There are dozens of companies in the market today that can help you form a limited liability company (LLC). While it’s nice to have some options if you’re looking for assistance, it’s also difficult to determine which of the many choices is the right one for you.
For this article, we brainstormed about what we like to see regarding pricing and features, and made sure to maintain a focus on only the most reputable and trustworthy LLC services. We wanted to keep this guide relatively brief, so we decided to discuss only the top four companies in this industry:
We will not only discuss each company’s unique advantages and disadvantages, but also outline which is the best LLC service depending on your specific circumstances. Not every LLC needs the exact same set of features from their formation service, so we’ll talk about which features appeal to different types of business setups.
Is LegalZoom’s incredible popularity appealing to you? Perhaps you’re intrigued by the free formation service offered by ZenBusiness? Or maybe you’re looking for the combination of LLC formation and registered agent, as provided by Incfile or Northwest? Let’s get to the bottom of what separates these four companies, and which one you should use for your LLC formation.
How We Compared These LLC Services
No matter where you’re starting an LLC, we think there are some crucial factors that you should take into consideration. Here at LLC Formation Rocket, we like to use companies that fit with our core philosophy points, which include:
In this industry, there are several companies that provide misleading information, or try to strongarm you into purchasing features that few LLCs ever actually need. We prefer to use companies that cut through the misdirection to provide you with everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Free Registered Agent
Every LLC needs to designate a registered agent, which is a business entity (or an individual person) that maintains a business office in your formation state. The role of the registered agent is to receive vital document deliveries from government entities (including service of process, annual report reminders, and more) on your behalf. Some formation services include a year of registered agent service at no extra charge, which is something we always appreciate.
It’s not just about registered agent though, as there are many other welcome features that can pack a considerable amount of additional value into LLC formation service packages. For example, it’s nice to receive an LLC operating agreement to outline the operational guidelines of your business, or a federal tax ID number (EIN) which can help you pay taxes and open business bank accounts.
Solid Track Record
How many businesses have they formed in the past? How long have they been open? Are they a trustworthy service? These are some of the crucial questions we ask when it comes to a company’s track record.
Positive Online Customer Reviews
Everyone loves to read positive client feedback before making an important purchase, and we scour the internet for as many reviews as we can find for each company. We especially focus on reviews located on third-party websites, rather than the collections of feedback found on most services’ own websites. Do they receive strong customer feedback, or more of a mixed bag? Is there a large volume of reviews, or more of a small selection?
Great Overall Pricing
Last but certainly not least, we get to the ever-important aspect of cost. These services all have their own pricing models that can either provide more value, or undermine the entire offering.
Keeping these philosophies in mind, we have three main criteria that we use to analyze each formation service. First and foremost is the cost of forming an LLC, where we evaluate not just the price points provided by each company, but also how those prices reflect the company’s ability to provide valuable features. This is always the most important item in our eyes, as everything else really doesn’t matter much if the company can’t provide good value.
Secondly, we take a look at every service’s ordering process by using it to form an LLC ourselves. Simply put, some of these companies make the process of forming an LLC very easy, with streamlined order forms and easily understood instructions. On the other hand, some of them incorporate lots of upsells, or try to get your permission to sell your personal data to their affiliate companies. Sometimes, you’ll even encounter misleading advertising. Obviously, these are aspects we prefer to avoid.
Finally, we place a great deal of importance on the ability of each company to provide quality customer support. Different companies have different methods of providing customer service, and we typically like to see a service with strong support via phone and email, at a minimum. Are their representatives friendly and helpful? Do they respond quickly to our queries? These are a couple of the most important questions we ask in this regard.
Overview: LegalZoom vs Incfile vs ZenBusiness vs Northwest
Overall, each of these companies has their own strengths and weaknesses, but Incfile and Northwest Registered Agent tend to be our favorite options, with ZenBusiness trailing close behind. Let’s begin with a brief overview of what we learned about these four companies under the light of our philosophy points, then we’ll get into a deep dive.
- LegalZoom ― If you’re looking for the biggest name in the industry, LegalZoom unquestionably has the most brand power of any company providing LLC formation service. However, that name recognition comes at a price, as you’ll need to pay much more money overall for your formation than you will with any of the other choices in this guide. That said, they launch a seemingly never-ending assault of upsells that bothers us quite a bit.
