If you’ve decided to form a limited liability company (LLC) in Washington D.C., this is an exciting time for your business.
You’re probably ready to build up your LLC and operate the business you’ve always dreamed of!
However, before you get started, it’s important to understand all of the various fees and other expenses that come with forming a Washington D.C. LLC.
Most entrepreneurs understand that they’ll have to pay the district a fee in order to get their LLCs formed. However, we find that some people are often unaware of all the potential additional expenses, like LLC formation service fees, registered agent service fees, Annual Report fees, taxes, and more. Let’s take an in-depth look at all the possible expenses you’ll encounter when forming a Washington D.C. LLC.
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Forming an LLC has a lot of steps involved, some of which can be complicated. That’s why many entrepreneurs hire a service like ZenBusiness and LegalZoom to take care of the LLC formation process.
However, hiring us at ZenBusiness will get you more value and will save $79+ on your LLC formation.
The Required Upfront Costs of Forming a Washington D.C. LLC
Let’s start by discussing the absolute essentials. You cannot form an LLC in Washington D.C. without filing the Articles of Organization, or the document that officially registers a business within the district. The District charges a $220 fee for this filing.
The Articles of Organization requires some important information about your LLC, such as the legal name of the business, the registered agent who will accept service of process on your behalf, provisions for your business, and more.
But what if you’re not forming a brand-new business in the District, and instead you’re transferring a pre-existing one in from a nearby state? In that case, you would need to file the Foreign Registration Statement instead. This document is pretty similar to the Articles of Organization, but it also requests some important information about the jurisdiction where your business was originally formed. This filing also costs $220.
No matter what type of business you’re forming, you’ll need to get a district business license. Washington D.C. technically offers several different license types, and every LLC will need to obtain the license that applies to their entity. Each license has a slightly different fee.
For many LLCs, these are the only upfront expenses that are required. That said, your Washington D.C. LLC will certainly have other costs down the line, and there are some optional expenses as well. Understanding how many of these fees will apply to your business is the key to figuring out exactly how much it will cost to form your Washington D.C. LLC.
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The Optional Upfront Costs of Forming a Washington D.C. LLC
The first optional expense for a Washington D.C. LLC is name reservation. The only time you need to reserve a business name for a Washington D.C. LLC is if you’re not yet ready to form the business but you want the name to be available when you are ready. It costs $50 to reserve a business name in the district, which gives you exclusive rights to the name for 60 days.
However, considering that you can simply form your business instead, the $50 name reservation fee is usually unnecessary.
Another expense that may or may not apply to your business is an LLC formation service fee. While some entrepreneurs choose to fill out and file their own Articles of Organization, and others opt for the much more expensive route of hiring an attorney to handle it, our preferred option is hiring a business formation service.
These companies can provide the professionalism and peace of mind you receive from having a true expert forming your LLC while charging significantly lower prices than any lawyer you’ll ever find. We’ll discuss LLC formation services again in a bit to help you figure out which of the many companies you should hire.
Many LLCs also hire registered agent services, and these companies also charge their own fees. Every LLC needs a registered agent, as this is the LLC’s point of contact for the district. If the district needs to send you any important documents (like service of process), they will deliver them to your registered agent, who will inform you and forward the documents to you.
We like to bundle registered agent and LLC formation services, as there are some formation services that will throw in a full year of registered agent service at no extra charge. For the most part, these companies charge an average of roughly $150 per year for this service, although rates can vary widely based on which company you choose.
You may also want to secure your business domain name and website, which will add another expense to your list. We always advise our readers to claim their domain names as soon as possible after filing the Articles of Organization because it’s important to get the URL you want for your website. Especially considering how much the business world operates online these days, getting the domain name you want is almost as important as securing your desired LLC name. The cost of a domain name can vary a bit, but for the most part, this should cost you $20 per year or less.
The Required Ongoing Maintenance Costs of a Washington D.C. LLC
No matter if you’re forming a new Washington D.C. LLC or you’re expanding a pre-existing one into the District, your LLC will need to file biennial reports. In many states, this report (which keeps the district aware of some basic but vital business info) happens every year, but Washington D.C. keeps it every other year. The biennial fee is $300.
Depending on your LLC’s business pursuits, you will almost certainly need to pay some form of ongoing business taxes as well. For instance, if your business sells any products or services, you’ll probably need to register for sales and use taxes in order to properly start a business.
If your LLC has employees, it will also need to pay unemployment insurance tax. Based on the nature of your business, there could be additional taxes on top of these, so make sure you check with the DC Office of Tax and Revenue to make sure you’re paying all of the taxes you should be.
The Optional Ongoing Maintenance Costs of a Washington D.C. LLC
Much like you can hire an LLC formation service and a registered agent service, many of these same companies offer annual report services. If you’d like a reputable company to draft and file these reports on your behalf, you’ll need to pay their yearly service fees, on top of Washington D.C.’s district fees.
Business insurance is another ongoing expense that many, but not all, LLCs will require. It’s very difficult for us to get into much detail on this topic because there’s so much variance from business to business regarding insurance coverage needs.
Still, for example, any business that serves customers from a physical retail location should have business liability insurance to protect against common risks like slip-and-fall accidents. Depending on the nature of your business, this may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to your insurance responsibilities.
Next, in addition to renewing your District business license, many businesses (depending on their industry), will still need to obtain and maintain professional or industry-specific licenses. There are many different licenses and permits that might apply to your Washington D.C. LLC, and some of them might cost you money when you apply for or renew them, so this is another potential expense you’ll need to keep an eye out for.
