How to Start an LLC in Iowa

Written by: Mary Gerardine

Last updated:

An Iowa LLC is one of the most simple, cost-effective, and quick business structures to form. Even so, navigating the formation process can seem daunting without clear guidance and an actionable plan.

In this How to Start an LLC in Iowa guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know to form your LLC, from the steps you’ll need to take to get started to maintaining your structure.

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Iowa LLC

In order to form an LLC in Iowa, you’ll need to complete the following steps:

  1. Name Your Iowa LLC
  2. Pick an Iowa Registered Agent
  3. Submit the Certificate of Organization
  4. Create an Iowa LLC Operating Agreement
  5. Get an EIN
  6. File Your BOI Report

In the sections below, we’ve broken down each of these steps in more detail.

Step 1: Name Your Iowa LLC

The first thing you’ll need to do before getting started is picking the right name for your LLC. This is important because your business’s name will need to represent your brand accurately, as well as be as memorable as possible.

In Iowa, all LLC names need to abide by the following statutory guidelines in order to be accepted by the Secretary of State:

  • Names are required to contain the term “limited liability company” or any commonly used abbreviation for this phrase (e.g., “LLC”, “L.L.C.”, “LC”, or “L.C.”)
  • Names must be deemed to be “distinguishable” from all currently reserved and registered business entity names according to the Secretary of State’s records (this includes fictitious names
    • Names that are otherwise identical apart from the business entity identifier (e.g., “LLC”, “Corp”, or “Limited Partnership”) will not be considered distinguishable
  • In order to include certain terms or phrases (e.g., “Bank”, “University”, or “Attorney”) in an LLC name, the filing entity will need to obtain explicit permission from the relevant state agency
  • Words or terms that may lead to confusion between a filing entity and a government agency are not allowed (e.g., “FBI”, “State Department”, or “Treasury”, etc.)
  • Even after being administratively dissolved, the name of the business entity will not be available for use by new filing entities within Iowa until five years after the date of dissolution

We recommend checking out Uniform Limited Liability Company Act §489.112 if you want a more detailed look into these naming requirements for Iowa LLCs.

Keep in mind that even though picking an LLC name in itself has no cost, there are certain fees that can be associated with the overall process.

Reserve an LLC Name

If you’re not yet ready to launch your business and still need a little more time, you can choose to reserve your desired LLC name for later by submitting a request through the Secretary of State’s Fast Track Filing system ($10 fee).

After submitting this reservation, the name you plan to use will be protected from anyone else using it for 120 days.

It’s important to be aware that according to Iowa Code § 22.11, all the personal details that you give as part of this name reservation will become publicly available.

Note: It’s always best to confirm your desired name isn’t already in use by another business in Iowa. To do this, you can use the Secretary of State’s Business Entity Search tool.

Register a Fictitious Name

Another potential cost associated with naming your LLC is registering a “doing business as” (or DBA) name — which is also known as a “trade name” or “fictitious name” in Iowa.

This is essentially a nickname that you can choose to register for your business to operate under — particularly if you’re not content with your LLC’s legal name.

Registering a fictitious name can be done online using Fast Track Filing, or by mail using this Fictitious Name Resolution form. Either way, you’ll be required to submit this request to the Secretary of State and pay a $5 fee.

Note: Although there’s no requirement for fictitious names in Iowa to be unique, you will be informed if the name you want is also being used by another entity in the state.

Buy a Domain Name

Finally, you’ll want to focus on securing a good domain name (which is your website’s URL address) for your business. For this, try to focus on choosing one that’s easy for customers to remember, relevant to your business, and accurately reflects your brand.

After confirming the domain name you want to use is actually available, you can purchase it through a trusted registrar.

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Step 2: Pick a Registered Agent

The next step you’ll need to take toward forming your LLC is to pick a registered agent.

This is an individual or business entity that accepts legal correspondence on behalf of your business, such as service of process, notice of lawsuits, and official government communications; you’re required to continuously maintain one as long as your LLC is active.

