Are you looking to form a limited liability company (LLC) in Wisconsin, but you’re not sure how the process works? There are several important steps to create a compliant Wisconsin LLC that can do business in the state.
To get started, please reference our 6-step guide below or hire an affordable online LLC formation service.
Guru Tip: If you want help setting up an LLC, we recommend the LLC filing service ZenBusiness. It has excellent pricing, features and company values.
What is a Wisconsin LLC?
The Wisconsin LLC is one of the most popular business structures in the state. It’s a more casual and flexible type of business than a corporation, but includes the personal asset protection that’s lacking from sole proprietorships and general partnerships.
LLCs in Wisconsin have simple formation and maintenance requirements, several options for how they can be taxed, and flexible management. From one-person businesses to multi-member LLCs with several owners, the LLC is a popular choice for a reason.
Setting up a brand-new Wisconsin LLC in 6 Steps
For the first part of this guide, we’ll cover the 6 essential steps to setting up a Wisconsin business that doesn’t have employees yet. These steps also apply to businesses with employees, but we’re keeping things streamlined to start. If you do have employees, make sure you complete these steps and the steps for employers (which we’ll cover later in the guide).
Step One: Choose a business name
Your LLC’s name is often the first impression you get to make on potential customers, and therefore it goes without saying that this is an important step. There are a few different aspects to consider when naming your business.
In the state of Wisconsin, you’re required by law to meet several requirements for your business name. Here’s a quick glimpse at the rules for LLCs:
- Your name must include the phrase “limited liability company” or the abbreviation “LLC” or “LC” (with a few permitted variations)
- Your name cannot include language that states or implies a purpose that violates state law or runs against the stated purpose of your Articles of Organization
- Your name must be “distinguishable upon the records,” or distinct from the names of other state entities
For more information on naming rules in Wisconsin, please consult the Name Section of the Wisconsin Statutes.
Another aspect to consider is including language that explains what your business does ― for example, if you’re starting a coffee shop, put the word “coffee” or “brew” in your LLC name. Additionally, if your business has strong values like being environmentally friendly, you can indicate that by including the word “green.” This helps potential customers know exactly what to expect from your business.
Matching Business Domain
Behind every successful business is a user-friendly website, which means you need a URL. A website is not a legal requirement, but we highly recommend it, and the best URLs match or closely reflect their business’s name.
To register a URL, we recommend GoDaddy. They make it easy to build a website for your company, guaranteeing that no one else can use or take the URL you want.
Once you’ve picked the perfect name for your business, you don’t want to lose it to another aspiring entrepreneur. Thankfully, Wisconsin allows you to reserve your business name if you’re not quite ready to register your business. To do that, you’ll need to file the Name Reservation Application and pay the $15 fee.
Filing this reservation protects your chosen name for your exclusive use for 120 days; if you need more time, you can renew the reservation for another $15. You can learn more about name reservations here.
Step Two: Appoint a Registered Agent
Every LLC in Wisconsin is required to designate a registered agent, which is the individual or registered agent service that receives government correspondence on behalf of your business, then forwards those documents to you.
When you appoint a Wisconsin registered agent, here are the state requirements to be mindful of:
- Every entity that registers with the Department of Financial Institutions (both domestic and foreign) must appoint a registered agent
- The agent must be an individual resident of Wisconsin OR another business with authority to operate in the state
- An agent must be continuously maintained
You can find a full rundown of the state laws here.
Without a registered agent, you could lose your good standing with the state of Wisconsin, and the state also has the right to dissolve your LLC if they decide to. In a worst-case scenario, you could miss the alert regarding a lawsuit against your company, which could even lead to a judgment against your business because you didn’t defend yourself.
Guru Tip: We recommend designating an online service to handle these requirements. This eliminates junk mail and keeps your personal and/or business address off public record.
Step Three: File Formation Documents
Once you are ready to form your Wisconsin limited liability company, you will fill out the Articles of Organization. You can either do this on your own or hire a Wisconsin LLC service. Some services, like ZenBusiness, even offer discounts on their service.
