Registered Agent: What Is It & How To Get One
This article is part of a larger series on Starting a Business.
A registered agent (RA) is a business’s official contact to receive important documents—a summons, subpoena, or registration renewal. While every state requires a business to have a registered agent, regulations may differ. Several states allow the business to be its own RA, and others don’t. If you’d like to hire a company to serve as your registered agent, it will cost around $100 to $300 per year.
What Does a Registered Agent Do?
A registered agent has a couple of primary responsibilities. One responsibility is to serve as the official contact to receive legal documents. If your business gets sued, the lawsuit won’t begin until the summons is officially delivered in-person. Because of the in-person requirement, the state requires all businesses to have a contact available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If your Secretary of State’s office is unable to find someone at your location, you may face consequences—such as loss of business registration or a fine.
The other responsibility for the registered agent is to be your contact for state correspondence such as business registration renewal. All states require LLCs and corporations to renew and pay a fee every year to be registered in that state. The state will reach out to you when it’s time to renew.
Suppose your mail gets misplaced and you don’t re-register until after your renewal date. In that case, you will owe a fine or, if you wait too long, lose your legal entity status with the state.
Tip: Only LLCs and corporations need a registered agent. If your business is a sole proprietorship (or you’ve registered a DBA tied to a sole proprietor), you don’t need an RA. As a sole proprietor, there is full transparency to the state that you are the owner.
It’s also important to note that depending on the state you’re doing business in, a registered agent may go by a different name. Other names include:
- Statutory agent
- Resident agent
- Agent for service of process
It’s always best to check with your state’s official business registration website to get your registered agent’s specific requirements. For example, Virginia requires the RA to be an attorney, a member of the business entity’s management, or a licensed business in the state—it cannot be the business itself or a family member not in the business.
Should You Be Your Own Registered Agent?
You may be considering making yourself your own registered agent. Doing this would save you at least $100 a year. If allowed in your state, the requirements to be a registered agent are reasonably straightforward:
- Resident individual: You must be a resident of the state where your business entity is registered or incorporated in.
- Physical address: You must have a physical address within your state of incorporation. A P.O. Box does not qualify as an in-state address. Some states require you to designate a “Registered Office” in addition to naming a registered agent.
- Normal business hours: You or someone in your company must be available to accept mail and other documents on your behalf during “normal” business hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
However, even if you meet the above qualifications to be your own RA, there are several downsides of being your own registered agent:
- Receive junk mail: Many companies send promotional offers to your public-facing registered agent address. If you work from your home, you may not want this mail to be delivered to your home.
- Served legal documents at your office: If you have customers or employees in your office, you may not want to be served a legal notice in front of them.
- Complicated if doing business in several states: If you do business in several states, managing forms and submissions for every Secretary of State can be involved.
- Need to be in the office: Being your own RA means you need to be in your office (or home) during normal business hours.
- May miss correspondence: If you receive a business renewal notice or tax notice and you miss the communication, you may face consequences such as a fine.
If the downsides above make you think twice about being your own RA, you may be interested in hiring a company to be your registered agent, which is called a registered agent service.
What Does a Registered Agent Service Do?
A registered agent service is a company that serves as your contact with the Secretary of State. They will receive your legal, tax, and state notification-related mail and forward it to you electronically. The RA service will also accept your junk mail and throw it away for you. Typically, a registered agent service will cost anywhere from $99 to $350 per year.
Benefits a registered agent service may provide include:
- Physical office: Some legal documents are required to be delivered to a physical address and cannot be sent to a P.O. Box.
- Mail forwarding: A registered agent can ensure that critical mail is delivered even when you change locations.
- Privacy protection: Registered agents ensure that information, such as your home address, is protected and reduces the risk of potentially embarrassing situations like being served a summons while you are in front of potential clients or neighbors.
- Compliance monitoring: Registered agents help to ensure that you file documents within legal deadlines and requirements.
- Document organization: A registered agent can also help you keep track of your filings and help you stay organized.
Pros & Cons of Hiring a Registered Agent
Pros of a Registered Agent Service
The pros of hiring a registered agent service include:
- Reliable: Hiring a third-party registered agent service means your business will always receive essential documents in a timely fashion.
- Private: RA services are a great option if you work from home or have other reasons for not making your contact information public. Having a registered agent to receive service of legal process documents can also eliminate the risk of embarrassing interactions, like getting served a summons in front of potential clients.
- Flexible: A registered agent service can allow you to operate a business in a state where you do not have a physical address during normal business hours. This flexibility is helpful for businesses that are primarily online or that travel around, like a food truck.
Cons of Registered Agent Services
The cons of hiring a registered agent service include:
- Expensive: Hiring a registered agent service costs more than doing it yourself or having a friend or family member serve as your agent.
- Requires additional paperwork: Using a statutory agent service requires you to sign up and pay for a service.
Where to Find a Registered Agent Service
There are dozens of companies available that will serve as your registered agent. One of the factors to keep in mind when selecting an RA is fees. You may find companies that are free or low-cost. However, before signing up for a cheap RA service, make sure you know if they charge fees for services like document forwarding or second-year renewal.
Here are a few of our recommended registered agent companies that are reliable with an affordable price:
Northwest Registered Agent
Northwest Registered Agent primarily offers RA-based services. It specializes in making sure your business information is private and secure. If they can put their address on a form or submit a simple document on your behalf, they will. For its registered agent services, Northwest costs $125 per year.
If you’re looking to register your business as a legal entity in addition to getting an RA service, IncFile is your best deal. It provides a free business registration (LLC or corporation) and a free first year of registered agent services. After your first year, IncFile’s RA services are $119 per year.
What makes Rocket Lawyer unique is its monthly membership for ongoing legal services. If you have multiple legal steps to take to start your business, such as customizing legal documents or answering specific legal questions, consider using Rocket Lawyer as your RA. The standard price for a registered agent with Rocket Lawyer is $149 per year. However, if you sign up for its $39.99 per month legal services, you’ll save 25% per year on your RA.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About a Registered Agent
Who Can Be a Registered Agent?
Registered agent requirements vary by state, but it generally must be a person 18 years or older with a physical address in the LLC filing state. Your RA must be available at that address during normal business hours. You can hire a registered agent service or identify a friend or family member who meets the requirements.
Can You Be Your Own Registered Agent?
If you’re starting your business on a budget, you may be tempted to assign yourself the role of registered agent for your business. Before you do this make sure that you or someone in your company will be available in the office during normal business hours. Also remember that except for a few states, you may not name your LLC as its own registered agent.
Can the Organizer of an LLC be the Registered Agent?
The organizer of an LLC can be the RA if they have a physical address within the state, and someone can accept mail at that address during normal business hours. We recommend hiring a registered agent service to prevent lost mail, inconsistent business hours, or other issues that might result in a failed delivery.
Can a UPS Store Be a Registered Agent?
A UPS store cannot be a registered agent. Registered agents must have a physical address in the state where your business is organized.
Additionally, someone must be available to accept mail during regular business hours. Because of these requirements, a P.O. Box or rented box at a UPS store isn’t an acceptable registered agent.
You likely can serve as your own registered agent if you feel confident that mail won’t get misplaced, and you’re available in an office during normal business hours. If you’re frequently traveling, don’t want junk mail, or are doing business in several states, consider using a registered agent service. The $100 to $300 fee per year for an RA service will provide you with peace of mind and keep you on top of important legal and state matters.