Your registered agent can be an individual or business entity, but will need to satisfy the following requirements:

  • Must have a registered office at an Iowa street address (this cannot be a PO box)
  • The agent’s business office address and registered office address must be the same
  • Individuals acting as registered agents must be at least 18 and Iowa residents
  • Business entities acting as registered agents must be authorized to operate within the state

Note: You can choose to act as your own registered agent if you’re looking to save money, though we don’t typically recommend this as you’re much more likely to suffer fines and penalties due to non-compliance than if you just hire a professional service.

On top of this, you’ll lose any anonymity your LLC would have given you since your name, address, and contact information will be publicly available.

While most business entities within Iowa must appoint a registered agent, there are a few rare scenarios in which the Secretary of State will perform this role instead. A list of these situations can be found on the Iowa Secretary of State website.

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Step 3: Submit Your Certificate of Organization

In Iowa, the Certificate of Organization is the filing document that you’ll need to submit with the Secretary of State in order to officially register your LLC (this commonly referred to as the Articles of Organization or Certificate of Formation in other states).

It’s worth noting that the cost of submitting your LLC formation documents will vary depending on whether you’re filing for a domestic entity ($50) or a foreign entity ($100).

If you want to complete your LLC’s Certificate of Organization as quickly as possible, we recommend ensuring you have all the following information available on-hand:

  • The legal name you want to register your LLC under
  • The name and address of your LLC’s registered agent
  • The names and addresses of all of your LLC’s organizers and members
  • The exact date until which your LLC will operate (if applicable)
  • Whether your LLC will be member-managed or manager-managed

Below, we’ve outlined the two main ways in which you’re able to file your LLC’s Certificate of Organization with the Iowa Secretary of State.

Online Filings

Most of our readers find it easier and more convenient to file their LLC’s Certificate of Organization online through the Iowa Secretary of State’s Fast Track Filing system, as there isn’t an official form you can use.

Paper Filings

While there’s no official Certificate of Organization form available to use in Iowa, you’ll be able to draft your own certificate as long as it follows the following provided requirements.

Once complete, you can file a hard-copy application by submitting your Certificate of Organization (and a check/money order for the relevant filing fee) to the following address:

Lucas State Office Building
321 E 12th St
Des Moines, IA 50319

Fax Filings

Alternatively, you can also submit a hard copy of your LLC’s Certificate of Organization by faxing it to the following number: (515) 242-5953.

Note: If you’re registering a foreign LLC in Iowa, you’ll instead be required to file a Foreign Registration Statement with the Secretary of State instead.

Step 4: Create an Iowa LLC Operating Agreement

Once this is completed, the next step you’ll need to take is to create an operating agreement.

This is an internal document that clearly outlines the ownership and management structure of your company in order to reduce potential future conflict.

While this document isn’t legally mandated in Iowa, all LLCs are recommended to have one as it can help maintain both: smooth operations and your LLC’s corporate veil.

A number of companies provide drafting services for operating agreements online, typically for a fee of around a few hundred dollars. However, it’s quite easy to sort this out by yourself if you want to save money, and you can even find a number of free templates online to help with this.

Step 5: Get an EIN

Even though it’s not a legal requirement (unless your LLC has employees or multiple members), all Iowa LLCs should apply for an IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN).

This is a free, nine-digit number used by the IRS to identify your business and keep track of its tax reporting (e.g., federal income tax and sales tax) — much like a Social Security Number (SSN) for individuals.

You’ll need an EIN to be able to:

  • Hire employees
  • Open a business bank account
  • Apply for some business licenses/permits
  • Establish a line of credit

On top of this, using an EIN instead of a Social Security Number (SSN) helps to protect your personal information and safeguard your anonymity as the business owner of your LLC.

You can quickly apply for an EIN for your LLC online through the IRS website. You’re also able to submit a paper application using Form SS-4 either via fax to (855) 641-6935, or by mailing it to the following address:

Internal Revenue Service
Attn: EIN Operation
Cincinnati, OH 45999

Note: Don’t worry if you don’t already have an SSN, it’s not necessary to have one in order to apply for an EIN — instead, you can just leave Section 7b of the application blank and call the IRS on (267) 941-1099.

Step 6: File a BOI Report

Starting January 2024, the vast majority of LLC owners will be required to file a Beneficial Ownership Information (BOI) Report with the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

This is part of an initiative by the U.S. government to stop individuals and entities engaging in illegal or unethical activities from being able to conceal this using “opaque ownership structures”, like shell companies, to hide their true identities.

