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

Jon Morgan
Published by Jon Morgan | Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Last updated: February 14, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Lou Viveros, Growth & Transition Advisor
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If you plan to establish a business entity in Pennsylvania, you must follow statutory requirements and file the necessary legal documents for your company to be approved.

As a business consultant specializing in LLCs, I have gained over a decade of experience addressing clients’ concerns about business formation.

After conducting in-depth research and collaborating with legal advisors, I’ll provide you with a comprehensive guide on how to start your LLC in Pennsylvania.

Additionally, if your preference is to have a specialist initiate your LLC, we advise checking out these professional Pennsylvania LLC formation services.

Quick Summary

  • To start an LLC, choose a unique name, draft an operating agreement, and comply with state-specific requirements, including legal document submission.
  • A unique, compliant name is essential, and appointing a registered agent for legal correspondence is mandatory.
  • Small businesses constitute 99.6% of all enterprises in Pennsylvania, according to U.S. Small Business Administration statistics, highlighting the critical role of LLCs in the state's economy.
  • Considering Pennsylvania's legal landscape, I believe forming an LLC offers a balanced approach to liability protection and tax efficiency, making it particularly suitable for many small to medium-sized businesses.


How to Form an LLC in Pennsylvania?

To form an LLC in Pennsylvania and conduct business legally, you should complete these steps before your LLC can operate.

1. Choose the Type of Your Pennsylvania LLC (Mandatory)

In my decade of consulting, I've advised clients on choosing the right LLC type. Each type, from multi-member to series LLCs, has its own specific benefits and challenges that I help clients navigate based on their unique business needs.

In Pennsylvania, where, according to U.S. Small Business Administration data, small businesses represent 99.6% of all enterprises, understanding the distinct advantages each LLC structure offers is key to tapping into the state's economic potential effectively [1].

Single-Member LLC:

  • Advantages: Complete control over decision-making; simpler tax filing as a disregarded entity.
  • Disadvantages: Limited growth potential; personal liability risk if the corporate veil is pierced.

Multi-Member LLC:

  • Advantages: Potential for diversified skill sets and capital investment; shared management responsibilities.
  • Disadvantages: Potential for conflicts among members; a more complex operating agreement is needed.

Professional LLC:

  • Advantages: Tailored for licensed professionals, it limits personal liability for malpractice of other members.
  • Disadvantages: Limited to certain professions; potentially more regulatory oversight.

Series LLC:

  • Advantages: Allows for separate assets and liabilities under one umbrella, making it efficient for managing multiple properties or ventures.
  • Disadvantages: Complex structure, not recognized in all states.

Each LLC type offers unique benefits and challenges, so choose based on your specific business needs and goals.

2. Choosing a Name for Your LLC

Discussion between three business person

Picking a suitable business name for your LLC is one of the most important decisions you need to make when applying for business registration in Pennsylvania.

The name should be unique, memorable, and professional enough to match your business ideas and future goals.

There are certain Pennsylvania LLC naming rules you should comply with for your business to be approved and registered.

The corporate business law of Pennsylvania is very specific about what you can and cannot use as an LLC business name, so make sure that your desired company or product names do not violate any Pennsylvania LLC naming rules.

These rules stipulate that:

  • You have to include any variation of "limited liability company" in your LLC name (e.g., "LLC," "Ltd," etc.), as stated in the Business One-Stop Shop [2].
  • Your business name cannot be the same as that of any other business registered in Pennsylvania.
  • You can't use any variation of words that resemble a government agency (e.g., "Department," "Commissioner," etc.)

Look up an LLC in Pennsylvania to ensure another business entity doesn't already use the name you want.

Once you submit a business name reservation form to the state, your preferred LLC name will be placed under "reservation" status for 120 days.

The filing fee for the name reservation is $70 and can be filed online or by mail.

See our article and find out what other Pennsylvania LLC formation costs.

3. Select a Registered Agent (Mandatory)

With small firms employing 2.6 million people and accounting for 45.8% of Pennsylvania’s workforce, as stated by the U.S. Census Bureau, the role of a registered agent in ensuring compliance is more crucial than ever for the continuity and legality of these vital economic contributors [3].

A registered office is the equivalent of a registered agent service in other states.

These commercial registered office providers are located in every county within the state, and they can help with various tasks, such as opening a business bank account.

When you form an LLC, one of your first tasks is to hire a registered agent service in Pennsylvania that will serve as your business address and receive official mail for the company throughout its life span.

It's important to understand that this registered office provider is a third party that will help you maintain compliance with the state's business filing requirements.

If they fail to do so, their legal liability could result in your LLC being dissolved by the state.

Choosing a competent registered agent is critical. I've helped numerous clients select agents who offer reliable compliance support, ensuring their LLCs adhere to state business filing requirements.

You'll be able to fill the Registered Office position on your Certificate of Organization. In Pennsylvania, you must have a contract to hire the professional services of a CROP before putting one up.

You may be subject to both criminal and civil penalties if you do not have a contract.

