Starting a Business in Hawaii

Last Updated: September 7, 2018

Step 1 - Write a Business Plan

Business Start-up Checklist in HawaiiPerhaps the most important, but often undervalued steps to starting a business in Hawaii is writing a business plan.

A lot of people only write a business plan because the bank won’t loan them money until a business plan is submitted.  That’s a valid reason, but there is a more important benefit.  Writing a business plan gets the ideas out of the entrepreneur’s head and helps to create a roadmap for where they want the business to go.  Business planning is a critical element to creating a successful business.

A business plan doesn’t have to be difficult or intimidating to write. Since this is probably your first business plan, a little guidance will help. Here are some resources to get you started:

Step 2 - Select a Business entity

Select a Business Entity in HawaiiThe second step to starting a business in Hawaii is selecting a business entity. 

The business entity is sometimes referred to as the business structure.  This is how a business is legally organized to do business.  The four primary business entities include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and LLC.  A brief description of each is below.

A Sole Proprietorship is an individual entrepreneur that decides to go into business for themselves. This is the easiest and least expensive of the four entities to set up.  The owner is personally responsible for all debts and actions of the company.  This is called unlimited liability and is the biggest downside to the sole proprietorship. This means if the business is sued, the owner’s personal assets are potentially at risk.  The owner will also pay self-employment tax on all business profits and may pay more in taxes than other entities.

There is no filing for a sole proprietorship in Hawaii.

Learn more about the sole proprietorship advantages and disadvantages

General Partnership: A general partnership is similar to the sole proprietor, except it involves two or more people conducting a business together. Like the sole proprietorship, the partnership has unlimited liability so if the partnership were to be sued, each of the partner’s personal assets are potentially at risk.  The partnership does not pay tax and instead passes through the business’s profits & losses to the owner’s personal tax return.  This income is subject to self-employment tax.

The Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs registers partnerships and the cost to register is $15.

A Corporation is a legal business entity that is separate from the individual.  While corporations are more expensive and complicated than sole proprietorships and partnerships to form, the major advantage is that the corporation shields the owner’s personal assets should the corporation be sued. 

There are multiple ways a corporation can elect to be taxed.  Also, there is no self-employment tax with a corporation as income to the owner(s) will come from either a salary or dividends. 

The cost to form a corporation in Hawaii is $50. The Articles of Incorporation must be filed with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

The Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a popular business entity choice. It provides the liability protection of a corporation with the ease of operation like a sole proprietorship.  The Limited Liability Company does not have the many burdens a corporation such as holding a board of directors meeting, shareholders meeting, taking minutes, etc.  The LLC also has the greatest tax flexibility of the four entities.  Income can be taxed as a pass-through entity like the sole proprietor or partnership or as a corporation.    

The initial cost to form a Hawaii LLC is $50.  The Articles of Organization are filed with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

To compare the pros and cons of each of the entities, see our comparison chart of business entities.

Step 3 - Register a Business name

Register a Business Name in HawaiiAfter deciding on a business entity, the next step in starting a business in Hawaii is to register a business name. 

HOW TO FILE A DBA IN HAWAII FOR SOLE PROPRIETORSHIPS & GENERAL PARTNERSHIPS

If you are a sole proprietorship or general partnership in Hawaii and doing business under your full first and last name, John Smith for example, there is no filing, but if the business will operate under a trade name or fictitious business name like John Smith’s Handyman Service, Mr. Handyman, etc, you will need to register the business name.  To register, visit the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs website.

The registration of a trade name is a one-time cost of $50.

HOW TO RESERVE A BUSINESS NAME IN HAWAII FOR A CORPORATION OR LLC

Corporations and LLCs have to pick a name at the time of filing for the entity and each corporation/LLC has to be uniquely named. 

To check the availability of names, visit the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs

Step 4 - File for an ein

Business Start-up Checklist in Hawaii

The Employer Identification Number or EIN (sometimes referred to as the Federal Employer Identification Number or FEIN) is a nine-digit tax identification number from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This number identifies a business operating in the U.S, tracks tax returns and is used to open a bank account. Much like what a social security number is to a person, the EIN is a social security number for a business. While most businesses will need to get an EIN, some do not.

Partnerships, corporations and many LLCs OR sole proprietorships with employees must file for an EIN.

Sole proprietorships or a single-member LLC with no employees is NOT required to get an EIN. In these instances, the owner’s social security number is used.

Filing the EIN online only takes a few minutes and the number is available immediately. Filing can also be done by mailing the SS-4 form or by calling the IRS. For more information about how to apply and to see our video with a step-by-step guide, check out how to file for an EIN.

Step 5 - Apply for Business licenses & Permits

how to get a business license in hawaii

To start a business in Hawaii, a company may require special permits and/or licensing. In addition to the business license, a business may also need to register with a variety of agencies before opening. 

Hawaii Business License All businesses need to register with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Hawaii General Excise Tax License – Any entity that conducts business within Hawaii is required to register for the General Excise Tax (GET) license and fill out form BB-1. There is a $20 one-time registration fee, but some businesses will have additional fees.

Hawaii does not have a sales tax but instead has the General Excise Tax.  Businesses located in Oahu County may also be subject to the Oahu County Surcharge Tax.

More information and registration details on the General Excise Tax is available from the Hawaii Department of Taxation.