- Incfile ― Incfile has a handful of serious advantages that make them one of our top picks for LLC service, including their spectacular pricing and overall value. They’re also a pretty big name in their own right, and they have a ton of positive online customer feedback available for you to peruse. In short, there’s a lot to like about Incfile.
- ZenBusiness ― If you want to use the service with the lowest overall prices available in the industry, look no further than ZenBusiness. They’re the only company we’ve ever heard of that provides LLC formation service for free, as long as you pay your own state fee. It’s an incredible bargain that doesn’t have any significant strings attached ― just keep in mind that they do have a handful of their own upsells to work your way past.
- Northwest Registered Agent ― Northwest has the same $49 base price point as Incfile does, and both of these companies also provide a year of registered agent service to every LLC formation customer. While Northwest isn’t as streamlined a service as Incfile, and their website is a bit more old-fashioned, they have outstanding customer support, and they never attempt any upsells whatsoever. Northwest is the real deal.
Deep Dive: LegalZoom vs Incfile vs ZenBusiness vs Northwest
Next, we’ll take a look at all of the reasons these companies either impress us or let us down, based on an in-depth analysis of our core philosophies. By examining these criteria, it became clear to us that the differences between these four services aren’t always cut and dried, but can in fact include some nuance as well. That said, let’s examine what each of these companies has to offer for LLC formation service clients.
- Minimal B.S. ― LegalZoom doesn’t exactly get off to a strong start here, as their LLC formation order form is confusing, and they change their pricing models with much more frequency than any other company in this industry. Considering the fact that they also pile on the upsells to a ridiculous degree, this category is not a strength for LegalZoom.
- Free Registered Agent ― They do not provide registered agent service with any of their three LLC formation service packages. If you want LegalZoom to serve as your registered agent, it will cost you $159/year to add it to one of their LLC packages, or $299/year to purchase it separately.
- Great Features ― Aside from the essentials of limited liability company formation, the only feature you’ll receive with LegalZoom’s $99 Economy package is a banking resolution to help open a business bank account. Their Standard plan costs $329, but it only adds a personalized binder and seal, 20 sample membership certificates, and “VIP processing,” which just means they’ll prepare your formation documents before people who ordered the Economy plan. Finally, the $349 Express Gold package adds rush processing and express shipping, which would be more appealing if it wasn’t built on the poorly valued foundation of the Standard package.
- Solid Track Record ― LegalZoom has an enormous amount of experience, as they’ve helped 3.6 million total customers since they opened in 1999, and they specify that they’ve formed over one million business entities over the years. If you’re looking for a company with a robust track record, LegalZoom is absolutely worth a look.
- Positive Online Customer Reviews ― We were able to find over 1,000 reviews for LegalZoom’s services, and they were mixed roughly equally between positive and negative feedback. While it would be nice to see more positive reviews, we do appreciate that LegalZoom has a large volume of feedback to look through.
- Great Overall Pricing ― Considering the fact that all of the other services in this guide can save you money while also providing more valuable features, it’s quite clear that LegalZoom does not excel when it comes to the pricing of their LLC formation service.
LegalZoom’s Cost to Form an LLC: Starts at $99 (plus state fee), includes a banking resolution form that describes who is authorized to open a business bank account on behalf of your new LLC.
LegalZoom’s Order Process: When you fill out LegalZoom’s LLC formation service order form, you’ll notice that instead of beginning with choosing your base package, you actually start by providing them with basic information about yourself and your business. Then, they lead you through a series of upsells to add more features, before you’ve even selected which package you’re starting with. It’s a confusing process that seems designed solely to trick people into spending more money than they expect to.
Customer Support Friendliness and Effectiveness: In our experience, the method you select to access their customer service department makes a world of difference. If you choose to email them, you’ll have to wait quite a while to hear back ― in fact, we have personally waited over a week to get an email response, and even then it was just a generic form email that did not address the issue we reached out to get help with. On the other hand, their phone support has quick response times, and we’ve found their representatives to be quite friendly and effective when providing support.
- Minimal B.S. ― We have always appreciated how straightforward Incfile is regarding the majority of their products and services. The only exception we have in this area is that they do have three partnerships with third-party companies on their order form. Specifically, their “setup business bank account” offer requires sharing your information with Bank of America, while their “business website” offer is actually provided by a company called Snapweb. Finally, they also offer a business tax consultation session with an unnamed “certified tax professional.”
