If you’ve decided to incorporate or form an LLC (limited liability company), you don’t necessarily have to enlist the services of a lawyer to handle the paperwork and filing for you. Instead, if you’ve done your research, you can opt to incorporate just like you do many other facets of your business—online. In this article, I’ll provide a brief review of your options, and I’ll talk about a few sites that offer online services for registering your business as a corporation or LLC in any state.

A review of incorporation options
Because the type of corporation you choose for your business has so many financial and legal ramifications, you must either do extensive research on your own or seek qualified tax and legal advice. Ideally, you should do both. (For a quick primer, see TechRepublic contributor John McCormick’s columns on corporate structures, limited partnerships and LLCs, and sole proprietorships and partnerships.)

The main advantage to incorporating or forming an LLC is that it turns your business into a separate entity from yourself, shielding your personal assets from professional liability. To get this kind of protection, you’ll need to adopt one of the following legal structures for your business (to keep it simple, I’ll omit partnerships from this discussion):

  • C corporation—This standard type of corporation is a tax-paying business entity separate from its investors, and it has to pay corporate federal income tax. A C corporation is subject to what’s commonly called “double taxation,” in which both the corporate profits and your personal income are taxed.
  • S corporation—With an S corporation, only the owner or owners pay the federal taxes, not the business itself. Basically, it gives you the advantage of limited liability, but you continue to pay income taxes on the same basis as a sole proprietor. For federal tax purposes, an S corporation can be advantageous over a C corporation for an independent consultant.
  • LLC—As the name “limited liability company” implies, it offers some personal protection for the owner if the business is sued. An LLC is more attractive to many independents because there’s far less paperwork involved in setting up and maintaining an LLC versus a corporation. However, California, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia require LLCs to have two or more members (owners are called members). You can comply by having a spouse or other trusted person serve as the second member; otherwise, you’ll have to incorporate.

Don’t forget to pay careful attention to the name of your new corporation or LLC. It can’t infringe on any existing company name in your state. Most states require the name to reflect its corporate status, using Incorporated, Corporation, or some other standard word or abbreviation. Now, with these basics out of the way, let’s take a look at how to incorporate online.

Bizfilings.com bills itself as the leader in providing Internet incorporation services, and its Web site is indeed easy to use and informative. You simply fill out its online form, and the company takes it from there to form a corporation or LLC in any U.S. state. You can read FAQs about incorporating and forming an LLC, and Bizfilings provides live customer service during its business hours. Bizfilings also offers a free search service to check whether your desired corporate name is available in the state in which you want to incorporate.

The site provides a page that clearly lists all the incorporation and LLC fees by state. These include all state and local filing fees, plus the company’s service fee. Each state name has a link to information on the corporate filing requirements for that state, which includes the following:

  • Naming requirements
  • Stipulations of the articles of incorporation, such as residency and age requirements
  • Yearly requirements, such as any annual corporate fees and the corporate income tax rate

CorpCreations.com is a similar site, offering incorporation and LLC filings in all U.S. states. Their basic service includes the applicable filing fees, checks the availability of your chosen name in your selected state, and prepares and files the company formation documents. CorpCreations also offers the following services for additional fees:

  • Expedited service in most states, which can reduce the required time from several weeks to several days or even 24 hours
  • IRS filing for a federal tax ID number
  • A corporate kit service, providing you with a binder containing the applicable bylaws, organizational minutes, dividers, stock certificates, and a stock ledger

CorpCreations can also form offshore companies, although the filing fees are as much as ten times the state fees.

At MyCorporation.com, their fees are posted separately from the state fees, which makes it easier to say exactly what you’re paying, although it may mean that their services are more or less than those of the other companies, depending on the state fees. The company charges $99 plus state fees for online corporation and $149 plus state fees for forming an LLC. It does provide a calculator for determining the state fees.

For both services, you submit an order online and a representative will contact you within 24 hours to confirm the information. Both include a name-availability search in most states and preparation and filing of your articles of organization or incorporation with the state. You also receive some bonuses, such as sample meetings minutes, which can help you get started with the required paperwork.

In addition, MyCorporation.com offers planning tools for small businesses, such as sample business and marketing plans, and a range of optional services, including the following:

  • Preparation of IRS Form SS-4 for your Employer Identification Number ($25)
  • Preparation of IRS Form 2553 if you elect the S corporation status ($25)
  • Resident agent services if you incorporate somewhere other than your home state ($120)

Meredith Little wears many hats as a self-employed technical and travel writer, documentation consultant, trainer, business analyst, and photographer.

Have you incorporated your business online? Did you use one of the sites listed above or another service? Are you satisfied with the experience? Post a comment below or send us a note.