Existing LLCs will be able to file this report anytime between January 1, 2024, and January 1, 2025, while new LLCs will have up to 90 days after the date they were initially formed to do so (30 days for LLCs formed after the start of 2025).

Keep in mind that failure to file your LLC’s BOI report on time can result in exorbitantly high fines (i.e., $591 per day) or even jail time (up to two years).

Note: Not every LLC owner is required to file a BOI report. For example, companies with more than 20 full-time employees, accounting firms, and banks are exempt. For a full list of filing exemptions, you can have a look at FinCEN’s website.

How to Maintain Your Iowa LLC

In order to keep operating legally in the state of Iowa, you’ll need to file an annual report with the Secretary of State each year.

Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to complete each of these steps, as we’ve detailed all the information you’ll need to know in the sections below.

File a Biennial Report

For your Iowa LLC to remain in good standing, it will need to file a biennial report with the Secretary of State by April 1 every other odd-numbered year (e.g., 2025, 2027, and 2029).

This report will contain the following pieces of information in order to keep the Iowa Secretary of State’s records up-to-date:

  • Your LLC’s legal name
  • The name and street and mailing addresses of the registered agent of your LLC
  • The street and mailing addresses of your LLC’s principal place of business
  • The names and addresses of each of the following in your LLC:
    • The president
    • The secretary
    • The treasurer
    • A member of the board of directors

Biennial reports can either be submitted electronically through the state’s Fast Track Filing system ($30 fee), or by using the relevant paper application ($45) for your business entity from the Iowa Secretary of State website.

Note: This requirement is covered in much greater depth under Iowa Code Business Corporations § 490.1621.

Iowa vs Other States

When it comes to selecting a state in which to form an LLC, Iowa is continually recognized as a top option.

However, this is not only due to the state’s skilled workforce, sophisticated transportation system, and investment in renewable energy — which are all attractive characteristics to business owners due to the competitive edge they can grant.

One of the central reasons for this state’s popularity among entrepreneurs is the low cost of doing business here — thanks in part to both its competitive personal income and corporate tax rates and modest filing fees.

In fact, LLCs based in this state are only faced with an annual cost of just $15, which is considerably less than many popular alternatives such as Florida ($138.75), Wyoming ($60), and Delaware ($300).

Regardless, keep in mind that the best state to form your LLC is almost always the state that you will be operating in; this is because otherwise you’ll likely be required to register as a foreign LLC in your home state, meaning that you’ll need to pay registration and maintenance fees twice.

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Iowa Secretary of State Contact Information

Mailing Address:

Business Services Division
Iowa Secretary of State
First Floor, Lucas Building
321 E. 12th St.
Des Moines, IA 50319

Physical Address:

Iowa Secretary of State
321 E 12th St #1
Des Moines, IA 50319
Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Contact Information:

Email: sos@sos.iowa.gov
Phone: (515) 281-5204

How to Start an LLC in Iowa FAQ

How much does an LLC cost in Iowa?

The main cost to form an LLC in Iowa is the $50 fee for filing the Certificate of Organization. However, additional costs may also arise from optional expenses like hiring a registered agent, obtaining a fictitious name, and getting a general business license.

For a more in-depth look at these costs, we recommend checking out our Iowa LLC Cost guide.

How do I set up an LLC in Iowa?

To set up an LLC in Iowa, you’ll need to start by choosing a unique business name that complies with state regulations. Next, you’ll need to appoint a registered agent and file a Certificate of Organization with the Iowa Secretary of State.

We break down each of the steps associated with this process in our How to Start an LLC in Iowa guide.

How to maintain an LLC in Iowa?

In order to maintain your Iowa Limited Liability Company, you’ll be required to submit a biennial report with the Secretary of State Business Services Division by April 1 every two years.

This costs $15 to file and will keep the state’s records updated on your business’s most important information. On top of this, you’ll also be expected to pay all applicable Iowa business taxes.

Is Iowa a good state to form an LLC?

Iowa can be a good state to form an LLC, particularly due to its relatively low filing fees and straightforward formation process. On top of this, the state’s business environment is supportive, with resources available for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Read our How to Start an LLC guide for more information on how you can get started.

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