- Free Registered Agent ― Incfile provides customers with registered agent service for one full year with the purchase of any LLC formation service package. At the conclusion of your free year of registered agent, you may renew this service for the annual fee of $119.
- Great Features ― The inclusion of registered agent service is a great start when discussing Incfile’s features, but it’s not the end of the story. Incfile pledges to process all orders by the next business day, and their upper-tier packages include additional features that you may or may not need. For example, their Gold package ($149 + state fee) adds an EIN, a banking resolution, a sample operating agreement, S corporation tax classification, and a custom binder. The Platinum plan ($299 + state fee) further adds a library of business contract templates, a premium version of the binder from the Gold plan, and expedited state processing.
- Solid Track Record ― Incfile opened for business in 2004, and they’ve helped form over 250,000 business entities since then. They share on their website that they experienced corporate growth exceeding 200% in the last year, which indicates that their popularity continues to rise.
- Positive Online Customer Reviews ― Incfile is one of the most impressive companies in the LLC formation business when it comes to their customer feedback. Not only do they have thousands of reviews available online, but almost every single one of them is a perfect five-star rating. In nearly all cases, their clients seem to be pleased with their decision to use Incfile.
- Great Overall Pricing ― Along with Northwest Registered Agent, Incfile provides the lowest combined price point for LLC formation service and registered agent. Their more expensive packages are also both fairly priced. Overall, Incfile’s pricing is definitely an advantage over the vast majority of their competitors.
Incfile’s Cost to Form an LLC: Incfile’s entry-level price point for LLC formation service is $49 (plus state fee). This cost includes one full year of registered agent service, as well as next-day processing.
Incfile’s Order Process: Forming a limited liability company with Incfile is both efficient and simple. You start by selecting which of their three formation packages you want to build your order from, and if you have any questions about the included features, Incfile has links embedded throughout the ordering process that explain each feature. There are a few third-party “deals” offered along the way, but on the other hand Incfile steers clear of annoying upsells.
Customer Support Friendliness and Effectiveness: Incfile’s support team is available via phone or email, and we’ve used each of these options many times ourselves. Their response times are very fast, regardless of whether you call or email them, and their well-trained employees are almost always able to provide us with strong answers to our questions. While they don’t have the customized support of Northwest Registered Agent (more on this shortly…), they do provide reliable and consistent customer service.
- Minimal B.S. ― On one hand, if you’re providing LLC formation service for free like ZenBusiness does, we’re far more willing to put up with a little bit of B.S., aren’t you? On the other hand, ZenBusiness does sprinkle in more than a few upsells, and they also have a few features that are provided by third parties. Still, their website is user-friendly, their explanations are easy to understand, and the entire process is basically seamless.
- Free Registered Agent ― ZenBusiness does not provide any complimentary registered agent service with their entry-level Basic package, but seeing as it’s free of charge (except for state fee), that’s rather understandable. However, if you step up to their $49 Starter package, they include a full year of registered agent service, which aligns their pricing for this combination of features with Incfile and Northwest.
- Great Features ― As you might expect from a free formation package, the Basic plan only includes the barebones essentials of formation. However, the Starter package ($49 for first year, $99 after that) adds registered agent and an operating agreement, while the $149/year Pro plan adds an EIN, along with ongoing annual report service and compliance assistance. They also have a Premium plan for $249/year, but it adds nearly nothing of value to the Pro package.
- Solid Track Record ― ZenBusiness is one of the newest additions to this industry, as they just opened in 2015. They have already helped form thousands of business entities in their few years though, and they state on their website that they want to form at least one million businesses by 2024.
- Positive Online Customer Reviews ― With hundreds of reviews to look through, ZenBusiness has an impressive collection of positive customer feedback. Almost every single one of their reviews is highly positive, as their clients are consistently thrilled about the value they receive from ZenBusiness.
- Great Overall Pricing ― Would you say that “free” counts as great overall pricing? We sure would! Beyond the obvious value of the Basic package, we feel that their Starter and Pro plans both have strong price points too. The only exception in this area is the badly overpriced Premium package, but that’s easy enough to overlook when the rest of their pricing model is so impressive.
ZenBusiness’ Cost to Form an LLC: The ZenBusiness Basic package is truly 100% free (except for your state fee), and it includes the full formation process for your new limited liability company. There are no additional features to speak of, but beggars can’t be choosers!
