When you register certain types of business entities with your state, you’ll also need to decide who your company’s registered agent will be.
Although you’re free to take on that responsibility yourself, you can also have another person fill that role instead—and depending on the circumstances, that may actually be the better move. Here, we’ll look at what being a registered agent entails as well as the benefits of having someone else manage these duties on your behalf.
First of all, what is a registered agent?
Also called a statutory agent, agent of process, or resident agent in some states, a registered agent accepts official mail for your business in person. This includes service of process papers to notify you of pending lawsuits, tax forms, official government correspondence, and other legal documents.
Your registered agent’s name and address is made available to the public so that those who need to contact your company can do so. Think of them as your business’s point of contact with the outside world.
You can designate yourself, someone else you trust, or a company that provides these services as your organization’s registered agent—provided they meet your state’s requirements (more on this later).
Who needs a registered agent?
Each state requires companies that register as legal entities—meaning limited liability companies (LLCs), certain partnerships, and corporations—to designate a registered agent when they file business formation paperwork with their state.
On the other hand, sole proprietorships and general partnerships don’t need one, as they’re considered common law entities.
What does a registered agent do?
As the point of contact for your business, your registered agent receives legal paperwork on your company’s behalf and passes it along to you, the owner.
More specifically, the registered agent is responsible for:
- Acknowledging the receipt of any official correspondence,
- Sending it to you (usually by mail or electronically),
- And notifying you of any deadlines or actions to take.
However, the registered agent does not accept all of your business mail on your behalf. They’re meant to be used for legal documents only.
At this point, you might be wondering why you even need a registered agent in the first place. Here’s why: The United States allows everyone, including businesses, the right to due process and fair treatment in legal proceedings. This includes the right to know when someone files a lawsuit against you.
Having a registered agent helps to ensure this right for your company. For instance, just because you mail something to someone doesn’t guarantee that the recipient will receive it on time (or at all). You may even remember a few times where you missed a crucial piece of mail yourself.
Many legal notices, such as lawsuits and subpoenas, have strict deadlines plus financial and legal consequences if those deadlines aren’t met. Some states also require lawsuits to be served in person.
These requirements make it especially important to have a responsible and trusted person available to pass these documents along quickly.
General registered agent requirements
In order to become a registered agent, the person you choose must be:
- At least 18 years old
- Physically located in the state your business is registered in (read: no PO boxes)
- Present at the named location, called the “registered office,” every Monday through Friday, from 9am to 5pm
If your business is registered in multiple states, you’ll also need a separate resident agent with a physical address in each of those states.
Also keep in mind that these requirements may differ slightly between states. For instance, some require the person you choose to submit a consent form showing that they’ve agreed to be your company’s registered agent.
To get the complete list of registered agent requirements for your state, you’ll want to check in with your state’s Secretary of State or business filing agency.
How to choose a registered agent
Although your business can’t act as its own agent, you can name yourself, your spouse, family member, lawyer, employee, or another trusted person as your registered agent as long as they meet your state’s requirements.
Legal documents that require a registered agent to sign for them are only delivered during business hours, so if someone you know and trust is consistently present at your office or another location, you may be able to save yourself from paying for a registered agent service. In fact, this is the route that many small businesses take.
However, there are instances where it may be helpful or convenient for you to hire one instead, which we’ll cover in the next section. Ultimately, though, the choice is up to you. Your state doesn’t have a preference one way or the other, as long as you have a registered agent (if required) and they fulfill their responsibilities.
Benefits of hiring a registered agent service for your business
You may want to consider using a registered agent service’ let’s walk through the benefits.
Your registered agent’s information is publicly available for whoever wants to look it up. So if you work from home, you may not want your home address listed there—for privacy reasons and to avoid the amount of junk mail that will inevitably find its way to you.
On the other hand, if you work onsite with employees and customers, you might want to avoid the embarrassment and any other consequences that come with being served legal documents in front of them.