This is THE document that will register your LLC with the state. You’ll want to ensure all of the following information is correct on the form:
- Your chosen business name
- Name and address of the initial registered agent
- Whether your management will be vested in members or managers
- Name and address of each organizer
- Name of the individual who drafted the document
- Delayed effective date of filing (if desired)
- Email or mailing address to receive the final approved document
- Phone number for contact about the form
All told, the Articles of Organization in Wisconsin is a pretty simple form. Other states have page after page of required information, but Wisconsin keeps it pretty concise, and all of the information is pretty straightforward. Odds are you have most of the information on hand already. Just fill out the required information, and you’ll be set to go.
If you prefer, you can file the form online; we actually recommend this route because it’s a tad cheaper.
- Total cost: $130 for online; $170 for mail-order filings (free for student entrepreneurs)
- Processing speed: 5 business days
- Expedited processing: $25 to guarantee that your form is processed by the close of the 2nd business day after it’s received
Step Four: Draft an Operating Agreement
After you register an LLC in Wisconsin, create a detailed outline that explains how you will run and manage your new business. Even though it doesn’t need to be filed with the state, put one together and keep it for your records.
When you open a bank account, you may be asked for this document in order to open an account. You’ll also want to keep in mind that any future business partners or managing members may also be interested in seeing your Operating Agreement before joining your company. After all, this document essentially serves as your overall plan for success.
An attorney can help you outline your Operating Agreement or create one from a free template online. You can read more about Operating Agreements, but some of the basic information you’ll want to have includes:
- Individual members’ ownership percentages
- Rights and responsibilities
- Voting powers and meeting guidelines
- Allocation of profits and losses
- Management rules for the LLC
- Provisions for buying a member owner out, or transferring their shares in the case of illness or death
Step Five: Get Licenses & Permits
Wisconsin law requires an LLC to obtain all necessary licenses and permits before starting operations. State law also decrees that an LLC can only provide one specific type of service. All owners of the LLC must be licensed or registered to provide the specific service under which the LLC was assembled.
The type and cost of the permits that your business may require varies depending on the nature of the services your LLC offers. Some businesses won’t even need licenses. That’s especially true since Wisconsin does not have a general business license that applies to all entities in the state.
That said, there’s a decent chance that your business will need an industry-specific license or permit. The occupational or professional level is where the bulk of Wisconsin’s licensing occurs. For example, the state requires licenses for elevator mechanics, cosmetologists, and more. We recommend checking out the Department of Safety and Professional Services, the Department of Health Services, and the Department of Natural Resources to browse different licensed professions in Wisconsin. If you find your industry on one of these lists, you’ll need to get the appropriate permits.
Last but not least, you should check with your city or county to see if they maintain any licensure requirements.
Obtain a Business Bank Account
One of the most important aspects of running an LLC is ensuring that your business funds remain separate from your personal finances. And to do that, you’ll need a separate bank account for your business.
Obtaining a business bank account is pretty simple, and you can choose the financial institution you like best. Some banks will ask to review your LLC’s operating agreement, and some also ask to see your EIN (see the Employers section below). Once you have your account, you’ll be able to get checks, make payments using your business card, and so on.
If you failed to get a business bank account, you would technically be blurring the line between your personal accounts and your business accounts. That compromises your personal asset protection.
Next Steps for Newly-Formed LLCs
1. Prepare for tax time
Regardless of how far away April 15th is, it’s never too soon to prepare for tax time and setting up accounting software. As an LLC owner, the exact tax rates you’ll pay depend on the taxation structure you choose for your business. If you choose to be taxed as a corporation, the LLC itself will pay taxes from its own funds. Meanwhile, LLCs taxed as pass-through entities don’t technically pay taxes; its members do. The profits are distributed to the LLC’s members, and each member reports that income on Schedule C of their personal taxes.
If you choose to be taxed as a corporation, you’ll pay the following rates:
- Federal: 21%
- State: 7.9% (technically the franchise tax)
Meanwhile, LLCs taxed as pass-through entities pay these rates:
- Federal: 10-37%, rising on a fixed-bracket scale
- State: 3.86% to 7.65%
In order to compliantly file and pay your taxes, you’ll fill out a complete copy of federal Form 1065 including all federal K-1s, statements, and attachments. No matter how you’re taxed, you will need to complete the state’s business registration, which has a $20 fee (and must be renewed for $10 every 2 years). Essentially, this registration sets up your tax account.
