How to Start an LLC in Iowa? (Step-by-Step Guide)

Jon Morgan
Published by Jon Morgan | Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Last updated: February 15, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Lou Viveros, Growth & Transition Advisor
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If you plan to establish a limited liability company in Iowa, there are certain steps you have to accomplish, as well as documents to prepare and file.

After a decade of practice in the business industry, I gained considerable experience with LLC formation across all states. In collaboration with our panel of business experts, I’ll provide an in-depth guide on how to start a limited liability company in Iowa.

Quick Summary:

  • To start an LLC in Iowa, select a suitable structure, name, registered agent, and file the Certificate of Organization, considering each step's unique benefits and challenges.
  • After forming your LLC, draft an Operating Agreement, obtain an EIN, open a business bank account, and understand the importance of each for legal and financial management.
  • In Iowa, if your desired business name is available, you can reserve it for 120 days by submitting an application and paying a $10 filing fee.
  • Diligently fulfilling these requirements, although initially demanding, in my opinion, provides long-term benefits in terms of legal compliance and operational efficiency for your LLC in Iowa.


How To Form An LLC In Iowa?

Close up image of writing on a notebook

To form an LLC in Iowa, choose an available business name, select a registered agent, file the Certificate of Organization, draft an Operating Agreement, obtain an EIN and file Biennial reports.

1. Choose the Type of Your LLC (Mandatory)

When forming an LLC in Iowa, it's crucial to select the right structure, as each has unique advantages and disadvantages:

  • Single-Member LLC: Ideal for solo entrepreneurs. This structure offers simplicity in management and tax filing. However, it might be less credible to some investors or financial institutions.
  • Multi-Member LLC: Suitable for businesses with multiple owners. It provides a collaborative approach to management and decision-making. The downside is potential conflicts among members and more complex tax filing requirements.
  • Professional LLC: Designed for licensed professionals (e.g., doctors, lawyers). It offers the same benefits as a regular LLC, with the added perk of credibility in the professional sector. The limitation is that it's only available to certain licensed professions.
  • Series LLC: Best for those owning multiple, distinct assets or businesses. It allows for separate liabilities and assets within one LLC framework, but it can be complex to set up and maintain.

Each type caters to specific business needs, so consider your long-term goals and operational complexity when choosing your Iowa LLC structure.

2. Choose a Name for Your LLC (Mandatory)

Iowa law requires that the name of an LLC be unique and distinguishable from any other business entity in the state. The business name must also include the words "limited liability company," "LLC" or "L.L.C."

The first step to opening an Iowa LLC is to check the state's online business name database to ensure that your preferred name is not already being used.

If you’ve found a name, but you’re not planning to operate right away, you have the option to file a business name reservation and pay a $10 fee.

Once approved by the state, this will reserve your desired name for up to 120 days. The application must include the proposed name of the LLC, the name and address of the applicant.

From my years of experience as a business consultant, I've learned the importance of securing your domain name early in the process. It's not only a good practice to buy your domain name now but also to reserve one for future use.

Before finalizing your business name, I recommend checking if the URL is available. This proactive approach can save you from potential complications later on.

3. Select a Registered Agent (Mandatory)

A woman has selected a registered agent

A registered agent is a firm or a person who keeps track of your LLC's paperwork and poses as a liaison between you and the state government.

An Iowa registered agent must be ready to accept important legal documents on your behalf during regular business hours.

They will update you about any changes in legislation affecting your business.

The mailing address must physically exist. It cannot be a PO box.

This function can be held by an individual or business entity. However, it is not recommended that you be the registered agent for your LLC.

LLC owners usually opt for using a registered agent service in Iowa.

"Registered agent services typically range from $50 to $300 per year, and as they are essential for handling your filings, it's advisable to select a provider known for fair pricing and a solid reputation,"

- Lou Viveros, Growth & Transition Advisor, Venture Smarter

4. File the Certificate of Organization (Mandatory)

The certificate of organization is a legal document that establishes your LLC in Iowa.

