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Starting an LLC in Wisconsin

A limited liability company (LLC) is a business structure with flexible management options, liability protection, and (by default) pass-through taxation. Starting an LLC in Wisconsin requires filing Articles of Organization with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Division of Corporate and Consumer Services. The filing fee is $170 (paper) or $130 (online). But you’ll first need to pick a business name and registered agent. It takes about five business days for the state to process Articles of Organization unless you pay an additional $25 for next-day processing. Here, we give detailed instructions for forming your Wisconsin LLC and getting it ready to do business.

Ready to Start an LLC in Wisconsin?

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1. Name Your LLC

Step one in starting a Wisconsin LLC is choosing a business name. You can read the complete list of Wisconsin’s rules for LLC names in WI ST § 183.0103, but here are the basics. The name of your
LLC must:

  • Include “limited liability company,” “L.L.C,” or “LLC.”
  • Not include words like “partnership” or “corporation”—anything that may make your business sound like a different type of entity
  • Be unique among other registered Wisconsin businesses.

Got a business name picked out? Check to see if it’s available.

Can I reserve a business name in Wisconsin?

Yes. If you’re not ready to start your LLC, you can file the Name Reservation Application ($15) with the state. The application will reserve your desired name for up to 120 days.

What’s the difference between my LLC’s name and a trade name?

The legal name of your business is the one listed on your Articles of Organization. A trade name (also called a fictitious business name) is any name you conduct business under that’s not your legal business name or personal name. In Wisconsin, a trade name is considered a trademark. You’re not required to register a trade name, but you may opt to register by filing a trademark application ($15) online or in person.

Learn more about trade names and how to obtain a DBA.

2. Designate a Registered Agent

All LLCs in Wisconsin must have a registered agent—an individual or business who accepts legal and state mail on behalf of your company. Your registered agent can be you, someone associated with the business, or a third party like a registered agent company.

Your registered agent’s name and address must be listed on your Articles of Organization, so you’ll need to have one before officially forming your LLC.

Learn why business experts use a registered agent service.

What does a registered agent do?

Your Wisconsin registered agent must meet the requirements outlined in WI ST § 183.0105. At minimum, your registered agent must:

  • Reside in Wisconsin and have a physical address within the state.
  • Be available during regular business hours.
  • Receive legal mail on behalf of your business in person and get it to you promptly.

Can you be your own registered agent in Wisconsin?

Yes, you may act as your own registered agent. However, doing so requires listing your address on the Articles of Organization, which is a public document, so your address will be posted online. You’ll also need to maintain regular business hours and be available to receive legal and state documents at your listed address.

Can I change my registered agent after I start an LLC?

Yes. To change your registered agent in Wisconsin , you’ll need to submit a Statement of Change for Registered Agent and/or Registered Office to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Division of Corporate and Consumer Services, Corporate Section. In addition, you’ll need to pay a $10 filing fee to change your registered agent’s address. There’s no fee for updating your registered agent’s name.

3. Submit LLC Articles of Organization

You’ll need to file Articles of Organization to start your Wisconsin LLC. You can submit your articles online or by mail. Paper filings cost $170 and online submissions are $130. Expediting costs an additional $25.

Note: The information on this form will become part of the public record.

Wisconsin Articles of Organization require the following information:

  • Company name. Include an indicator like “LLC” or “limited liability company.”
  • Registered agent. The person or company designated to accept legal documents on behalf of your business.
  • Registered agent address. This must be a street address. PO Boxes are only accepted in addition to a physical address.
  • Management structure. Specify whether members or managers will run your LLC.
  • Organizer. This is the person filing the document. You must include the organizer’s name, signature, address, and daytime phone number.
  • Effective date: You may include a future date (up to 90 days) to delay the start of your LLC or skip.

Ready to start your Wisconsin LLC Articles of Organization? File for free with Northwest.

How can I keep my personal information off the public record

Most documents filed with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Division of Corporate and Consumer Services are public records. Unfortunately, this means pesky marketers and data brokers can find your information online (and sell it). Yes, that stinks. The best way to safeguard your privacy is to hire a registered agent who allows you to use their business address on this form—like us. This spares you from listing your personal address on the public record.

What’s the difference between a member-managed and a manager-managed LLC?

Most LLCs are member-managed, meaning all owners (aka members) share responsibility for running the business. However, sometimes members hire one or more managers to handle day-to-day operations. An LLC that takes this approach is manager-managed. Manager-managed LLCs work well for when some or all members want to be passive investors. Managers have the authority to hire and fire employees, open bank accounts, and much more.

See our LLC Member Vs Manager page for help deciding which management structure will work best for you.

How do I file the Wisconsin Articles of Organization?

You may submit Articles of Organization by mail or online.

Standard Mail:
The state of WI-Dept. of Financial Institutions
PO Box 93348
Milwaukee, WI 53293-0348

Express or Priority Mail:
The state of WI-Dept. of Financial Institutions
Division of Corporate and Consumer Affairs
4822 Madison Yards Way, North Tower
Madison, WI 53705

Online:
Wisconsin LLC Registry

Does Wisconsin offer discounts for student entrepreneurs?