Professional & Occupational Licenses – A variety of professionals in the state are regulated such as accountants, contractors, vehicle repair, pest control, private detectives and many more.  Additional information, fees and licensing requirements for professionals are available Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

In addition to professional licenses, businesses in a variety of industries such as food establishmentsdaycaressalvage yards and many others require licensing.

Local Business Licenses – Most cities, towns and/or counties in Hawaii require a business to register, even occasionally those that are home-based businesses.   Each local entity has its own rules for business activity, so requirements vary depending on location as some require a business license while others have requirements for zoning, building/ building improvements, signage requirements, liquor licenses, etc.  

The city hall, mayor, economic development office or even the Chamber of Commerce are all good places to contact and find if you need a business license in your community. 

Step 6 - Find Financing

Finding Financing for a Business in Hawaii

Obtaining financing for a small business can be a stressful and time-consuming process.  Similar to getting a home loan, the bank is going to want lots of documentation on your personal finances in addition to a solid idea and the business plan.

As a rule of thumb, banks will want to see the owner invest 15%-25% of their money (equity) into a start-up business.  That can include cash but also any buildings, tools, vehicles, inventory and equipment that will be used in the business.  It is likely that the bank will want a lien on those items.

Credit score is going to play a large part in getting a loan approved.  Start-up business loans are largely based on the owner’s personal credit and their personal financial statement.

There are a number of options to finance a business.  A few of the more popular ones include:

Conventional Bank Loan – These are available at many financial institutions like banks and credit unions.  Banks are typically very conservative and place a lot of weight on the owner’s personal credit, equity and collateral.  After reviewing the business plan and personal financial information, they will respond with a yes, no or maybe.  Yes is great but we recommend talking with at least three banks to get the best rates and terms for your business.  No isn’t necessarily bad, as a bank may have many loans with other businesses in your industry or they don’t make loans for your type of business (restaurants are a typical example).   If your loan has more risk than they want or if you don’t have sufficient credit, equity or collateral they may answer with a maybe and want a loan guarantee.

Expect the loan approval process to take anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months (and possibly more) depending on the amount being borrowed, the complexity of the project and owner’s personal financial condition.

SBA Loan Guarantee – When a small-business loan is riskier than the bank wants to take on, there are loan guarantee programs from the Small Business Administration (SBA).  This is a federal program that provides a guarantee to the bank that will pay a percentage of the loan back to the bank if the loan isn’t paid by the business owner.  The percentage depends on the program but typically ranges from 50%-85%.  Contrary to popular belief the SBA doesn’t provide business financing but they do help in getting money to small businesses by taking a majority of risk and encouraging the bank to make loans.  Another thing to note is that SBA guaranteed loans will cost the owner more in closing costs, fees and interest.

Peer-to-Peer LendingSometimes a bank isn’t the best option, due to the difficulty in getting a start-up business loan, credit purposes or the time needed to get funding.  In this case, peer-to-peer lending provides an interesting way to borrow money without going to a bank.  These are personal loans and rates will vary on the owner’s credit.  Loans will typically go up to the $35,000 – $40,000 range.  Two popular options are Prosper and LendingClub.

Many people will use peer-to-peer lending to get their business off the ground and go after more conventional financing once the business is established.

Grants – There is a lot of information online about all of the free money for businesses and most of it isn’t true.  There are some small business grants.  Most are for established businesses doing research and but occasionally there are private grants for business startups.  Do your research before applying and don’t pay for information telling you where the grants are, no matter how good their money-back guarantee is.  All of the federal grant information is available for free at http://grants.gov.

Step 7 – HIRE EMPLOYEES

How Do I Hire Employees in Hawaii?Before hiring employees, there are several items that a small business owner needs to be familiar with before making their first hire.    

Register as an Employer – Employers will need to register with the IRS (EIN number) Hawaii Department of Taxation (Withholding Tax) and the Hawaii Department of Labor  (Unemployment Insurance Tax Account Number)

Fill Out Paperwork For New Employees – When hiring a new employee there are four forms that will need to be filled out; New-Hire Reporting Form (Hawaii Child Support Enforcement Agency), I9 (Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification), W-4 (IRS’s Publication 15 Employer Tax Guide), and the HW-4 (HawaiiEmployee’s Withholding Exemption Certificate).

Federal & State Income Tax Withholding – Employers withhold money from each employee’s paycheck to pay that employee’s federal and state income taxes. The employer pays no part of the withholding tax, but is responsible for collecting and remitting the taxes that are withheld.

Social Security & Medicare – To comply with the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), an employer must withhold the employee’s portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes and the employer matches.

Federal & State Unemployment Insurance – Employers are responsible for paying taxes to compensate workers who have recently lost their jobs, which is through federal & state unemployment insurance.

Worker’s Compensation Insurance – Workers’ compensation provides compensation benefits and covers medical costs to employees injured on the job.    Worker’s Compensation Insurance is administered through the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations

Labor Laws – Employers should also understand the various regulations and laws pertaining to employees. If you plan to hire employees, learn the rules that apply to your business. Federal laws, depending on your sales volume and number of employees, may supersede state laws.

Consult with the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations and U.S. Department of Labor to learn more. If you are unsure of your obligations, an attorney’s guidance can be also useful in assisting you to meet legal requirements.