How to Start an LLC in North Carolina

Written by: Kevelyn Rodriguez

Last updated:

North Carolina 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 North Carolina 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 business structure.

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North Carolina LLC

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

  1. Name Your North Carolina LLC
  2. Pick a North Carolina Registered Agent
  3. Submit Your LLC’s Articles of Organization
  4. Create a North Carolina 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 North Carolina 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 North Carolina, all LLC names need to abide by the following statutory guidelines in order to be accepted by the Secretary of State:

  • Uniqueness: Your LLC’s name must be unique and distinguishable from other entities already registered in North Carolina. The Secretary of State does not consider corporate suffixes like “Inc.” or “LLC” in determining whether a name is distinct. This means that simply changing or adding a business entity suffix to an existing name won’t suffice
  • Adherence to Decency: Your LLC’s name must not contain words that could be considered offensive to the general standards of decency. This is meant to maintain the professionalism and integrity of your business to the public
  • Required Suffixes: Your LLC’s name must contain the words “limited liability company”, or the abbreviation “L.L.C.”, “LLC”, or the combination “Ltd. Liability Co.”, “Limited Liability Co.”, or “Ltd. Liability Company”
  • Lawful Purpose: Your LLC’s name must only include language that reflects lawful activities permitted by its formation documents — such as its Articles of Organization or Operating Agreement; it should also align with your LLC’s business model, if published

You can determine if your desired LLC name is available by conducting a name availability search through the Secretary of State’s Online Business Services portal.

Keep in mind that while choosing an LLC name itself incurs no cost, there are certain fees associated with the overall process — such as reserving your business name or filing a DBA (Doing Business As) name.

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 an Application to Reserve a Business Entity Name with the Secretary of State ($30 fee). This will keep anyone from being able to take the name you plan to use for 120 days.

If you need any longer than this, you’ll have to renew the reservation upon expiration using the same process.

Register a DBA Name

Another potential cost associated with naming your LLC is a “doing business as” (or DBA) name — known as an assumed business name in North Carolina. 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 DBA name can be done by filing an Assumed Business Name Certificate with the County Register of Deeds in the area in which you plan to operate.

Keep in mind that, regardless of your location, you will need to pay a $26 fee.

Note: While you’re not obligated by North Carolina law to select a unique DBA name, you can check if the one you’re considering is already in use by another company by using the state’s Assumed Business Name Database.

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 (RA).

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 be available to receive service of process during normal business hours
  • Must continuously maintain a physical registered office in North Carolina
  • If an individual, they must be a legal resident of North Carolina
  • If a business entity, it must be registered on the NC Business Registry and authorized to transact business in NC

You should note that 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.

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Step 3: Submit Your LLC’s Articles of Organization

In North Carolina, the Articles of Organization is the filing document that you’ll need to submit with the Secretary of State in order to officially register your LLC.

When preparing your LLC’s Articles of Organization, you will need to include several pieces of information, including:

  • Company Name: You will need to specify the legal name under which your LLC will be registered
  • Names and Addresses of Organizers: You will need to list each person involved in the formation of the LLC, specify their roles (member, organizer, or both), and provide their business addresses
  • Registered Agent Information: You will need to identify your initial registered agent and provide their street address in North Carolina
  • Principal Office Address: If the LLC has a principal office, you’ll need to include its complete street and mailing address (if applicable), as well as the applicable telephone number
  • Additional Provisions: You may include other lawful provisions that may govern the LLC’s operations

You have two options for submitting your LLC’s Articles of Organization in North Carolina:

  • Online Submission: You can file online through the North Carolina Secretary of State’s online services portal
  • Mail Submission: If you prefer, you can download Form L-01 from the Secretary of State’s website and mail the completed document to the following address:

North Carolina Secretary of State
2 South Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC 27601-2903
(919) 814-5400

Both methods require a filing fee of $125; online filings are typically processed within 5 days or less, while mailed filings may take anywhere between 10 and 15 days on average.

Step 4: Create a North Carolina 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 North Carolina, 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 North Carolina LLCs should apply for an 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 — 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 North Carolina LLC

In order to keep operating legally in the state of North Carolina, your LLC will need to keep up with its annual obligations — which we’ve discussed in greater detail below.

Submit an Annual Report

To maintain your LLC’s active registration with the state, you will have to submit an Annual Report to the North Carolina Secretary of State by April 15 each year.

You can file your report in one of two ways: either online at the North Carolina Secretary of State’s website, or by downloading the Annual Report form from the same site, completing it, and mailing it to P.O. Box 29525, Raleigh, NC 27626-0525.

This process requires a $200 processing fee; though a $3 electronic filing fee is imposed if you file online, bringing the total to $203.

It should be noted that missing the April 15 deadline will result in a Notice for Grounds for Administrative Dissolution — failing to submit the report within 60 days of this notice will lead to the dissolution of your LLC.

North Carolina vs Other States

North Carolina stands out for the state’s favorable business environment, which includes a supportive infrastructure and a stable economy.

While the initial costs to form an LLC are on par with the national average, the annual maintenance fees are relatively high when compared to most other states.

Having said that, keep in mind that the best state to form your LLC will almost always be 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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North Carolina Secretary of State Contact Information

Mailing Address:

Business Registration
North Carolina Secretary of State
P.O. Box 29622
Raleigh, NC 27626

Physical Address:

2 South Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC 27601-2903
Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Contact Information:
Phone: (919) 814-5393

How to Start an LLC in North Carolina FAQ

How much does it cost to start an LLC in North Carolina?

To start an LLC in North Carolina, you will need to pay a minimum of $125, which will cover the cost of submitting your LLC’s Articles of Organization.

If you choose to use an LLC formation or registered agent service, you’ll likely spend a bit more.

How do I file an LLC in North Carolina myself?

You can file your LLC’s Articles of Organization in North Carolina either online through the Secretary of State’s online services portal or by downloading and mailing the applicable form to the Secretary of State.

Interested in finding out more about business registration, business taxes, and other related topics? Take a look at our in-depth How To Start An LLC article.

How long does it take for an LLC to be approved in NC?

The processing time for an LLC in North Carolina typically ranges from 5 days for online filings to between 10 and 15 days for mail submissions, depending on the current workload of the North Carolina Department of State’s office.

For a more detailed breakdown, you can check out our North Carolina LLC Cost guide.

Do I have to pay taxes on LLC in NC?

Yes you do, but the exact tax obligations you’ll be privy to will depend on your business’s tax status (i.e., whether it’s operating as a pass-through entity or as a C Corp.).

Depending on your industry and location, you may also need to pay certain taxes at a local and/or state level.

For more information on this topic, North Carolina business owners can have a look at our How to Start an LLC in North Carolina guide.

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