Yes. Wisconsin allows qualifying student entrepreneurs to file Articles of Organization for free. For more details, you can visit the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions website. Here’s the gist. To have your filing fee waived, you must be:

  • Currently enrolled in a Wisconsin university or college.
  • An organizer or member of the LLC.
  • 18 years of age or older.

Student entrepreneurs will need to file Form 502SE instead of the standard Articles of Organization. However, both forms require similar information. Students will need to file by mail or in person to skip the filing fee. If you file online, you will have to pay the full $130 filing fee, student entrepreneur or not.

4. Write an LLC Operating Agreement

Your Wisconsin LLC operating agreement is a legally binding document that outlines the rules and provisions all members must follow. It covers how your LLC will handle important events such as potential mergers, votes, conversions, and internal disputes.

Check out our attorney-drafted Wisconsin LLC Operating Agreement.

Does Wisconsin require an LLC to have an operating agreement?

No. Legally, Wisconsin doesn’t require LLCs to have an operating agreement. However, per WI ST § 183.0102, if an LLC chooses to create an operating agreement, it must be written. In other words, a verbal agreement doesn’t count.

Your operating agreement is an internal document, so you won’t need to file it with the state. That said, without an operating agreement, your LLC will be governed by Wisconsin’s default LLC statutes. Those statutes might not work well for your LLC.

What should be included in an operating agreement?

A well-rounded operating agreement should explain how your LLC will handle significant events (like dissolution or mergers) and make decisions.

Here’s a list of topics typically covered by operating agreements:

  • member/manager roles and responsibilities
  • voting rights
  • initial investments
  • distribution of profits and loses
  • procedure for transferring member interest

Wisconsin allows you to create an operating agreement for your LLC’s specific needs—you can include anything, so long as it doesn’t violate the law or the Articles of Organization.

Does a single-member LLC need an operating agreement?

Yes. Although you probably won’t need a legal document to resolve arguments with yourself, an operating agreement will be necessary to open bank accounts and support your LLC’s liability protection.

5. Get an EIN

An EIN—or employer identification number—is like a social security number for your LLC. The IRS assigns the nine-digit, unique number for tax purposes. To obtain an EIN, you can apply through the IRS website or use a paper form. There is no fee.

Learn How to get an EIN for your LLC.

Do I need an EIN for my Wisconsin LLC?

Yes. Although Wisconsin only requires an EIN if your business hires employees or is taxed as a corporation, you will need an EIN to open a business bank account. Plus, if your LLC has an EIN, you won’t need to give vendors your social security number. So we’d say having an EIN is a must for your LLC.

Rather skip the paperwork? Hire us to form your Wisconsin LLC!

What To Do After Forming Your Wisconsin LLC

6. Open a Bank Account

A business bank account is a must-have for your LLC. Why, you ask? Well, LLCs are distinct entities—meaning they’re separate from their owners. So, if you mix your personal and business finances, you could risk losing your liability protection. Nobody wants that.

To open a business bank account, you’ll likely need to provide your bank with the following:

  • Wisconsin Articles of Organization (a copy is acceptable)
  • the LLC’s operating agreement
  • the LLC’s EIN
  • an LLC Resolution to Open a Bank Account (if your LLC has multiple members).

If your LLC has more than one member, use our free LLC Resolution to Open a Bank Account.

7. Fund the LLC

You formed your Wisconsin LLC and opened a bank account. Now, it’s time to fund it. Traditionally, this is done through member contributions, which means each member deposits money into the business bank account. However, a member could also contribute valuable property or services instead of money—it just depends on what works best for each member and your LLC. But keep in mind that these types of contributions can set off tax events, so you may want to seek professional advice if you or another member decide to go that specific route.

What is LLC membership interest?

Membership interest refers to your percentage of ownership in the LLC. Typically, a member’s interest is equal to the amount they initially contribute to the business. For example, let’s say you invest $6,000 in your business and your partner invests $4,000. In this case, you’d own 60% of the LLC, while your partner would own 40%. Membership interest often correlates with your voting power.

8. File State Reports & Taxes

Wisconsin requires all LLCs to file an annual report with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Division of Corporate and Consumer Services. Your annual report can be filed online or by mail. The filing fee is $25.

Never miss your deadline. Let us file your annual report for you.

When is the Wisconsin Annual Report due?

The due date for your Wisconsin annual report is determined by when you initially filed your Articles of Organization. Basically, your annual report will be due by the end of the quarter during which you initially formed your LLC. Here’s a quick breakdown of the quarters:

  • January 1 – March 31
  • April 1 – June 30
  • July 1 – September 30
  • October 1 – December 31

Your due date is the last day of your quarter. For example, if you formed your LLC on April 25th, your annual report would be due by June 30th each year. Confused? You can also search the Wisconsin annual report database to find your due date.

How are Wisconsin LLCs taxed?

Wisconsin LLCs are (by default) considered pass-through entities, which means profits are distributed to the members (owners) who then report their earnings on their personal tax returns. Members of a Wisconsin LLC are also required to pay the federal self-employment tax (15.3%). LLCs can elect to be treated as an S-corp or a C-corp. To do so, yoou must apply to change your tax election through the IRS.

Learn more about S-Corp vs LLC tax designation.

Ready to Start an LLC in Wisconsin?