After that, you’ll be able to account for the state’s business franchise tax (if you’re taxed as a corporation), while businesses taxed as pass-through entities will pay the state individual income tax instead. You can find all of the forms here. If you’re anticipating these filing requirements, they’ll be much easier to manage when their due date comes.
If you’re involved in retail sales, you’ll need to collect and pay the state sales tax (5%), plus any applicable local sales taxes (up to 0.5%). After that, if any of the state’s miscellaneous taxes or fees apply to you—cigarettes, alcohol, and rental vehicles are just a few areas that Wisconsin taxes—you’ll need to account for those, too. You can get the full briefing on business taxes at the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
Because taxes can be incredibly complicated, we highly recommend consulting with a business attorney or accountant to ensure that you cover all requirements on the state and federal level.
2. Be ready to file your annual report
All business owners operating in Wisconsin must complete an Annual Report filing. Not only does this document show that the business is still open, but it also updates the state regarding any pertinent information regarding your business that may have changed over the course of the year.
Wisconsin makes it easy to file this report online, but if you’d rather file by mail, you can (filing by mail avoids a small $1 convenience fee). The base filing fee is $25, and the report is due at the end of the tax quarter during which you formed your business.
3. Consider business insurance
The big advantage to the LLC is that it offers you personal asset protection. But that doesn’t mean that mishaps won’t happen along the way. We highly recommend obtaining a general liability policy with the right coverage for your business.
In the event of a mishap or natural disaster, an insurance policy can help you navigate unexpected expenses. Be sure to compare your different options to get the best coverage for your particular type of business.
Extra Steps for Businesses with Employees
When you’re operating as a one- or two-person show, operating a business is relatively streamlined. Things get more complicated when you bring employees into the picture, but employees also help raise your business to new heights. But to reach those heights, you need to comply with employee-related legal requirements.
Step One: Address employee-related taxes
Any business with employees must obtain an EIN, or an Employer Identification Number. This is a free registration with the IRS, and the number acts a lot like a social security number for a business. Obtaining the number also lays the groundwork for other taxes, such as social security and withholding taxes. For example, you’re required to withhold income taxes from employee paychecks, make social security and medicare tax payments, and pay unemployment fund taxes. For more information on employer taxes at the federal level, look here.
There are similar taxes on the state level. For example, Wisconsin requires withholding taxes, contributions to the unemployment insurance fund, and more. We recommend consulting with the Department of Revenue and the Department of Workforce Development to learn what taxes apply to you and your business.
Step Two: Obtain additional insurance
Every Wisconsin business with three or more employees (or who pays more than $500 in gross wages in a quarter) must obtain a workers’ compensation insurance policy. For more information on this requirement, check out the Workers’ Compensation Employer Resources page by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
If you haven’t already obtained a general liability policy, we highly recommend that you do so when you bring employees into the business. The more people you have involved in a business, the higher your risk of needing general liability insurance.
Of course, proper care and discretion will eliminate most problems, but incidents happen—from faulty products to an employee slipping and falling and theft and many places in between. And in some cases, insurance can be the difference between a minor hiccup and a budget-breaker.
Step Three: Enlist Help
For some entrepreneurs, part of the fun of running a business is the opportunity to wear lots of different hats: accountant, manager, marketer, quality control expert—it’s a near-endless list. And if your business is still pretty small, you might be able to handle many of these tasks yourself, especially if you’re prepared with a business administration degree.
But if you aren’t (and it certainly isn’t a prerequisite), some of these tasks may leave you feeling overburdened or out of your depth. For instance, navigating employer-related taxes might steal valuable time that you’d rather spend promoting your business or developing a new product. An accountant or tax attorney, however, knows those tasks like the back of their hand. You may decide it’s worth the added expense to enlist their help.
Ultimately, it’s your decision whether to bring in professionals or DIY. But in our opinion, it’s often worth it to get help from specialized pros.