Every business needs a variety of specialized support services in order to operate successfully. When it comes to the legal system, things get complicated fast. Federal laws, regulations, mandates, and guidelines related to every individual industry are a lot to know, track, and navigate. A registered agent service provider takes the pressure off of a business by taking on aspects of the company’s legal burden. In particular, a registered agent service can perform each of the following services on behalf of a client:
- Fulfill legal requirements, such as serving as a client’s physical mailing address
- Receive legal correspondence or “service of process” on behalf of a client
- File legal documents
Often referred to as “Resident Agent” or “Agent for Service of Process” services, the best registered agent services enable companies to fulfill legal due process in every state without a business needing a full physical location in each.
Top 4 Registered Agent Services
- Northwest Registered Agent – Most Down to Earth
- Incfile – Most Customer Reviews
- Harbor Compliance – Highest BBB Rating
- ZenBusiness – Most Beginner-Friendly
How Did We Decide the 4 Top Registered Agent Services?
Available registered agent services abound, but how can a responsible business owner determine which ones provide the best registered agent service? We’ve taken the guesswork out of the process by creating this list of the best registered agent services for you. The four registered agents on this list underwent a rigorous evaluation incorporating each brand’s performance in the following areas:
- Legal Compliance Capabilities
- Breadth of Service Offerings
- Flexibility of Services
- Localization Options
- Privacy Practices
- Convenience Solutions
Each of the four registered agent service companies on our list met the basic capability requirements of the more than 30 services evaluated by our review team. However, these four brands stood head and shoulders above the competition by shining brightly in the categories above, as well as through each registered agent’s individual excellence.
Best Registered Agent Services Reviewed
1. Northwest Registered Agent – Most Down to Earth
- An authentic manifesto written by the owner
- All services and support are US-based
- Comparative pricing is not easily accessible
This one was tough for our review team. Like the others on this list, Northwest Registered Agent provides a core registered agent service: legal notification representation to ensure legal compliance in all 50 states. However, Northwest set itself apart in various ways, not the least of which was that it was the only one on our list for which we had to scold our review team repeatedly! We kept finding our team spending too much time on Northwest’s website, delighted by the family-owned business’ down-to-earth and exceedingly sincere writing style.
Beyond simply throwing nice words on a page, Northwest seems about as authentic as it comes, beginning their in-depth manifesto (which has its own dedicated page) with, “If you’re interested and have a half-hour to read it all, we have a lot to say.” It’s true. They do. And it’s worth it. In reality, you can tell the Northwest manifesto is written so sincerely because it lists a variety of policies that speak directly to frustrations most of us have with other companies. In particular, they call out their policies related to customer service and guarantee that every phone call and email is replied to in a timely fashion. In addition, they ensure that a direct employee of the company answers each message. Northwest Registered Agent does not have call centers or auto-reply emails when their clients reach out. It is a point of pride for this registered agent that email responses include an email signature with the employee’s full contact info.
Privacy by Default® Policy
Northwest’s “Privacy by Default®” policy was also a winner for our review team. In a world where privacy and personal information are worth a premium price, our team found it refreshing that Northwest’s policy was not to sell customer data. To anyone. Ever. This is a point they are fervent about, describe in detail, and rationalize comprehensively. In their own words:
“Companies across the globe quietly take your data and sell it at huge margins, sometimes making more money from your personal details than from whatever they allege is their primary product or service…You shouldn’t have to ‘opt out of data sales or data sharing ‘with trusted partners.’”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Bravo to the Northwest team’s thinking on privacy issues, for addressing it directly, and for creating an entire policy around it.
Our team also loved that all Northwest registered agent services and support are US-based. This applies to every phone call, every email, and every interaction with the company on any level. In an age when cost-cutting measures often export jobs to other countries, Northwest keeps it honest and keeps it local. In fact, they were the first in the industry to locally scan documents for clients out of each of their regional offices. That may seem minor, but it speaks volumes about how their company mindset is applied in practice.
Northwest Registered Agent is a down-to-earth, family-run, US-based business. If these things matter to you, as they did for our review team, you should consider Northwest.
2. Incfile – Most Customer Reviews
- 28,000 customer reviews, averaging a 4.8-star rating
- Massive content and resource library
- First-year free
- Comprehensive registered agent service offerings could be a bit overwhelming to process for new users
Customer Review Excellence
Incfile has a number of things going for it, not the least of which is its incredible amount of customer reviews. At an impressive 28,000+ reviews, Incfile had far and away the most reviews of any of the top four registered agents on our list. Beyond sheer numbers, the fact that Incfile has maintained a 4.8-star rating means they’re doing good work on a very large scale and rather consistently. In fact, a full 96 percent of Incfile reviews score the company with four or five stars!
