You want to start an LLC. You have your vision, your business name, and the motivation to make your dream a reality. But you want some help getting started, so you’ve decided to hire a business formation service.
But that leads to a big decision: which service should you use? There are a lot of options available, but they’re not created equal. Two popular services are LegalZoom and Harvard Business Services.
In this guide, we’ll give you a side-by-side comparison of these two services. Then you can pick the right service for you.
Rocket Tip: Looking for the best and most affordable LLC formation services? Compare the top 3 formation services to see how they stack up.
Our philosophy: What makes a formation service “good?”
Ultimately, the “best LLC service” boils down to a matter of opinion. Which one is best for you depends on what you want from a service. But that said, there are certain qualities that make one formation service better than another. Whenever we evaluate LLC formation services, here are some questions we like to ask:
- Does this service give me a good value for what I’m paying?
- Does this company have a proven record of supplying high-quality service?
- What is the quality of this company’s customer service?
- How easy is it to use this service?
- How quickly will my business be formed?
A good LLC formation service will receive high marks in these categories. We’ll consider the answers to these questions in our in-depth comparison below.
LegalZoom vs. Harvard Business Services: What’s the difference?
On the surface, LegalZoom and Harvard Business Services seem to accomplish the same purpose: helping you form your LLC. And while that’s true, the difference between them goes much deeper than that.
We’ll give you our full analysis in just a moment, but here are a few key differences:
- LegalZoom has an impressive customer volume of more than 3.6 million customers. Over a million of those customers are businesses, giving them one of the most impressive client lists in the industry.
- Harvard Business Services is dedicated to the state of Delaware. In one sense, that’s a benefit: they’re Delaware experts. But if you want to create an LLC in a state other than Delaware, you’ll have to choose another service.
Both LegalZoom and Harvard Business Services can help you make your new business a success. But to give you a better idea of which is right for you, let’s jump in to the specifics.
LLC cost and features
Whenever you make a purchase, you want to know that what you’re buying is truly worth the cost. The same goes for LegalZoom and Harvard Business Services. Each service has their own range of packages and price points; they’re pretty comparable in value. Let’s take a look at them.
- Economy: LegalZoom’s entry-level price points rings in at $99. For that fee, you’ll get a name availability check, letter of financial authorization, and filing of your Articles of Organization.
- Standard: Standard makes a large money jump to a $329 price tag. With Standard, you receive all of the Economy features, plus 20 official membership certificates to use in your LLC. You’ll also get a corporate kit, which is an official, embossed binder and seal that’s been customized for your business.
- Express Gold: LegalZoom charges $349 for their highest package, but it doesn’t have much more to offer over the Standard option. The extra $20 really only buys you an expedited filing.
Harvard Business Services
- Green: Harvard Business Services offers their entry-level package for $89 (plus Delaware’s $90 fee). The main idea of this package is that it’s entirely electronic, so you get online access to your formation documents once they’ve filed them on your behalf. They also throw in a business name availability check, and they give 12 months of registered agent service. After your first year, this service costs just $50—this is the best price in the industry.
- Basic: The next package up has a price point of $139, which adds document templates and hard copies of all your business documents to the Green package.
- Standard: The final package offering from Harvard Business Services rounds out your formation package with a kit and seal that’s customized for your business. The features of Basic and Green are included too, for a price of $239.
LegalZoom’s entry-level price may look better on paper, but they’re not actually a better value. Here’s why: LegalZoom doesn’t include registered agent service, and Harvard Business Services does. LegalZoom provides this service, but it will cost you $159-299 per year. Harvard Business Services offers the service for just $50. That’s the best price in the entire audience. It’s no surprise that we give this category to Harvard Business Services.
How easy it is to use the service
Any business service is supposed to make your life easier, right? That’s why we always consider how easy it is to use a service when we evaluate them. After all, why would you bother paying someone to file your paperwork if it’s harder to hire them than it is to do it yourself?
We tested both services, and Harvard Business Services is much simpler to use. LegalZoom’s order process seems a bit backwards to us. Here’s the run-down of the two:
- Choosing a package: Unfortunately, with LegalZoom, picking the package you want is a touch difficult; you pick your package after you’ve input some of your information and chosen a few add-ons.
- Up-sells: If there were a competition for which company offers the most up-sells and third-party offers during their order process, LegalZoom would win hands-down. It’s very easy to spend extra money after getting distracted with all the add-ons they offer.
- Order time: Once you get past the up-sells, it doesn’t take too long to finish your order. For example, it took us about fifteen minutes to get to the package selection stage. Then the rest of the process took a bit longer.
Harvard Business Services
- Choosing a package: Since there’s no state to choose, all you have to do is select your business type and desired package to get started.
- Up-sells: Harvard Business Services stays away from almost every up-sell; they offer only one throughout the entire process. And we really appreciate that it is not a third-party offer.
- Order time: All told, Harvard Business Services is super simple to use. When we tested out their form, we only spent about ten minutes from start to finish.
In our opinion, a user-friendly service does two things: it employs a clean, straightforward order form, and it largely avoids up-sells and third-party offers. Only one service meets these criteria: Harvard Business Services.
We really appreciate the fact that Harvard Business Services doesn’t clutter up their order form with extras. They avoid third-party offers, and there’s only one up-sell in their entire order process. In contrast, LegalZoom includes up-sells to the max. Their order form also runs backwards from what you’d normally expect. It’s an easy win for Harvard Business Services.