4. File Certificate of Organization (Mandatory)

Smiling businesswoman holding documents

File the Certificate of Organization along with the Docketing Statement.

A Certificate of Organization is filed with the State of Pennsylvania Department of State Division of Corporations.

You can find the form required for filing your certificate on their website under "Forms."

A docketing statement is a form that is used to establish a new business entity in the state of Pennsylvania.

A certificate of Organization is equivalent to a Certificate of Incorporation or Articles of Organization in most other states.

The LLC needs a Certificate of Organization to become a legal entity recognized by the state and federal governments.

A certificate is filed with the Department of State so it becomes a public record that your LLC exists.

The Pennsylvania state filing fee for an LLC Certificate of Organization should cost $125. You can file online or by mail.

Steps to Take After Forming an LLC in Pennsylvania

After successfully forming your LLC in Pennsylvania, there are several important steps you need to take to ensure your business operates smoothly and remains compliant with state regulations.

LLC Operating Agreements are the rules that govern your LLC. These are written Pennsylvania LLC documents completed by yourself and any co-owners to ensure all parties involved agree with what is laid out within them.

It also sets up how many owners you have (which can be other members or managers) as well as their roles in decision-making, responsibilities, profit sharing, and ownership.

The operating agreement for a multi-member LLC (the most common) should state how members will run the business with voting rights or as managers who have the power to make decisions.

It also sets up whether it can be sold at any point and what would happen to the LLC assets.

An LLC operating agreement doesn't have to be filed with the Pennsylvania state government or the IRS, but it's a good idea to have one for your own records.

You can find operating agreement templates online for every possible LLC structure (single-member LLC, multi-member LLC, etc.).

Holding a card, putting inside the front pocket

Under Pennsylvania law, a business registered in Pennsylvania that has a valid Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service may choose how to be taxed.

Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as FEIN (federal employer identification number), is a number issued by the Internal Revenue Service to businesses, sole proprietorships, and corporations for identification purposes.

Applying for an EIN is a service I provide to ensure clients' businesses are properly registered for tax purposes. This process is crucial for legal operations such as hiring employees and opening business bank accounts.

You can apply for an EIN by mail or request it online through the IRS website. This service is free of charge.

Opening a separate bank account for your LLC in Pennsylvania is an optional but highly recommended step.

This practice is crucial for maintaining a clear distinction between your personal and business finances. It not only helps in upholding the limited liability protection offered by the LLC structure but also simplifies accounting and tax preparation processes.

To open a bank account for your LLC, you will need to provide your LLC's Articles of Organization, an Employer Identification Number (EIN), and possibly a resolution for identifying authorized signers, especially in cases of multiple members.

This step not only enhances the professionalism of your business dealings but also lays a solid foundation for your LLC's financial management.

8. File your Pennsylvania LLC Annual Report (Mandatory)

Two employees signing a paper for starting an limited liability company in Pennsylvania

Filing an Annual Report for an LLC in Pennsylvania is a critical step in maintaining your business's compliance and good standing with the state.

The process involves providing detailed information about your company. Typically, this includes the company name, principal address, names and addresses of members or managers, and a description of the business. It's also important to report any significant changes that have occurred in the company over the past year.

Regarding the filing fees, there is usually a cost associated with submitting the Annual Report. The exact fee varies and should be verified with the Pennsylvania Department of State. The preferred method for filing is online through the state's website, which offers a more efficient and quicker process compared to mail submissions.

Missing the filing deadline can lead to penalties, including fines or potentially the administrative dissolution of your LLC. It's essential to check the current deadline with the state to ensure timely compliance.

It's important to note that filing an Annual Report is not just a procedural task; it is mandatory for maintaining the legal standing of your LLC in Pennsylvania. Failure to file can have significant legal and financial repercussions.

Given that regulations, fees, and processes may change over time, it's advisable to regularly check for the most up-to-date information.

9. Obtain Business Licenses and Permits

An overall license for businesses to operate in Pennsylvania is not generally required by the state. However, Professional LLCs in Pennsylvania are legally required to have an LLC license.

There are around 40 listed professions, including some occupations like architects, engineers, surgeons, chiropractors, and others.

Check with the state Board of Occupational and Professional Licensure for a list of all the restricted professions in Pennsylvania.  Local county clerks can fill you in on the details about local permits you might need.

10. Certificate of Annual Registration (Mandatory)

The Certificate of Annual Registration for Restricted Professional Companies in Pennsylvania is a crucial regulatory requirement. Restricted professional companies, which are LLCs offering specialized professional services like law, medicine, or accounting, must file this certificate every year.

Key points to note:

  • Deadline: This certificate must be filed by April 15th each year, reflecting the company's status as of December 31st of the previous year.
  • Consequences of Non-Compliance: Failing to file the certificate leads to several penalties. These include additional fees, monetary penalties, and accruing interest. Moreover, a Uniform Commercial Code lien may be placed against the business. This lien serves as a legal claim or hold over the business’s assets, effectively marking them as collateral against the debt incurred due to non-compliance.
  • Purpose and Importance: This annual filing ensures that the state maintains current records of these specialized businesses and that they comply with specific regulatory standards. It is a measure to uphold the standards of professional service companies and protect the public interest.

