How to Find a State-Required Registered Agent

By Jennifer Reuting

Finding a registered agent isn’t too difficult. Finding a legitimate one that can and will do the job for a reasonable price is another story altogether. The best way to find an agent is to call your secretary of state’s office and ask for a recommendation. Some state offices will give you some names; others try to remain impartial.

Some states maintain lists of registered agents on their websites, but, like the referrals you get over the phone, these agents aren’t vetted by anyone. In many cases, any motivated registered agent (or wannabe) can get on this list, regardless of legitimacy.

Calling in one of the “Big Four” national registered-agent firms

You can retain one of the “Big Four” national registered-agent firms:

These four large national companies specialize in registered-agent service, for the most part. They’re good at what they do, and they’re generally more technologically advanced than local companies. Also, as your LLC expands to multiple states, you don’t have to deal with a different company in each jurisdiction. Virtually all Fortune 500 companies use one of the Big Four as their registered agent.

Prices for these companies’ services vary greatly, so shop around. Registered Agent Information, an independent comparison site, has pretty good up-to-date reviews of each company, as well as links to sites for the major registered agents doing business in each state (including the Big Four), along with their prices.

Evaluating agents

When interviewing a potential agent, first get a feel for its policies on dealing with lawsuits. You and your registered agent must agree that any legal paperwork it receives on your behalf will be brought to your attention immediately.

Perhaps you decide that the agent will call you and summarize a document’s contents and then have it delivered to you overnight. Or maybe the agent will e-mail you copies of the documents and then send the originals to you. Just be sure that both of you are clear on what procedure will be followed. Use the same method for state documents and tax notices as well.

Whatever the delivery method you and your agent agree on, make sure that you can track your packages.

One characteristic to look for when choosing a registered agent is how long that person or company has been working with the secretary of state’s office. If your registered agent has close relationships with the administrators at the secretary of state’s office, your filings are likely to be completed much faster and issues are likely to be resolved more easily.

Also, it’s a good sign of legitimacy. If the administrators at the secretary of state’s office have never heard of your registered agent, that person or company probably isn’t doing a lot of work there.

If you plan to do business in multiple states, choose a registered agent that’s also located in those states. That way, your filings, invoices, and records can be consolidated, and you have one firm that knows the ins and outs of your business and can work for you in multiple jurisdictions. Also make sure that the agent can collect, complete, and file your state and local business licenses and permits for you.

Although registered agents don’t come free, their services usually cost only $100 to $200 per year. Most fees are billed annually, the same month in which your LLC was initially created. Think twice about hiring an agent that requests that you sign a multi-year contract. A lot of legitimate agents don’t require contracts, so why lock yourself in if you don’t have to?

Make sure that your agent always has your current contact information. If your agent can’t find you, she’ll have trouble forwarding Uncle Sam’s letters to you.

Choose an individual within your LLC to maintain regular contact with your registered agent. Doing so helps you avoid confusion about whom the agent is supposed to contact in the face of a lawsuit. However, all members should feel comfortable contacting the agent at any time.

Attorneys will try to place themselves as your registered agent. Although many attorneys are qualified to be agents, be aware that they tend to be much more expensive than commercial registered agents. And if you have an attorney/agent and he isn’t the most qualified attorney to handle a particular legal battle, you have to go through the fun of explaining to him that you don’t want to use his services for a lawsuit that was served to him.