 Wisconsin 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.
In Wisconsin, filing your annual report is pretty simple: just log in, fill out the requested information, and pay the $26 fee (there’s a $1 convenience fee for online filings). If you’d rather file by mail, your registered agent will be sent a copy of the form close to the due date of the report.
Speaking of due dates: each LLC has a slightly different due date for the annual report. That’s because your filing time is based on when you filed your Articles of Organization. Long story short, you must file the report by the end of the tax quarter in which you started your business.
What are the discretionary costs to form a Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin 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 Name Availability 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 Articles of Organization, or by filing a Name Reservation Application. You should only file this form if you’re not yet ready to file your Articles. Otherwise, you’d be wasting your hard-earned cash. Wisconsin requires a $15 filing fee, but it protects your name for 120 days. If you need even more time than that, you can opt for a long-term reservation for $50. That gives you a whopping 10 years of name reservation!
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 Articles of Organization, is the legal name of your business. A Trade Name, sometimes called an assumed name, DBA, 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.
Quick note: in Wisconsin, trade name registration is not required. However, many people choose to register their trade name because registration can help prove your ownership of a name. Wisconsin grants name “ownership” to the first person to use a name; registering it helps you prove that you used a name first.
But before you register a name, you should check that it’s not already in use by running searches: the state database, Google, and local yellow pages are just a few resources to investigate. Once you’ve determined that you’re the first to use the name, you can register it with the Department of Financial Institutions. Wisconsin requires a $15 fee for this registration. It’s valid for 10 years, and after that, you’ll have to renew. For more information on this registration, check out our guide to Trade Names in Wisconsin.
3. LLC formation services
Paperwork is a massive hassle. And unless you’re starting an LLC to help other Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin LLC: the Articles of Organization, the annual report, 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 Wisconsin 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. WI Registered agent services
Wisconsin 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; Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin, it often takes about five business days for the Department of Financial Institutions to process your business documents. Granted, that time can vary based on order volume, time of year, and so on. But they’ll usually approve or reject the Articles of Organization in that time.
If that sounds like too long to wait, Wisconsin allows you to expedite your form for a $25 fee. Expedited orders are usually processed by the end of the first business day after they’re received. Since that expediting fee isn’t unreasonable, it may be worth the extra expense to expedite your filings, but patience works, too. You can let your budget and your timetable be the deciding factors.actors.
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 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin 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 $170 Articles of Organization fee). 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 Wisconsin LLC off on the right foot. We wish you and your new business the best!