Filing a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in Iowa takes less than a month and costs less than $50! It’s a very affordable option that legitimizes your business.
Why form an LLC? It’s the best business structure for anyone who wants to keep their personal and business finances separate. If your company is ever sued your personal assets are protected, and you’ll never lose them to pay for any business losses. It gives you the protection of a corporation but the freedom to run your business like a small business (for example, less tax, less paperwork, and fewer restrictions)!
To file your LLC in Iowa, follow these 5 steps:
How to Form an LLC in Iowa – A Step by Step Guide
You can apply for your LLC on your own or through a professional service. While filing on your own isn’t complicated and doesn’t take too much time, you still want to make sure you complete each step as outlined below, ensuring your LLC is set up correctly the first time around.
If you’d rather not handle your business’s legal side, we suggest hiring experts to file all your business paperwork for you (a more worry-free approach).
Otherwise, if you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person, follow these 5 initial steps:
1. Name your Iowa LLC
To form an LLC in Iowa, you need to follow specific name requirements set by state law. Your business name needs to be unique, meaning no other company has a similar name.
Before checking to see if the business name you’d like is available, to abide by Iowa LLC law, make sure the name of your company contains one of the following:
- Limited Liability Company
You can also abbreviate your name using ‘Ltd.’, ‘Company’ or ‘Co.’
Your LLC name can be your business name, like Plumbing King L.L.C, or the name of one of your LLC’s members, such as Joe Smith LLC.
Check Name Availability
Once you’ve decided on your name, you need to check to see if it’s available and there’s no other company in Iowa using it. The quick and easy way to do this is through a quick google search using your desired name.
If you don’t find any competing companies, you can move onto the next step – checking your business’s potential name through the Iowa business entities search.
If you find an available name you like, but you don’t want to file an LLC yet, you can reserve the name by submitting an application for a reservation of name with the Iowa Secretary of State. The name reservation costs $10 and lasts for up to 120 days. You apply online or by mail.
Using a Fictitious Name
If you don’t want to use LLC in your business name, then you can add a fictitious name once your business is registered. Also known as DBA (“doing business as,”) or a trade name, a fictitious name allows you to run your business under a name that’s not the legal LLC registered name.
You can also use a fictitious name if you plan on running several different businesses under your LLC formation.
To run your LLC under a fictitious name, you need to register that name with the Secretary of State to ensure no other business entity uses your name. You can complete the application online, or by mail, and it costs $5.
Once you’ve figured out what your business name is and you’ve made sure it’s still available, the next step is to choose a registered agent who will help you with the legal side of your business.
2. Choose an Iowa Registered Agent
A registered agent is anyone who receives and sends legal documents on behalf of your company. They are the main point of contact between your company and the Secretary of State.
In Iowa, an LLC must have a registered agent who lives in Iowa and has a valid street address (not a P.O. box).
An LLC registered agent can be:
- A family member or friend
- A Commercial Registered Agent
Why you should use a registered agent
While the easier route seems to have yourself, or one of your LLC’s members, act as the registered agent, there are some benefits in hiring a professional. A registered agent will ensure your business is always in good standing with the state, helping you stay organized and up-to-date. It also adds a layer of protection since they’ll help you in the case of a lawsuit or any penalties/fines.
Once you’ve decided who’s the best person to be your registered agent the next step is to submit your LLC application.
3. File an Iowa LLC Certificate of Organization
To file an LLC in Iowa, you need to submit a certificate of organization to the Secretary of State.
A certificate of organization is a legal document that registers your LLC with the state. Once the state approves the document, your LLC is formed.
However, unlike in other states, Iowa doesn’t offer an official certificate of organization form. Instead, you need to create your own or have your registered agent (or lawyer) outline one for you. There are no guidelines on how the certificate should look, but it must include the following information:
- the LLC’s name
- the LLC’s initial principal office address
- the name and address of the LLC’s registered agent
- if your LLC is member-managed or manager-manged
- a mailing address for future correspondence
- email and phone number of one of the LLC members
- signatures of one of the LLC members
Member-managed vs. Manager-managed
If your LLC is member-managed it means you’ve hired someone outside of your organization to run your business’s day-to-day activities. If your LLC is manager-managed it means you, or another member of your LLC is responsible for the business’s daily activities.
Your LLC will likely only be member-managed if you have a larger business and you’re acting more as a passive investor. Otherwise, for small to medium businesses, member-managed is more common.