No commitment to a physical location or traditional business hours
If you travel or take time off frequently, or if you change your business location within your state, having a registered agent lets you move about as you please without missing any important documents.
You’re also free to set your own hours and work when and where you want—which is especially convenient if you commute to another job (in addition to running your business) or are otherwise unavailable during regular business hours.
As a business owner, you’re likely already managing the entirety of your company’s operations. Having a registered agent saves you time and effort you’d otherwise spend sorting through your mail and deciding what actions you need to take.
Many registered agent companies have systems in place to track and notify you of important deadlines you need to maintain. This ensures you don’t miss any due dates, receive penalties and fines, or fall out of good standing with your state.
Some will also organize and keep all your legal documents in one place. In addition to the peace of mind that comes with knowing this part of your business is taken care of, you’ll always have backups of your most important business documents in the event you lose yours during a break-in or a natural disaster.
Efficiency for businesses with locations in multiple states
Companies that provide registered agent services across multiple states simplify this requirement for business owners. Plus, if they keep copies of your correspondence across different states all in one place, that may be one less thing for you and your management team to worry about.
Four things to consider if you hire a registered agent
- Do your due diligence: Read reviews on sites like Trustpilot and check their rating with the Better Business Bureau.
- Learn what’s included with the services they provide and what isn’t: Ask how they manage your documents, how they give you access to them, and how soon you can expect to receive them. For example, will they mail them to you, email them, or scan and upload them to your business portal? Some also offer additional services, such as business guidance or legal help, but make sure you understand if they’re included in a flat rate or are charged separately.
- Find out where their office in your state is located: You’ll need to include that information when you register your business with the state, so make sure it’s a legitimate location. If your company needs a provider in multiple states, check that they’re located in and are able to provide their services in each of them (plus any more you may decide to branch out to in the future).
- Ask about their availability and customer support: You should find someone you can get in touch with via phone and email to chat about any further questions you may have once you hire them.
How to change your registered agent
Regardless of who you choose as your registered agent, you’ll need to make sure their information stays updated for as long as your business is in operation or you may get hit with a significant fine. Put it off for too long, and your business can even lose its certificate of good standing—which shows your company can legally conduct business in the state and isn’t delinquent on any filings—or get shut down completely.
If your agent’s identity or address changes, or if you decide to change agents completely, you’ll need to file a change form with your state’s business filing agency. Most states offer an electronic form you can submit online, but others require that you mail it in. If your state requires a registered agent consent form, you’ll need to turn in a new one as well.
You might have to pay a fee to update your agent’s information, which may only cost you up to $50 to do so, depending on your state.
Registered agent FAQs for business owners
Read through these commonly asked questions.
Will a registered agent be considered an owner of my business?
No, although the business owner can be named the registered agent of the company. A registered agent has specific responsibilities that the business owner either takes on themselves or passes on to another person or company that fulfills their state’s agent requirements.
Can my partner be a registered agent for my business?
Your husband or wife (or virtually anyone else you know) can be your registered agent, as long as they qualify to be one, are consistently available to receive documents during normal business hours, and meet any other requirements set forth by your state.
Can I use a virtual mailbox service instead of a registered agent?
No, although the two do share some similarities. While both conduct business at a physical location that is separate from your company and receive mail on your behalf, virtual mailboxes simply collect all of your mail and forward it to you.
Registered agents are only required to keep track of official notices and documents for your business (plus any additional services you pay for), although they may also receive junk mail and other correspondence sent to you as a result of their listing in your state’s public records.
How much does a registered agent service cost?
Charges vary, but you can expect to pay somewhere between $100 and $300 per year for their registered agent services. Some also offer other services for an additional fee.
Most small business owners will meet all of their state’s registered agent requirements, so they may not need to hire a dedicated service for their organization. But the landscape of work is changing rapidly, with many owners choosing to run their companies in unique and unconventional ways. If you’re one of them, or if you just want to streamline your business operations, working with a registered agent company may be the solution you need.