If you own a corporation in the United States, then you’ve probably already heard that you need to designate a registered agent for your business.
A registered agent serves as a go-between for the state government and your business entity, as this agent ensures that the state always has a convenient place to contact an official representative of your business.
But what exactly is a registered agent service, and should you hire one? Let’s get to the bottom of what a registered agent service is/does, and discuss whether you should hire one for your company.
What Is a Registered Agent?
Before we get to the details of registered agent services, let’s quickly make sure you know what the role of the registered agent is in a more general sense.
A registered agent is a person or business that accepts service of process and other important document deliveries from your state government. Whenever your agent receives a delivery on your behalf, they alert you immediately, then forward the forms to your company.
A registered agent must have a street address in the same state you operate in, and a P.O. Box is not considered to be sufficient. The registered agent needs to be present during all standard business hours, from 9am to 5pm every weekday, in case the state attempts a delivery during these hours.
But how is a registered agent service distinct from a registered agent?
What Is a Registered Agent Service?
A registered agent service is essentially a business that acts as a registered agent for other businesses. The business acts like any individual registered agent would: they receive official mailings from the state on your behalf and forward those documents to you. In return for this service, you pay an annual fee to the registered agent service.
With many registered agent services, you’ll receive more than just the basics of this role. For example, quite a few professional registered agents will often provide mail sorting service (usually for an additional fee), they’ll help you keep track of important filing deadlines for your business, they’ll provide a compliance calendar to assist you with ongoing maintenance tasks, etc.
It’s worth noting that not all registered agent services offer these features, but many do.
One of the major advantages of a registered agent service is that most of them operate offices in all 50 states. This means that if you expand your business into an additional state, you won’t have to find a separate registered agent to serve your company in that location — you can simply inform your registered agent service that you’re expanding your business, and they’ll provide service in the additional state.
How Does the Service Work?
To use one of these services, you’ll need to officially hire one and designate them as your registered agent in your articles of incorporation — or, if you’ve already incorporated your business, you can file a “change of registered agent” form with your state.
Our preferred way to hire a service comes as part of a package provided by an online business formation service. For example, Incfile, Northwest Registered Agent, ZenBusiness, and other groups offer registered agent service as part of their incorporation service or LLC service package.
All three of these groups will give you a complimentary 12 months of registered agent service if you also use them to form your business. You can also hire a service separately without having them incorporate your company, if you’d prefer. Regardless of how you hire the service, you can expect them to be a big help.
Which Registered Agent Service Should I Hire?
If you’re ready to sign up for a registered agent service, you’re probably wondering how you can narrow down the options. For starters, you can take a look at our reference guide which compares the best registered agent services online today.
As we mentioned above, there are a handful of companies that will provide one year of registered agent service with the purchase of any incorporation service package. Of those options, ZenBusiness has the lowest price point, as they offer the combination of incorporation and registered agent for just $39 (plus state fee).
If you’re looking for the best standalone registered agent service, and you don’t need to incorporate your business, we’re big fans of what Northwest Registered Agent has to offer.
At $125 per year, they charge a little bit more than Incfile or ZenBusiness ($119/year) for registered agent, but Northwest is the only major national registered agent service provider that scans every single document they receive on your behalf.
Whereas other companies only scan the official government documents they’re required to scan, Northwest scans every document and informs you of every piece of mail they receive as your agent.
One of the most common questions we hear from our readers is whether they should serve as their own registered agents, or hire a professional registered agent service to handle this role.
All told, we strongly prefer hiring an online business services company like ZenBusiness, Northwest Registered Agent, or Incfile, as opposed to handling this position on your own.
With a registered agent service, you’ll never have to worry about being present at your business location for all standard business hours, and you won’t ever get served for a lawsuit in front of your clients or employees. Furthermore, these companies operate in all 50 states, so it’s easy to expand your operations beyond the borders of your home state if you so desire.
All told, the only real downside of hiring a registered agent service is the fact that it will cost you around $10 per month, but unless you’re on an extremely tight startup budget, that’s a very affordable rate for the vast majority of businesses.