By complying with this requirement, restricted professional companies in Pennsylvania demonstrate their ongoing commitment to legal and regulatory standards specific to their professional fields.

11. Choosing Your Tax Structure

Closeup image of a tax form

When choosing a tax structure for your business in Pennsylvania, it's important to consider the various options and their implications.

  • Sole Proprietorship/Partnership: This is the default structure for individual-owned or partnership businesses. It offers simplicity but lacks liability protection. Profits are taxed as personal income.
  • LLC (Limited Liability Company): LLCs provide liability protection and flexibility. They are pass-through entities for tax purposes, meaning profits are taxed as the personal income of the owners. However, LLCs can elect to be taxed as corporations.
  • Corporation (C or S): Corporations offer liability protection. C-corporations are taxed separately from their owners, potentially leading to double taxation (corporate and personal tax). S-corporations avoid double taxation but have stricter eligibility requirements.

Drawing from my experience, the LLC structure strikes a balance between liability protection and tax flexibility. This structure is particularly beneficial for small to medium-sized businesses.

Regarding changing your tax structure, it’s typically possible to switch once per year, usually by filing a form with the IRS before the tax year begins, as stated in the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue [4].

For instance, an LLC electing S-corporation status must file Form 2553 by March 15th for the change to apply for that tax year. Always consult with a tax professional to understand the specific timelines and implications for your business.

Benefits and Drawbacks of an LLC in Pennsylvania

Close up image of a dollar bills

Benefits:

  • Limited Liability: Owners (members) are typically not personally liable for business debts and liabilities.
  • Tax Flexibility: LLCs enjoy pass-through taxation, where profits are taxed only at the individual level, avoiding the double taxation faced by C-corporations.
  • Operational Flexibility: LLCs have fewer compliance requirements and offer flexibility in management and profit distribution.

"Registering your LLC within one of Pennsylvania's 300 Opportunity Zones allows you to defer taxes on previous gains invested in a Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF). Moreover, investors who commit to a QOF for more than five years can enjoy additional benefits, such as a 10% exclusion on the deferred gain."

- Jon Morgan, Co-Editor & Co-Founder of Venture Smarter

Drawbacks:

  • Limited Life: LLCs in some states may have a limited lifespan, requiring re-establishment after a certain period.
  • Self-Employment Tax: Profits may be subject to self-employment tax.
  • State-Specific Rules: Each state, including Pennsylvania, has its own regulations and fees for LLCs, which might be complex or burdensome for some businesses.

DIY vs. Professional LLC Formation

When forming an LLC, you can choose between doing it yourself (DIY) or hiring a professional LLC service. Each approach has its pros and cons:

DIY LLC Formation:

  • Pros: Cost-effective; personal control over the process.
  • Cons: Requires significant time and effort; risks of errors in paperwork or compliance.
  • Suitable for: Those with legal knowledge, time, and a straightforward business model.

Professional LLC Formation:

  • Pros: Expert guidance; reduced risk of errors; often includes compliance assistance.
  • Cons: More expensive; less personal involvement in the process.
  • Suitable for: Those lacking legal expertise, short on time, or with complex business needs.

Your choice depends on your comfort with legal procedures, time availability, and the complexity of your business needs. DIY may be cost-effective but time-consuming, while professional services offer convenience and peace of mind at a higher cost. Evaluate your individual requirements and capabilities to make an informed decision.

Related Articles:

FAQs

Can I Use a Virtual Address for My LLC in Pennsylvania?

You can use a virtual address for your LLC in Pennsylvania.

How Do I Get a Certificate of Good Standing in Pennsylvania?

You can get a Certificate of Good Standing in Pennsylvania by requesting the document from the Department of State and paying the corresponding fee of $40.

This document is required in case you need to apply for business loans, business insurance, or register your PA LLC in another state.

How Do I Add a Partner to My Pennsylvania LLC?

You can add a partner to your Pennsylvania LLC by following the provisions indicated in your operating agreement. In the absence of such a document, state laws apply.


References:

  1. https://advocacy.sba.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/2023-Small-Business-Economic-Profile-PA.pdf
  2. https://business.pa.gov/plan/naming-your-business/legal-name/
  3. https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/susb.html
  4. https://www.revenue.pa.gov/TaxTypes/SUT/Pages/default.aspx

About The Author

Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Jon Morgan, MBA, LLM, has over ten years of experience growing startups and currently serves as CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Venture Smarter. Educated at UC Davis and Harvard, he offers deeply informed guidance. Beyond work, he enjoys spending time with family, his poodle Sophie, and learning Spanish.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Growth & Transition Advisor
LJ Viveros has 40 years of experience in founding and scaling businesses, including a significant sale to Logitech. He has led Market Solutions LLC since 1999, focusing on strategic transitions for global brands. A graduate of Saint Mary’s College in Communications, LJ is also a distinguished Matsushita Executive alumnus.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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