The best part about this is that potential clients need not take any of the company’s claims at their word. Instead, a client-to-be can read thousands of reviews about each area of registered agent service Incfile offers and decide for themselves. That’s always a good sign, and our review team valued it highly.
Quality Resources and Content
Incfile’s content is impressive, to say the least. Not only do they offer guides, tutorials, info, and other resources for the core services they provide, but also a wealth of info useful to all manner of tangential business interests. Entire business startup guides are organized, comprehensive, and available on an industry-by-industry basis! Our review team’s favorite part? It’s all free. Incfile wants your business to succeed and works as a proactive partner toward that goal. Entire in-depth white papers, field guides, fee structure outlines by state, infographics, newsletters, and comparison charts and graphs are all included.
First Year Free Policy
New customers will be delighted by Incfile’s First Year Free policy: $0 + state filing fees (unavoidable) for new entity formation. Certain other registered agent service providers (who are all notably absent from our list) hide recurring fees behind promo periods and rely on bad will to dupe customers into repeated charges for little to no additional or active services. This is not the case with Incfile. The company proudly outlines its unique first-year free policy and notes transparently that state fees cannot be included in this.
What this means for business owners: Incfile offers a truly free year of service. Customers pay only the required state fees.
3. Harbor Compliance – Highest BBB Rating
- A+ Better Business Bureau rating
- Immediate access to address, same-day electronic delivery of documents
- Affordable annual fees with no hidden charges
- Least number of client reviews
A+ Rating on BBB
The Better Business Bureau is not necessarily a universal indicator of all things, but it’s hard to find a better nod toward reliability than an A+ rating on the respected platform. The BBB organization exists to serve as a private, third-party watchdog that is not affiliated with the government or industry organizations in order to remain as impartial and consumer-serving as possible. To underscore how difficult it is to achieve an A+ rating, consider some of the factors that go into it:
- Total time of business operation
- Government actions against the business (if any)
- Any advertising issues
- Number of complaints by customers of the business
- Severity of complaints
- Amount and quality of company responses to customer complaints
- Resolution of customer complaints
The focus on customer complaints is a reason the Better Business Bureau continues to be a trusted third party organization. Since nearly 85 percent of a business’s rating stems from consumer-reported complaints and how they are handled, that means Harbor Compliance’s customer service truly shines!
Speed of Services
A quick evaluation of the Harbor Compliance website makes it easy to see how the customer service experience might differ from its competitors. The company offers ample avenues to correspond with support, including phone, fax, email, mail, and comprehensive online form submittal modules.
Harbor Compliance is all about speed. Harbor’s resident agent service makes immediate access to the company’s addresses a point of pride. The company’s registered agent services online portal for clients also means they are able to provide a same-day turnaround on electronic delivery of legal documents. Gone are the days in which your business finds out about legal action days, weeks, or even months too late because a piece of mail was lost, misplaced, or misfiled. Harbor has your back and moves at the speed of modern business.
Transparent Fee Scale
Fees are upfront, flat-rate, and only charged on an annual basis. Pricing is straightforward, with no frills or hidden charges. Harbor Compliance is great at what they do, and our review team felt the company charges a fair price for their level of service excellence.
4. ZenBusiness – Most Beginner-Friendly
- Affordable, generous “starter plan”
- “Worry-Free Compliance” service
- Plentiful customer reviews, A rating with the Better Business Bureau
- Third-party cookies are allowed on their website
Beginner-Friendly Starter Plan
Our review team found ZenBusiness to be the most beginner-friendly registered agent due to a variety of factors. Some of these factors come down to simple numbers. For example, ZenBusiness’s “starter plan” includes more than half of the 20 features listed in their top-end premium plan–for only 16 percent of the price. Not content to pigeonhole customers or force them into higher brackets due to individual features, the company also offered a variety of options on an a la carte basis. ZenBusiness understood that not every company needs all services contained in a given package. ZenBusiness proved themselves starter-friendly and transparent, and that is reflected in this pricing structure and the flexibility behind it.
A highlight for our review team was ZenBusiness’s “Worry-Free Compliance” service. At the center of each of the services on our list is the capability of standing in as a company’s local presence for the purposes of remaining compliant with state and federal laws. Beyond the ability to receive and process legal correspondence, ZenBusiness ensures its clients remain compliant by tracking state requirements, including filing deadlines for things like annual reports. Missing such deadlines is not only costly and time-consuming for a business but can also result in negative standings on the state level. This can have the domino effect of influencing corporate structure protections and resulting in increased risk and liability on an individual scale.