The Potential Penalties for Avoiding These Costs
At this point, the costs are really adding up for some Washington D.C. LLCs. You might be wondering what the consequences would be for avoiding some or all of these expenses. In short, it’s certainly not in your LLC’s best interests to skip out on any necessary fees.
If you don’t pay your Articles of Organization filing fee, your LLC will never exist to begin with. If you fail to pay your biennial report fee, the District can administratively dissolve your business. Meanwhile, failing to pay your taxes in full can lead to some severe penalties for you and your business.
While it might seem that these expenses add up quickly, paying these fees is still a far better option than the alternative. If there is simply no way to cover these LLC formation costs, a secondary option is to operate as a sole proprietor.
The Best Washington D.C. LLC Formation Services
Does the LLC formation process sound like a hassle? Would you rather pay someone else to form your LLC while you focus on actually growing your business? Fortunately, there are plenty of reputable LLC formation services out there that can provide professional assistance for a mere fraction of a lawyer’s fees.
There are dozens of different companies that offer LLC formation services these days, and it can be difficult to discern which of them is your best option. That’s why we put together our comprehensive guide to the top-rated business formation services available online. We encourage all of our readers to check out that guide and choose the right company for your specific situation. In addition, we’ll briefly run down a couple of our favorite options here.
We think ZenBusiness is the most well-rounded business formation service available today. It’s tough to beat the ZenBusiness pricing model, as this company charges just $49 to form your business and provide a full year of annual report service. In addition, ZenBusiness has outstanding customer feedback, with more than 10,000 reviews available online and nearly all of them being positive in nature.
We also appreciate ZenBusiness because this company gives back to the communities it serves. ZenBusiness partners with Kiva.org to provide loans to low-income individuals, and also donates money to help build businesses owned by women and minorities. Doing good while providing helpful business services is the ZenBusiness way!
Northwest Registered Agent
You don’t need us to tell you that Northwest’s $39 entry-level price point is a good deal. What does Northwest Registered Agent do that makes them stand out? In short, Northwest has the best customer support we’ve ever experienced in this industry.
While most of its competitors have rather mediocre customer service departments, staffed by outsourced call centers, Northwest has highly trained professionals answering its phones at all times. These experts can help answer many tough questions that competing companies’ support teams won’t have a clue how to answer.
In addition, Northwest also offers its customers a year of registered agent service, just like Incfile. However, only Northwest locally scans every document it receives as your agent, while Incfile only scans the government forms they’re legally required to scan.
Incfile is one of a very small handful of companies in this industry that will form an LLC or corporation with no service fees. All you need to do is pay your state’s fee and Incfile will take care of everything else. That’s not the only piece of good news we have regarding Incfile’s business formation services though.
Like ZenBusiness, Incfile also receives excellent feedback from its customers, with around 27,000 positive reviews available online and just a few negative reviews.
The main reason we rank Incfile behind ZenBusiness is that Incfile has more third-party offers and upsell attempts than ZenBusiness does. However, if you don’t mind promotional partnerships and upsells, Incfile could be a great fit for your new LLC or corporation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the absolute minimum cost to form a Washington D.C. LLC?
That partly depends on what business license applies to your business, as that will make your start-up costs vary somewhat. However, every business will have to pay the $220 Articles of Organization filing fee. Aside from the license and the formation documents, all other upfront expenses are optional.
How much does it cost to form a corporation in Washington D.C.?
In many states, it’s more expensive to incorporate a business into a corporation than it is to form an LLC. However, in Washington D.C., the filing fee for the Articles of Incorporation (the document that registers a corporation) varies depending on the authorized capital the business starts out with. These filing fees range between $99 and $1,650.
How long does it take to form my Washington D.C. LLC?
That largely depends on how you file your Articles of Organization. Mail-order filings usually take 3-4 weeks to process. Online filings take closer to 10 business days. If you need faster processing, expedited processing is available, with a $50 fee for 3-day turnaround and $100 fee for same-day processing.
How much does ongoing LLC maintenance cost per year in Washington D.C.?
That largely depends on what licenses your business needs, as each industry has different requirements for license renewals (and renewals are one of the biggest annual expenses). That said, every Washington D.C. LLC will have at least one maintenance cost in common: the $300 biennial report fee.
Where can I find more information about expenses for Washington D.C. LLCs?
The Washington D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs provides a comprehensive list of every possible business form (and their accompanying fees) on this page.
How many small businesses are there in Washington D.C. today?
There are currently more than 79,000 small businesses currently operating in Washington D.C., comprising all but 1.8% of small businesses in the district. Roughly 47% of D.C.’s workforce is employed by one of these businesses.
What are the top official government resources for entrepreneurs?
The Washington D.C. Small Business Resource Center offers a wide variety of business resources to help entrepreneurs at any stage of the game. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs started the Center over 10 years ago, so they have lots of experience making entrepreneurs successful in D.C. and beyond.
We’ve discussed many Washington D.C. LLC costs in this article, some of which will apply to all LLCs in the district. As you can see, there are also plenty of expenses that will only affect certain LLCs. The most important takeaway is that you shouldn’t try to find loopholes to get out of paying these fees, as the consequences are potentially severe and easily avoidable.
That said, there are still some ways you can make financially smart decisions on your LLC formation and maintenance costs, like choosing an affordable business formation company to oversee your Articles of Organization filing and provide registered agent service.