It must be filed with the Iowa Secretary of State Business Services Division and include information such as:

  • The LLC's name
  • The LLC's address
  • Names and addresses of the members
  • Nature and purpose of the business
  • Authorized representative
  • Tenure or duration of the business entity
  • The address and the name of the LLC's registered agent

Unlike most states, the Iowa Secretary of State does not supply a printable or online certificate form. You will have to create your own or hire a lawyer to do so for you.

You'll need to register a Foreign LLC if you want to expand your existing LLC to the state of Iowa.

Steps to Take After Forming an LLC in Iowa

After successfully forming your limited liability company in Iowa, there are essential steps you need to take to ensure your business operates smoothly and complies with state laws. Navigating this next phase is crucial for your LLC's long-term success and legal compliance.

I advise my clients to create an operating agreement for their limited liability company.

This document plays a vital role in outlining how the company will operate, including the roles and responsibilities of members, decision-making processes, and more. It's a valuable tool to ensure that your business functions smoothly and that everyone is on the same page.

Iowa LLC's operating agreement needs to be tailored to your company's specific needs and business plan.

It can also assist you in keeping your limited liability status. It proves that your Iowa LLC is a separate legal organization, thus protecting personal assets and separating them from your business assets.

Some of the items that you should address in your operating agreement include:

  • Ownership percentages
  • Allotment of profits and losses
  • Type of management structure
  • Duties and responsibilities of its members
  • New Membership
  • Voting requirements

The operating agreement can be drafted by members of the LLC, a lawyer or an online service provider.

Without an operating agreement in effect, the court will make decisions in default based on state law.

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is a federal tax number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service to businesses and organizations. It's used to identify your company for legal purposes.

You can open a business bank account, file federal taxes, and hire employees with an EIN.

You can obtain your EIN by filling out an online application on the IRS website, which is free and takes about 15 minutes to complete.

Drawing from my experience, you must include  your EIN in your tax paperwork and other business documents. Your EIN serves as a unique identifier for your business, similar to a social security number for an individual.

It's not only required for federal tax purposes but also useful in various business transactions, such as applying for business loans.

Here you can find more information about the cost of starting an LLC in Iowa.

A separate business bank account is necessary to separate your company’s finances from your personal assets. This will provide liability protection to the LLCs members and contain any debts or losses within the business entity.

It would be easier to monitor the profits, losses and the general state of the company’s finances if its records are kept separately.

All monetary business transactions are kept officially within the confines of the limited liability company.

8. File Your LLC Biennial Report (Mandatory)

Woman holding a paper writing an agreement

In Iowa, biennial reports are due every other year, and the deadline for filing is April 1st. The LLC biennial report in Iowa must include any changes to your LLC's information [1].

Based on my experience as a business consultant, I strongly recommend keeping up with biennial reporting even if there are no changes to report. This is the simplest way to keep your LLC in good standing with the state.

In my consulting work, I've seen how timely and regular reporting can help avoid potential issues down the road, ensuring that your LLC remains compliant and hassle-free.

Regardless of when you are forming your LLC, you must file the report by April 1st of every odd-numbered year. Start with the first odd-numbered year after registering it with the Iowa Secretary of State.

9. Obtain Business Licenses and Permits

Depending on the nature of the business, as well as its location and classification, there are certain business licenses and permits that have to be acquired from the state.

Your LLC may be required to obtain federal, state or local licenses based on the transactions that your limited liability company deals in.

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10. Choosing Your Tax Structure

Selecting the right tax structure for your LLC is a critical decision that impacts your financial obligations and operational flexibility.

Here are the common options:

  • Disregarded Entity (Default for Single-Member LLCs): Profits and losses are reported on your personal tax return, simplifying tax filing. However, it might limit financial growth opportunities.
  • Partnership (Default for Multi-Member LLCs): Allows profit and loss distribution among partners, providing flexibility. The downside is the potential for complex partnership agreements and tax preparations.
  • S-Corporation: Can reduce self-employment taxes but requires strict adherence to regulations and payroll setup for owners.
  • C-Corporation: Offers potential savings on high profits due to corporate tax rates but faces double taxation on dividends.