If you fill out the form with inaccurate information, your writing is illegible or you skip a section, your application will be refused. Always double-check your business information is correct before submitting it.
You can submit your certificate of organization online or by mail. It costs $50 to file and generally takes around 7-14 business days for the State to process your application. However, depending on how busy they are, it can sometimes take closer to a month.
Once you get approval, you can move onto step 4 – creating an LLC Operating Agreement. If you’re operating your LLC by yourself, skip to step 5.
4. Create an Iowa LLC Operating Agreement
If your LLC has two or more members, it should have an operating agreement. Although it’s not required in Iowa, we suggest creating one to outline how the business is structured and how it will operate among its members (and/or managers).
Some of the sections you’ll typically find covered in an operating agreement include:
- Capital distributions
Again, while this is not a necessary step, as you don’t have to mail it to the secretary of state, it is recommended if your LLC has more than 2 members. It helps clarify the rules of your LLC and makes sure they are legally documented.
After you’ve agreed and created an LLC Operating Agreement, the next step is to create your unique employer identification number.
5. Apply for your Iowa LLC Employer Identification Number (EIN)
Once your LLC is approved, you’ll need to get an employer identification number (EIN).
An EIN is a federal tax ID number that registers you with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This number identifies your company when filing taxes.
How to register for an EIN:
– Apply online or,
– fill out the Employer Identification Number form and fax it to 855-641-6935, or mail it to:
Internal Revenue Service,
Attn: EIN Operation,
If you apply online, you’ll get instant approval. If you apply by fax, it takes up to 4 business days, whereas mailing can take up to 4 weeks. Applying for your EIN is completely free!
Iowa LLC Registration – Final Checklist & Summary
Ready to get started? Use this simple checklist to make sure you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s!
- Name your LLC – To correctly form an LLC, you have to include ‘ Limited Liability Company, Limited, LLC or L.L.C’ somewhere in your business name. You’ll also need to check that no other company in Iowa is doing business under that name. To double-check, the name you want is available you can search through Iowa business entities search.
- Choose a Registered Office – A registered agent is a person who receives and sends legal documents on behalf of your company. It can be you, a friend or family member, or a commercial registered agent.
- File an Iowa LLC Certificate of Organization – You need to create a certificate of organization and submit it to the state. A certificate of organization registers your LLC as a business entity. You (or your registered agent) need to draft up your own document (as there’s no downloadable) that summaries your LLC’s key business information like address, name, who is responsible, contact details, and signatures of one of the LLC members. It costs $50 to file and takes 7-14 business days to get approval.
- Apply for your Iowa LLC Employer Identification Number (EIN) & File your Tax Registration Form – Once you get approval for your LLC, you need to apply for an employer identification number (EIN) through the IRS. This number identities your company when filing taxes. You can apply online for free, and approval is instant.
- Create Iowa LLC Operating Agreement – If your LLC has two or more members, you should create an LLC operating agreement that outlines how the business is structured, who is responsible for what, and how much of the LLC each person owns. You don’t have to send your operating agreement to the Iowa state, but you should have one, so everything is documented and signed by all members.
Always double-check your LLC information is correct before submitting any paperwork. You want to avoid simple mistakes and ensure your business is set up correctly from the get-go. If it’s within your budget, we recommend using a formation service to help form your LLC. They can act as your registered agent and make sure your company is always in good standing. Just make sure you do your homework and choose one of the best LLC services for your business.
Our first recommendation is to go with ZenBusiness, an LLC creation service that holds your hand from start to finish. Packages start as low as $49.
How To Apply for an Iowa LLC Online
Now that you know the exact steps on what’s needed to form your LLC, it’s time to start the application process. There are two ways of going about this:
1. Do it Yourself
Taking the DIY route is a good option if your budget is tight or you’ve previously opened an LLC and understand how it works.
2. Use an Online Formation Company
Using an online formation company is a better option if it’s your first time opening up an LLC and if it’s within your budget (formation services cost anywhere between $49 – $199). This is typically a better choice if you want to avoid headaches and have peace of mind knowing professionals handle everything for you.
If using a professional service is more up your alley, here are our top 3 recommendations:
ZenBusiness built its platform to meet the needs of your business throughout its lifetime. When you pay for their services, you’ll receive a personalized dashboard for your business to store documents, receive alerts, and manage your website.