The ZenBusiness Worry-Free Compliance service keeps clients on track with compliance and filing alerts, supports annual reports, includes two annual amendments and non-compliant assistance, should your business fall into bad standing. The latter is especially valuable, as ZenBusiness provides individualized support with experts versed in retaining or regaining good standing and LLC protections on the state level. In fact, in the case of a company falling into bad standing, ZenBusiness experts tailor an action plan specific to the client to get them back on track in the minimum amount of time and with the path of least resistance.
ZenBusiness also shines on our list of the best registered agent service providers due to its excellence, as reflected in customer reviews. The company earned an A rating with the Better Business Bureau and boasted more than 6,500 client reviews with an average rating of 4.8 out of five stars.
What is a Registered Agent Service?
Every business is required by law to be registered and reachable by the U.S. legal system. In order to satisfy this requirement, companies must be able to receive legal documents in every state in which they operate. Since many businesses “operate” in multiple states but don’t necessarily have offices in each, a registered agent service is a reliable middleman to solve this problem.
In essence, a registered agent service is a reliable partner for all things related to the legal system. Registered agent services help businesses fulfill legal requirements, receive legal correspondence in multiple states, and, depending upon your level of service contract with your partner, can even file legal paperwork on behalf of your business.
Why You Should Use a Registered Agent Service
There are a variety of reasons businesses choose to partner with a separate registered agent service. Legal proceedings are traditionally complicated, heavy on documentation and paperwork, and require specialized knowledge and experience tracking, registering, filing, following up, providing duplications, and so much more.
Even companies with their own in-house counsel often struggle to meet the stringent demands of the legal system. That’s where registered agent services come in. A registered agent service can help your business by:
- Ensuring you never miss the most important paperwork there is: the legal kind!
- Taking responsibility for legal filings to confirm they are organized, properly submitted, and documented
- Giving you the ability to move your business address without incurring a domino effect of legal filings, fees, and red tape
- Ensuring legal compliance in every state in which your business operates
Why You Should Not Be Your Own Registered Agent
Working with a registered agent is standard business practice for companies that operate in multiple states for good reasons, not the least of which are: cost, consistency, and legal accountability.
The simplest, easiest, most straightforward reason we recommend against being your own registered agent is also the most practical: cost.
Consider the sheer amount of cash flow necessary to cover just one of the many services most registered agent services provide: an address in every state. Establishing an address in all 50 states requires a physical address at which someone is readily able and available to receive legal mail and documents.
Mail related to legal matters is the most important kind a business can receive. And legal correspondence requiring immediate and decisive action means a company would also need to hire professionals in every state. The figurative dollars are piling up just thinking about it!
Beyond the infrastructure and skilled labor costs, a company also pays heavy prices in terms of intangibles like privacy and consistency of response. Working with a registered agent service means a business can hold that partner accountable for privacy and data care. A registered agent service also provides a uniform, consistent product, so you know your documentation and responses are steady and dependable. Working with 50 internal employees means managing 50 individuals to ensure that every state’s privacy policies are adhered to. It means the potential for varied responses across different individuals and documentation is potentially more susceptible to human error.
Can I Change My Registered Agent?
Not only is the answer to this yes, but in the case of a lost registered agent (such as when one resigns or moves), you are actually required to do so! Changing a business’s registered agent involves a variety of requirements that vary by state, but some of the common aspects of the process include:
- Filling out each state’s “statement of change” form
- Filing these forms with the state
- Payment of associated fees
Variances in requirements by state can include things like:
- Additional or different sets of information related to your business
- Filing and registry deadlines
- Signature-specific requirements (board members or c-level executive signatures, etc.)
Thankfully the best registered agent service providers on our list make the process of changing your business’ registered agent simple and cost-effective. Engage one of the services on this list, and they will very likely fill out the required forms, file them, and some will even pay the fees for you! This varies by state, but each of our top four provides a simple portal through which to get this done:
Failing to change a business’s registered agent appropriately can result in significant fees, loss of licenses, limitations on access to resources, and even potential barring from state court systems! We recommend simplifying the process by engaging one of the proven and trusted registered agent services from this list.
What is a service of process?
In the United States, every party involved in a legal action is required to be notified about it. “Service of process” refers to the literal delivery of legal documents to the legal entities involved in it. This process is often depicted comedically by an individual “blind-siding” another person with a summons to court in popular media. In reality, being served papers is no laughing matter. In fact, what happens after legal papers are served can partially determine the outcome itself.