ZenBusiness’ Order Process: It’s not particularly difficult or time-consuming to place an order for LLC formation service with ZenBusiness, as their ordering process is logically presented. Once you’ve selected your formation package, you just need to provide them with some basic information about yourself and your business. The only negative in this area is that they do have some upsells and third-party issues to work your way through.
Customer Support Friendliness and Effectiveness: This is where ZenBusiness struggles, unfortunately. Whereas nearly every single company in this industry provides support via phone, ZenBusiness only has text-based customer service available. You can email them, or you can chat with them through their web-based application, but you cannot call them. While their reps have typically been able to answer our questions, this is still a major area of weakness for ZenBusiness.
Northwest Registered Agent
- Minimal B.S. ― With Northwest, minimal B.S. turns into zero B.S. in a big hurry. If you take a look at the manifesto on their website, you’ll find that cutting through the clutter is one of the top priorities of Northwest Registered Agent.
- Free Registered Agent ― Northwest includes 12 months of their premium registered agent service with every LLC formation package they sell. What makes this service deserving of the term “premium”? Northwest Registered Agent is the only major national service provider that scans every document they receive, whereas their competitors only scan official government documents. After the free year, you can renew this service for $125 per year.
- Great Features ― Beyond the registered agent service they include with each formation package, Northwest’s $149 Deluxe package bundles in an EIN and a custom operating agreement, but their $199 Premium package only adds same-day processing, which probably isn’t worth the extra $50 for most of our readers.
- Solid Track Record ― Northwest Registered Agent has been in business since 1998, and they’ve helped form around two million businesses over the years, which is an impressive figure. In addition, they say on their site that they work with 200+ new business entities each day.
- Positive Online Customer Reviews ― There aren’t a ton of customer reviews for Northwest available online, as we were only able to track down 107 of them (85 on Google, 22 on BirdEye). Still, the quality of that feedback is very high, as a full 89 of those 107 reviews are perfect five-star scores. Their customers seem especially pleased with the support they receive from Northwest’s representatives.
- Great Overall Pricing ― Northwest has the same $49 base price point offered by Incfile for LLC formation service, and their $149 Deluxe package also presents customers with plenty of value, as long as you really need the extra features included. They also have a competitive $125 annual price point for registered agent service.
Northwest’s Cost to Form an LLC: Northwest Registered Agent can form your new limited liability company for just $49. That price point also includes 12 months of registered agent service.
Northwest’s Order Process: It honestly does not get much easier to form a business than it is with Northwest. Their order form is extremely simple and user-friendly. In fact, we’re not even sure where it would be possible to encounter any confusion when ordering LLC formation service from them. They also don’t have any third-party “deals” or upsell attempts, so they really hit a home run in this area.
Customer Support Friendliness and Effectiveness: There’s no exaggeration when we say Northwest has the best customer support in the business formation service industry. They assign a dedicated account representative to each client, so if you have questions or concerns you can discuss them with the same employee every time. They’re also highly knowledgeable and responsive, so customer support is a huge advantage for Northwest.
Other Notable LLC Formation Services
We mentioned at the beginning of this guide that there are dozens of companies in the current marketplace offering LLC formation service. In this section, we would like to simply give shoutouts to several other companies that fell short of our top four, but still have enough positive attributes to be worth using.
- Rocket Lawyer ― Rocket Lawyer is an enormously popular service, as they have a larger client volume than any other competing company. They offer an intriguing legal services subscription plan for $39.99 per month that includes legal documents, consults with attorneys, free or discounted LLC formation service, and more.
- Harvard Business Services ― Are you forming an LLC in Delaware? Harvard Business Services only operates in this state, which gives them some advantages. For example, they can form a Delaware business faster than anyone else we’re aware of, and they have the lowest registered agent fee in this entire industry at just $50 per year.
- Swyft Filings ― Swyft Filings is an example of a company that doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, but also doesn’t do enough to set themselves apart from the competition. Most of their LLC formation service offerings look like they’re basically the same as Incfile, but without the free year of registered agent that Incfile provides. We will mention that they have spectacular customer feedback, with thousands of positive reviews available online.
- MyCorporation ― If you’re seeking annual report service with your LLC formation, MyCorporation is one of the very few companies that offers these services bundled together. Furthermore, MyCorporation’s managed annual reports are among the best we’ve seen in this industry.