ZenBusiness charges work on a tier system. There are three different tiers with pricing as follows:
- The Starter = $49 annually
- The Pro = $199 annually
- The Premium = $299 annually
IncFile provides you with a full suite offering startup services to best support your business formation.
Their pricing model also depends on the state you are filling. You can generate a personalized quote on their website by entering the necessary information about your business.
LegalZoom is an online legal service provider that helps you to be able to create legal documents without having to pay the expensive lawyer fees. Some of the services they provide assistance to includes business formation, copyrights, and trademarks.
LegalZoom has many different pricing options available. For their LLC service, pricing begins at $79 + the allotted state fee.
After Starting Your Iowa LLC
You’re approved – now what?
The journey doesn’t stop here – there’s still a handful of things you need to do to get your business off the ground. We recommend ticking off the following items to make sure your LLC gets off on the right foot.
Purchase A Domain For Your Business
Even if your business is local, having an online presence is essential in creating trust, professionalism, and a way for people to find you. If you haven’t already thought about getting a website, now’s the time. In a tech-saturated world, you need a domain to not only attract new customers but help create a good first visual impression of what your business does and how it can help.
Get A Business Phone Number
Since your business is now an approved Iowa LLC, you should think about getting a business phone number. Having a business number is a great way to show professionalism to your clients and customers. It makes you more serious and, more importantly – more trustworthy.
There are various online phone services you can go with, or you could go the traditional route and open an account through a local branch. You can get a local number or a 1-800; the options are endless!
Open Your Iowa LLC Business Bank Account
You’ll want to open a business account that’s separate from your personal banking. This will not only make accounting easier, but you won’t have to worry about your finances mixing in with your business finances.
USA Business Bank Accounts
If you already have online banking, it might be easier to open a business account through your current bank, so all your banking (although in separate accounts) will be accessible in the same place. If you prefer to open something new, keep these checking accounts in mind:
Chase – Free checking account with no extra fees – as long as you keep a $1,500 minimum balance.
BlueVine – Free checking account with mobile banking and a debit MasterCard.
Bank Novo – Open a free checking account with Free transfers and free ATM fees.
Bank Iowa – Open a checking account and start your partnership with the bank of Iowa. They offer management services and help you financially plan for your business’s future.
Along with your business checking account, you should apply for a business credit card too. Having a business credit card is an excellent way to establish your business credit score (which may help if you ever need a loan). It also makes it easier for online purchases, and again, it will keep your personal and business finances separate.
Find Accountant/Buy Accounting Software
Taxes get complicated fast and can be a burden to handle. We recommend getting an accountant or using accounting software to ensure all your spending actions are tracked (payroll, bills, invoices, receipts, etc.). Here are some popular options to look into:
Wave – Free invoicing & accounting software with credit card processing & payroll services.
Intuit Quickbooks – Online accounting software to track expenses, customize invoices, and run reports.
Freshbooks – Accounting software to send invoices, track time, manage receipts, expenses, and accept credit cards.
Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credential – If you want to use a local tax specialist, you can search for a certified public accountant (CPA) through the IRS online directory.
Having all of your business reports in one spot is highly beneficial, so you can keep an eye on your cash flow. To run a successful business, you will need to analyze how your business performs and narrow down what’s working or what isn’t working. Finding areas for growth will ensure success.
Remember to File a Biennial Report
Every two years, your LLC needs to file a biennial report with the Iowa Secretary of State. A biennial report is mandatory to ensure the state has updated records. Similar to filing a certificate of organization, you or your registered agent will need to draft up your own document and submit it.
The biennial report includes the same information as the certificate of organization; the point of the report is to update or confirm that this information is still valid.
The state will send a reminder email to your registered agent a few months before the deadline. Reports are due between January 1st and March 31st on years that end in odd numbers.
Your first report is due the first odd-numbered year after your LLC was formed. For example, if you formed your LLC in March 2020, your first report is due in 2021. If you formed your LLC in 2021, your first report wouldn’t be due until 2023.
You can file your biennial report online for $45, or by mail for $60.
Notify Iowa Of Any Changes You Make To Your LLC
If at any time you make changes to your LLC you need to inform the state. If you’re using a registered agent they can do this for you. If you’re going about this alone, you can update changes through Iowa’s business portal or through your registered agent.
