Every incorporated business must have a registered agent, which is a requirement in all 50 states.
But just who that agent has to be isn’t dictated nearly as strongly. Many business owners choose to hire a registered agent, but others try alternate options.
Startup budgets can be tight at the outset, and hiring a registered agent service might not seem like a realistic idea right away. That’s probably why we so often hear the following question from our readers: “Can I be my own registered agent?”
In this guide, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of serving as your company’s own registered agent. Is it allowed in all 50 states? Is it a recommended option? Is hiring a professional registered agent service a better idea? Let’s get to the bottom of these important questions.
What Is a Registered Agent?
To begin, let’s first explain what a registered agent is, and why it’s an important requirement for all incorporated American businesses.
A registered agent is an individual person or a formal business entity that has a current, active street address within the state you operate your business in. This address must be a physical address, as a P.O. Box is insufficient. The agent is responsible for receiving document deliveries from the state government, informing you of the delivery, then forwarding the forms to you.
One of the registered agent’s most important responsibilities is being consistently available at this physical street address from 9am to 5pm every weekday. The state may deliver service of process, annual report reminders, and more at any time during standard business hours, so the registered agent must be present to accept them.
Can You Be Your Own Registered Agent?
The short answer? Yes. You can serve as your registered agent in all 50 states. Your registered agent can be practically anyone as long as you meet a few simple requirements.
For one thing, as we mentioned in the previous section, the agent needs to be available during all standard business hours. In a few states, the registered agent must also be a legal adult at least 18 years of age who is a resident of the state.
As long as you also maintain a physical street address within the same state as your business operates, you are legally allowed to serve as your own registered agent. However, the questions of “can you?” and “should you?” have entirely different answers.
Should You Be Your Own Registered Agent?
Just because you can serve as your own registered agent doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. In fact, we recommend that you appoint someone else to serve as your agent. That’s because there are several drawbacks to serving as your own agent.
For one thing, the address of your registered agent is publicly available. So, let’s say that you operate a business out of your own home, and you choose to act as your own registered agent. In this situation, you list your home address as your registered agent address, because you work from home.
That means that your home address will become a matter of public record. Similarly, if you list your business address, then legal process can be served at your business — even if there are employees or clients present.
The law also requires that a registered agent be available during all regular business hours. This means that the agent is present at the registered address every Monday through Friday, from 9am until 5pm. If you serve as your own agent, this means you have to be at your address during all regular business hours. You won’t be able to go out for lunch, and you honestly probably shouldn’t even take a bathroom break, because you would risk missing a delivery.
But if you hire someone to be your agent, you eliminate all of those pitfalls. The agent’s address is what’s available to the public, so they get the junk mail, while your address remains private. A hired registered agent also allows you to come and go from your location as needed, and you’re also able to expand your business into additional states with relative ease.
Hiring a Professional Registered Agent Service
As you’ve likely gathered by now, our favorite option for designating a registered agent is to hire a professional service, although this raises a few new questions. Most importantly, which service should you hire to serve as your company’s registered agent?
If you would like to see a rundown of our top registered agent services, take a look at the guide we’ve written on this site.
All three of these companies provide registered agent service in any state for $125 per year or less, and all of them also offer a full year of registered agent for free if you use their incorporation service (which costs just $39 with ZenBusiness, or $49 with Northwest or Incfile). If you haven’t yet incorporated your business, it’s an excellent bargain to bundle these services together into one convenient package.
All told, you are legally allowed to serve as your own registered agent, but it’s very rarely the recommended course of action, in our opinion.
While you can save a little bit of money compared to hiring a professional registered agent, that’s just about the only advantage to being your own registered agent. Especially considering how many disadvantages there are, it’s just not nearly worth the trouble.
The drawbacks of being your own registered agent really pile up, from privacy issues to the risk of missing a delivery to the prospect of being served for a lawsuit in front of customers or employees, there are simply too many good reasons not to be your own registered agent. Especially considering how relatively inexpensive professional registered agents are, there’s just not nearly enough of a benefit to serving as your own.