- Direct Incorporation ― We doubt Direct Incorporation will win over many of our readers with their basic LLC formation package, as it’s rather expensive compared to the competition. However, their upper-tier plans include some unique features that you won’t find elsewhere, like copyright protection, logo design, comprehensive website design service, and more.
- MyCompanyWorks ― MyCompanyWorks is a bit like Swyft Filings in that they don’t have any truly unique advantages, but they do have a well-rounded service with few faults. The biggest point in their favor is the fact that their thousands of customer reviews are nearly all positive, and we always love to see the combination of quality and quantity when it comes to client feedback.
- BizFilings ― Do you need publication service? If you’re forming an LLC in Arizona, Nebraska, or New York, you will need to publish proof of your business formation in a reputable local newspaper. BizFilings not only offers to take care of this step for you (which most competitors don’t), they also have an excellent price point of just $100 for this service.
- Incorporate.com ― Longevity is the name of the game for Incorporate.com. While their pricing is way too high, and they even participate in some moderately misleading advertising when it comes to their LLC service, Incorporate.com is the only company in this industry that’s been forming businesses since the 19th century ― they formed way back in 1899.
Deciding to form a limited liability company is one of the most important decisions you can make in the business world. However, the more difficult decision might be choosing which of the dozens of LLC formation services you want to use for assistance. As you can see, many of these companies have plenty of advantages, and depending on your business needs, your preferences may vary.
Still, for most of our readers, the following advice holds true: If you’re looking for the most popular company, with a high volume of clients and wide-reaching name recognition, LegalZoom is your best bet. For anyone on a super-tight budget, the free option provided by ZenBusiness is obviously a great choice. If you want the combination of LLC formation and registered agent service, either Incfile or Northwest Registered Agent can satisfy your needs ― among these two companies, Incfile has a much larger volume of positive customer reviews, whereas Northwest offers industry-best support.
To be clear, all four of these companies are worthy of your trust, and they’re all capable of forming your LLC while removing much of the stress and hassle that usually comes with the business formation process. At the end of the day, we would probably choose Northwest due to their great pricing and outstanding customer service, but we wouldn’t blame you at all if you prefer one of these other options.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Shouldn’t I Just Form My Own Limited Liability Company?
If you would rather handle your own formation process, you have the right to do so. Forming your own LLC can certainly save you a few dollars compared to using an online business formation service, and it’s obviously far cheaper than hiring a business attorney to form your LLC. However, considering how inexpensive online LLC formations can be, we think it’s worth every penny it costs, because they save a ton of time and hassle, and provide a high degree of peace of mind.
Can These Companies Help Me Keep My LLC in Good Standing?
Absolutely. Throughout this guide, we’ve discussed how these companies provide registered agent service, as well as annual report service. These are the two most important elements of ongoing compliance, in our opinion, and all four of these companies provide invaluable assistance with both of them. Let’s take a quick look at how these services price these features:
- LegalZoom: $159-299 for registered agent, $55 for annual reports
- Incfile: $119 for registered agent, $88 for annual reports
- ZenBusiness: $99-110 for registered agent, $75 for annual reports
- Northwest: $125 for registered agent, $100 for annual reports
Do I Need to Be Located in the United States to Form an LLC?
There is no legal requirement that you be physically located in America to form a limited liability company. In fact, you don’t even need to be a citizen or resident of this country to form an LLC here. This is one of the reasons why the LLC is such a popular business structure ― just about anyone can own and operate one!
How Quickly Can These Services Form My New LLC?
Each of these companies has their own set of turnaround time estimates, and for Incfile and Northwest, they vary by state. For example, in some states, your formation can be completed as quickly as a few days, but other states require several weeks. However, both LegalZoom and ZenBusiness have different methods for estimating processing speeds, which are based on which level of service you purchase from them. The more expensive the package, the faster they’ll process your order.
What If I Need to Incorporate My Business? Can These Same Services Help Me Form a Corporation?
All four of these companies also provide incorporation service. If you need to form a corporation, we suggest checking out our sister site, Incorporation Rocket. There, you can find all the information you need to know in order to be able to select the right online incorporation service for you.
What Exactly Is a “State Fee” and How Much Does It Cost?
There is a high degree of variance when it comes to state fees in this industry. The state fee is the cost of filing your formation documents with the state ― this cost is the same whether you form your own LLC, or if you hire a formation service to handle it for you. Depending on your state, this fee could be as low as $50, or it could cost you several hundred dollars.