Keep in mind, tax structure changes must be filed through IRS Form 8832 or Form 2553, typically by March 15th of the tax year in which you want the change to apply. It's vital to consult with a tax professional to align this choice with your business goals.

Benefits and Drawbacks of an LLC in Iowa

Benefits:

  • Limited Personal Liability: Similar to other states, LLCs in Iowa offer protection for personal assets from business debts and lawsuits. This safeguard is vital in a state home to 272,555 small businesses, making up 99.3% of all businesses, thereby potentially reducing personal financial risks for approximately 649,796 employees, as indicated by statistics from the US Small Business Administration [2].
  • Flexible Taxation: LLCs in Iowa can choose how they are taxed (as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation), potentially leading to tax benefits.
  • Ease of Formation and Maintenance: Iowa's process for forming and maintaining an LLC is relatively straightforward, with minimal annual requirements.
  • State Tax Advantages: Iowa offers competitive corporate tax rates, which can be advantageous for LLCs opting for corporate tax status.
  • Business-Friendly Environment: Iowa is known for its supportive environment for small businesses, including various state-specific incentives and resources.

Drawbacks:

  • Limited Growth Potential: Unlike corporations, LLCs in Iowa can’t issue stock, which may limit growth opportunities and attract less venture capital.
  • Self-Employment Taxes: Unless electing to be taxed as a corporation, LLC members must pay self-employment taxes on their share of the profits.
  • State-Specific Fees: Iowa has its own fee structure for LLC formation and annual reporting, which might be a consideration for some businesses.
  • Franchise Tax: While Iowa's tax rates can be favorable, LLCs are subject to a state franchise tax, which is an additional expense to consider.

DIY vs. Professional LLC Formation

DIY LLC Formation:

Pros:

  • Cost-Effective: Generally cheaper since you avoid professional service fees.
  • Direct Control: You have complete control over the formation process and documentation.
  • Learning Experience: Offers a deeper understanding of the legal framework of LLCs.

Cons:

  • Time-Consuming: Requires more of your time to understand and complete the process.
  • Risk of Errors: Without legal expertise, you might make mistakes in paperwork or compliance, leading to future issues.
  • Limited Guidance: Lacks professional advice on complex matters like tax structure or state-specific regulations.

Professional LLC Formation Services:

Pros:

  • Expertise and Compliance Assistance: Professionals are knowledgeable about state laws and can ensure compliance.
  • Time-Saving: They handle the paperwork and process, saving you time and effort.
  • Peace of Mind: Reduces the risk of errors and provides confidence that the LLC is formed correctly.

Cons:

  • Cost: More expensive due to service fees.
  • Less Personal Involvement: You may have less hands-on involvement in the formation process.
  • Potential for Generic Solutions: Some services may offer one-size-fits-all solutions that might not suit your specific business needs.

FAQs

How Often Should I Pay My Iowa LLC Employees?

You should pay your Iowa LLC employees biweekly, semimonthly or once a month. Wages can be paid at any frequency as long as they are regular. Employers are at liberty to adjust salary schedules to accommodate changes that might arise during the year.

Can a Non-Resident Start an LLC in Iowa?

Yes, a non-resident can start an LLC in Iowa. However, the LLC must have a registered agent located within the state. They must comply with all state-specific requirements such as filing the Articles of Organization and adhering to any relevant business licenses and permits as dictated by the nature of the business and its location within Iowa.

Can I Run an LLC From My Home in Iowa?

Yes, you can run an LLC from your home in Iowa, but you should check with local zoning laws and understand that your home address will become public record.


Reference:

  1. https://help.sos.iowa.gov/how-do-i-file-biennial-report
  2. https://advocacy.sba.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/2020-Small-Business-Economic-Profile-IA.pdf

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