Buying a product is one thing. But getting support for that product is just as important. After all, if a company doesn’t stand behind its product, why should you? But when a company helps you throughout the entire process—choosing a product, purchasing it, and keeping that product up-to-date—you’ll be happier with your purchase.
The same goes for business incorporation services. If they help you pick the package that’s right for you, assist you with the paperwork, answer your questions, and make it clear that they want to help you more than make money off you, you’ll keep using them. You might even recommend them to your friends.
Harvard Business Services and LegalZoom both have good support teams. Here’s a summary of our thoughts on the customer service of both services:
- Types of support: LegalZoom offers support via phone and email.
- Availability: LegalZoom has very prompt service and great hours. On weekdays, you can reach them from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. (PT) and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.
- Quality of support: When we tested LegalZoom’s customer support, we found their representatives to be quite helpful, especially via phone. (Email replies were more generic). The only thing we found annoying was that their customer service representatives also tried to make a sale during the process.
Harvard Business Services
- Types of support: Harvard Business Services offers support via phone, email, chat, and even Skype.
- Availability: You can contact Harvard Business Services support during regular business hours on most days, with 9 to 5 (ET) availability on Monday through Thursday and then 8 to noon availability on Fridays.
- Quality of support: Harvard Business Services is dedicated to Delaware alone, so their customer service representatives are experts on all things Delaware business. And they never leave you waiting long on a response, either.
Each company has a brag-worthy component: LegalZoom has extended hours of availability, and Harvard Business Services has a huge variety of contact methods. Both are relatively easy to get in touch with. We have to call this category a tie.
Company track record
Technically, there’s nothing wrong with using a new company to form your business. But working with an established, trusted brand gives you confidence. You can trust a company that has already served thousands of happy customers.
LegalZoom has more experience, but Harvard Business Services has better customer reviews. Here’s how the two stack up:
- Years in business: Founded in 2001, LegalZoom has been in business for close to twenty years.
- Businesses formed: LegalZoom has helped form over a million businesses (and they’ve served nearly 4 million customers in other legal avenues).
- Customer reviews: LegalZoom’s online reputation is mixed; you’ll find a wide variety of one-star and five-star reviews alike.
Harvard Business Services
- Years in business: Harvard Business Services got started in 1981, so they’re a bit older than LegalZoom.
- Businesses formed: Harvard Business Services may be exclusive to one state, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t served a lot of customers. Since their inception, they’ve formed more than 170,000 businesses.
- Customer reviews: Unlike LegalZoom, the reviews for Harvard Business Services are quite positive. There are a lot of them, too, so their reputation is excellent.
Like the customer service category, LegalZoom and Harvard Business Services have one component that makes them shine. For LegalZoom, it’s the sheer number of customers they’ve served. Harvard Business Services just can’t compete with that since they only serve one state—there aren’t even that many people living in Delaware.
But Harvard Business Services one-ups LegalZoom with their customer feedback. Ultimately, this category is another tie. You get to break the tie by deciding which is more important to you: customer volume or customer feedback.
If you ever change your mind about a product you’ve purchased, you want to be able to return it, right? Unfortunately, with any business formation service, a full refund is impossible. That’s because part of the money goes to the state as their incorporation fee, and states do not refund those fees.
But occasionally, a customer changes their mind about a package they purchased. Perhaps they no longer want to subscribe to the registered agent service, or the company completes the process incorrectly. Each company has their own policy for refunds, and LegalZoom and Harvard Business Services are no exception. We’ll summarize those policies here.
You can cancel your service with LegalZoom at any time (although some customers have noted that cancelling can be a bit tricky). Refunds are also allowed, if they fall under LegalZoom’s Satisfaction Guarantee and you make the request within 60 days. You can also exchange for a comparable service, too.
Harvard Business Services
Harvard Business Services makes it easy to get a refund. If you ever decide to cancel one of their services, you can do so, but you only have a thirty-day window. Harvard Business Services will give you a refund of your purchase price, minus a 5% cancellation fee.
Assistance with ongoing compliance
Starting your business takes a lot of time and effort, but so does maintaining it! Each state is a little different; some require annual reports, some require you to renew your license each year, and more. Keeping track of these requirements can be confusing.
That’s why a lot of services help you with ongoing compliance. But just how much help you’ll get depends on what service you choose.
For $69 per year, you can subscribe to LegalZoom’s Compliance Calendar program. This service helps you stay up-to-date with your due dates by alerting you so you can get them filed on time. You can also subscribe to additional services that will complete this report for you, if you’d like. They also offer registered agent service for $159-299 per year.
Harvard Business Services
Harvard Business Services offers a few compliance assistance programs, including annual report and franchise tax help. If you’d like these services, you can call for a quote. Their registered agent service is also the cheapest in the industry at $50 per year.
So, which service do we recommend?
There’s a very clear division between these two services: Harvard Business Services won most of the categories, and LegalZoom only manages a couple ties. Harvard Business Services wins by a landslide for incorporations in Delaware.
Outside of Delaware, though, LegalZoom wins by default. They can help you where Harvard Business Services cannot. And they’re also a good service in their own right, too. So the choice is ultimately up to you. But if you’re in Delaware, our top recommendation goes to Harvard Business Services.
Alternatively, you can check out your other options through our comparison guide of the 3 most affordable and top LLC services.