Since many companies operate in multiple states, the ability to effectively, efficiently, and reliably receive, process, and respond to legal notices is of the utmost importance. It is at this point that a registered agent service steps in as the responsible partner to handle this end of things and ensure a company remains compliant in every state.
What is compliance?
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, compliance is a business’s actions to adhere to legal requirements. To do so, a business must meet both internal and external legal document requirements. Internal requirements vary by the type of business (S Corp, LLC, Corporation, Sole Proprietorship, Nonprofit). External requirements generally come in the form of forms, document filings, and fees that usually need to be submitted annually.
What features should I look for in a registered agent service?
Finding the right registered agent service can be a relatively simple process. While compliance requirements vary by state, most registered agents make their offerings clear enough for ease of consideration. This is especially true of our top four picks on this list. In particular, be sure to look for the following:
- Coverage in the right states: Evaluate any candidate for your own registered agent service to ensure they cover the states in which your company operates. The last thing you want is to find that your chosen service can only manage some of your locations! All of our top four offer registered agent services in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C.
- Fee structure: In terms of budget, we recommend looking for a registered agent that has flat rates and straightforward recurring annual pricing. Beware of strictly a la carte services, as they can pile up fast. On the flip side, many services offer a wealth of “bundled” or “packaged” services, sometimes even including additional and tangentially related features. Keep an eye out for these packages, as many can be cost-saving efficiencies of scale for your business.
- Scalability: Our review team also suggests considering scalability options. Your business will continue to grow, so it’s important to engage a registered agent that can grow with you.
- Years in business: Ensure your chosen partner has a solid record of service in the industry before engaging services. Suppose this information is not readily available on your potential partner’s website. In that case, there are resources available to find out a company’s year of incorporation through the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission or through business databases like Dun & Bradstreet or the Better Business Bureau.
- Customer service availability: Check the days and times listed for customer service for any company you are considering working with to be certain there are no untoward limitations. Customer service should be available during normal business hours on a weekday basis, at a minimum. Beware of any services requiring online-form or electronic correspondence only. The best registered agent service will be able to be reached easily when needed.
- Customer Reviews: The most subjective aspect of our list of suggestions; customer reviews are biased by nature. But that doesn’t mean they don’t contain many insights into what it’s like to be a customer of a potential registered agent service. Take compliments in stride and look for details that are relevant to the services you’re seeking in particular. And when considering critiques or complaints, take the date of the report, subsequent reviews, and any company feedback or response to attempt to get as full a picture of the registered agent as possible.
What service offerings should be included with a registered agent?
The core offering of any registered agent is the ability to act in a legal capacity on behalf of your company. Usually, the biggest part of this is that the agent provides an address at which your company can be reached in each state. But it’s not enough to simply “be a mailbox,” or you could simply use a P.O. Box instead. The best registered agent service will handle legal mail in particular and often offer a lot more.
Each set of capabilities varies by registered agent, but core services often include:
- Ability to register as an agent on your behalf
- Ability to change agents
- Serve as your company’s legal address in each state
- Service legal forms
- File legal forms
- Mail forwarding
- Document scanning
- Registered agent services online portal for clients
- EINs and seals
- Certificate of good standing
- Non-US resident svcs
- FCC 499-a
- FMCSA BOC-3
Extended registered agent services you may consider, based on your company’s needs:
- Business launch services
- Expanding of company registrations
- Annual reports and renewals
- Virtual office
- Virtual phone
- Extended/additional filing options
- Deadline management tools
- Business resources: content, guides
- Promotions for new clients
- Extended or comprehensive online dashboard options
- Customizable notifications
- Service package & pricing offerings
- Trademark services
- Same-day document access
- State-specific regulatory requirement and filing information
- Business licensing
Our review team advises that business owners consider a variety of factors when choosing how to handle legal compliance. Some of these include:
- Extent of services needed
- The states and markets covered by registered agent service providers
- Types of legal documents and legal services covered
Services come in all shapes and sizes. The four outlined here: Northwest Registered Agent, Incfile, Harbor Compliance and ZenBusiness, represent the most reliable, comprehensive, and customer-focused partners reviewed by our team’s comprehensive analysis. Whether your business needs simple representative compliance across many states, a partner for a variety of legal compliance matters, a fully comprehensive approach, or a combination of them all, we stand by the recommendations for best registered agent services outlined here.
There are areas of business in which one may cut corners. Legal compliance is not one of them. The top registered agent services on our list summarize the best in the business so you can make informed decisions before engaging this pivotal service for your company.
This article has been supplied by a paid advertiser. Content has not been independently verified by Los Angeles magazine.