8 Benefits of Forming an LLC in Iowa
Setting up an LLC in Iowa makes sure your business finances stay separate from any personal finances and that each member’s personal possessions are safe. It’s a great business entity for small, medium, or large businesses as it gives you the freedom of a sole proprietorship or partnership with the protection of a corporation. Best of all, it’s easy to get (approval is instant), and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Some of its major benefits include:
1. Protect Your Personal Assets
The LLC will have its liability that does not automatically extend to the owners, unlike a sole proprietor, where you are legally responsible for everything. That means Iowa LLC protects the liabilities and debts incurred by the business. In most situations, your assets, such as your car, home, or savings, will never be at risk if your Iowa LLC is faced with lawsuits or bankruptcy.
2. Benefit From Business Profit Taxation
In an LLC in Iowa, your profits and losses can pass through to your income without having to have corporate taxation.
3. Simple to Create and Maintain
The formation of an Iowa LLC requires minimal paperwork and requirements. They are known for being easy to start and simple to maintain.
4. Minimal Restrictions
Your business matters can be managed by more than one owner or member while still being one main business to the public. This means all decisions and transactions behind the scenes can be equitably distributed while presenting one entity as you move forward.
5. Heighten Your Credibility
As you move forward, your Iowa LLC will continuously be recognized as an entity. People and other businesses prefer doing business with a legitimate entity because it shows your level of professionalism.
6. Gain Access to Business Loans
When you form your Iowa LLC, you will obtain a DUNS number and build your business credit, helping you to further build upon your business.
7. Benefit From Flexible Profit Distribution
In an LLC, you are not required to spread the distribution of profits equally across the owners. You have complete control over profit distribution in your Iowa LLC.
8. Good For Any Kind Of Business
An LLC business structure in Iowa is an excellent choice for both medium and higher-risk level businesses. You might always want to consider opting to go with an LLC if you have a significant amount of personal assets to protect from your company. And lastly, LLCs are great for owners who are interested in paying lower tax rates than corporations.
Filing an LLC in Iowa is relatively easy and shouldn’t take too long. It’s a quick, affordable option for any business owner who is looking to legitimize their business. It helps build credibility with your clients, and best of all, if you ever get into financial losses, your personal assets are protected.
The only drawback in forming your LLC in Iowa is that you need to draft both your certificate of organization and biennial report yourself. If there are any errors or mistakes, the State might deny your application, or worse, it may be formed incorrectly.
Whenever you can, we always suggest using a formation service to make sure you’re dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s. Our top pick for LLC services is ZenBusiness, as they can act as your registered agent too. Plus, it’s an affordable option that will ease your mind knowing your LLC is properly set up and you are fully protected.
FAQ About Forming Iowa LLC
There are several different steps you’ll need to take to form your LLC legally. It’s a lot of information to take in and can get confusing. To help out, we’ve compiled some answers to the most frequently asked questions:
What are LLCs, and why are they important?
An LLC is a Limited Liability Company. It’s a business structure used to protect your assets, like your house, your car, or even your savings. No matter what happens to your business (lawsuits, bankruptcy, etc.) your assets are kept safe.
How Much Does It Cost to Start an LLC in Iowa?
It costs $50 to file your ‘certificate of organization’ with the Iowa Secretary of State. Then, every two years, you’ll need to pay an additional $45 to file a biennial report (which keeps your LLC active and in good standing with the State). A biennial report simply updates any information on your ‘certificate of organization.’ It only costs $45 if you apply online; otherwise, applying by mail costs $60.
How Long Does It Take to Form an LLC in Iowa?
Whether you apply online or by mail, it typically takes between 7-14 business days for the State to process approvals. However, in some circumstances, it may take up to a month.
Can You Start an LLC on Your Own?
Yes, you can start forming an LLC on your own by following the step-by-step instructions provided in this article. For additional help, look to hire an all-around service provider.
Do You Need a Lawyer to Start an LLC in Iowa?
No, you can start an LLC without a lawyer just be prepared to file and report everything on your own. If you’re not interested in getting a lawyer but want to make sure everything is filed correctly, use an online business formation service, like the ones listed in this article, with ZenBusiness as our #1 recommendation.
Does an LLC Need to Make Money?
No, an LLC doesn’t need to make profits, but if you’re claiming tax deductions with no income, the IRS will likely audit your business.
What Are The Downsides to Having an LLC?
There are pros and cons to forming an LLC. The pros are tax reductions, protecting your personal assets, and creating credibility for your business (and possible future business loans).
The main con of an LLC is you’re considered self-employed. This is a disadvantage as you’d be taxed under self-employment and responsible to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. The amount you’d be required to pay depends on your business’s total net earnings.