Starting your own business is a big step, and the legal issues involved can be confusing. Thinking of a business idea is hard enough, but then there are forms to fill out and technicalities to deal with, especially if you're structuring your company as a corporation. Here's what you need to know about one of the first and most important steps of incorporating your business: filing your articles of incorporation.
What are articles of incorporation?
The articles of incorporation, sometimes called a certification of formation or a charter, is a set of documents filed with a government body to legally document the creation of a corporation. This type of document contains general information about the corporation, such as the business's name and location.
Articles of incorporation can easily be confused with bylaws, which lay out the rules and regulations that govern a corporation and help establish the roles and duties of the company's directors and officers, as Christopher Carter of the Houston Chronicle explained. According to Investopedia, bylaws work in conjunction with the articles of incorporation to form the legal backbone of the business. [See Related Story: What Is a C Corporation?]
How do I fill out the forms?
The first step in the process is structuring a business as a corporation. The specific documents vary by state, but each will include a number of questions about the business and its owners. The forms are easily found online, but don't be alarmed if they are called something other than articles of incorporation.
Despite a state-by-state filing, the forms will all ask pretty much the same questions, and will be in a fill-in-the-blank format. The most crucial information that is required will be corporate name, recipient of all legal notices and official mailings, the purpose of the business, the duration of the business, the incorporator, the directors, how many shares of stock can be issued, and how many classes of stock the corporation will be allowed to issue.
Where do I submit the form and how much does it cost?
Once the proper documents have been filled out, they can be submitted by mail, in person at the secretary or department of state's office, or electronically on the secretary or department of state's website, depending on your state. The fees will also vary depending on the state, but they generally run between $50 and $300. Other charges may apply at the time of the filing, again, depending on the state.
After all the papers have been filled out and all costs are paid, the secretary of state's office will review the forms to make sure the name isn't already in use and that all other information meets the state's requirements. If everything is correct, the state files the forms, making the business a legal corporation. Investopedia notes that some states offer more favorable regulatory and tax environments and, as a result, attract a greater proportion of firms seeking incorporation.
Where do I find the form?
Every state has a different form, so here are links to each state's form, which can be filled in online or printed out, completed and sent to the secretary of state's office.
Additional reporting by Chad Brooks.